People often assume that radical evolutionists — those who are excited about the potential enhancements and expansions of human possibilities into the future — must be living on another planet.
After all, the very weather itself poses a plausible existential threat, the global economy is in the toilet, and then you’ve still got your weapons of mass destruction, your wars, various potential resource crises, ad infinitum (the list could go on for pages.)
But, in fact, we live on the same planet (and in the same difficult time) that everybody else does. Those who embrace radical technological change are as involved in down to earth problem solving as activists, environmentalists, and those technoids — engineers and scientists — whose ultimate goals may be a bit more modest than the transhumanist crowd.
In this edition of h+, we try to take on — within the limits afforded by our page count — a few of the crisis points that threaten our humanity, not to mention our transhumanity. This issue is, by no means, a compendium of techno-solutions to all our troubles — merely some brief articles and interviews that might hopefully stimulate a few neurons and provoke debate and discussion.
One crisis that has not been discussed in the rest of this edition is the increasing threats to human rights around the world. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and other rights inclined organizations inform us that, so far, the 21st Century has not been kind to our basic rights as we understand them. According to most respected sources, freedom of speech and assembly, habeas corpus and fair justice, and just the basic right to not be abused by authorities and quasi-authorities have all taken a hit in what we might still call the "post-9/11 environment."
In this case, though, my purpose is not to suggest resolutions for this problem, but possibly to complicate it. Because while much of the world still struggles for the basic rights that many of us have become accustomed to (we may have lost some — at least technically — over the last few years, but that’s a discussion for another time), I suggest that we urgently need a whole new set of rights. We need a bio-progressive rights movement — a movement that can keep us free from novel intrusions on novel freedoms that are just now coming into focus as the result of developments in science, technology and culture.
I suggest that the primary site for autonomy — for individual freedom going into the future — is not in the area of common public discourse, or in ownership of property. Both of those things are important, to varying degrees. But our conception of the locus for autonomy as we enter into the bio-age should shift to the body and the mind. The basic stance should be — to the greatest degree possible: 1) What you choose to do with your body and your brain is inviolable, so long as it doesn’t harm anybody else. And 2) No person or institution can do anything to your body or brain without your consent, except under the most extraordinary of circumstances (for instance, when you become a danger to others.)
Starting with this premise, there are a host of fundamental rights issues that need to be recognized. Some of them are as ancient and familiar as the right of adult individuals to engage in consenting sexual relationships of their own choosing; and some of them arise with technological changes, like your right to have yourself bio-engineered for enhanced body strength or to turn your skin color purple.
You may want the right to die comfortably, with the assistance of a physician. Or you may want the right to medicines or treatments that will make you live longer than human beings have lived in the past. You may want the right to take any chemicals you want to enhance your abilities or pleasures. And you may want to be protected from being forced to take drugs, or to otherwise have your mind altered by the state or other interested parties. You may want full control over your own womb (let’s hear it for the rights of the born!); or you may want the right to have a womb. You may want to be protected from brain fingerprinting and other emerging forms of inner surveillance and/or direct intervention into your thoughts. You may want the freedom to make copies of yourself — digitally or biologically.
A bio-progressive rights agenda doesn’t have to mean that we’re advocating an absolute free-for-all. There’s plenty of room for complexity and discourse around legitimate limits to bio-liberty, once the essential premise — that individual autonomy in the bio-age resides in the body and brain (and possibly the intelligent external extensions) of the individual — is accepted. For example, most societies feel compelled to provide at least emergency health care to everyone, so your dangerous experimentation could be viewed as an imposition on others. We will have to work through this discussion, but the biological rights view is that an extremely heavy burden of proof must be put upon society before it invades your self.
If you embrace these rights, expect heavy resistance, because you will find yourself in for a territorial pissing match with most of the leading religions. Religions have traditionally ruled over the "seed" issues – issues around conception, death, the body, self-definition, gender and sexuality. But given the intrusive potentials of advancing technologies, this is a discussion we need to start having now.