Democratic Transhumanism
December 6, 2004 5:18 PM   Subscribe

I totally and absolutely reject his framing of the debate. He lost me right off the bat, by defining opposition to nanotechnology and human genetic engineering as necessarily "Luddite."

I also think there's an unexamined absurdity latent in this sentence: Democratic transhumanism stems from the assertion that human beings will generally be happier when they take rational control of the natural and social forces that control their lives.

"Rational control" of "social forces"? What, exactly, does Hughes mean by this? Can he (or anyone) name a human society founded and consistently operated on "rational" precepts? Because it seems to me that, until someone can, it's nonsense to assert that "human beings will generally be happier" under such circumstances. On what basis does he make this rather sweeping claim?

And I hate - hate - when people use phrases like "pro-scitech," as if all science and technology were one thing. Maybe, just maybe, there are some technologies whose widespread adoption I am strongly in favor of, while also utterly abjuring cloning or nanotechnology? Maybe I simply find the prospect of molecular-scale engineering terrifying given our long record of tastelessness with macro-scale engineering?

This material is far too important for shoddy and weak thinking like this to go unchallenged, or to be adopted as a cause by anyone, no matter how well-intentioned he may be. My god, this guy asserts stuff a second-year college student wouldn't expect to get away with unchallenged.
posted by Adam Greenfield at 5:39 PM on December 6, 2004

Another choice line: Left Luddism is boring and depressing; it has no energy to inspire movements to create a new and better society. The Left was built by people inspired by millenial [sic] visions

This is a good thing? Those millennial visions led to the Gulag and the Cultural Revolution and the killing fields of People's Kampuchea, just as others such led to Auschwitz and Nanking.

Seems a funny thing to get nostalgic about for one so dedicated to "rationality," anyway.

And as for the claim that "Luddite" leftism has no energy to inspire, it's a little suspect, given that the Green movement in toto probably falls under Hughes' definition of Luddism.

Really, the more you read of this, the sillier it gets - just a shoddy fabric of hyperbole and unsupported claims and suspect definitions. Which is really a shame, because there should be a (thoughtful) technical left.
posted by Adam Greenfield at 5:46 PM on December 6, 2004

This guy needs to re-read some Weber.
posted by ChasFile at 7:01 PM on December 6, 2004

yeahhh...while I like the idea of uploading my consciousness to a computer (etc) just as much as the next girl, I also think that casting the debate in such simplistic terms serves only to steamroll over all of its massively complicated and problematic implications. Ideally, I'd like the people confronting these issues to have no knee-jerk illusions about either the sanctity of nature OR of technological 'progress'.

...but hey, maybe once we've all transmuted into ultra-rational posthumans, we won't rely on such stupid polarizing rhetorical tactics anymore! right, guys? *crickets*

I do have to give this guy some smidgen of credit for trying to confront the fact that technological advancement, despite its potentially transformative effects, is perfectly capable of merely reinforcing existing inequalities and social flaws. (Many transhumanist types don't even make it that far...)

If he genuinely wants to catalyze a broad-based movement to improve human life, though, he needs to go a lot further. Perhaps instead of supporting equality/liberation/political change/etc only insofar as they enable his biotech fantasies, he should consider making those more basic issues the primary focus of his manifesto-writing, and letting transhumanism ride on their coattails. Then again, that may be too much to ask of someone who requires his social movements to be "sexy".
posted by introcosm at 7:37 PM on December 6, 2004

And as for the claim that "Luddite" leftism has no energy to inspire, it's a little suspect, given that the Green movement in toto probably falls under Hughes' definition of Luddism.

not really. even greenpeace has embraced unrestricted nanotech research.
posted by luckyclone at 11:07 PM on December 6, 2004

Hughes writes: I argue why democrats should embrace science, technology and transhumanism: (1) left Luddism inappropriately equates technologies with the power relations around those technologies; democratic technology policy requires an acknowledgement of the potential benefits of technology, not simply a futile effort to slow all technological innovation. (2) Technology can help us transcend some of the fundamental causes of inequalities of power. (3) Left Luddism is boring and depressing; it has no energy to inspire movements to create a new and better society.

(1) Is starting from the basic fallacy that technology can be considered separately from the cultures in which it is embedded. As a result, (2) is perhaps overstated.

Luddism was not anti-technology for the sake of being anti-technology. Luddism was a protest against the impact technology had in disempowering skilled labor forces. Much of the debate regarding biotechnology is about standards of evaluation. "Proven harmless" vs. "No proven harm." This piece is not beeing fully fair to the scope of the debate.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 4:18 AM on December 7, 2004

Does Transhumanism Suck?
posted by homunculus at 7:20 PM on December 14, 2004

"The only difference between a Bush conservative and a transhumanist is that conservatives project their fears onto technologies they don't understand, while transhumanists project their hopes. Either way, you've got a magical interpretation of science being advanced as a creepy political agenda."
posted by homunculus at 7:32 PM on December 14, 2004

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