[ExI] Define Transhumanism

SR Ballard sen.otaku at gmail.com
Mon Apr 27 01:21:53 UTC 2020

PART ZERO: Introduction

This is an extremely long email about what Transhumanism is and how well a Mormon might be able to align with the definitions we find. It is split into the following parts:

(1) What is autonomy? & Various definitions
(2) What is rationality?
(3) Principles of Transhumanism per Wikipedia (the most likely resource for people who would join) 
(4) Principles of Extropianism per Max
(5) General overview of Mormon Demographics
(6) A well defined Minority of Mormons & how they are Mormon in name only
(7) Conclusion

Apologies about the length. And the fact I repeat myself... a lot. 

PART ONE: Autonomy

Does Transhumanism require “autonomy” from religious belief?

>the right or condition of self-government. "Tatarstan demanded greater autonomy within the Russian Federation"

One could argue that Mormon Transhumanists are autonomous in the sense that the Church and Scriptures make no explicit references to technology.

>freedom from external control or influence; independence. "economic autonomy is still a long way off for many women"

Sure, Mormons experience external influence, but not in matters pertaining to Transhumanism. If we look at the example sentence, isn’t that misleading? Nearly all people are slaves to wages, but the sentence implies that she controls her own wage slavery rather than being dependent on the goodwill of another wage slave (father, brother, husband, son). In this sense, Mormons are autonomous in the realm of Transhumanism.

PART TWO: Rationality

Does Transhumanism require “rationality”?

In the sense of being able to use common sense in scientific matters, yes. 

However religious beliefs do not inherently require the abandonment of rationality, only compartmentalization. If religious beliefs would Barr someone from being meaningfully Tranhumanist, then any person who has anxiety, depression, OCD, phobias, delusions, or hallucinations cannot be meaningfully Transhumanist, and I would argue that my irrational fear of bees does not invalidate me. For that matter I don’t think kinks are “rational”, but I don’t think that invalidates transhumanist commitment either. 

PART THREE : Principles of Transhumanism

What are the principles of Transhumanism, exactly? 

Do we mean this? https://www.aleph.se/Trans/Cultural/Philosophy/Transhumanist_Principles.html

For Max’s Extropian Principles, as outlined by himself, see part 4.

Or what I found on Wikipedia:

(1)  Proactionary Principle (maybe can can comment if I’m misunderstanding) 

> People’s freedom to innovate technologically is highly valuable, even critical, to humanity. This implies several imperatives when restrictive measures are proposed: Assess risks and opportunities according to available science, not popular perception. Account for both the costs of the restrictions themselves, and those of opportunities foregone. Favor measures that are proportionate to the probability and magnitude of impacts, and that have a high expectation value. Protect people’s freedom to experiment, innovate, and progress.

Mormons are not bound by almost any dogma in regards to science and technology, though “designer babies” might be considered controversial. They are free to use science as much as anyone else to evaluate ideas and technology. 

I have met exactly 2 Mormon creationists, but I feel perhaps that might be more common in Utah Mormonism. However the Church usually does not take a hard stance on this, and prefers to focus on other things. In general, most Mormons are pretty compartmentalized and operate on a surprisingly secular framework outside of the religious context, likely due to college education. 

(2) Embrace of singularity

There’s no reason to believe Mormons would oppose this.

(3) Embrace technology

Mormons are constantly urged by Church authorities to adopt and utilize new technologies, especially information technology.

(4) Avoiding global annihilation and extermination of the species

Mormons, in general, are split on the topic of environmentalism, but they also don’t have an Armageddon fetish like Jehovah’s Witnesses or most Evangelicals. 

(5) Immortality, Life Extension, and Rejuvenation

I cannot think of any Mormon theology which would make this impossible or distasteful. 

PART FOUR: Extropian Principles (Per Max)

(1) Perpetual Progress

> Extropy means seeking more intelligence, wisdom, and effectiveness

“Seek not for riches but for wisdom” — there is more to this quote but often this is the only part that is used

> open-ended lifespan

See above

> removal of political, cultural, biological, and psychological limits to continuing development

Other than “designer babies” most scientific development is generally neutral or good in the Mormon context. 

(2) Self-Transformation

> Extropy means affirming continual ethical, intellectual, and physical self-improvement

Nearly any Mormon would agree to this

> through critical and creative thinking, perpetual learning, personal responsibility, proactivity, and experimentation

Mormons are perfectly capable of all of these. High on personal responsibility, low on experimentation.

> Using technology — in the widest sense to seek physiological and neurological augmentation along with emotional and psychological refinement.

You’re not gonna hear Mormons reject any medical science (such as Jehovah’s Witnesses with blood transfusion) with the exception of “designer babies”, and perhaps Gender reassignment surgery (Though you could make a strong theological case for it as well). 

There are maybe anti-vaxxers though in my experience I’ve never met one. Utah Mormons maybe.

No one is going to say that neural interface prosthetics are bad, or cochlear implants are satanic. 

You’re not gonna hear Mormons reject computers, the internet, or VR. 

(3) Practical Optimism

> Extropy means fueling action with positive expectations – individuals and organizations being tirelessly proactive. Adopting a rational, action-based optimism or "proaction", in place of both blind faith and stagnant pessimism.

Mormonism’s Relief society is notoriously optimistic, practical, and proactive. 

They sold the US government 200K bushels of wheat to combat hunger in 1918. 

They did the same for the San Francisco earthquake. 

They used sales of the wheat through the years to fund maternity hospitals. 

Many Female Mormon Pioneers were suffragists. Utah was among the first states to give women the right to vote. 

They sent many women to medical schools and funded their educations in the late 1800s, and were among the first women in the US to be trained as doctors, they then organized a program to have these doctors train female nurses. They ran the first hospital in the US with an all-female board of directors. 

They started one of the first female produced newspapers which often covered suffragette issues, and information on local medical classes. 

They spearheaded the US Geneological Movement, and the information they collect is available to everyone. This information might one day prove useful to scientists as well. 

The relief society created programs to eliminate poverty, and sent women to get degrees in social work (one of the most common majors for Mormon women today), then created monthly classes for them to teach. 

Source: https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.deseret.com/platform/amp/2014/3/13/20537258/10-accomplishments-of-the-relief-society

Mormon women are excellent at community organizing, have high rates of stay at home wives and low rates of homeschooling while having the income to maintain a two car family, allowing Mormon women the ability to organize large scale social works projects. 

(4) Intelligent Technology

> Extropy means designing and managing technologies not as ends in themselves but as effective means for improving life. Applying science and technology creatively and courageously to transcend "natural" but harmful, confining qualities derived from our biological heritage, culture, and environment.

Well explained before this point. 

(5) Open Society - information and democracy

> Extropy means supporting social orders that foster freedom of communication, freedom of action, experimentation, innovation, questioning, and learning. 

Mormons are not compelled in any real sense or cut off from information.

>Opposing authoritarian social control and unnecessary hierarchy and 

Big fail here

>favoring the rule of law 

Religious obligation to follow the law.

>and decentralization of power and responsibility. 

Power is centralized but responsibility is personal. Many Mormons take initiative.

(6) Self-Direction

> Extropy means valuing independent thinking, individual freedom, personal responsibility, self-direction, self-respect, and a parallel respect for others.

Yes, and no.

 Independent thinking on non-Church matters is perfectly fine. Self-direction in non-Church matters is again fine. 

Yes to the rest. 

(7) Rational Thinking

> Extropy means favoring reason over blind faith and questioning over dogma. It means understanding, experimenting, learning, challenging, and innovating rather than clinging to beliefs.

In non-Church contexts, this is fine. But including the church context is mixed. See part 6

PART FIVE: Mormons general

Additionally, Mormons are an important demographic to win over. (Demographics of Mormonism: https://www.pewforum.org/2009/07/24/a-portrait-of-mormons-in-the-us/ )

They have higher birthdate, and thus are disproportionately young people, 66% under 50 (National average 59%), and 25% under 30 (national 20%). Therefore, it is an important religious demographic (about 2% of the US population) which is not opposed to Transhumanism. 

Mormons are more likely to graduate high school (91% versus avg of 86%), more likely to attend college (61% vs 50%) and slightly more likely to graduate (28% vs 26%). 

They also have a higher than average income with 54% having an income over 50K, compared to the average of 48%. This income, while partially offset by the cost of raising children, allows them more ability to donate to the sciences. 

6% of Mormons say they believe in an impersonal God, which would allow this demographic to focus on more scientific pursuits than religious ones. 

Despite their belief that the Bible is the “Word of God”, compared to many other Christian groups are more likely to consider it non-literal. 

PART SIX: A Mormon Transhumanist Minority.

Throughout the data, we see a small minority: 4% that say they don’t take their religion seriously, 6% that believe in an impersonal god, 4% that reject miracles, 8% that say they attend church seldom or never, 4% that say the Bible is written by men, 13% who never read the Bible, 8% pray once per month or less, 5% say they have never had a prayer answered, 24% say they never “share” their faith, 4% don’t think their religion leads to eternal life, 3% believe the Church should fully embrace modern practices, 10% are “liberal” (versus conservative or moderate), 8% believe abortion should be legal in all cases. 

If a Mormon says: God is impersonal and I don’t talk to him — if I did pray to him he doesn’t answer prayers and miracles don’t exist; my religion isn’t that important to me, doesn’t lead to eternal life, and is based on a man made book that shouldn’t be taken literally, so I don’t read it and I don’t attend Church or tell people about my religion; and I fully believe we should adopt modern values (whatever we are considering those to be) — are they Mormon in a meaningful sense? Are their thoughts incompatible with reason and science, with transhumanism? 

This would be probably 4% of the Mormon Church in the US — about 250,000 people. Why should we distrust them? The only thing you disagree on is their cultural artifact of identification with the label “Mormon”. 

PART SEVEN: In Conclusion 

Despite the appearance, I’m not actually stanning the Mormon Church. What I am suggesting is that if as much as 4% of Mormons in the US, a quarter of a MILLION people could potentially embrace a transhumanist viewpoint amid a worsening anti-intellectual climate, that we shouldn’t write it off or shun it automatically. 

Given the state of affairs, the ideology needs as much help as it can get, people who will defend and support funding as well as those actually contributing the labor hours to that effort. 

People don’t need to be perfect to be helpful. 

And how many Extropian and transhumanist groups are there? Via self identification, how many people would say they are transhumanist or Extropian? How many people would even be familiar with these names? 

I think it’s wrong to dismiss it out of hand. 

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