As an existentialist, I am committed to the recognition that most of life is suffering. To be born is to die, and to live is to experience pain and agony.
Only the tiniest fragment of humanity has ever been so fortunate as to “enjoy” life, even briefly. The vast majority of humans who have ever lived have perished in anonymity, their hopes, dreams, joys, passions, laughter, tears, toils, fears, and even names lost forever, abandoned to oblivion.
Where is the redemption in a world like that? Where is the logic? There is none, and mankind’s long quest to find extrinsic meaning in life is a fool’s errand.
However, as Pee-wee Herman once said, everyone has a big BUT. In this case, the big but is that we don’t have to accept things as they are. Indeed, the whole history of humankind is that we take arms against a sea of troubles: we resist the inevitable, defy the obvious, and take solace in the belief that we can make things better.
First, we tame fire. Then, we stop chasing food and corral it. We create writing, build cities, enact laws. We invent printing, devise the scientific method, shun superstition, and practice medicine. We recognize human rights, outlaw slavery, enfranchise everyone, and promote tolerance.
But that’s not all. After subduing nature and trampling so much of her beauty, we gain a dawning awareness that having dominion over the Earth is maybe not such a good idea after all. Playing nice with Gaia might in the long run turn out better.
So, we renounce our profligate ways, look toward renewable sources of energy and sustainable lifestyles, and seek to make amends for the great damage we have done. We are growing, maturing, taking responsibility for our actions and attitudes.
All this is good and commendable. We may yet deserve our self-claimed label of homo sapiens—“wise man”—although we have a long way to go.
There’s only one big problem, namely that “life sucks and then you die.” It still sucks for most of us, and we still all die!
But, aha, it doesn’t have to be that way.
If we have proven anything in the last 10,000 years of advancing civilization, and especially in the last 300 years of the scientific era, we have shown an ability—indeed a compulsion—to kick against the pricks, no matter how painful that might be, until we break free from whatever bonds held us down. We will not be satisfied with the status quo. Life can be better, and we can make it so.
We can have more freedom, more equality, more solidarity. We can do more to reduce suffering, increase education, and provide abundant opportunities for all. We can use our intelligence, our creativity, our learning, and our technology to improve on things as they are. We can, we must, and we will.
Today we are finally approaching the very real potential of overcoming the greatest limitations that existence has placed upon us. We are beginning to see the glimmers of significant life extension, of healthspans that could cover centuries, if not eons. Our rapidly accelerating technological prowess may soon enable substantial reengineering of the human condition and such radical augmentation of our bodies and ourselves that we may no longer be recognizably human, but will have attained a state of transhumanity or even posthumanity.
This is the technoprogressive ideal: that we take responsibility and make ourselves better than we are, the best that we can be, not only for ourselves but for all our human sisters and brothers and for all our earthly flora and fauna relatives. E pluribus optimus, if you will.