The first time I met people who self-identified as mutants was at the Autonomous Mutant Festival. I remember making computer chip necklaces and passing out at AMF when I was a teenager. I was really into the whole “becoming machines and taking it to the streets” idea and had not yet seen the birth of the more club-based cybergoth. Coming straight from the digital world, I had little clue that a mutant subculture was a reality in the millennium. AMF is an outdoor renegade party full of audio and visual electronic artists that takes place in the west coast. It is considered a Temporary Autonomous Zone, because it is in a different location ever year and inspired by Hakim Bey’s original text on the subject. Some would say that Burning Man is a Temporary Autonomous Zone, in that it is a DIY city full of young and creative artists who are working together to create a brave new culture.
Many people would present both Autonomous Mutant Fest and Burning Man as evolutionary alternatives to matrix-based-living and suggest that these festivals are directly related to the next step of human development. While AMF would be considered more underground and Burning Man would be considered more popular, there is definitely a new subculture based on autonomous living rather than musical tastes or aesthetic preferences. It is safe to say that terms like punk, goth, hippie, rivethead, and raver have become components of old humanity and that there is a new consensus of a shape-shifting based neophile counterculture. Subcultures and scenes have become interchangeable due to Postmodernism and dare I say hipster-intellectualism. The goal is to build oneself as a living cultural mashup or superhero of your own design.
Enter the mutant. There are mutant kids all over the globe today and the idea of being a geek with a purpose is more exciting to many people than the last remaining subculture of steampunk. From body modification parties in which the limitations of the human body are pushed via suspension, to rapidly accelerating hackerspaces in which programming your own DNA has become a relevant subject rather than a sci-fi fantasy, we are entering an age in which Transhumanism is much more than an academic pursuit. As R.U. Sirius predicted with the New Edge subculture and Douglas Rushkoff elaborated in with his book Cyberia, the new generation is based on the next step of evolution and mixing genetic code has become the new way to DJ. With biohacking, 3D printing, and sensory enhancement it is now more popular than ever to be a mutant. When I started the Human 2.0 Council it was to focus on this new generation of DIY Transhumanists and give us a Digital Autonomous Zone that would reach its own Singularity through physical events like the Extreme Futurist Festival.
Recently I was interviewed by Tone magazine on the subject of DIY Transhumanism and explained that we were on the forefront of the new evolution as artists and cultural engineers. It was our job to build ourselves into higher humans whether the rest of humanity was ready or not. The general of idea of taking evolution into our own hands and associating this with a new generation was not well accepted by all members of the Transhumanist community. It seemed like there were many dangers in Transhumanism becoming a counterculture that did not understand its own implications. What would happen if a bunch of kids ran around calling themselves Transhumanists simply because it was the “cool” thing to do? What if Transhumanism developed Steampunk Syndrome and anything/everything was suddenly considered Transhumanist? What if the question: “What is Transhumanism?” was answered in cliches like “whatever we make it” or “this moment”? Would we lose our desire to evolve as human beings and would substance be replaced with style? Would we become industrialized? Would evolution simply be another festival in the desert?
In being a DIY Transhumanist one must be careful to back their style up with substance. Dressing up like a cyborg without knowledge of Transhumanism, as evidenced by the cybergoth subculture, is probably a bad idea. If you think the Singularity is a new Combichrist album you are doing it wrong. There are musicians like Johan Ess and Trimetrick who directly discuss evolution in their songs. One may realize that being a geek is essential to being cool in this day in age. The steampunk Marker Faire focuses on DIY Technology. As discussed above steampunk has now become associated with pop culture yet one must admit that the hands-on tinkering approach is very intellectual. Likewise the circuit-bending musicians associated with the noise subgenre are playing with sound in a way that is considered revolutionary to the audio experience. It is possible that DIY Transhumanism is bringing human and technological evolution to the eyes of the general public in an accessible way and removing the ivory tower. We must admit that the counterculture inevitably leads to the mainstream and that what is popular at Autonomous Mutant Festival will become popular at Burning Man will become popular at Coachella. It is now easy to find kids wearing computer chip necklaces at Coachella and it is only a matter of time before hipsters in coffee shops start dropping the names of cybernetic augmentations like they once dropped the names of Postmodern philosophers.
I feel that keeping the new generation well-informed about Science and Technology is a way to avoid the risk of Transhumanim becoming a fashion show that aids the Idiocracy and encourages ideological separatism. It is up to us to educate the new generation about Transhumanism rather than scoff at them for thinking that transitioning from old to new humanity is as simple as listening to an And One song. They are doing it wrong if they think the Singularity is a new Combichrist album but there are Comichrist fans with an interest in evolving through technology. These kids may be interested in the Singularity without knowing its name. There is a definite crossover between the alternative subcultures and Transhumanism that is ours to entertain.
In the end, we are all DIY Transhumanists whether we are young and outrageous or grownup and well-behaved. These are our own bodies and we are in the process of becoming more than our biological forms. One simply must decide to take their biology into their own hands and use technology to enhance their life and human experience.
Rachel Haywire is a musician, writer, and model who is founder of the Human 2.0 Council and the Extreme Futurist Festival, to be held in Los Angeles this December. Visit the conference site at http://extremefuturistfest.info.