IEET > Rights > Vision > Contributors > FreeThought > Gabriel Rothblatt > Technoprogressivism
Is the term “Transhumanism” a misnomer?
Gabriel Rothblatt   Jun 13, 2012   Ethical Technology  

Although the current definition of transhumanism is accurate, most people aren’t “reading the book, just judging its cover”… the term generally has the opposite effect of its intended purpose.

As a community organizer for a transhumanist movement I have the great pleasure of meeting people from all walks of life and understanding their positions on the future. In a previous post to IEET, where I examined if transhumanism is a religion [1]  (it turns out that it actually is not, but facts rarely suppress belief) “Pastor Alex”
mentioned in the comments that what things appear to be can be more important that what they are defined to be.

Although I believe definitions are crucial to intelligent decision-making and conflict resolution, he raises an excellent point that humans rarely make intelligent decisions.

We don’t take the time to define parameters; we slap judgments on things and go about our business. Our evolutionary biology has favored snap judgments made on little information, fight or flight. First impressions are lasting still, even though we all have heard the “don’t judge a book by it’s cover” line, we generally still do.

As a young and non-Caucasian American I deal with this reality daily, it’s annoying, frustrating and diminishes tips dramatically. As is with almost any disagreeable philosophy calling it a religion is convenient, especially atheism, communism and transhumanism. Although the current definition of transhumanism [2] is accurate, most people aren’t reading the book, just judging its cover.

Transhumanism is a label I have never favored. I have found that the term generally has the opposite effect of its intended purpose. Instead of highlighting the need for a greater acceptance of humanity, it comes off to the layman as a divergence from what they believe to be humanity. I will simply link here to a blog post of mine on the difference between Human and Homo sapiens. [3] It is an intriguing argument that follows the same logic of my first citation.

Unfortunately Homo sapiens are not well adapted to admitting errors. Before you throw the trial and error gave us tools and blah 3x, I submit that a handful of brilliant and dedicated people dragged the rest of us kicking and screaming into the future, the same is occurring now.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead

I do not find transhumanism to differ in any significant aspect from the greater theory of evolution at all. However, Darwinists often show a hesitation to accept transhumanism, and not even simply on the skeptical basis of technological incorporation. Which would be fine, transhumanism does not specifically imply the need for technology in our evolution but rather acknowledges its likelihood given our current lifestyle.

Those of us who accept evolution are comfortable with the knowledge that we evolved into Homo sapiens but are not comfortable with the prospect of evolving out of Homo sapiens. If you didn’t read the Human vs. Homo sapiens blog, evolving does not imply you are no longer human.

People who reject evolution all together largely won’t subscribe to transhumanism either, no surprise. Oddly though this group of people fuels the growth of transhumanism in many ways. The concept of transhumanism would not exist if we had a starkly different perception of the self. [4]

The quest for godliness, which is how transhumanism is perceived (and by some definitions is correct,) is a direct correlation to the conceptions of self that today’s dominant theism has so successfully spread throughout the world. We would never have reached a reality mirroring ours as it does today with a conception of self that mirrored the Native Americans. I credit the proselytizing faiths and their belief in the need for grace and redemption for creating the social circumstances that birthed our desire to control the elements of the universe like the God they idolized for us.

So how can we repackage transhumanism to be more easily interpreted by the mob? The symbol H+ is already in use but it is really just an abbreviation that makes the term palatable to the majority of readers (applied loosely) who do no appreciate compound vocabulary.

The Mormon Transhumanist Association [5] (a great example of how idolatry has influenced the rise of h+) has coined the term “Transfigurism” which has special connotations to their own faith and removes them somewhat
from guilt by association with the generally atheistic transhumanists.

There is my own organization as well, Terasem, which combines principles of many faiths, but all of these are just fragmenting the whole and not representative of transhumanity.

Ultimately the showdown must come over the acceptance of evolution, which transhumanism is nothing more than a forward acceptance of. If we came from somewhere it means we are headed somewhere, we didn’t evolve this far just to stop. Assuming we were created in our current form, that doesn’t mean we were intended to stay that way.

We evolve throughout our lives, we do not give birth to clones but entirely unique new life. No matter where you think you came from to get here, you can only stop yourself from moving forward, life will continue without you.

 


Notes

 


[1] http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/gabrielrothblatt20120607
[2] http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/transhumanism
[3] http://terasemian.wordpress.com/2012/02/16/homo-sapiens-and-humanity/
[4] http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/gabrielrothblatt20120420
[5] www.transfigurism.org

Gabriel Rothblatt is an Ambassador for the Seasteading Institute, a member of the Board of Directors for Terasem Movement Incorporated and the Lifeboat Foundations Futurist Board of Advisors. He is a former US Congressional Candidate in FL-8, the Space Coast of Florida.



COMMENTS

The invocation of the Native American conception the self as a bar to progress strikes me as reductionist, speculative, and colonialist. While Abrahamic notions of the self have surely been important in the western intellectual tradition from whence transhumanism springs, that doesn’t foreclosure the possibility of alternatives. Native Americans had and have a wide range of philosophical views. To which are you referring and how can you tell they would have prevented our reality and the drive for control that you laud? I recommend against wild speculation that resonates with conventional colonialist tropes.

Nature - and people are part of it - does not have any evolutionary preference. Life does not tend to evolve. Evolution happens, because of a number of reasons. In the meantime, our all biological structures - might they be anatomical or cultural - tend to be conservative. Structures, no matter how unstable, are conservative by definition - otherwise we would not even be able to recognize them as structures. Cultural traditions and individual organisms have a very robust connection with their past.

No wonder that transhumansim has such a bad name.

However, there are two fundamental elements that might allow people to win their very natural diffidence.

1. Scientific disclosure. If people do not understand the jargon, and do not fully grasp the physical and logical mechanisms behind certain statements, they will react defensively. The feeling that an intellectual elite knows something that common folks do not - triggers suspicion, especially in the smartest outsiders. Why should they let anyone take them, kicking and screaming, towards a future that they do not even understand? It is only natural to reject this. However, if we bother to explain in plain, concrete, everyday language our intentions, our ideas - things would change. I am sure.

2. Tolerant attitude. Nobody sounds more frustrating (and infuriating) than someone telling us that he or she should take decisions in our place, because we are too stupid, too small, too uneducated, too underdeveloped, too quaint, and so on. One of the most appealing features of transhumanism is its capacity to disclose new possibilities. In other words, it is about more freedom, about a wider range of choices. Everybody likes to have more choices. But only as long as they can actually make those choices themselves. Nobody likes to make a big leap forward at gunpoint, no matter how benevolent is the guy holding the gun.
So, while speaking of technoprogressive visions, we should always remind that such visions represent additional possibilities - something to grab at will. We should never seem to impose an unwanted future to anyone. It is just natural that - people would fight for their wish to remain in a familiar environment. But if we can say, instead - you can chose to stick to whatever you like, we are just offering you something extra, like a new mobile phone, or a new pair of glasses.

Of course, it is quite hard to make traditional and progressive visions interact in non-disruptive ways. Every preference on human morality cannot but be totalitarian, in its essence. But I do believe that, as long as we can work on some common moral background, using universal, simple ethical pillars, technoprogressive stances can indeed maximize their positive contribution to a better future. This is why we should, I insist, ponder very carefully the moral implications of our views, in simple terms - so that anyone can clearly see what we stand for.

@summerspeak
I had not so narrowly defined that conception of self to a particular tribe, as I am not an authority on that matter. My point was simply to illustrate how the popular conception of self can alter the path technological development, Native Americans was just the first group to pop into my mind. I was not trying to imply that the general perception of self of the indigenous Americans would be a bar to progress, just that progress would have taken a different direction. It, in my opinion, may have produced an entirely different set of technologies, than the ones we use now, stemming from their belief in how we are connected to the planet.

@ Andre

The problem is that for the overwhelming majority of people, there are “choices” that they WILL NOT GET TO MAKE, because the current social pecking order will not give them that option.

We don’t have a choice about things like automation, ubiquitous surveillance, human enhancement technologies, morphological freedom, etc. They are direct logical outcomes of current trends in science, politics, and social development, but no individual will be able to “choose” to adapt to them or not.  Even the so called “Elites” are not going to be able to prevent, delay, or avoid the consequences of these advancements.

Yes, the END result is much greater personal freedom and choice, but the PATHWAYS to that end offer almost no ability to chose between options. At best, it offers detours that will make some end paths take longer to reach, and cost far more people their lives.

That’s the problem with evolution. It doesn’t give us the ability to chose. the only choice we have is adapt or die. Until the next stage is reached and we have the ability to direct our own personal evolution to a significantly greater degree, all we can really do is ride the track laid down for us. Failure to comprehend that merely leads to self delusion.

@Valkyrie Ice
“The problem is that for the overwhelming majority of people, there are “choices” that they WILL NOT GET TO MAKE”
In this case, people have all the right to fight, even violently, to prevent unwanted changes on their lifestyles. However, I am optimistic - and I do think that technological advancements will enter into our lives as additional options, and not as mandatory impositions.

“We don’t have a choice about things like automation, ubiquitous surveillance, human enhancement technologies, morphological freedom, etc. They are direct logical outcomes of current trends in science, politics, and social development, but no individual will be able to “choose” to adapt to them or not.”
I disagree. We do have a choice. People can still decide to live in away from all the things you listed. They might be logical outcomes of cultural trends, but people still have the political capacity to oppose any technological implementation. People can still differ - luckily. The day men will feel deprived of this possibility, they will fight back. Take something obvious like electricity. It is not mandatory. People can indeed decide to live without it, like Amish farmers.
If you want the freedom to shape and reshape your physical structure according to your desires, you will have to let those who do not want morphological rearrangements be. Otherwise, they will (rightly) try to prevent you from going where you want. Majorities are conservative, and quite unpleasant to deal with then our being different becomes a threat to the status quo. Let us instead be positive, instead - as I said above. Let us come with gifts that can be simply refused. People will not be so diffident, so skeptical about the contents of h+

Also, I think you are wrong about historical, necessary movements. The actions of people, even the action of a single individual, can contribute to change dramatically our future. We do matter. Our individual actions do matter. History does not give birth to individual men. I still believe that - it is the other way round, in spite of what Hegel, Marx, and their followers said.

Martine Rothblatt writes:


“I think Gabe is right that transhumanism is evolution by other means, as Kurzy often says technology is evolution by other means.  But I also think there is a big difference, nicely defined by Julian Huxley in New Wine in Old Bottles—transhumanists believe Intentional Variation and Conscious Selection can replace Random Mutation and Natural Selection.  Darwinism is basically a subset, a toolkit for how-to, of Terasem/H+‘s thrust of intentionally creating diversity and unifying around that which works (progressive, replicative, joyful).

James Hughes cogent summary of who we are in Citizen Cyborg still rings true:  pro-techno, pro-socio, pro-etho.  In a word, techno-progressives.

I don’t know that the techno-progressive label will win us more adherents than the H+ or transhumanist label.  But it seems more descriptive.  Like the progressives of yore who came up with public sanitation, public education, workers’ rights.  But with always the focus on techno.  Techno-health, techno-knowledge (TQ), techno-rights (cyberconscious equality, Data is my brother, pay the Bicentennial Man a living wage).”

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