[Paleopsych] Utne: The Next Digital Divide

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The Next Digital Divide

    January 2005
    By Alyssa Ford,

     How biopolitics could reshape our understanding of left and right

    Didn't think it was possible for the left to be anymore splintered?
    Welcome to the world of biopolitics, a fledgling political movement
    that promises to make mortal enemies out of one-time allies -- such as
    back-to-nature environmentalists and technophile lefties -- and close
    friends of traditional foes, such as anti-GMO activists and

    Biopolitics, a term coined by Trinity College professor James Hughes,
    places pro-technology transhumanists on one pole and people who are
    suspicious of technology on the other. [1]According to Hughes,
    transhumanists are members of "an emergent philosophical movement
    which says that humans can and should become more than human through
    technological enhancements." The term transhuman is shorthand for
    transitional human -- people who are in the process of becoming
    "posthuman" or "cyborgs."

    It may sound like a movement founded by people who argue over Star
    Trek minutia on the Internet, but transhumanists are far more complex
    and organized than one might imagine. They got their start in the
    early 1980s as a small band of libertarian technophiles who advocated
    for any advancement that could extend human life indefinitely or
    eliminate disease and disability. Their members were some of the first
    to sign up to be cryogenically frozen, for example.

    As biotech and bioethics issues such as cloning and stem cell research
    gained importance on the international agenda, the transhumanist
    philosophy grew in popularity and became more diverse. For instance,
    several neo-nazi groups who saw technological advancement as the way
    to achieve eugenics embraced the transhumanist label. Transhumanism
    pierced the popular culture when the Coalition of Artists and Life
    Forms (CALF) formed in the 1990s. This small band of artists and
    writers has a shared excitement for technology and a distrust of the
    corporations that mishandle it.

    In 1997, a group of American and European leftist-transhumanists
    (including Dr. Hughes) formed the [2]World Transhumanist Association
    to advocate for technology not only as a means to improve the human
    race and increase longevity, but as a tool for social justice. Unlike
    their [3]libertarian forebearers, these "democratic transhumanists"
    advocate for moderate safeguards on new technology, such as drug
    trials. In an exhaustive [4]article about various factions under the
    transhuman label, Hughes identifies 11 subgroups, including
    "disability transhumanists" who argue for their right to technology
    and "gay transhumanists" who want children conceived outside of the
    opposite-sex paradigm (i.e., cloning).

    By definition, social conservatives oppose the transhumanists, but the
    new movement also has many enemies on the new age, environmental,
    anti-GMO, and anti-biotech left. These progressive opponents have even
    aligned with right wing factions in opposition to transhumanist goals.
    In 2002, Jeremy Rifkin and other environmentalists joined with
    anti-abortion groups to float an anti-cloning petition. Abortion
    opponents again found themselves working with the left when a [5]group
    of feminists and civil libertarians began pressuring the Indian
    government to restrict women's access to ultrasounds and abortions for
    fear of female infanticide. The transhumanists, in turn, call these
    anti-technology liberals "left luddites," "bioconservatives," and
    "technophobes" -- a not-so-subtle linguistic clue that the new
    biopolitical axis has the potential to completely reconfigure
    traditional politics.

    Related Links:
      * [6]In Defense of Posthuman Dignity
      * [7]Cyborg Liberation Front
      * Three-part interview with Dr. James Hughes:

      * [8]Part One
      * [9]Part Two
      * [10]Part Three


    1. http://www.changesurfer.com/Acad/DemocraticTranshumanism.htm
    2. http://transhumanism.org/index.php/th/
    3. http://www.extropy.com/
    4. http://www.changesurfer.com/Acad/TranshumPolitics.htm
    5. http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/organizations/grhf/SAsia/suchana/0500/h003.html
    6. http://www.nickbostrom.com/ethics/dignity.html
    7. http://villagevoice.com/news/0331,baard,45866,1.html
    8. http://www.worldchanging.com/archives/001659.html
    9. http://www.worldchanging.com/archives/001664.html
   10. http://www.worldchanging.com/archives/001670.html
   11. http://www.genetics-and-society.org/index.asp

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