View 2. Expanding and Deepening the Rights of the Person
Technoprogressives are in solidarity with those oppressed because of the bodies and minds they possess. A world that tolerant of future forms of diversity is best assured by expanding the bounds of tolerance and equality to include the full diversity of already existing human beings, sexual, cultural, and racial. Racism and discrimination in all forms must be opposed. The physically disabled should have access to the social and technological assistance they need to be equal citizens. Gender must not determine rights, so civil marriage must be open to gays and lesbians. People should be allowed to define themselves as any gender they prefer, and be allowed use technology to sculpt themselves to fit their personal visions, whether they fit the binary gender system or not.
We need not only a broader concept of the citizen, the bearers of rights, but also a more radical understanding of the rights those citizens can claim. Self-ownership should include the right of sane adults to change and enhance their bodies and brains, to own their own genes, to take recreational drugs, and to control their own deaths. Procreative liberty, an extension of the right to control our body and life, should include the right to use germinal choice technologies to ensure the best possible life for our children. Strong democratic government is required not only to protect these rights, but to ensure that the technologies are tested for safety, and that consumers understand their risks and benefits. We need to ensure all citizens have access to these options, not just the affluent.
Right to Healthy Longevity: Building Universal Health Systems with Choices
The struggle for universal access to medical technology began more than one hundred years ago, and around the world has extended life expectancy by decades. In this century however we are unlocking the mechanisms of aging itself, and in the next decades there will be increasingly effective therapies to slow and even reverse aging and its diseases. Eventually we will reach “longevity escape velocity,” the point at which technologies are adding more than one year of life expectancy for a population per year. Ensuring universal access to these therapies will mean the difference between a “normal” life expectancy and a truly open-ended one.
All citizens should be guaranteed equitable access to a basic package of health care services, including enhancement technologies when fiscally possible. When safe enhancement technologies cannot be provided through the public health system for political or fiscal reasons, they should be available in the market place.
Technological Unemployment: In the last two decades robotics and the communication and information technologies that allowed global coordination of production eroded manufacturing employment in the North. Now robotics and artificial intelligence are beginning to fundamentally change the relative profitability and productivity of investments in capital versus human labor, creating technological unemployment at all levels of the workforce, from the North to the developing world. As robotics and expert systems become cheaper and more capable the percentage of the population that can find employment will also fall, stressing economies already trying to curtail “entitlements” and adopt austerity. Two additional technology-driven trends will exacerbate the structural unemployment crisis in the coming decades, desktop manufacturing and anti-aging medicine. Desktop manufacturing threatens to disintermediate the half of all workers involved in translating ideas into products in the hands of consumers, while anti-aging therapies will increase the old age dependency ratio of retirees to tax-paying workers.
Ignoring the limits of humans in relationship to accelerating technology, economists and public policy makers are largely in denial about the emerging technological unemployment, insisting that new jobs for humans will be created as they were in the transitions from agriculture to industry, and industry to post-industrial society. When they do accept the possibility of technological unemployment they often offer a set of prescriptions that will at best slow the pace of job displacement, and enable some workers to compete in the shrinking labor market. Techno-utopians on the other hand promote magical thinking solutions, such as universal ownership of equities in a supposedly skyrocketing future stock market, or universal access to free, self-replicating desktop manufacturing with free product designs.
In order to enjoy the benefits of technological innovation and longer, healthier lives we will need combine policies that control the pace of replacing paid human labor with a universal basic income guarantee (BIG) provided through taxation and the public ownership of wealth. The intensifying debate over the reform of “entitlements” is the ideal opportunity to propose a new social compact that replaces the model of education/salaried work/pensioned retirement with one of life-long citizenship obligations in return for the citizens dividend.
Right to Knowledge
Public financing of higher education should be expanded.
Bridging the Digital Divide: Ensuring Universal Access to the Web
The right to the full benefits of access to information and communication technology is being fought by activists in the developing world attempting to circumvent government firewalls, by civil libertarians in the North pushing back against surveillance and draconian anti-piracy laws, and by policy makers attempting to overcome the “digital divide” by expanding high-speed bandwidth access and cheap net-access devices.
Right to Privacy: Defending Privacy in the Age of Ubiquitous Surveillance
“Technology and the Loss of Privacy” by R. Dennis Hansen
“Don’t Surrender the Privacy Battle” by Richard Stallman
“Why We Need New Rights to Privacy” by Evan Selinger
Right to Cognitive liberty
Cognitive liberty starts with the rights to determine our own states of consciousness and to protect brain privacy. The state has an obligation to determine that psychoactive drugs are safe and effective, and that may extend to an obligation to criminalize some harmful and addictive drugs like heroin and methamphetamine. But it is completely irrational to criminalize drugs with relatively safe profiles like psychedelics, cannabis and stimulant “study drugs” while alcohol remains legal.
The struggle over the decriminalization of psychoactive drugs is just a prelude, however, to the ever more powerful and precise forms of neurological manipulation that brain-machine devices and nanotechnology/pharmaceutical hybrids will pose in the future. We will use these drugs and devices to improve our memories and cognitive speed, to explore altered states of consciousness, and to control our moods. As with drugs, there will be some ways that we will want to manipulate our brains that will need to be criminalized and others that need to a matter of choice.
As to brain privacy, brain imaging and genetic testing for neurological traits are already being introduced into criminal proceedings, and detailed psychological and behavioral profiles can be compiled from the gigabytes of “data exhaust” that every individual creates. The sphere of privacy we attempt to carve out from these kinds of surveillance and interrogation will set the parameters for the debate over who should be able to access our memories once brain-machine interfaces become more widespread.
In 1873 the U.S. government passed the Comstock Act which made the sale of condoms and diaphragms illegal, and it took one hundred years of struggle until laws against the sale of contraceptives were completely overturned. Billions of women around the world are still living in countries that restrict access to contraception. Today the right to control ones reproduction is not limited to the right to control fertility, however, but includes the right to prenatal testing and selection, to assisted reproduction, and soon to direct genomic choice.
Beyond the Gender Binary to Post-Genderism: One of the most basic limitations on our capacities for self-expression is the constraint of biological gender. Today technologies, from hormones to surgery, are allowing gender-variant people to pick from a multiplicity of gender options, and in many countries these therapies are covered by state insurance. In the future gene therapies will make these modifications easier and cheaper.
Rights to Assistive Technologies: The beginnings of cyborg politics can be seen in 1862 when the U.S. government guaranteed a prosthetic limb to every Civil War veteran amputee. Today, public health systems are negotiating the provision of access to an ever-expanding array of technologies, from high-tech wheelchairs and communication systems to implantable insulin pumps, pacemakers and wearable health trackers. Some, like cochlear implants, are on the cusp of providing superhuman capacities, finally crossing the line from “therapy” to “enhancement.” Technoprogressives join in solidarity with the disability rights movement to demand access to assistive technologies, and the right to use them or not.
Right to a Self-Determined Death
“The Ethics of Suicide: A Framework” by John Danaher
“The philosophy of suicide” by Massimo Pigliucci
“Why Transhumanists Should Support ‘Right-To-Die’” by B. J. Murphy
“Why You Should Fight For Your Right to Die” by George Dvorsky
“Euthanasia, Immortality, and The Natural Death Paradox” by Kyle Munkittrick
Beyond Human Racism to Rights of the Person
Today campaigns are pressing the case that great apes and dolphins have the mental capacities that warrant granting them human-level rights. Tomorrow apes with gene therapy to address their cognitive “deficits” and brain-machine communication devices may be able to argue their case directly. Human beings will be able to incorporate “animal” DNA for cosmetic or enhancement purposes, and augment their cognition with brain prostheses in ways that push the human/machine boundary. As these cases become widespread the presumption that rights are for human beings, instead of for self-aware persons in whatever form they present themselves, will become untenable.