Tuesday, January 3. 2012
Reflecting on 2011, I began thinking of the 5 events in biotechnology that were the greatest threats to the sanctity of human life. True to my mission though, I couldn't just talk about what is bad in the biotech arena. I also have to celebrate the 5 ways biotechnology has improved or preserved human life.
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I read your article referencing Deus Ex, and I see you've again, here, taken a shot at Transhumanism as something which is either potentially or possibly (I'm not sure how you feel, here) overtly harmful to ourselves.
I saw no place to comment on the article on LifeNews (I rarely see spaces to comment on sites such as that, unfortunately), so I will air my thoughts here, as this article is related.
As a moderately mechanist transhumanist, I was a little confused at the following statement..
"Many transhumanists do not consider that artificial limbs will not work as well as promised in the long term and then the enhanced will forever be beholden to the company that made their augmentation."
That, of course, is from the "Transhumanism turns people into slaves to technology" article.
Now what I'm curious about is why you assume that, or what basis you have to asserting that? With any technology that will inevitably have corporate ties, the reasonable-minded individual will look and consider the fact that, if the investment is long-term in nature, he must be prudent in his decision. I'm not sure here, but it sounds to me like you've implied transhumanists will drop everything and run out to the nearest hospital to have their limbs sawed off and replaced by potentially-soon-obsolete mechanical replacements.
From my interaction with transhumanists and my own philosophy, I can happily state: that is not the case.
While there are incredibly optimistic names that come to mind when talking of transhumanism (Kurzweil, et al), there is no reason to assume that "many transhumanists" lack prudence and foresight enough to understand that there will always be a human and corporate element in their technological breakthroughs.
Now, concerning some of the things stated here in this article,
"Artificial limbs, cognitive enhancing drugs, genetic engineering, artificial intelligence, and nanotechnology are tools not to heal the sick and injured but to create the transhumanist's perfect technological utopia where being human just won't be good enough. You must be enhanced."
Now, this is mostly an unfounded assertion, as well. There is much internal discussion regarding the divisive line that would inevitably be drawn if such technologies become available and some, many, or even most humans begin the (again, inevitable) process of improving themselves with technology. The general concensus is that there is no "must" in the potential transhumanistic (and eventually, posthuman) future. Will there be bad eggs amongst the helpful and practical if this technology comes to light? Certainly, the same as can be said for nuclear fission, ironsmithing, the invention of the bow, and the the pointed stick. But for every Fat Man, broadsword, nocked arrow and pointed stick, there must be a human intent to harm or take life.
The general goal of transhumanism is to IMPROVE life (what a technology company does is entirely based on their own good ethics, transhumanism itself cannot be to blame for corporate malpractice) and to expand what it means to be human - or, at that distant point, to be posthuman. The quality of life is, in fact, the primary focus of the philosophy, not to have the flashiest augmented limb or the keenest artificial eye. And your "must" is poorly placed and surely unfounded, though I'd be glad to hear how you might support the assertion.
Now the idea of redefining human existence in even small ways may seem troubling, and I cannot help but wonder if your perspective on the "danger" of transhumanism is, no offense, colored by your religious affiliation to the Catholic Church, but your claims that "[Captain America is] placing in the subconscious of every boy and girl in the United States that the way to become a hero is to volunteer to let your government experiment on you" is, in the plainest sense, an alarmist sort of knee-jerk reaction. I am aware of the Catholic Church's perspective that all human enhancement, as it were, must be therapeutic in nature, but I challenge you, if you are interested in answering, with these questions:
1) Who decides what is and what is not therapeutic? Does it need to be a genetic disfunction? Perhaps an amputated limb? A damaged one? A blind eye? What, then, of the steadily, naturally declining health of a human being? No artificial leg until your knee goes sour on you at age 60?
2) Without the moral perspective of the Catholic Church, what would you feel regarding voluntary enhancement? (I note that you gave, in "WHY I AM NOT A FAN OF CAPTAIN AMERICA", a clear reference that the ethical objection was the decision of the church)
3) You seem, in the three articles I've read, to warn of the dangers of allowing experimental technology and procedures to be used on you - what, then, is the purpose of informed consent? Of psychological evaluation to ensure the recipient is well-informed and of sound enough mind to make such a decision?
4) The biggest question I have, really, is - from a secular perspective, I plead - why should a human being not have morphological freedom? If you do, in fact, feel that we should not have such a freedom, then who, again from a secular perspective, owns my body? I ask for a secular perspective because the answer to that second question (and maybe the first) is obvious from a theistic religious philosophy.
I suppose I may have further questions for you at a time that isn't 1 AM, but for now, I'll leave you with all of that.
Hoping for a reply,
Thanks for the comment. First, there will be the elite that can afford and will have access to enhancements and there will be the others that either cannot afford it, don't have access, or choose not to augment themselves. There are many secularists who agree with me (ex. Lee M. Silver professor of biology at Princeton) that this will create a two-tiered society. One where the enhanced will naturally rule over the "incompetent, "unproductive," and "stupid" unenhanced. (Those are a transhumanist's words not mine.) At this point enhancements are no longer about choice. People will feel compelled to enhance just to go to college, get that job, be in the military, or play sports. Some transhumanists also believe personhood should not be given to anyone just because they are human but according to their abilities. Therefore it is very possible in the transhumanist future the enhanced will be considered persons and the unenhanced will not. I believe coercion is inherent in the transhumanist philosophy. It is there to see if you are not too blinded by technology or too naive to believe it could never happen.
Second, I am assuming that products will not live up to expectation or deliver what they promise and they will break down unexpectedly and have a shorter life span than anticipated because most products are like that now. I imagine there will be cut-rate enhancements that normal people will try just to be able to compete with those that can afford better. It is one thing to give an artificial limb to someone who has lost an arm or eyes to someone who is blind. It is quite another to remove a perfectly good limb or eyes that could have serviced one well for life, and replace them with something that malfunctions. Augmentations will malfunction, have side effects and drawbacks, and will wear out. Replacing eyes and arms and legs won't be like replacing a cell phone, it will be invasive and expensive and likely with great risk.
As for bodily autonomy, of course transhumanists believe they can do with their bodies as they please. Except enhancements are different than body piercings and tattoos. If you and I are both competing for a college scholarship and you have an artificial brain in a fanny pack and I don't that affects me. If you and I are going out for the same job and you take cognitive enhancing drugs and I don't that affects me. If you and I are both athletes trying out for sports and you have artificial limbs and I don't that affects me. I am now coerced into enhancing as well. So much for bodily autonomy.
As for the overall philosophy of transhumanism that is all about "improving" the human race, the term "transhumanism" was coined by a man who believed man could shape his own evolution and therefore improve mankind for the better. He was Julian Huxley, a well-known eugenicist. The American Eugenics movement resulted in the forced sterilization of over 60,000 Americans in 33 states. And eugenics did not stop there. Adolf Hitler was a huge fan of eugenics and brought it to its natural conclusion: the Holocaust of World War II where millions of the "genetically unfit" were exterminated in an effort to create a master race. Those considered unfit were not just Jews, but the also the criminal, weak, feeble-minded, insane, and disabled.
Huxley wasn't just any eugenicist either. He was president of the British Eugenics Society from 1959-1962, more than a decade AFTER the horrors of the Holocaust were revealed. He coined the term transhumanism right before his tenure as president of the British Eugenics Society.
I don't believe modern transhumanists have any idea where their ideology originated. But the reality is that we have tried transhumanism already, only it was called eugenics then. Eugenics, in its attempt to control the direction of human evolution, did in fact create a world where the lesser humans were second-class citizens whose rights and lives were forfeit to the "greater good" determined by the elite.
I'm going to open with this:
I do not appreciate in any way the indirect Godwin you are applying here.
No. Hitler's holocaust was not "transhumanism" and eugenics itself is not "transhumanism." I think you're associating the two simply because the phrase was coined by Julian Huxley. Two problems:
1) Huxley coined this phrase in the 1950s and that left the rest of the world to contemplate what the philosophy really meant, to further develop and understand the ethical philosophy of transhumanism. I can assure you that it is not a forced eugenics philosophy, regardless of Mr. Huxley's external leanings. And even then,
2) While, as I understand it, Huxley suggested eugenics could very well be a part of Transhumanism, the idea as he presented it did not rely on eugenics/culling the population. To suggest this - or that Transhumanism is in some way equatable to the Holocaust, of all things - is actually without foundation. In fact, it is offensively without foundation.
But even so, I am forced to note that the other objections you've laid out do not, actually, stand as objections to the Transhumanistic philosophy itself, but to how society must adapt to changing technology. While, yes, I agree that a replacement limb/enhancement to a body part/full-body prosthesis is different in scale from "replacing a cell phone" (nobody, mind you, would make such a comparison and mean to say that these are equivalent), the objections you've voiced - having external memory, et cetera - could have been (and I'm very positive were) voiced regarding the personal computer, the PDA, et cetera - in fact, even the skill of writing caught a little flak in ancient Greece because of the advantage of external memory it would give to its students.
As for the "two-tiered society", yes, of course every sensible Transhumanist realizes that there will inevitably be a social divide between those who remain purely biologically human and those who decide to enhance themselves in a technological manner, but it's not as though we're dusting our hands off and saying, "oh well! Tough for them!" I'm not sure what Transhumanist you spoke to to get those quoted phrases from, but rest assured I have never met a Transhumanist who expresses that those who remain human would be "stupid", et cetera.
I think the problem here is you've painted for yourself an image of "join us or be insignificant" that has unfortunately come from the popular media portrayal of a posthuman species (the Borg, for example, what an utter load that is, no matter how entertaining a villain), as well as - please forgive me for saying so, but it is what I see here - an emotional reaction to the idea. Please correct me if I am wrong, but I say this based on your response, especially focusing on the unwarranted association between modern (post-Huxley, if you must) Transhumanistic philosophy and the horrors of the Third Reich.
So, let's move on to another objection you've re-raised - that people could be replacing "perfectly good" limbs with possibly defective ones. I again need to stress the fact that I support the Transhumanistic/machinist idea of enhancement and augmentation based on purely informed and sound decision, not on a desperate need to meet a technological standard. However, I do recognize that the inherent economic divide in human societies will enable this sort of "knock-off augmentation" problem, this is an issue that society must face with the inevitable advent of personal augmentative technology. Again, I've never met a Transhumanist who would just scoff and ignore the problems of a technological society. I'm really not sure who you've spoken to outside of the one name you mentioned, so I'm not certain where I'd meet such apathetic elitists.
Now, my biggest problem (outside of the comparison to the Holocaust) here is that your objection to personal morphological freedom ("of course transhumanists believe they can do with their bodies as they please") is that, it seems, it's a "step too far." Why? Because someone who doesn't decide to "do with their body as they please" is at a disadvantage? While problematic and definitely in need of careful addressing, and while a strong societal non-discriminatory stance MUST be taken in the again inevitable advent of augmentation, this hardly stands as an objection to the right of a human being to personal morphological freedom. You did not answer my posed question, "if I do not have this right, then who is it that owns my body, if not me?" Please understand that this is not a selfish motive, but rather one of what I believe to be an inherent human freedom.
One last note, early in your reply you mentioned that some transhumanists "beleive that personhood should [be given] ... according to their abilities." Who? I personally disagree in the highest, I strongly believe, as does anyone I have ever had the pleasure of discussing this topic with, that personhood is defined by consciousness, self-awareness and sentience. A modern Transhumanist does not look down at a paraplegic and say, "you don't deserve personhood," just because they cannot stand. This is ludicrous and it should not color one's perspective on the philosophy in some negative manner.
Anyway, I do hope that you'll return to the questions I asked in the first post - none were addressed, I will worriedly note - and I also hope that we can keep this conversation going, as I think communication is key in bridging philosophical divides such as this.
Not intent on being your robot overlord,
You lost me at your very first sentence.
So you are OK with the creation of a two-tiered society? That is telling.
Here is the reality, eugenics and transhumanism start in the same ideological place: science and technology being used to change the nature of man and change our natural evolution. It will end in a society where the elite (enhanced) will rule over the underclass (the unenhanced.) Whether that is by governments or by a million individual choices, it will end as eugenics did, with a world where the lesser humans are second-class citizens whose rights and lives were forfeit to the "greater good" determined by the elite.
Transhumanism is not about healing or medicine. It is about UNLEVELING the playing field. That is a secular (and philosophical) reason to oppose it.
It is a shame that you would rather twist my meaning and continue to respond in this way than actually discuss this in a manner that is not pure doomsaying. I hope your interactions with the others goes better than this.
Not out to be divisive,
I would respectfully request that you respond to the comments on LifeSiteNews' repost of your article. Thank you.
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