Saturday, January 05, 2008

The Story of Stuff

Must Read (with footnotes) and Must See "The Story of Stuff". Billed by one viewer as kind of a shorter more immediate version of "An Inconvenient Truth", this ties together a lot of interesting and suppressed observations of the world and the United States. See it here:


Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Well, that's my next American trip in the can

De Thezier's New Year's Resolution: Quit Transhumanism

My New Year's Resolution: Quit Transhumanism
Justice De Thezier
January 1, 2008
(Last edited January 11, 2008)

In 2002, while doing research for the script of a postcyberpunk-themed hyperlink film by reading copious amounts of science-fiction novels and popular science books, I accidentally stumbled upon the word ''transhumanist'' in the Guide to the Technocracy, a sourcebook of the sophisticated role-playing game, Mage: The Ascension.

Despite thinking the word probably came from the author's creative and fertile imagination, I decided to google it out of curiosity. After I discovered and read the (previous) Transhumanist FAQ of the World Transhumanist Association (WTA), an international non-governmental organization which advocates the ethical use of technologies that expand human capacities, my life changed forever.

Having spent a decade in the world of the arts and culture as a creative professional, I decided to go back to university in Science and Technology Studies to develop a more enlightened and critical look at the development of technoscience as well as a sharper understanding of the social and political issues which shape the research, development and use of new technologies, and how in turn these technologies shape society and politics.

Since I was a reasonable hopeful technoscientifically-focused secular progressive, I rejected the two extremes of bioconservatism and ''libertarian transhumanism'', and naturally gravitated towards "democratic transhumanism", a third way articulated by James Hughes which asserts that the best possible "posthuman future" is achievable only by ensuring that human enablement technologies are safe, making them available to everyone, and respecting the right of individuals to have control of their own bodies.

Regardless of how our professional and personal relationship may fare, I will always be grateful to Hughes for making me aware, understand and *care* about a wide range of biopolitical issues that may scramble conventional social, political and economic thinking in the 21st century.

I was invited to contribute to Cyborg Democracy, a collaborative blog for democratic transhumanist thinkers and activists. I founded the Quebec Transhumanist Association (QTA), a fledgling network of activists and artists devoted to promoting projects that coalesce the arts, sciences, technologies and politics. Through the QTA, I worked to stimulate awareness of community perspectives on the right to human enablement in the local media, including appearances in print, radio and television. And, in 2006, I had the honor of being elected to the board of directors of the WTA.

Beyond being the de facto French-speaking spokesperson of the WTA, my goal was to develop an ethical fundraising and financial accountability code (which was adopted in February 2007); and, more importantly, nudge and support Hughes' efforts to expand the WTA's programs of activity to include more focused and action-oriented programs, with a global campaign for a publicly financed anti-aging research initiative at the top of our concerns.

My vision for the transhumanist movement was one where membership organizations like the WTA would focus on mobilizing people across their respective countries to initiate important biopolitical campaigns while think tanks would focus on offering policymakers the best assessments of the social benefits and risks of new developments in technology from a democratic transhumanist perspective.

However, the more months passed, the more my concern was validated that the label "transhumanist" was giving me an identity at the cost of achieving of my goals. As a local chapter organizer, it also seemed that I was spending far more time trying to "convert" people to transhumanism and defending this ideology against hysterical attacks but also fair and accurate criticisms, than actually contributing to the social struggle to democratize the costs, risks and benefits of new technologies.

But, more profoundly, having invested so much time and energy in promoting transhumanism --- and, let's be honest, having been seduced by the siren songs of a ''posthuman future'' --- I came to the awkward realization that I, a self-professed free and critical thinker, had willingly blinded myself to the flaws of transhumanism, which I became increasingly aware were *inherencies* that undermine the diversity of views or ''leftist awakening'' among transhumanists:

1. An undercritical support for technology in general and fringe science in particular;
2. A distortive ''us vs. them'' tribe-like mentality and identity; and
3. A vulnerability to unrealistic utopian and dystopian ''future hype''.

After spending a year as the self-appointed yet half-hearted ''devil's advocate'' of the WTA, not only have I come to the conclusion that it is quite quixotic to think I or any lone individual can do anything to change what both prominent transhumanists and "anti-transhumanists" agree are the minimum constituents without which this ideology would not be what it is, without being falsely accused of trying to ''reduce diversity'' or, worse, ''thoughtpolice''; but I've decided to quit transhumanism.

So, when my term on the WTA Board of Directors ends on January 23rd, not only am I leaving the board but I'm also cancelling my WTA membership and closing down the dormant Quebec Transhumanist Association (which others are free to reopen). If I am contacted by the media, I will politely refer them to the select few reasonable transhumanist advocates I know but if I am still asked to speak on transhumanism at some public venue it will be as a friendly critic who demands that transhumanism lives up to its claims to uphold a respect for reason and science, and a commitment to progress.

Who knows? Perhaps one day it will. If and when that happens, I'll be the first one to cheer. ;)

Justice De Thezier is a social entrepreneur and creative professional. He is currently recovering from a bad case of transhumanism.

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