Why Transhumanism should be the Norm

When thinking about whether to publicly identify as “transhumanist”, “techno-progressive” or some other label in my work, it occurred to me that the idea of being a transhumanist would need clarification for any people who might view it as an unnecessary impositionWhy should they accept this “ism” rather than the many other “isms” floating around? Or should they add this “ism” to other “isms” they have included in their pallet? This leads me to the discussion in this article.

Transhumanism, in spite of the “ism”, shouldn’t really be taken as an ideology, even though it could be posited as being an ideology. Should I consider it radical or strange of me to take a transhumanist stance in a mainstream publication, or a publication where the transhumanist approach is not well known? I would argue that it is not radical, but some brief clarification of the transhumanist outlook should be necessary, and an effective argument will be to present transhumanist” as the norm we all ought to follow rather than an exceptional way of thinking. All people with a futuristic vision of how things should proceed are already transhumanists, really.Some are just more actively using the label than others.

It is probably easy for outsiders to consider the transhumanist vein of ideas to be deviant or dangerous, based on some rather obsessive transhumanist staple ideas typically thought of as representing the main concern of transhumanism, e.g. life-extensionThe idea that transhumanists can all be reduced to people who don’t like their bodies, or have a personal dissatisfaction with the limits of being human, must be an easy mistake for some people to make when doing some basic research on transhumanismPeople will be prone to regard transhumanism as a novelty, and a deviation from human norms, which does seem to be implied by the very name.

However, transhumanism isn’t a novelty at all, because it is itself fundamental to being human. Transhumanists are very human in their concerns, and humans are already very transhumanist in their concerns. Putting specific veins of transhumanist speculation aside, the root promise of transhumanism rests in the idea of the normality of change,which is already a key principle in our current civilization. People already favor indisputably positive change that affects humans in very deep ways, and this is basically the kind of change that is most favored by transhumanists.

Progressive pundits and advocates consistently win arguments through making appeals to decisive precedents in the history of social change, e.g. new calls for equal rights are triumphed by merely invoking images of emancipation and the civil rights campaigns of yesterday. If a certain social change, however extreme or fundamental it seems at our time, is analogous to an earlier social change that did garner social approval, then the progressive argument appears sufficiently strong to win a debate. Conservative thinking runs contrary to this, by appealing to a sense of alarm about the upheaval that has typically accompanied moments of significant social change. A similar logic to the progressive logic is already at the heart of transhumanism, and such logic is arguably responsible for the greatest strides in the advancement of civilization. Transhumanism only breaks from the progressive logic where it advocates change in “fundamental” ways rather than change in the mere rituals of society. In effect, a transhumanist change has no problem with treading on the apparent dictates of “Mother Nature” to produce desirable change, while most progressives would likely use the naturalistic fallacy to reject transhumanist attitudes by claiming they lead us to unnatural ends. However, not only do progressives themselves tread on “Mother Nature” byresenting aspects of nature that they find distasteful(predation, parasitism etc.), but “Mother Nature” is in fact merely a false god. Yes, “Mother Nature” is merely anotheridol, being placed to divide humans from a kingdom of organisms that they actually never departed from in the first place. The idol has been created to bar humans from exercising their right to shape their own future and their world using the power of their unique intelligence. It is not incumbent on humans to respect nature; it is incumbent upon humans to obtain maximum power over the world around them by dissecting the world atom by atom. With there being no god over us, and rejecting this other idol of “Mother Nature”, the divine chair belongs to the most intelligent creatures that can compete for it and finally claim it. Humans are the only indisputably purposeful agency in our world, so they fall into the divine chair whether they want it or not.

When we consider Friedrich Nietzsche’s analogy of the tightrope as man over an abyss, we may realize that there is no sustainable middle ground between humans regressing to a primitive state and humans striving for perfection and permanence as their innate wills are continuing to press them. The longer we wait, suspended between our newly unlockedscientific abilities and our cultural and civilizational immaturity, the more we risk the real calamity of losing the distinctly human momentum of advancement. With the nuclear stockpiles in humanity’s furry hands already being capable of ending this historical climb if they are ever employed, we have no choice but to cease to be glorified apes before glorified apes will destroy us all. Our greatest need to improve ourselves drastically comes from the race against our own primitive fallibility.

The Nietzschean analogy offers not simply a justification for fundamental changes that might initially appear to threaten to cause human extinction, but also offers a justification of the fiercest form of upheaval if it should in fact come to pass. If future generations will attain a state of maximum perfection and power over the world around themincluding the secrets of biology and the most advanced intellect possible, it does not matter what happens to us. If we are able to create god in the end – an agency that can achieve anything that can be achieved by agency – then it does not matter what happens toour present selves in the process. That is why we should hope future humans work to gain possession of the absolute maximum in wisdom and power that it is possible to obtain.People do not object to this, otherwise they would be uninterested in learning and gaining new abilities.

If the ideas above seem untraditionalperverse or hard to rationalize, that is not a reflection of my views but of the situation that we humans are already in. The point being expressed here is that transhumanist ideas are able to connect with a reality about human change that is not usually focused on in the political scene. Whether we choose to be transhumanists or not, the human will remain transitory creature, just as much as social rituals are transitory. By definition, we are always working towards a better kind of living. This means it is simply impossible to put up red lines against even the most dangerous speculation and accidents that could ever be blamed on transhumanism. People are already transhumanist by definition, because transhumanism is the most human outlook that a person can have. Transhumanism cannot be accused of creating dangers any more than being human and believing in change can be accused of creating dangers. Following the norm indeed creates potential dangers, but the dangers are to be tolerated because they are also the norm in the human track record.

Transhumanists should not consider themselves or present themselves to be novel or radical in any way, even if there is a lack of identification with their apparent main concerns and goals in the broader publicIn my view, my transhumanism is where I simply acknowledge that people are inherentlycreatures of very deep and lasting change in every way, and believe this change should be encouraged rather than feared. What the transhumanist individuals and groups may propose now is no more radical than the proposition that early hominids must learn to talk, if we can imagine such a proposition being made. Was such a development unnatural? No, in fact that development followed directly from our brain structure which evolved through pressures we call natural, and yet it was also a direct product of our agency at that timeWe, or rather our distant ancestors, wanted to communicate well, so they gave themselves this extraordinary capability over successive generations and now we get to use it to avoid unnecessary primitive conflicts and struggles. The threshold of humans first developing the ability to talk is perhaps where the boundary between the natural and artificial is blurred, so we have no reason to worship nature as something external to ourselves if we acknowledge that we never really left the jungle at all.

Breakthroughs in communication, which include computing, the Internet and mobile phones, ought to be regarded as no less natural or less significant as discoveries than early humans learning to speak and write. Such advancements through modern communications media, while not physically intervening in human biology (yet)still change human life fundamentally in such a way that these developments and the people endorsing them can retrospectively be described as transhumanist. And these things already have approval, so why see further transhumanist change as radical when there has already been approved fundamental change that was just as alarming in its time?

Transhumanism ought to be seen as the norm, not the exception. Consider that transhumanist concerns and goals fit seamlessly into the history of ideas, as well as the nature ofalready triumphant social progress and the biological evolution still impacting us. To soften the blow of transhumanist speculations and goals on those who are noteasily convinced, it is most effective to appeal to history and evolution to make the justification for a transhumanistposition most clear. A transhumanist slant on things is ultimately desirable because it is merely rational, balanced and well-informed by the undeniable facts of history, philosophy, and the natural sciences when these are all included in our perspective.

10 Comments

  1. i don’t think anything should be “the norm”. “normal” is an oppressive and discriminating idea. as you might know, erich fromm calls normalization of certain ideas and/or behaviours, etc. as “modern fascism”.

    to put it very simply, if someone does not want to use a washing machine, then they shouldn’t use it. and everyone should be nonjudgmental about it. it should be nobody’s business.

    and no, transhumanism should never be the norm.

    • I merely state that being open to change should be regarded as the norm, as our ancestors were open to the change that made our civilization possible, despite the risks that were attached to it. If you oppose injustice and discrimination, then you already agree with this norm. So you might as well be a transhumanist because you are 99% of the way there, right now.

  2. Does Harry J. Bentham have a clone who co-authored this with him?

  3. Better formatting would be amazing, and make the article readable.

    • That weird WordPress formatting problem should now be fixed.

  4. The belligerent naturality and vehement normality of H+ is a sentiment that I always like to see endorsed, and one that has driven the thrust of my own work, thinking and argumentation for a number of years. So kudos, Harry.

    I also like the fact that you alluded to the great aphorist philophyle Nietzsche. It’s amazing to think that he was writing in the 19th century. Everything he wrote was written for a future readership. Imagine anticipating the Death of God in 1888! Unreal (and better for it). Nietzsche is one of the more common philosociohistorical antecedents of H+ one comes across [See Vol. 21 Issue 1 of the Journal of Evolution & Technology at jetpress.org, IEET’s peer-reviewed academic journal. Also, see this special issue of Agonist, the Nietzschean Philosophical Journal on Nietzsche and Transhumanism: http://www.nietzschecircle.com/AGONIST/2011_08/CONTENTS.html — IEET fellow Stefan Sorgner has papers in both these special issues, and his book “Metaphysics without Truth” also bears some relevance, see a review of his book, also from the Agonist, here: http://www.nietzschecircle.com/AGONIST/2009_03/PDFs/AgonistMAR2009SorgnerReview.pdf ] and the most common criticism for his inclusion as a precursor to H+ thinking, that I’ve seen anyways, is that his means of overcoming man was methodological as opposed to technological. But I don’t think there is a legitimate ontological distinction between reason and technology. Technology is embodied methodology, and methodology is suficiently-internalized technology. Language is a methodologized technology. Thus I see historical continuity between ALL examples of Utopianism and Societal Progress, not just the overtly technophilic Utopian and Socio-Progressive instances. I think the the act of citing Nietzsche’s famous tightrope analogy exemplifies this sentiment, as does the general thrust of your article. It is all too easy to assume that we are an idiosyncratic group of memetic deviants at odds with normative desires and behaviors, especially, as you’ve considered, given the name Transhumanism. It is all too easy to assume that we are working to create a radically powerful lone Transhuman rather than a radically self-empowered Transhumanity. But to assume those admittedly ready-at-hand misinterpretations is to contradict the actual underlying impetus and gestalt of the H+ movement, discipline and ideology (in the sense of an ideational system or system of ideas, as opposed to a strict or overly-formal doctrine, which the term “ideology” has now become associated with, instead of its technical meaning as a system of ideas).

    So, all in all, the naturalism and normality of H+ is one I concord with and always love to see recur in H+ communities and rhetoric. Thanks for endorsing the sentiment Harry. I am sometimes struck heavy by how utterly silly it is that we have to defend the ethicacy and desirability of *betterment* itself, as though betterment (aside from specific definitions of what constitutes better, which is subjective) were not ipso facto or by definition better. Of course it’s all about what your definition of and metric for betterment is, but in terms of the basic drive of betterment (i.e. changing the world or the self towards the purpose of betterment, whatever the metric), and the fact that we have to argue that the act of change towards betterment itself, as opposed to any specific definition of what constitutes “betterness”, is desirable sometimes seems as silly as having to argue that goodness is good, and that wanting betterment is better than otherwise in the first place. We’re arguing for the desirability of maximizing our ability to realize our desires. OF COURSE that’s desirable. Again, this is solely in terms of the concept of betterment itself, as opposed to any specific definition of what constitutes betterment, which is a subjective objective.

    • Thanks for your comment, Franco. I am quite sure Nietzsche was a transhumanist in spirit, even if he was not a transhumanist in his actual concerns during his life. When I studied Nietzsche, I was taught that his work was meant to encourage people to depart from former ways of thinking in all sorts of fields. Nietzsche favored the idea of humans working towards something better in all fields and his ideas tell us that we shouldn’t be afraid of risks, we should pursue what increases our knowledge and power. Can we deny that new technologies are increasing our knowledge and power as we make them part of our lives? Emerging technology was not on Nietzsche’s mind, of course, but only because it wasn’t really a defining issue at that time, when religious/political change was more relevant. Revolting against conventional ideas and restraints sustaining the regime of his day was his concern, which is why postmodernist philosophers use his ideas. I accept that people can reject my (and other) comparisons between the Nietzschean and transhumanist objectives, but I think equating them is legitimate simply because transhumanists are advocates of change, and comparisons with other political and philosophical revolutionaries are therefore deserved. Nietzsche also didn’t want to tell us what he means when talking about the “superman” – he implied that we should be yearning for it even if we don’t know exactly what it is, much like god. Philosophers write their work to have relevance to many fields, so I believe Nietzsche’s philosophy has definite relevance in fundamental change of all sorts including technological.

Leave a Reply