I Program the Body Electric

In a presentation by Peter Thiel at Stanford, he mentions The Atlantic as an insightful source, not for the commentary it provides but for how it functions as an ideological aperture, revealing the way the global elite thinks–and, thus, wants us to think.

I thought about that observation as I read “The People Cheering For Humanity’s End.” Author Adam Kirsch presents the tenuous alliance between anti-humanists and transhumanists. (For those interested, I have written before about anti-humanists/anti-natalists.)

Kirsch hushes the crowd and sets the scene: “Humanity may be destined to disappear someday, but almost everyone would agree that the day should be postponed as long as possible, just as most individuals generally try to delay the inevitable end of their own life.” Right? Has that not been the default setting (trying to use more computer analogies to placate our would-be tech overlords) of humanity–to keep on keepin’ on?

Kirsch unleashes the wildcard tertiary characters onto the stage: “In recent years, however, a disparate group of thinkers has begun to challenge this core assumption. From Silicon Valley boardrooms [shocker] to rural communes [note: not rural communities] to academic philosophy departments [yawn], a seemingly inconceivable idea is being seriously discussed: that the end of humanity’s reign on Earth is imminent, and that we should welcome it.” This may be the coloring of my subjective lenses, but I would not have been surprised if Kirsch–or anybody writing for The Atlantic–had added “–and you should too.”

Anti-natalists reason, an activity specific to only our species, that the ability to reason should not lead us to presume that we hold a privileged spot in the natural order. Therefore, if our continued presence actively antagonizes the wellbeing of other species, then we should accept the conclusion that our species ought to diminish, if not perish altogether. The variety of anti-natalists presented in the article, it should be noted, comes across more as the most radical wing of the ecological movement than as a consortium of philosophers. By contrast, David Benatar, also mentioned in the article, argues for non-existence on more metaphysical grounds: Because we are the only species capable of reason, and the faculty for reason is, ultimately, the greatest source of unhappiness, we need to eliminate this source of profound sorrow by passively eliminating, through non-reproduction, the source’s host–humanity.

Why the two groups of Prefix-Humanists, according to Kirsch, are currently sharing the same playground can be found in the following: “Transhumanism, by contrast, glorifies some of the very things that anti-humanism decries—scientific and technological progress, the supremacy of reason. But it believes that the only way forward for humanity is to create new forms of intelligent life that will no longer be Homo sapiens.” While the games that both play may differ, the endgame is the same: the substitution of Homo sapiens for a better state of affairs, viz., non-existence or replacement by a superior form of intelligence to enhance/guide our own. Instead of dreaming of sweet oblivion, transhumanists hope to augment their dreams of electric sheep through technology or through the transferal of whatever they believe makes them them into a machine.

Kirsch (for I doubt that antis/trannies do) employs the Bible to show how an apparent tension may lead one to their joint conclusion: “The Bible gives the negative commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ as well as the positive commandment ‘Be fruitful and multiply,’ and traditionally they have gone together. But if being fruitful and multiplying starts to be seen as itself a form of killing, because it deprives future generations and other species of irreplaceable resources, then the flourishing of humanity can no longer be seen as simply good.” According to a footnote in the New American Bible, the Hebrew word used for “kill” in Exodus 20:13 was often understood as “murder,” and when it did assume a wider legal inclusion, it referred to the killing of a fellow Israelite. This footnote leaves open the interpretation that the Israelites may not have considered the killing of a non-Israelite with the same gravity as the killing of a member of the Tribe, let alone members of different species. This etymological understanding alone may resolve the apparent tension, though it should give a cause to pause for its other implications.

Kirsch again: “The anti-humanist future and the transhumanist future are opposites in most ways, except the most fundamental: They are worlds from which we have disappeared, and rightfully so.” Both groups, at their core, are unhappy with nature as it is and want to expedite the process of radical change. With regard to anti-humanists, one wonders if they see the artificiality of their proposal. Given the chance, a healthy species will seek to ensure its survival and propagation. Humanity differs from every other species in that our capacity for rationality allows us to maximize methods to actualize our cupidity, thus bypassing the limits of consumption that non-rational creatures are incapable of exceeding. Naturally speaking, the spoils are going to the victor even though our rationally-empowered rapine may lead to total desolation. Ancient Greek philosopher Xenophanes quipped that if horses, for example, could fashion their own gods, those gods would look like horses. Riding this line of argumentation (ahem), if cockroaches had the intelligence, they would mercilessly rule the world. (Okay, I cannot claim to know that their domination would be merciless. Possibly they would not feel the same revulsion upon seeing us that we feel when seeing them, especially as they fly toward us.) However, they do not; we do. What anti-humanists seem to object to is the assortment of ways that we have handled our inter-species victories, which, as with our intra-species victories, has not been impeccable. However, if such enlightenment cannot be achieved through time-tested means of self-denial, contemplation, and acts of charity, then perhaps we can expedite the process through technology.  

President Emeritus of Alcor Life Extension Foundation Max More writes in The Transhumanist Reader: “Humanism tends to rely exclusively on educational and cultural refinement to improve human nature whereas transhumanist want to apply technology to overcome limits imposed by our biological and genetic heritage.” Very few–if any–can honestly admit to being perfectly content with their bodies. However, to see the human body in its essence as a system of limitations to overcome, which is the underpinning belief the transhumanism movement, rather than an ideal to strive toward realizing or at least as the vehicle through which transcendence may be attained takes this discontent in a different direction. Psychotherapist Dr. Joseph Sansone goes further in his labeling of transhumanism: “Transhumanism is not an evolutionary or technological leap. It is a reckless exercise in lack of discernment and wisdom. Transhumanism is a perversion of science in its truest sense. It is a leap of faith not in a higher power, but in a lower power. It is a leap of faith in technology. Faith in the tool, not the craftsman. It is like placing trust in the paint brush, not in the artist. Faith in the creative instrument, not in the Creator.” An affirmation of the last sentence in the preceding quotation can be found if we return to More:

“Becoming posthuman means exceeding the limitations that define the less desirable aspects of the ‘human condition.’ Posthuman beings would no longer suffer from disease, aging, and inevitable death (but they are likely to face other challenges). They would have vastly greater physical capability and freedom of form–often referred to as ‘morphological freedom’…. Posthumans would also have much greater cognitive capabilities and more refined emotions (more joy, less anger, or whatever changes each individual prefers). Transhumanists typically look to expand the range of possible future environments for posthuman life, including space colonization and the creation of rich virtual worlds. When transhumanists refer to ‘technology’ as the primary means of effecting changes to the human condition, this should be understood broadly to include the design of organizations, economies, polities, and the use of psychological methods and tools.”

Exceeding the limitations that define the less desirable aspects of the human condition: This hopeful profession captures the transhumanist movement in its very essence. Post-feminist Mary Harrington has argued that acceptance of artificial birth control was nothing less than the acceptance of transhumanism. Starting at the 3:15 mark, Harrington notes, “Trying to re-engineer our physiology, our nature–if you will, in the interests of freedom, progress…doesn’t, in fact, deliver utopia. Or, rather, it does–kind of, but it happens asymmetrically. depending upon where you sit in the socio-economic hierarchy.” While the socio-economic disparity that will inevitably characterize who benefits from the coming technology is an important one, the more foundational argument that the widespread acceptance of artificial birth control has allowed transhumanism to establish a societal foothold is one that even the most tech-wary–and religious–may fail to consider. Harrington goes to discuss how the pill has not brough about liberation for women, echoing the now-prophetic warnings of the Catholic Church’s Humanae Vitae. However, even if utopia had been ushered in for women–especially if it had, this would not negate that the pill’s primary function is to defy the limitations of what is commonly considered one of the least desirable aspects of the human condition: the connection between sex and pregnancy. However, the (augmented) visionaries of transhumanism, not wanting to live in a world dominated by bioconservatives (a term employed–maybe coined–by More) have proposed baby labs: artificial womb facilities. The most telling part in this plug for its dystopian (transtopian?) future scheme is when it shows a woman jumping on a man and their falling back onto a bed, ostensibly excited about what this lab can do for them–give them all the time they want to fuck without letting pregnancy get in the way. (Once the baby is born, err, is finished incubating, they are in for a rude awakening. Perhaps a sister lab is in the works that will provide day-care services with child-driven hamster wheels that power the womb lab.) Though cries about the slippery slope fallacy have become less discomforting given how absurd life has become, I still try to avoid slipping in that rhetorical jab; however, the jaw has been left unguarded: Acceptance of the pill has helped pave the way for the transgender movement in particular and the transhumanist movement in general.

Returning to More, we read the following: “In addressing moral and ethical concerns, transhumanists typically adopt a universal standard based not on membership in the human species but on the qualities of each being.” This encapsulation of the transhumanist approach proves enlightening: If we see ourselves as radical, atomistic individuals who do not–or, at least, should not–bear the burdens of representing a class larger than ourselves, then no objections can exist, provided technology allows, for us to act according to private whim, free from bio-shackles. If an individual feels his/her qualities more strongly as their qualities, for instance, then only antiquated arguments that resort to essences, substances, and teleology can be marshalled. Yet, your garden-variety conservative objector would probably crash his crew-cab pickup if you told him that the teleology of marriage is to allow for the procreation and education of children, not to provide companionship or to ensure a consistent source of sexual gratification. However, if we cannot nail down the most basic institution of human existence, then maybe we do not know what we are talking about regarding gender either….

In speculating about the differences between East and West, William S. Hass contends that, concerning Western scientific movement, “[n]ew insights are won, but there is no hope that this circle will ever come to an end. There is no fulcrum, no place of rest, let alone any definite conclusion. Thus the organization of nature…reaches toward its objective in infinity.” This parallels what John Gray, in Seven Types of Atheism, writes about the transhumanist movement: “At bottom, the transhumanist movement is a modern variant of the dream of transcending contingency that possessed mystics in ancient times. Gnostics and disciples of Plato longed to be absorbed in a timeless Absolute, a refuge from the ugly conflicts of the human world.” The modern spin according to Gray? The ancients “understood that this refuge could be entered only if they shed their individuality, and practised asceticism and contemplation in an effort to erase their personal identities and desires. Less intelligent than their ancient precursors, contemporary transhumanists imagine they can become immortal on terms of their own choosing.” As we have already seen, if transhumanists believe that, ultimately, all that they possess is their individuality, then any practice that demands one puts constraints on one’s personal desires will come across as repugnant, for how else to best represent oneself qua oneself than through the pursuit of one’s desires?

Returning to Kirsch, he concludes with the following: “[The anti-humanist] longs for a return to the natural equilibrium that existed on Earth before humans came along to disrupt it with our technological rapacity. The [transhumanist] dreams of pushing forward, using technology to achieve a complete abolition of nature and its limitations. One sees reason as the serpent that got humanity expelled from Eden, while the other sees it as the only road back to Eden.” Both want to reverse the course of the Fall but deny that Christianity has anything to offer toward that rectification. I must confess that I am sympathetic to both camps: Were it not for Christianity’s focus on the inherent spiritual value of humanity, anti-humanism’s anti-natal stance would strike me as strongly persuasive, encouraging us to walk hand in hand to extinction. Also, were it not for Christianity’s consistent emphasis on our inability not to screw up things, I might be tempted naively to embrace the hope of techno-liberation that transhumanism offers to its followers. I suspect, however, as the star of Christianity continues to fade in the West, the comets of these twin movements will continue to burn brightly before they become exhausted.

About Bourbon Apocalypse: A Whiskey Son of Sorrow

"If you can't annoy somebody, there's little point in writing." ~ Kingsley Amis
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