[ExI] Posthumanism vs. Transhumanism

Stefano Vaj stefano.vaj at gmail.com
Wed Jun 17 13:00:56 UTC 2009

On Wed, Jun 17, 2009 at 12:48 AM, <natasha at natasha.cc> wrote:

> Hayles set it up and academia too a big bite into her literary theory of
> the posthuman. Fukuyama brought posthuman into ethics and policy of human
> futures without knowing what it means, or transhumanism for that matter.
>  Ever since, there has been a growing interest among academics (and others)
> to turn the posthuman into a theory, and now a philosophy.
> There are many similarities in posthumanism's advocates' ideas and
> suggested  findings.  Many of these similarities link directly to
> transhumanism.

I think it is difficult to make a comparison. Apples to oranges.

Transhumanism, thank to the vision of some individuals, a few pivotal works,
and some organised efforts, developed into a proper "culture", not to
mention an active movement, with relatively well-defined boundaries, a
shared jargon and mentality, and a "social", albeit small, following.
Philosophy is only one of the field where it expresses itself, and by far
not the main one.

I would say that posthumanism is instead a broad definition encompassing the
various stances of intellectuals and philosophers, mostly European or deeply
influenced by the European academic scene, who think that old  "humanist"
views should be revised, and possibly overcome.

This is already an opportunity for misunderstanding, since AFAIK "humanism"
is a word that in the US common usage has strong secular undertones, which
are almost entirely absent, e.g., in Italy (where "christian humanism" is a
very widespread phrase), so that in the US to speak of "posthumanism" may
suggest a going back to thinly disguised religious views. Add to that the
perspectivist and relativist penchant adopted by many "posthumanists" and
this is bound to generate a wariness by many transhumanists who may
implicitely or explicitely adhere to more "neopositivistic" attitudes,
especially at an epistemological or political level. Especially given the
undeniable temptations in close quarters to slip in oracular nonsense,
cosmic pessimism, and anti-science postures (see, e.g., Fashionable
Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals' Abuse of
Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont)

Having said that, my personal opinion that posthumanism and transhumanism
besides the differences of nature and language are already strictly
intertwined by their ultimate roots and by the basic idea that a fixed,
essentialist, specieist view of the man, which we inherit from
judeochristianism, is not adequate any more to epochal changes currently in
place, namely those which pertains to the impact of technology on our own
worldview, life and destiny. And that a posthuman changed should be
embraced. This is very explicit also in American posthumanism, and I
routinely recommend to everybody in this respect Viroid Life: Perspectives
on Nietzsche and the Transhuman
Ansell Pearson as well as Posthumanism (Readers in Cultural
Neil Badmington.

Moreover, even though some routine criticism of a few "philosophically
naive" traits of popular transhumanism exists in most of the authors
concerned, bridges already exist, and become ever more numerous.

To make a few examples, I think that it is difficult not to consider
explicitely transhumanist the positions taken by Peter Sloterdijk on
evolution, biotech and reprogenetics, positions which did not go unremarked
by the neoluddite camp and unleashed a harsh response. See the very
controversial "Rules for the Human Park" (in German included in Nicht
gerettet: Versuche nach
in Italian in Non siamo ancora stati salvati. Saggi dopo
and published alone in Spanish, Normas para el parque
and in French, Règles pour le parc humain : Une lettre en réponse à la
Lettre sur l'humanisme de
in English? no chance... :-(

In France, to mention very diverse writers, the proto-transhumanist penchant
of Lyotard (see Moralités
Postmodern Fables<http://www.amazon.com/Postmodern-Fables-Jean-Francois-Lyotard/dp/0816625557/ref=sr_1_8?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1245241268&sr=8-8>)
has repeatedly remarked in our camp, e.g., by Riccardo Campa in Dal
postmoderno al postumano. Il caso
and also come to mind Yves Christen (Les années Faust, ou, La science face
au vieillissement<http://www.amazon.fr/ann%C3%A9es-Faust-science-face-vieillissement/dp/2710704706/ref=sr_1_8?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1245241025&sr=1-8>,
L'homme bioculturel<http://www.amazon.fr/Lhomme-bioculturel-Yves-Christen/dp/2268004384/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1245241025&sr=1-4>,
L'animal est-il une personne
as well as Guillaume Faye (see especially the seminal Pour en finir avec le
nihilisme. Heidegger et la question de la
in Italian Per
farla finita con il nichilismo. Heidegger e la questione della
The latter, who also discussed transhumanist subjects both of a "wet" and a
"hard" nature in L'archéofuturisme (in Italian
text]), accepted to write the appendix to my own book
*Biopolitica. Il nuovo paradigma <http://www.biopolitica.it> *(full text),
that is La soluzione di di
solution de Promethée<http://www.uomo-libero.com/articolo.php?id=312#SOLUTION>),
and is now about to publish a long essay on Futurismo e modernità in the
third issue/volume of Divenire. Rassegna di studi interdisciplinari sulla
tecnica e il postumano <http://www.divenire.org>, the peer-reviewed
"unmagazine" on paper of the Associazione Italiana
Lastily a study in French of ideas and fashions that can be found at the
crossroad of posthumanism and transhumanism is the subject matter Les
utopies posthumaines : Contre-culture, cyberculture, culture du
Rémi Sussan, who I believe might be reading this list.

Coming to Italy, a very influential representative of posthumanist thinking,
besides of course... yours truly ;-), is Roberto Marchesini who wrote the
fundamental Post-Human. Verso nuovi modelli di
where he distanced himself a little from American transhumanism, only to
become at a later stage a honorary member of the AIT itself, the author of
an article (Oltre il mito della purezza) published again by Divenire, in its
second issue/volume<http://www.sestanteedizioni.com/index.php?pagename=product_info&products_id=198>,
and probably to be one of the speaker at Transvision 2010.

Of course, the language, approach and primary concerns of all those thinkers
and writers is quite different from that of, say, Ray Kurzweil or Gregory
Stock or our Damien Broderick.

But I am absolutely persuaded that a significant chunk of posthumanist ideas
have transhumanism as their only consistent conclusion.

Stefano Vaj
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