Should a person become a transhumanist before he is a humanist or is she to become a humanist first before becoming a transhumanist? A well-crafted question but one that deserves serious thought as to its purpose.
If you ask me, I would say that we are becoming transhumanists at a faster rate rather than the other way.
Humanism, ethics, and other associated emotionally-charged wellness packages have taken a back seat. The front row seats to the brave new world are filled with recombinant genes, neural interfaces, and supremely destructive weaponry.
Thanks to virtual worlds and virtual conferences, we no longer have to travel long distances and feel the physical comfort of a handshake or a comrade’s embrace. We can just as well sit in our recliners and keep getting obese on high energy GMO foods while we blog, chat, and even tweet our way into the future.
Soon, you need not be bothered with the racing of the heart when confronting a live human being in a vile argument. You might as well throw a few disgusting emoticons from the comfort of your home, office, or even your car.
It is more of the same regret being addressed again. Technology is replacing raw physical presence in the matter of human relationships. I cite all these usual complaints since I feel transhumanism in its original definition is slowly fading away.
Transhumanism is an international intellectual and cultural movement supporting the use of science and technology to improve human mental and physical characteristics and capacities. The movement regards aspects of the human condition, such as disability, suffering, disease, aging, and involuntary death as unnecessary and undesirable. Transhumanists look to biotechnologies and other emerging technologies for these purposes. Dangers, as well as benefits, are also of concern to the transhumanist movement.
Humanism is an approach in study, philosophy, or practice that focuses on human values and concerns.
I feel both definitions somehow have drifted apart instead of a favorable fusion.
When I first became exposed to the transhumanist gravy train, I thought the advanced technologies being addressed or promoted would be for the betterment of all human civilization. However, as each year passes into the next great revolution, the transhumanist movement is increasingly becoming a passive observer in face of the rapid acceleration of technology. In fact, I guess the singularity movement has played it safe by stating that the wolf would come and it would come so fast that it would eat you up before you had time to react…the wolf being the singularity.
Before transhumanism, there was only bioethics. It still exists in the form of committees and legislations. However, the acceleration is so rapid that there is now absolutely no time to say we should proceed with caution. The one thing I can find comfort in is the fact that someone somewhere would have coined a word, a movement, and even a well balanced definition for this condition.
We are losing the battle to a safe utopia for all of us. We are losing track of what it means to be “us” anymore. Our fascination with social networking websites and self proclamations with “status messages” has replaced live conversations. We project our personas with the aid of cellular phones and portable music players onto a vast multitude of like-minded personas which really have no bearing beyond their pixelated existence. All of these are only stimulants of the senses without permanent purpose.
At best, we can say that we have effectively become “slaves” to the technology we create. The technology that is created is still inaccesible to the large majority of humanity. Even more disturbing is the fact that the technology being created is rapidly being owned not by governments but by corporations, which reaffirms the fears initially expressed by dystopian movies. We may not place much importance to the impacts of technology on our environment, but with every cough and toxic exposure, we do pay the price and will continue to do so.
Thus far, I have addressed very briefly the incredible promises of transhumanism and how distant it really is from humanism. Technological acceleration need not be regulated or curbed. However, it would be better if it headed in a direction where everybody benefited instead of a minority of developed nations. All humans have the right to become transhumans. If not, then the transhumanist movement is no longer humanist. It is something else for which I am sure a new word will be framed.
So what is the solution? The easiest solution is to come back to ground reality. While it may be fanciful to imagine that we are living in a Matrix-like world and are dissociated from all of our peers, it would only take one simple power cut or an EMP pulse to sever all of the technologies to which we are so desperately tied up for self-expression.
While it is important to embrace technology and the cyborg fantasy, it is even more important to realize the value of our individual “self.” Let us at least from now, try to understand the real value of emergent technologies to the whole of humanity instead of hedonistically experiencing them. Think about it.
V.R. Manoj has a Ph.D in Environmental Biotechnology/Sciences from Anna University, Chennai, India. He has worked in the Renewable energy industry and currently teaches Environmental Sciences and Engineering to Engineering grad students in India. Dr. Manoj was an IEET Affiliate Scholar for 2010-2012.
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