Overcoming the All-Too-Human: Response to the Technoprogressive Declaration, 25/11/2014

I’ve never really gotten all that excited about transhumanism as a philosophical or political movement, but it seems that it’s been thrust upon me over the last few months. I’m taking part in a review and a critical discussion on the subject at the Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective, and a promising publication venue for my Ecophilosophy manuscript is as part of a series of books on the general topic of post-humanism.

The Ecophilosophy manuscript was originally conceived as a contribution to environmental moral and ontological philosophy, which it still is. But the opportunity to pitch the manuscript as a discussion in a post-humanism context gets to a central meta-philosophical point in the project itself, my vision of what philosophy is actually for, and what constitutes philosophical progress. 

The transhumanist stereotype: man becomes technology
in a vision where man is the only life.
I consider philosophy an intellectual tradition based upon the creation, refinement, and critique of concepts, new frameworks and approaches to thought. So philosophical practice is essentially theorizing new ways to be human, overcoming existing limitations of human thought and life. This would appear to put me clearly in the transhumanist camp.

But I’m not, really. Steve Fuller should consider this one of the early critiques of the recently published Technoprogressive Declaration. This set of principles for the politically progressive employment of human enhancement technologies emerged this weekend from Transvision 2014, a conference on transhumanist ideas organized by the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. Take a few moments before I continue my introductory critique* of the statement to actually have a read of it.

* I say introductory critique because I don’t want to spoil too many of the ideas that I’ll discuss in my upcoming joint review of the essay collection Post- and Transhumanism, edited by Robert Ranisch and Stefan Lorenz Sorgner, which will be up on SERRC over December.

The goals of the Technoprogressive Declaration are admirable. As technology to improve human life through increasingly amazing ways develops, it should be deployed to maximize human benefit and overcome the inequalities that exist in our world. I certainly hope that the Technoprogressive Caucus puts some concrete action into its activism and either reaches out to the people developing these technologies, or develops ways to liberate them from what will likely be their first home in the luxury goods market. If technology is genuinely able to liberate humanity from its material chains, then the restrictions of economic disenfranchisement have to fall first.

So the Technoprogressive Declaration is certainly right to call for the radical transformation of our economic system. Technological growth has removed the need for human labour from much of our manufacturing processes, but our mainstream morality says that income should only be earned in exchange for work. Extreme technological progress combined with the morality that you must work to live will eventually create a society of permanently destitute unemployed.

The trick will be developing a morality where all people find pleasure in self-improvement. This is a transformation of human nature that transhumanist doctrine often does not touch. In fact, several key historical arguments in favour of transhumanist transformation of the human condition is couched in the notion that radical technological enhancement of the human organism will result in a life of great pleasure and practical immortality to experience that pleasure.**

** Not to mention other problems that maintaining our current economic morality will create for a society of practical immortals.

This hedonism is precisely what proponents of work-to-live moralities decry: the lazy pleasure-seeker whose profane lifestyle is subsidized by the state. The only way to convince moralizers of the principle that one must deserve one’s income through labour to join the transhumanist train is to combine it with a post-humanist principle: that we must overcome the tendency in our nature to rest content with a purely pleasurable environment.

Transhumanism requires an ethical transformation of the human condition, which technology alone is inadequate to achieve. An economy of guaranteed incomes resting on machine labour will only sustain itself if the human race finds its most profound and satisfying pleasure in the independent pursuit of the sciences and arts, and other means of individual self-improvement. Our mythic role models for this future would be figures like Doctor Who and Jean-Luc Picard.

I’m also disappointed that ecological knowledge plays no explicit role in the Technoprogressive Declaration. A secure civilization, especially one so intimately dependent on technology as transhumanist visions, requires an ecologically sustainable technology at every stage of the material production process. It sorely disappoints me that I have so rarely come across transhumanist discussions that take seriously the ecological health of Earth (or whatever planets we settle upon in addition) as the foundation of any sustainable technological progress at all.

No comments:

Post a Comment