Thursday, April 14, 2005

Good week: Drake, Albany, Doctorow, UN bioethics, Humanists

Recovering from a cold, but wanted to report that its been a good week Citizen Cyborg-wise. Spoke to a very engaged crowd of 150 students at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa last Thursday, and 50 students at University of Albany last night. Cory Doctorow's excellent review of Citizen Cyborg on Boing Boing has it bouncing up closer to Ramez Naam's excellently selling More Than Human on Amazon. Also crashed the WTA's server for a couple of hours. Next week I speak on democratic transhumanism at the UN "humanist bioethics" confab and then at a student humanist conference in Minnesota. Busy busy. - J.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

BoingBoing on Citizen Cyborg

Cory Doctorow is one of my favorite fiction writers and one of the best and most influential bloggers. His hugely popular blog BoingBoing is one of the first places to go to understand trends. Cory is always one of the first to spot important emerging trends, and to write about them in such a way as to make the reader feel part of a large planetary experiment. So I was very pleased to read his favorable review of James Hughes' "Citizen Cyborg". Doctorow understands that transhumanism is not only technophilia, but a culturally and politically mature trend.

Cory Doctorow writes on BoingBoing:

"Citizen Cyborg" takes the social democratic approach not just to cognitive liberty, but to the parcel of questions that follow on from it as technology allows us to charge our minds and bodies. When we can choose our children's' sex, modify our genomes to eliminate some forms of mental and physical disability, when we can modify our bodies and minds to improve them beyond the normal human baseline , when we can even use technology to make dolphins and great apes as smart as precocious children, what then?

Surely the ability to determine your own genome, the ability to choose to modify your physical self and to make the choices for your children are as fundamental civil liberties as the right to speak and assemble and otherwise author your own destiny.

But the traditional "transhumanist" movement has come out of the libertarian right, advocates of an unbridled market without government intervention. And much of the opposition to transhumanism hasn't just come from the religious right, but from the left, too -- lefties who see transhumanism as likely to produce a troubling, divisive caste system, or to make us all beholden to corporate interests like Monsanto who bind us to subscribing to patented GM lifeforms that we require to sustain our lifestyles.

Hughes's remarkable achievement in "Citizen Cyborg" is the fusion of social democratic ideals of tempered, reasoned state intervention to promote equality of opportunity with the ideal of self-determination inherent in transhumanism. Transhumanism, Hughes convincingly argues, is the sequel to humanism, and to feminism, to the movements for racial and gender equality, for the fight for queer and transgender rights -- if you support the right to determine what consenting adults can do with their bodies in the bedroom, why not in the operating theatre?

The humanist transhuman is a political stance I'd never imagined, but having read "Citizen Cyborg," it seems obvious and natural. Like a lot of basically lefty geeks, I've often felt like many of my ideals were at odds with both the traditional left and the largely right-wing libertarians. "Citizen Cyborg" squares the circle, suggest a middle-path between them that stands foursquare for the improvement of the human condition through technology but is likewise not squeamish about advocating for rules, laws and systems that extend a fair opportunity to those less fortunate (say, by offering special patent rules to the developing world allowing poor nations' scientists to freely reuse the patented pharmaceutical inventions of the rich north to solve local needs.)

Book Link, References Link