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Should society embrace transhumanism?

By Mark HayApril 14, 2016

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Editor's note: This is part two of Liberty's coverage of the transhumanist movement. Read part one here.

Here, Natasha Vita-More, one of the founders of the modern transhumanist movement and an avid transhuman activist, shares how she came to promote transhumanism and why we may all soon embrace the (ever less) radical notion of allowing people to bring themselves into a cybernetic future. 

[Then during the George W. Bush administration, the philosopher Francis] Fukuyama said: Transhumanism is the world’s most dangerous idea. And because he had a high profile, the trickle down effect was exponential throughout the world, where bioethicists got the message of cease and desist. [That was around the same time] when Will Joy wrote the essay in Wired Magazine about how the future doesn’t need us and launched a salvo about how we must return to the way of the past — that technology had become dangerous and we must move away from it. Joy was a computer scientist, and well known in Silicon Valley. But he got scared and concerned. Since then he’s retracted his alarmist attitude and seen that technology advances are not going to ruin humanity or take away our humaneness. In fact, it is making us more humane, more communicative, more socially minded, more aware of what is going on around the world. The Internet itself has become a global brain. 

The Internet itself has become a global brain. 

There is [now] a divide between those who want to advance and look at the transhumanist perspective as something that’s not only necessary, it’s beneficial, and the group of people who are afraid of technology and change and want to remain within the restrictive parameters of what is called normal for a human. But we have to realize that those parameters were developed early on and executed staunchly in the age of modernism where it was white, male-dominated, Western psychology of who we’re supposed to be and how we’re supposed to be — and largely religious. There’s nothing wrong with religion, but there are certain socio-political-dogma-based ideas on who we’re supposed to be, and it’s because of these religious and spiritual views that we need to take into consideration that this Western-dominated view of who we’re supposed to be needs to be more diverse and to accept multiplicity in order to live in a world together. 

Postmodernism erased the staunchness of this modernist normalcy about who we’re supposed to be. But it didn’t understand technology. All the different philosophers within postmodernism had good ideas and wanted to turn the tables on this label of who we’re supposed to be as men and women and parents and whatnot. But they didn’t understand that science and technology would advance far beyond their comprehension. And we’re talking about academics who are still in academia today. The staunch reluctance of those people to accept technology—there’s that conflict there. Transhumanist views in academics were squelched by the postmodernists. But even Katherin McHales, who’s one of the most famous postmodern academics today has [been forced to say] transhumanism is not going away. It’s here to stay.

So I think we’re going to see more acceptance of transhumanist thinking — in the public [as well] based on this whole other movement that’s taking place outside of transhumanism and outside of the bioethics and the fear. That is the group of baby boomers, who may not even be aware of transhumanism but are very interested in anti-aging. And that’s going to give more momentum to the transhumanist movement, this wave of people who want to live longer, to turn back the clock, and live past the 123 years that is the maximum of the human lifespan. 

I think it’s very important to stay engaged. It would be foolish, arrogant, and lacking in critical thinking to ignore the fact that there is anguish within some sectors of the population and some demographics are uninformed or misled by individuals who are afraid themselves whether they’re highly conservative or not. So I think it’s important to engage as deeply and respectfully as possible. I do it on a weekly basis. I’m in numerous debates and public discussions on these subjects. 

There is no more press today than there was in the 1990s. However, the subject line has changed. [Then] there was fear — people questioning my ideas, saying it was science fiction or ridiculous. Wired Magazine did care, but the voice against it was loud because of postmodernism and conservativism. Today there is less rebuttal to it because the millennials are interested. Many of them are gamers [as are the generation prior]. They’re very interested in technology and virtual reality. The baby boomers want to live longer for the most part. And the generation ahead of them… are not so afraid because they’re in their senior years [so it’s not a threat to their long-term lives]. The baby boomers, some of them are conservative and afraid, some of them are not. But the millennials going down to the gamers of the earlier generations are amused by it. I get a lot of my students coming up to me saying I want to know more about transhumanism. 

Do we hype transhumanism for effect or do we take the slow road? 

The issue here is about facts and critical thinking. Zoltan is using transhumanism as his political platform, but he’s also a science fiction writer and he’s new to transhumanism so he doesn’t have all the solid knowledge and information and experience that those who created the field [had]. His information is slightly skewed, but I think his intentions are good. [He hasn’t learned] what to say and what not to say. Being radical early always gets you a lot of press but it comes back to sting you in the butt. I was radical and my husband was radical and then you go whoops.

Is he doing a disservice to the movement? No, I don’t think so. I think he’s hyping it and I don’t agree with many of the things he proposes. I think they haven’t been thought out clearly. But regardless of Zoltan, there’s two perspectives here: Do we hype transhumanism for effect or do we take the slow road? I think we need both. When it gets to the issues and somebody who’s going to debate bioethicists, I would not put Zoltan up front. However the statement that he’s making is an important one: that politics has to look at the issues facing us concerning longevity, concerning the sciences and technologies that are going to change the status quo. However, I think the public needs to read further to find out about it rather than seeing it as hyperbole because it is an important worldview based on highly effective critical thinking by scholars.