Hank and I have had a complicated relationship, which anyone who has read his articles here on H+ and over on IEET might be familiar with. I started out being an avid supporter of his in such early articles such as in-vitro meat, and sex-bots, and a regular commenter on his many others. Since then, our relationship has at times seemed to be openly antagonistic as I’ve disputed some of his articles, such as the “Value of Israel to Transhumanism.” But while I might disagree with many things Hank has had to say over the years, one thing I cannot say about him is that he is afraid to look at the world as it is, and talk about how we should change to make it a better place. In this regard, Hank is the kind of transhumanist supporter we need more of. He’s not someone who’s only willing to make a prediction that I would view as “safe”, i.e. one which is non-threatening, or offensive, or which sugar-coats reality to make a pretty picture. As such, he’s a futurist I respect, despite our differences of opinion.
But those differences do exist, and in some ways, Hank’s visions of the future strike me as being as far fetched and ignorant of the realities of human nature as the dreams of a child. I love Hank’s visions of the future, I just don’t see them coming to pass in the ways he envisions, and indeed, some of them I would say are as dystopian as the worst visions of Gibson. We’ve had some rather heated arguments in the discussions of many of his articles, many of which were recently published in his new e-Book “Inventing Utopia”. That’s why I was surprised when Hank asked me to write a review for it. Hank could have asked someone who’s only going to sing his praises, but he’s not interested in simple agreement. He wanted my analysis as “one of his regular opinioned readers,” even after I warned him to be careful what he wished for.
The book is divided into four sections, each section covering a selection of his many articles, and which offer a view into Hank’s belief systems. The first section – “Estrogen Rising” – covers his radical support of feminism. I am in agreement with Hank that equality offers enormous benefits to society, and his article on the “Social Benefits of Feminism” is one of those rare pro-feminism arguments which present hard facts in the form of statistics. It’s about as simple and straightforward as it’s possible to get, EQUALITY BENEFITS EVERYONE. The problems arise when Hank goes beyond equality to female domination.
Which is pretty much what “Ova-Fusion”, the next essay is about. It discusses the fusion of two female eggs to produce a normal female mouse. It’s a fantastic development, one which will eventually allow two women to reproduce, and which could also eventually lead to a means to allow two men to reproduce as well, though that will likely take a much longer time to research. It’s a development which will eventually lead to any two people being able to reproduce regardless of gender, something which in my view promotes equality for all. But Hank instead used it to launch a tirade against men, and how with this development, we could eliminate the male entirely from society. While he’s not specifically calling for a war to eliminate men, his article indicates his deep dislike of the male gender. He continues in this vein in the next article “Women only leadership” in which he paints men as solely being warlike, and woman solely as peaceful. While I cannot disagree with his contention that we should seek leaders who think with their heads and not with their hormones, the behaviors he condemns exist in both genders, and as such are not “male specific”, the same goes for his article on rape prevention, which again, overlooks entirely the existence of female-female rape, female-male rape, and male-male rape. We both agree that rape needs to stop, period, but Hank seems blind to the fact that rape is not solely perpetrated by men on women, but is a domination tactic used to prove “superiority” over another.
This is where Hank and I have our greatest areas of disagreement. Like too many other “partisan” supporters of an “ism”, he’s blinded himself to the “evils” perpetrated by the “side” he supports, and as such, has passed beyond supporting equality, and into supporting “exceptionalism.” Exceptionalism is a far too common excuse used by one group or another to explain why everyone else should play by one set of rules, and they should be allowed to play by entirely different ones. You see it happening every day, with wealthy people rarely going to jail for crimes a poor person would spend years imprisoned for. You see it with various minorities demanding “privileges” that only “they” should be allowed, or corporations demanding laws which will prevent small businesses from competing with them, or prevent the public from using technologies which bypass their chokehold on particular products. It’s one of the true great evils of our world, and one which we MUST overcome to create a world of true equality, but Hank has never seemed to understand that equality cannot exist so long as one group is allowed to be “more equal” than everyone else. We both agree that women need equality, and that equality is beneficial to the world, Hank just can’t seem to understand that equality doesn’t mean a reversal of gender power structures, but the creation of a world in which neither side is “in power.”
Which is why I am surprised the last article in this section – “Artificial wombs” – was not yet another attack against men, but a fairly straightforward discussion of the advantages that could be possible with artificial wombs in freeing society from the hardships of child birthing. Like ova fusion, this is a technology which offers great promise to males and females alike, giving gay men the ability to reproduce with their partners without the need of a surrogate mother. After the extreme anti-male tone of his previous articles, I can only assume Nikki Olson, his co-author, toned him down a bit, making this a fairly egalitarian article.
Moving on to his next section “Future Friendly Nations” Hank does a pretty good job of researching his facts and figures, with his article on Korea showing how possible it could be that Korea could become an economic superpower as a technology friendly nation which is far ahead of most others in embracing the future. He also illustrates the value of Brazil and the role it could play in replacing America as the “food basket of the world”. His article on Denmark is also well researched and illustrates why it should be a model to inspire the rest of the world in equality and freedom. All in all, they are good examples of how America is not “the only place that matters” as too many other futurists seem to think. They provide good examples of how the Singularity is something being worked towards worldwide. In fact, of all the articles in this section, there’s only one I have an issue with. The one which started my and Hank’s “disagreements.”
Understand, I think his article on Israel is just as well written and just as valuable as the others. He did a fine job illustrating the technological achievements of the nation, it scientists, and its contributions to the world. But, once again, Hank’s inability to understand the concept of exceptionalism shows all too clearly. How? Because Hank pins all these achievements solely on the religion of the nation, and he makes a case for the religious “superiority” for Judaism. As such, I cannot condone his statements, because religions are among the worst of the “exceptionalists” who demand “special consideration” and “greater equality” for “true believers” than they will tolerate for “non-believers.” Like his stance on feminism, I cannot support a “greater than equal” exception for one religion over another.
Which finally brings us to my favorite section, “Lifestyle Tomorrow.” Why is this my favorite? Because these are the articles which made me one of Hank’s fans. As a succubus to be, I can’t help but love Hank’s hedonistic worldview. “Eight ways In-vitro Meat will Change Our Lives” is the very first article by Hank I ever read, and you will find I wrote probably half of all the comments made on it at H+ magazine. His willingness to even cover such “silliness” as “dinoburgers” made of cloned dinosaur tissue, or “self cannibalism” through cloning your own tissues for meat showed his willingness to step out of the bounds of conventionality and include the exotic, and even weird, in his view of the future. His straight forward defense of “recreational robots” in “Sexbots Will Give Us Longevity Orgasms” through showing the health benefits of daily sexual exercise follows many of my own views about the ridiculous hang ups various social ideologies have left the human race crippled with. While we disagree with the acceptableness of “loving” a sex-bot, mainly on my side due to the possible therapeutic effects such a relationship could have on the emotionally traumatized victims of those social ideologies, we both agree that sex-bots will both be inevitable, and valuable to the future of humanity.
Then there’s “Hey Kids! Don’t forget to Take My Brain Out of the Freezer,” a humorous look at the difficulty of explaining Cryogenics and Life extension technology to children who are inundated with the “deathist” memes that permeate our current world. As a member of the Immortality Institute, I’ve had similar conversations with adults who simply cannot wrap their heads around the concept that death is a disease, not an inevitability. My favorite line is about him wanting his next body to be a “young gymnastic Icelandic woman who can have 15 orgasms per night.” (Yes, I know. I’m a succubus, of course it made me lick my lips in anticipation. Get over it. XPPPPP )
His next article is another of my fav’s, though I can’t seem to find it on the H+ site anymore. “Get Naked: It’s Good for Your Brain” was a fun look at why being naked has health benefits. I’m sad to say that the majority of objections to the article had almost no actual merit, but were mainly about not wanting to see ugly people naked, or religious objections based on concepts like “nakedness is a sin”. While I disagree with Hank that nakedness could become normal, it’s not because of any factual errors on his part, merely that I think human nature will keep clothes around for decoration long after we’ve rendered the human body immune to all environmental harm and overcome the idiotic notions that sex is a “sin” or that the human body is “shameful.”
“Happy Morning in Hedonista” is simply a fun read that puts all these pieces together into a future scenario that is fairly plausible, though it’s also rather limited as it merely covers things Hank had talked about previously. Several clever commentaries in the discussions added immensely to the fun. It’s a pity that the book can’t include them.
And now we come to the last section: “Predictions and Proposals.” In this section, Hank discusses some of his ideas about what we can do to improve the world, as well as some events he thinks are likely to occur. In “State by State Gay Marriage Acceptance” he covers the statistics that support the likely legalization of gay-marriage over the next few decades. Considering the recent events in NY, it seems overly pessimistic. In “Human GPS and Microchipping” he discusses the pros and cons of human RFID tags and their likely inevitability. In “Tax the Churches and Give the Revenue to Hungry Children” he confronts the hypocrisy of “religious tax exemption” and makes a strong case for eliminating one enormous example of “exceptionalism” which gives me hope that eventually he’ll realize that no group can be allowed to “be an exception” to the laws which govern society.
And in “Egalitarian Planet: Five Proposals to Elevate Society by Ending Disparity” he asks the question “Is inequality the primary cause of human suffering? Does disparity in wealth, power, opportunity, and education inevitably lead to despair and social discontent?” which is something I believe he should consider himself given the criticisms I have given to the articles above. Exceptionalism is ALL ABOUT creating these very disparities which he shows quite well ARE detrimental to the future of the human race. In the cases I discussed above, Hank has overlooked the fact that he has advocated creating exactly these kinds of disparities by placing certain groups and ideologies into the roles of “exceptions” to everything else he stands for. As much as I’d love to expand on my own contribution to this article, I’m going to content myself with merely recommending you read this article carefully, and then go the IEET and read the full range of commentary.
Which brings us to the last article, and undoubtedly, the most controversial: “Ban Baby Making Unless Parents are Licensed.”
I’m adopted. I was an unwanted child. I was one of the lucky ones who actually WAS adopted. I have worked in convenience stores where I have watched parents put the milk for their kids back so they could buy their alcohol. I have watched parents ignore their child’s screaming hysterics because they simply couldn’t be bothered. I have seen parents set their kids in front of the TV and ignore them. I have seen case after case of abuse, or simple neglect by people who did not want kids, don’t know how to be a parent, and who had one simply because they failed to use a contraceptive.
I freely admit to being biased. I agree 100% with Hank. I think couples who have children that they can’t or won’t take care of should be involuntarily sterilized. I have no illusions about the seething raw hatred I have of people who condemn an innocent child to a life of hell just because they wanted to fuck. It’s one of the worst travesties we’ve allowed to happen on this planet, the allowance of childhood suffering simply because we’re too afraid to insist that someone has at least a minimum level of training to raise a child, or a minimum level of ability to support a child. We NEED licensing and education.
But we’re not going to ever see it happen, because of idiotic religious ideas and even stupider people who think that a baby is a “ticket to happiness.” As good an idea as licensing is, we will never see it occur because there is no way to enforce it that does not violate people’s free will to do with themselves as they wish.
And in the end, I have to satisfy myself that it will become a moot issue in the near future when we create the ability to reversibly sterilize ourselves to prevent any possible accidental pregnancies unless BOTH PARTIES voluntarily chose to deliberately create a child. It’s not going to stop all of the problems Hank outlined so well, but it will certainly eliminate the “accidents,” and as we move into a world of unlimited choice, in which our bodies become merely another “decoration” and our gender becomes a matter of personal preference, maybe we’ll finally see a day in which every child is wanted, and human life is considered too precious to leave in the hands of untrained and incompetent morons.
So, in conclusion, while flawed, there is much to value in Hank’s writings. I highly recommend reading them, and support Hank’s future contributions to transhumanism by purchasing your own copy of this entertaining, and usefully infuriating, book.