One of the great criticisms of the transhumanist movement is that it will only benefit wealthy, First World citizens and that the ones who need the most help, the impoverished and marginalized - including their children - will be forgotten. This is already a partial problem with current science and technology. Worse, some of those who try to help end up coming up with absurd solutions that aren’t really what the poorest and majority of disenfranchised need. Then again, some solutions, like Dean Kamen’s slingshot (if it actually does what he says) are exactly what is needed.
This is no new argument, everyone who’s given this serious thought knows technoscience can cause as many problems as it solves.
I’ve been reading a lot of postcolonial criticism of science recently and, well, I think transhumanists need to take a serious look at what postcolonial critics, like Harding, Spivak, and Said are saying. In particular, transhumanism wants to make people well continuously as a permanent baseline so that enhancement can occur. If we focus on technologies that can make people, particularly those whose countries and cultures lack the infrastructure and institutions to develop to do so for themselves, better at a very low cost/infrastructure requirement, then transhumanism will have a global population to work from instead of a dinky core of hyper-elite hobby augmenters. I’m libertarian and I’m saying this stuff, which is why I probably support democratic transhumanism more so than die-hard (cough, objectivist, cough) libertarian transhumanists.
For me, one of the best examples of a simple, solvable problem is that of cleft lip and palate. While a cosmetic issue, yes, it’s also clearly a health/wellness and quality of life issue. Cleft lip and palate is a huge problem in the developing world and biotechnology looks to be the best hope for a mass solution because the problem is genetically based. [Science Daily] That means it’s something we can, in fact, must solve with biotech. I think that’s what made Juan Enriquez’s TED Talk so compelling, he talks about simple, realistic solutions. And TEETH. For God’s sake can I get some new teeth? Regrowing teeth is probably the single biggest hope I have invested myself in thus far. I have one crown and a couple fillings, will probably need more, and I cannot stand going to the dentist (yet I still don’t floss, heap shame upon me). The large point here is that transhumanism’s four big techs - nano, bio, info, cogno - don’t have to be just committed to creating some sort of superhuman. Transhuman tech can be used to make things like Crohn’s disease and lupus and tinnitus and malaria non-issues.
I say this in a postcolonial context because a great number of transhuman and postmodern technologies allow for those countries that had their ‘natural historical development’ (for lack of a better term) derailed by colonialism to skip, as it were, the path of current developed countries. In short, they don’t have to industrialize. Transhuman and postmodern tech, like alt-energy, cell networks, and micro-manufacturing allow tiny, rural communities to be both self-sufficient and enjoy a high standard of living. The key here is to make these technologies available and useful but also present enough options to prevent corporate colonialism.
It always helps put the transhumanist movement in perspective by trying to imagine its usefulness to a rural, subsistence farmer or nomad. The green movement has taken the same approach, noting how while current solar tech isn’t enough to fuel our high-energy lives, one solar cell can bring significant improvement in quality of life to a rural, impoverished family. I’m not speaking for the subaltern here, just trying to start the dialog.
Kyle Munkittrick, IEET Program Director: Envisioning the Future, is a recent graduate of New York University, where he received his Master's in bioethics and critical theory.
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