Transhumanism needs an Enhancement. A Facelift, an Upgrade, some Serious Augmentation. H+ espouses the utopian potential of accelerating technology, but philosophically-culturally-ethically, it’s stale. Flailing weakly like a Shiny Android Paralyzed in a Tar Pit.
What’s wrong? This: it’s fanbase is limited. The Terasem Survey reveals the narrowness of transhumanist appeal: 90.1% is male, 55.2% is under 30 years old, 64.4% is unmarried, 85.4% is white, 37.9% are in math, science, or computers.
Where’s everyone else?
Reporter Joe Quirk jested in a hplusmagazine article that the 2010 Humanity Plus Summit resembled an Asperger’s Convention, and a recent io9/IEET essay by George Dvorksy is titled, “How Autism is Changing the World for Everybody.” Temple Grandin, the autistic cow-whisperer / authoress of The Way I See It, has asserted that her mindset has produced the world’s great innovators, remarking, “if the world was left to you socialites, nothing would get done and we would still be in caves talking to each other.”
Let’s concede that individuals with ASD contribute mightily to tech advance - NASA has been estimated to be 50% ASD, and high-ranking Singularitarians are probably just as prolifically gifted/afflicted. Accepting this, let’s recognize that their population is minuscule; only 1 out of 88 children have ASD (1 out of 54 boys) claims Autism Speaks, the world’s largest autism science and advocacy organization.
What about the 98.86% of humanity with chatty, emotional, social-communication non-ASD needs? The Future is Theirs, too. What do “Social Empaths” want in a Transhumanist TommorowLand? I’ll tell you what they don’t want…
Social Empaths don’t want an eternal techie 24/7 future existence that’s compulsively fixated on gadgets, gizmos, space-travel-through-black-holes, quantum physics, robots, cognitive competition, and supposedly-Friendly A.I. masters ruling them via the machinations of distinctly-unfriendly elitist inventors.
Social Empaths want a softer, cuddlier, easier, gooier, goofier, happier Future. They want a culturally rich world that values aesthetics, modulations in tone, nuance, fantasy, intuition, satire and lyrical metaphor. Social Empaths (SEs) want to share and process feelings. SEs want to communicate intimately, with delicious, extravagant language. SEs want to be sensitive, tender and occasionally childlike. They are, at their best and worst, like Olivia the Pig or Ferdinand the Bull.
Is Transhumanism praising, accommodating or even respecting these Social Empathetic frontal lobe desires? No. H+ vision and appeal thus far is mainly techno-philiac, narrow, blinkered. That’s why the average liberal arts Jenny and Joe doesn’t line up to drink Kurzweil Kool-Aid.
In case you haven’t noticed - Transhumanism isn’t a viral phenomenon. It’s not a Pied Piper with billions of global citizenry traipsing behind us, gushing over our digital forecasts.
I’ll publish 1,000 articles in 2012 as blog editor of IEET. I’ll fling them into the ether via social news sites, and watch… The result? Hits aren’t skyrocketing. Au contrare. They’re level.. a flatline. Humanity is largely reading… something else. Anything else.
Transhumanism is a dwarfish demographic, perhaps so minuscule we merit the “Robot Cult” moniker that’s slapped on us by an unnamable malicious detractor (DC).
What’s wrong? What can we do?
(Am I just a complainer? No.. I want… something… Bigger. Something very Successful to sprout from H+ work…)
When I first got involved in transhumanism I read the three required books in the canon: The Singularity is Near by Ray Kurzweil; Engines of Creation by Eric Drexler, and Ending Aging by Aubrey de Grey. I loved the ideas they espoused; I paused frequently because the books gave me shivers and mind-rushes. They hooked me.
But… now what?
H+ers have new lingo: “grey goo”, “wake up the universe,” SENS,” etc. Many are willing to abandon the meatbag and jump rapturously into The Singularity with a chemically-preserved brain ensconced inside a metallic Russian 2045 cyborg.
But the rest of the world - most of our family and friends, right? - don’t grok our enthusiasm.
“Read the books!” we suggest.
“Boring,” they retort. “Not my thing.”
What should we do? How can we increase our numbers? My suggestion is:
H+ needs to expand it’s dogma so it appeals to Social Empaths. We need to “flesh out” the Transhumanist message by promoting philosophers who offer visionary ideas that are attractive to another, more populous segment of homo sapiens that dwells on the opposite end of the autistic spectrum.
We must cast our net wider into the sea of humanity. We must capture the Social Empaths.
Will this be… difficult? NO. Already, we have several writers with the words and wisdom we need for this purpose; we just haven’t been listening to them.
Who are they?
Here’s my Trio of Favorite Trans-Philosophers:
My elevation of David Pearce, the British author of the “abolitionist” manifesto “The Hedonistic Imperative”, should surprise no one - I’ve championed his empathetic ideas ever since we collaborated, near suicidally, on a Feb 2011 IEET essay titled, Women-Only Leadership - Would it Prevent War? - it received 161 comments, mostly vicious, before the thread was mercifully cut.
Pearce regards his meticulous, passionate work as “morally urgent and technically rational” and I wholeheartedly agree. He promotes a “negative utilitarian” concept that Suffering In All Sentient Creatures Must Be and Can Be Eliminated via “paradise engineering” - genetics, nanotechnology, neurological anesthetics and pharmacological pain-killers. His level-headed Buddhistic ambition, if actualized, would transform us into happier and ethically “better humans.” Pearce is also a third-generation vegan, an animal rights activist, a promoter of in-vitro meat, and he and I are evidently - in the H+ scene - the two biggest “Manginas” (a comically rude term for male feminists.)
Pearce’s insistence that suffering needs to be annihilated has been largely treated with indifference by the predominantly high-pain-threshold Nietzschean and/or Aspergerian POV in H+. When the Terasem Survey asked respondents to rate the importance of “ending sadness and unpleasant emotions,” only 25.8% ranked it as “very important.” Conversely, 34.1% regarded David’s quest as “not very important,” with another 16.8% noting that they “didn’t care.” The percentile of transhumanists who are vegan is also a mere 1.7%. Topping off his marginalization is the fact that 58.1% of transhumanists surveyed don’t know who David Pearce is and only 12.2% view him as someone they “very much” admire.
He received recent acknowledgement, though, from Zero State, which has adopted “abolition of involuntary suffering” as the eighth item in their Consensus International Principles. David also travels and lectures widely; he has significant followings in Brazil, Colombia, and Stanford University. IMO, he’s an exemplary transhumanist because he craves freedom from the shackles of Darwinism; he recognizes that we must grab the reins of our Evolution, we must manipulate and surpass the limitations of our present biology. His philosophical ambition is simultaneously fresh, futuristic, and as ancient as the 2,500 year old Third precept of Siddhartha.
Martine Rothblatt is a Renaissance transhumanist with stunning accomplishments in multiple, diverse fields. A partial list includes:
She’s done all this, but I believe her most stunning success has been in her Family Life (an arena that H+ generally disregards). Martine has been married for 30 years to Bina Aspen - they’re biracial - and they have four children. Martine deserves a Greatest Wife and Mother Award because:
8) When her daughter Jenesis was diagnosed with life-threatening pulmonary hypertension, she created the PPH Cure Foundation and a biotechnology company - United Therapeutics Corporation - to develop a medicine to save the life of her daughter. She also returned to the ivory tower to earn a PhD in Bioethics.
9) She wrote Unzipped Genes - Taking Charge of Baby-Making in the New Millennium, a code of ethics to guide childbirth decisions in the future.
10) After being married for 12 years, s/he switched her gender from male-to-female and her name from Martin-to-Martine. Did this traumatize her relationship with Bina? No, they survived happily. Martine has explained on the Howard Stern show that she is “Bina-sexual”, i.e., she’s only sexually interested in Bina, regardless of what gentalia she has.
11) Uxorious, continued. Martine has created, via Hanson Robotics and $125,000, a Bina48 robot that resembles and impersonates her spouse. The sophisticated humanoid thinks, feels, and tells jokes independently, and has been interviewed numerous times.
Despite this epic narrative, Martine Rothblatt is a relatively unknown H+ figure. In the Terasem Survey - funded by her own foundation - 66.1% of respondents said they didn’t know who she was! Only 6.1% said they admired her “very much.” Like David Pearce, she is massively overlooked.
Ursula K. Le Guin
What’s this? You shake your head, you frown, you disagree and dispute my inclusion of the 1970s scifi icon… You retort, “Ursula K. Le Guin is Not H+! Who says she is? Nobody!”
You’re right, actually. In the Terasem Survey, not a single respondent out of 818 mentioned her in the category of transhumanists they did, or did not, admire. Multiple other scifi writers were acclaimed in the poll - David Brin, Isaac Asimov, Charles Stross, Vernor Vinge, Philip K. Dick, Arthur C. Clarke, William Gibson, and others… but no UKLG.
But hey, hear me out. My contention is this - Ursula K. Le Guin has already contributed enormously to transhumanism, and her eloquent literary offerings must be far more attention in the future. Here’s three obvious gifts she has supplied H+ with:
1) Left Hand of Darkness - ranked 2nd in the All Time Best SF Novels list by Locus - created an androgynous, gender-switching world that immensely appeals to many transhumanists. In the Terasem Survey, 13.4% of respondents said they wanted to someday have a hermaphroditic body, and an astonishing 33% noted in comments that they wanted male/female fluidity in the future. Ursula K. Le Guin provides a vision in Left Hand of Darkness of a society that escapes “apartheid of gender” because everyone is both XY and XX. Did all 33% read Left Hand of Darkness? No, they didn’t have to. Ursula’s utopia is in the mind-hive now.
2) The Dispossessed. Ursula’s other great novel also impacted H+, particularly in the political sphere. When Terasem Survey respondents were queried about their favorite governing structure, many replied “Anarchist-Taoist” - the philosophy of Anarres, the inhabited moon in The Dispossessed. The integrity and values of Anarres - no property ownership, for example - are favorably compared in the book to the capitalist, competitive, cynical civilization of Urras, a planet that mirrors Earth’s First World nations. I can’t claim every anarcho-syndicalist-transhumanist-taoist has read The Dispossessed, but Ursula’s world based on partnership, not oppression, empathy, not exploitation - signifies a hope that has sequestered itself in the longing imagination of many transhumanists.
3) The World for World is Forest. Ursula’s short, sorrowful novella was an environmental warning three decades ago that resurfaced as the main inspiration in “Avatar” - top-grossing film of all time. Her green advocation of sustainable environmental policies is a suggestion that has not yet been heeded. The novella also presents an ansible device, essentially a prophecy of the cell phone. The book’s inhabitants also practice “lucid dreaming” - an empowerment concept that remains popular today.
When I glance at the list above, I think to myself, Yes! This is What Transhumanism Should Look Like!
I want a new species of H+, a trans-transhumanism that’s empathetic, socially aware and friendly. Not just robot-friendly, tech-friendly and Friendly AI. No. I want a transhumanism that’s family-friendly, child-friendly, environmental-friendly, animal-friendly, and female-friendly. It doesn’t have to be a virtual sentimental chick-flick immersion, it just has to make us morally better.
I’m going to promote the empathic virtues of the three philosophers above, at IEET and on a personal website designated precisely to that cause.
If you want to help, please leave your contact info in comments below.
Hank Pellissier serves as IEET Interim Managing Director and Fundraiser. He was IEET’s Managing Director on January-October in 2012, and is an IEET Affiliate Scholar.
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