I’d like to take a moment to correct the record on perfection.
The below image has been kicking around the net for the past week or so, with the allegation that by combining all the most beautiful women in the world, you get the most definitively beautiful woman in the world. Counter-intuitively, combining all of these images (and one could take issue with the initial roster, of course) results in a face that is both lovely and, well, boring. Take the final face and compare it with any of the real women at the top. The little nuances of difference, the minute flaws, the subtle skin shades, eye shapes, blemishes, asymmetries, and oddities of the real women make them more attractive than the “perfect” combination at the bottom.
The chart is a great demonstration of how a “norm” works. The woman at the bottom probably is what the normative ideal of a woman (in the white, Western mind) looks like. But no one looks like that. No one can. The ideal is impossible. According to the photo chart, all of the women at the top still fall short of the ideal. Yet when the ideal, the normative definition of perfection, is achieved, it looks weird and is unappealing. The ideal is, well, not ideal (take that Baudrillard). Transhumanists are acutely aware of the unreality of perfection.
Yet transhumanists and technoprogressives are often (mis)portrayed as perfectionists; as if we are disgusted by every flaw and hiccup in the human body with a fanatic desire to make everyone perfect. Though describing transhumanists as perfectionists is wrong, fearing “perfection” and those who seek it is not. “Perfect” will inevitably be someone else’s definition and people will be forced to get surgery or take drugs or who knows what to become the totalitarian definition of “perfect.” The scenario becomes even more frightening when we realize that, as with the example above, perfection is impossible.
Instead of moving towards perfection, thus operating under a teleological philosophy built on ideals, transhumanists try to move our society away from the worst problems. Debilitating genetic diseases, fragile bodily systems, aging bodies, and limited brains are all things we can improve. Our definition of improvement isn’t moving towards perfection but on the much better, more tangible and testable movement away from problems. Less pain, less disability, fewer limits, more time, and more options, these are our goals.
In many ways, transhumanists, technoprogressives, and our technophillic cohorts differ, disagree, argue, and clash over any number of problems. But the above sentence is one we all hold dear. It stems from an understanding that there are so many problems in the world that can be solved technologically regardless of your philosophical or political system. Whether you are Christian, atheist, Communist, anarchist, or whatever, a plane still gets you from New York to Beijing faster than a car and penicillin will help your bacterial infection. Because of this problem-centric mindset, transhumanists are more resilient to the desire to create systems based on ideals. By not seeking an ideal, but instead focusing on eliminating problems, the possibilities for solutions become incalculably diverse.
And because of that diversity, transhumanists are obsessed with choice and consent. All changes a person makes to him or herself, be it treatment for a disease, the use of a prosthetic, a decorative tattoo, or taking a cognitive enhancing drug should be a voluntary, educated choice.
Transhumanists and technoprogressives don’t imagine or want a perfect world, they imagine, want, and work towards a world with fewer problems and more choices.
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.