(Transhumanism, be all that you can be, or be ungodly?)
Human augmentation is a long way off. Especially the kind of augmentation I've been writing about, the sci-fi, becoming a genius overnight, incredible reaction time stuff. So why is it such a contentious topic?
We've been using technology and medicine to enhance human qualities for quite some time, from surgery to inoculations. What we need to wonder, is when does something stop being ok, and start being aberrational?
How can people be formulating ethical objections to it already, when it isn't really on the public's radar yet? I had a chat to Michael Hughes, final year Philosophy student at Rhodes University, about a few possible explanations for the resistance.Futurescape: The Ethics of Human Augmentation by Gregory Peake
American political theorist and economist Francis Fukuyama even went so far as to call it the world's most dangerous idea, and this is coming from a man who is a reputed voice on the 'end of human history' (he believes liberal democracy and the western 'free market capitalism' could mark the epitome of human socio-cultural evolution, and that it will become the final form of governance and society).
Dr. Fukuyama wrote an article in 2004, simply entitled 'Transhumanism'; his article states that a "strange liberation movement" has formed in the developed world. Aiming higher than gay-rights activists, or those who advocate feminism or civil rights, these 'Transhumanists' want to free themselves from more than just societal constraints (as the previously mentioned schools of thought desire) but rather, to free themselves from biological constraints.
Enhance me with technolo-gee
Dr. Fukuyuma continues by arguing that Transhumanists want to free themselves from their biological form and imperatives, and although it is tempting to laugh them off as over-active sci-fi fans, or an "odd-cult", they are much more than that, he says. Their movement is implicit in modern research agendas, mood altering drugs, muscle enhancers, genetic screening and genetic therapy are all examples of technology enhancing us.
Coupled with war, injury, poor health and a general failure to get along, and using technology to free ourselves from biologically informed problems, as well as unwelcome thought patterns and emotions becomes a rather pleasant plan of action to pursue.
Ronald Bailey, science and technology correspondent for ‘reason.com’, responded quite pointedly that Humans first freed themselves from biological constraints when they sharpened a stick to kill their prey, or used fire to warm themselves.
Schooling, physical training, these are prime examples of humanity trying to reach their peak capabilities with what they have. Baily summarises Dr. Fukuyama's chief moral objection as "if biotechnological manipulations removed our ability to feel emotions like anger, hate, or violence, we would in some sense not be human beings anymore."
Fukuyama did say this, but specifically in the context of hostility and differentiation of allies and enemies, "If we didn't have feelings of exclusivity, we wouldn't be loyal to those close to us; if we never felt jealousy, we would also never feel love."
That's right. If Transhumanists are allowed to continue, love will not exist (sorry, couldn't resist).
(As mentioned in my podcast, here's a fascinating depiction of some ethical dilemmas around this topic).
We shape our surroundings…
We are an excellent example of the application of the theory of extended phenotypes (by Richard Dawkings, something that he considers to be his premier contribution to evolutionary theory). This, when we simplify it and remove the biological fun-facts around protein synthesis means that... when considering organisms, we shouldn't just look at their internal attributes, but also look at the effects that their enviroment has on them, and vice versa.
Birds building nests, otters building dams, these are examples of looking at enviromental interactions. These things should be 'integrated' into our understanding of organisms. So, if we as humans constantly use our ability to create tools and otherwise better our lives utilising our own intellect, then that should be considered a part of our attributes as a species.
Resisting change for the sake of the past is generally a poor decision. Look at the protesters of mixed-race marriage in the United States fifty years ago. Don't they look silly now? The same can be said of the innoculation protesters in my ancestral home city of Leicester, England - a "hotbed of anti-vaccine activity".
Down with science!
In March 1885, 80,000 people protested against mandatory vaccinations. Why? They were unchristian (and they removed people's control over their own bodies). Well I don't think anyone is arguing that we institute mandatory augmentation, now are we? Cries of "unchristian" have been replaced with a sacrosanct belief that humans are somehow divine in their ordination as Earth's 'best' species (even from the self-declared atheist objectors).
It could be argued of course, that if Transhumanism becomes widespread, those who don't partake will be disadvantaged, meaning they would be treated as second-class humans (despite being arguably 'more' human). This is a valid concern; equality is a chief concern in the debate of Transhumanism (something I touched on last week when I discussed how DNA data has been prohibited from affecting choices by medical insurers or employers in the USA).
Do we close all the University's because only a few have access to them, and the rest are disadvantaged by not going to them? Should we close hospitals because some don't have access to healthcare?
Bringing the high-flyers down because the norm isn’t there yet is like forcing clever kids to learn at the same pace as their peers, despite being prematurely mentally advanced, it just doesn’t make sense.
Happy to announce I'll be departing from Augmentation next week, moving on to the wondrous ways in which we could fly.
See you then!