Friday, 21 February 2020

The -ism Series (36): Transhumanism

"Things don’t get better simply because we have the latest and greatest technology. While I would certainly argue that there is such a thing as genuine progress, such as universal literacy or peaceful and free societies, these are not guaranteed either by the trajectories of history or the development of technology. Technologies can be used to support both freedom and tyranny. Technology is not inherently either the problem or the solution, but is instead a tool through which ethical progress might be implemented or hindered."
DeBaets (2011)

There are different sub-movements within transhumanism "ranging from environmentalists and feminists of the left to religious and cultural conservatives on the right" (DeBaets, 2011), from a moderate approach that focuses on enhancing human characteristics to a strong one that is about overcoming the so-called limits of human nature (Friberg Felsted & Wright, 2014), including death. And ageing, of course, as this is regarded as its main cause. These transhumanists believe that we should merge with machines to remake ourselves "in the image of our own higher ideals" with enhanced physical and mental capabilities (via). Technology's possibilities can surely make us enthusiastic but there is a downside to it: the feeling of superiority and the message that you shall not age and shall have an abled body.
History is littered with the evil consequences of one group of humans believing they are superior to another group of humans. Unfortunately in the case of enhanced humans they will be genuinely superior. We need to think about the implications before it is too late.
Blay Whitby
The human body as a site of inquiry is not a contemporary concept, and notions of what classifies as a human body has largely influenced biopolitical regimes and sovereign power. Biopolitical discourses that culminated in the Nazi eugenics regime during World War II held the belief that specific types of bodies were inferior to others, and ultimately classified as inhuman, which resulted in the liquidation of countless individuals under the rubric of racial hygiene. Nazi eugenics is an extreme example of both the sovereign power over life and death, and a quest for corporeal perfection; more subtle examples can be seen in contemporary Western society, such as the treatment of disabled individuals.
David-Jack Fletcher (2014)

Ageing is regarded as a process of increasing deficiency, as something that needs to be overcome and is feared (via). Similarly, disability is eradicated by altering, improving, enhancing or erasing the "undesirable deficits or disabilities" (Fletcher, 2014). By doing so, transhumanist technologies enhance so-called normal human bodies and "provide therapy to those deemed Other" which again may perpetuate "notions of acceptable bodies and biopolitical hierarchies" (via). In extreme cases the assumption is made that society would be better off if there were no persons with disabilities born (DeBaets, 2011).
While most would agree that disability denies individuals the same quality of life as those deemed " abled, " this eradication ultimately relies upon secular humanist notions of the perfect human. Transhuman technologies hold obvious implications for the human body, however they also hold implications for what it means to be an acceptable body; ultimately these technologies aim to create the perfect human by eradicating the disabled Other.
David-Jack Fletcher (2014)
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- DeBaets, A. M. (2011). Enhancement for All? A Feminist Ethical Analysis of the Discourses and Practices of Democratic Transhumanism. Conference Proceedings, LINK
- Fletcher, D.-J. (2014). Transhuman Perfection: The Eradication of Disability Through Transhuman Technologies. Humana.Mente, 24, LINK
- Friberg Felsted, K. & Wright, S. C. (2014). Toward Post Ageing. Technology in an Ageing Society. Heidelberg et al.: Springer.
- Manzocco, R. (2019). Transhumanism. Engineering the Human Condition. History, Philosophy and Current Status. Cham: Springer.
- images via and via