Monday, February 7, 2011

Transhumanism, or the ethics of cockroaches

***Originally an email to my penpal Lisa, 02/07/2010.***

Regarding transhumanism (and the posthuman)...  For some reason I'm reminded of a Godzilla movie I saw as a child where Earth is threatened with invasion by aliens who take on human form but are really cockroaches.  Of course, Godzilla saves Earth and vanquishes the aliens.  As the aliens die, they are transformed back into cockroaches.  It was interesting that aliens would be depicted as cockroaches.  It was very disturbing (no offense to cockroaches lol).  It had a lasting effect on me - since I remember it after so many years.  However, the image of alien cockroaches does make some metaphorical sense.  After all, it's often said that cockroaches will survive whereas humanity won't if there was to be a great catastrophe.  Cockroaches are better at adaptation than humans.  So, it is conceivable that in other worlds, the "cockroach" would evolve and go on to conquer other planets.  Anyways, transhumanism reminds me of these alien cockroaches.  If anything, there's this weird survivalist unconscious to transhumanism.  It's somewhat grotesque.  Transhumanism, for all its talk of "enhancing the human condition and the human organism opened up by the advancement of technology," is predicated upon the lowest common demoninators of life, that is, upon a sort of life denial, one that doesn't want to identify with all too human struggles.  Personal complacency is hyperbolized and fantasized as more individual (thus universal) perfection, which also reveals the repression of the traumas experienced in (post)modernity, the repression of survivalist fears.  First of all, the ends of transhumanism such as "overcoming aging, cognitive shortcomings, involuntary suffering, and our confinement to planet Earth" are presumed to be self-justified.  As if the quality of life would be drastically altered?!?  I don't think so.  Humanity has been trying to figure out what is society's Good since time immemorial, with little success in my opinion.  It can be said that primitive societies had a relatively better quality of life.  Why would I want to live longer, when I have to work longer, when I have to compete longer in stupid society?  So, do I exchange my involuntary suffering for voluntary suffering?  This sick fantasy scenario should give some hints to cyberneticians.  We haven't even been able to make everyone the bourgeoisie.  I don't like reality, so I'll brainwash myself to endure it, to survive it, although it's uncertain when reality will get any better.  I may agree that "humanity's potential is still mostly unrealized" but I think it's rather tacky to think that transhumanism has the panacea, especially when it extends the conditions of impossibility of the realization of humanity's potential...(Sorry, but I am still an enemy of Capital ).  It's interesting that the "misuse of new technologies" critiqued by transhumanism are the very same ones used in the past and now to purportedly created the utopia that it wants.  So, transhumanism's futurism is already nostalgia, for a failed utopia and its failed technological developments.  Marx may have said that humanity has suffered, but it has not had truly human suffering.  Despite Marx's problematic faith in progress, which is also shared by transhumanism, I'd rather choose truly human suffering over transhumanist nonsuffering.  Of course, the denial of suffering is a sublimation and fuels the fantasies for those concerned with brute survival.  And of course, brute survival for transhumanism means to protect bourgsy privileges, because only the bourgsy mind can find the world it creates intolerable and ugly.  Tangentially, I'm reminded of rich Americans who go to survivalist training camps.  It is funny that regarding the "reduction of existential risks," such activities should be "heavily funded."  As if the medical-industrial and the military-industrial complexes weren't heavily funded already!  Instead of creating a posthuman world, it might be cheaper to just play videogames, because some of them have posthuman-esque characters, are set in some technologically advanced world, and are all about surviving. "Policymaking ought to be guided by responsible and inclusive moral vision..."  As if government should enact more abstract measures!  Should it be as responsible and inclusive as the U.N.'s The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is already a big Ought?  Shit, if the U.N. can't guarantee autonomy and individual rights etc., I don't know how transhumanism's ethics will, as an ought of an ought.  Also, when people start talking all-encompassingly about "humanity," it gives me the creeps.  I didn't know humanity was completely known.  Well, perhaps with cryonics, I'll have immortality haha to learn about this thing that transhumanism already knows as humanity, knows it enough to surpass it.  In my anti-humanist moments, I also judge humanity.  But the difference between me and transhumanism is that it's not so important for me that humanity survives, or is surpassed.  In my humanist moments, I think there's too much beauty in humanity, much of it due to its inadequacy, its frailty, its failings.   So, transhumanism sounds like a tacky futurism, and does evoke Ayn Rand's tacky Objectivism.  Transhumanism advocates "the well-being of all which technological and scientific advance may give rise."  Again, the wording is so creepy.  Who's to judge this "advance"?  Of course, the proto-posthuman (transhumanists) are the only ones who can judge.  But where's the advocacy for the well-being, where's the love for existing humanity?  Especially for the ones who can't afford transhumanism?  It is interesting that transhumanism presents itself publicly as some corporate enterprise.  Of course, if there is an elitism to transhumanism, its thought isn't disqualified just because.  However, the troubling thing about transhumanism is its own half-baked positions on "humanity," "advance," etc. - as if these were givens.  Transhumanism shares with Objectivism an unfliching volitional individualism, so it's no surprise that it favors "allowing individuals wide personal choice over how they enable their lives" and lists "human modification and enhancement technologies."  Well, the first statement is vacuous, like saying "America is the land of the free."  It's meant to account for the second statement about using various (controversial) technologies.   Personally, in the end, I'm not morally against the use of such technologies.  If anything, transhumanism is naively hopeful, and it does come off as merely science fiction - and there's better science fiction.  However, I have a problem with transhumanism's weird relationship with the status quo.  For all its trans-ness, it relies on its merging with the prevailing status quo.  I hate to be Marxian here, but transhumanism presupposes the already existing human relations in its vision of the future.  I won't go into all that jazz about a "new society" but shit, I wouldn't want the dominant human relations in a human, transhuman, or posthuman world.  I think people are machinic enough, and modern alienated individualism and its freedom are overrated.  Transhumanism just seems like a bad sublimation of existing human relations, not the transcendence.  And everyone knows or at least feels that it's still all about survival even in the year 2010.