Planning childbirth and discouraging or eliminating factors that contribute to preventable birth complications are a priority for many transhumanists. All people should have access to reproductive services for free to use at their discretion, especially if we concede to live under a capitalist system that requires poverty, which in turn limits access to adequate care. This is a basic concept on which many transhumanists, especially at the IEET, agree.
This is distinctly different from the reactionary positions taken by Barbara Harris and Project Prevention. Their assumptions are based on a patronizing model of parenthood. Some transhumanists even advocate for governmental licenses for parenthood. Both of these positions assume that the entities making such decisions are able to know what is best for the individual. The licensing model assumes that states and governments act as objective parties. Project Prevention assumes that it is doing inherent good, despite the use of coercive tactics and shaming propaganda. Both of these positions cite statistics and research that purposefully ignores the larger picture. The social context of human life contributes far more to the human experience than any physical characteristic, and should be weighed as such when considering pathways to the future human and society.
Where Project Prevention and Some Transhumanists/Futurists Meet
Transhumanists, many of whom come from technological, scientific, and academic backgrounds, often focus on the technological or "scientific" side of what it means to be human - ignoring or disregarding the impact of social systems. Many seem to ignore or undervalue the complexities of social reality - often because they aren't forced to confront these realities on a daily basis due to their privileged status(es). This does not mean that there is no basis for empathy. There are some transhumanists that understand these realities quite well, though there is no gaurantee that they value them appropriately. I will focus on those who primarily don’t recognize these realities.
This privileged status bears itself out in the recent audience surveys done by the IEET which shows an overwhelming majority of the audience is white (89%), male (79%), straight (85%), and enjoys an employment of privilege to some extent (Scholar/academic - 17%, Private sector white collar - 16%, Self-employed - 14%, and retired - 12% - totaling 59%).1 This demonstrates the cushion between the readers of the IEET and the lived experiences of most of the people who are targeted by Harris and Project Prevention. I understand that I am generalizing this survey to the larger transhumanist movement; however, my estimation is that these numbers, if generalizable, would paint an extremely favorable picture of the movement as a whole. I fully suspect that there are greater levels of privilege among other sectors of the movement, particularly the libertarian right. The IEET deserves to be commended for trying to push the transhumanist movement to the left. But the privilege of transhumanists as a whole limits the movement’s ability to relate to the lived experiences of marginalized populations, presenting a considerable barrier to creating a more inclusive movement.
Many transhumanists benefit from various combinations of these privileges. People with privilege cannot fully understand nor rationally make suppositions about the reality of the conditions and the inner workings of the minds of people who suffer from poverty, racism, sexism, heterosexism, etc. Making such assumptions is not the place of the privileged, because they have a limited ability to subjectively understand those conditions and what these communities need. Subjective context is entirely critical in developing an overall picture and method through which to analyze and approach societal problems. The only way we could understand the truth of the existence of oppressed peoples is through the eyes and minds of the oppressed.
Aside from the patronizing view of licensing parents, there are two other arguments I have heard in support of Project Prevention. One is the rather reactionary view that the work of Project Prevention is supportable because it reduces the social cost or burden. I find this extremely troubling, because “social burden” has nothing to do with anything social. The so-called "social burden" is really all about the financial cost of providing a basic human need. The "social burden" is an extremely privileged concept to even consider when thinking about whether to support Project Prevention.
The cost of providing needed services for the poor is minimal in comparison to the billions of dollars the ruling class sits on while people starve and suffer under conditions of poverty. Wealth sitting idle in the bank accounts of the super-rich is a far greater social burden. They don’t need such wealthy excesses to survive. Money sits idle while poor people struggle to survive. Idle money could be used to directly create jobs for those who need them most, yet people still argue that those who suffer worst are the “social burden” while the rich are virtuous “job creators”. This is problematic.
Let's talk about who is really surviving on the public dime - it's corporations, business owners, military contractors, essentially the Ruling Class. The cost of raising children with prenatal exposure to drugs is pitiful in comparison to the vast amounts of wealth that sit idle or that go towards imperialist ventures and projects. Children and people can be treated, can be fed, can be given meaningful jobs, can be educated for their entire lives for free. All of this can happen, even with only a small portion of the wealth that workers in this country create going to serve the needs of everyone.
Some transhumanists also argue in support of Project Prevention on the basis that the “evidence” supports it having a positive impact on the communities it serves. This “evidence-based” model is entirely problematic. Science does not occur in a vacuum, especially social sciences. The “evidence” and “studies” are swayed by their context, and outcomes and assumptions are often relative and deferent to social paradigms and power structures. These studies can be informative in some cases when used alongside an analysis of the social context and a framework that brings into account the greater nuances and complexities.
Barbara Harris and Project Prevention rely on the assumption that their views and arguments present an objective reality about the crises of poverty, mental health, and drug addiction, partly based on an assumption that objectivity of their research is absolute and context is marginally important at best. Anyone who supports Project Prevention must be able to reconcile the reactionary politics of Barbara Harris and any progressive agenda they assume to have. Barbara Harris has no qualms judging drug addicts and mental health patients based on her individual experience with one mother.
Drug Abuse, Mental Health, Poverty, Contraception, and Birth Control under a Reproductive Justice Framework
Reproductive Justice should be at the core of any analysis or perception of any person's right to a healthy reproductive lifestyle. Transgender*2, female, male, bisexual, pansexual, gay, lesbian, straight, queer, black, brown, white, red, yellow, able-bodied, or any other identity should never be used to restrict access to full reproductive justice and health. Reproductive justice is about more than just access to quality reproductive care. It is about fighting to improve conditions in the immediate term to improve the lives of people whose access is limited by social conditions. Our focus should be on social systems and power structures that develop the context under which children are born into poverty, especially to parents who struggle with drug addiction and mental health. This includes a thorough deconstruction of the "traditional family", any system that limits access to reproductive care, and the roots of those systems alongside working to provide immediate needs to victims. Reproductive justice is critical to any progressive agenda.
Women without access to health services do not get proper care and have less ability to plan and prepare for childbirth. Poverty is a negative influence on reproductive health services both in terms of access and quality. Impoverished communities require solidarity on a pragmatic basis. This method is articulated by Paul Farmer in his book, The Pathologies of Power. Farmer's Pragmatic Solidarity focuses on serving those most in need with the purpose to provide practical, real assistance. These efforts can help many people in poverty provide themselves with necessities without having to rely on others. This would be especially important for drug addicts and people who struggle with mental health issues. Pragmatic Solidarity can take place under a reproductive justice framework, and often does, through open free clinics, mobile contraception and sexual health services, and numerous other services. These efforts are very real and already happening. Leftists and progressive should support this work and promote it as part of a building a better society.
Providing immediate needs on a basis of pragmatic solidarity is absolutely crucial to reproductive justice, but it will not be enough by itself. Transhumanists should also welcome ideologies of radical political transformation to challenge the social basis under which systems of oppression put people into conditions of poverty. Transhumanists should also isolate those who take reactionary stances within the futurist political sphere. Poverty has an extremely negative impact on the lives of drug addicts and people with mental health struggles. Addressing poverty and presenting a critical analysis on the systemic question contributes to an overall strategy toward confronting the child poverty and abuse that occurs in these contexts.
Poverty has an especially important racial component with a distinct historical basis. Slavery was both a genocidal act and the single driving force that pushed the United States into the position of power that it enjoys today. This harsh reality continues to impact communities of color, particularly under the modern liberal notion of the "post-racial" or "colorblind" era. Black and brown families continue to struggle with similar problems their ancestors faced. Modern racism is more nuanced, hidden by liberal notions of one-ness, "we are all human", and colorblind ideology. Many liberals purport to not "see" race. Some people of color are tokenized, assimilated into the upper classes, in turn often blaming working class people of color for historic and systemic problems. Liberals and leftists who support Barbara Harris accept some amount of this ideology with or without recognizing it by assuming that individual choices are absent of a profound historic and social context.
Transhumanists must be willing to confront capitalism and the racist history of this country. Futurists and transhumanists must be willing to confront a system that purposefully limits so many people's ability to improve. This is especially the case for transhumanists who seem too comfortable sharing their beds with venture capital and DARPA, without due question as to the use of the science by those agencies and investors. These technologies are not inherently going to be used for a collective good - unless one limits the “collective” to specific groups of people.
The transhumanist movement needs to understand the relative privilege they enjoy and be willing to reconcile that reality with the lived experiences of the oppressed. Some leftist transhumanists recognize the complex intersectional social reality we live in, but few seem willing to call for radical social transformation on an anti-capitalist basis. Advocating for progressive positions is admirable; however a critical and honest perspective on a process for social transformation is needed in an age of liberal revisionism and capitalist crisis.
Transhumanists should fight to change social systems of power that so greatly define what it means to live as a human as a method to build towards a future human and society. Capitalist systems and models require oppression on a massive scale. A future society and the future human should categorically reject systems of oppression that prevent people from reaching their potential and reaching beyond it. Transhumanists must be willing to deconstruct programs like Project Prevention and deal with the conflicts inherent in their coercive practices inside of a social and political vision that understands the depth and nuance of complex systems of oppression. Transhumanism and other forms of futurism without a vision for radical social transformation will leave doors open to accusations of eugenics. Programs like Project Prevention must be understood inside of a broader social context and condemned for the harm they bring to communities already victimized by systemic violence.
Wesley Strong studied sociology at Central Connecticut State University, where he graduated from in 2008 with honors. Wes was awarded the C. Wright Mills Award for Excellence in Public Discourse.
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