[Paleopsych] Utne: (James Hughes) The Next Digital Divide

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The Next Digital Divide

[Three part interview with James Hughes appended.]

    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

      [11]Jeremy Rifkin's Center for Genetics and Society


    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

WorldChanging: Another World Is Here: A Conversation with Dr. James Hughes 
(part 1 of 3)
November 30, 2004

A Conversation with Dr. James Hughes (part 1 of 3)

    For many, the term "transhumanism" suggests a rejection of
    humanity or a dismissal of the body of philosophy we call "humanism."
    Some of the movement's proponents don't help matters, embracing an Ayn
    Rand-style libertarian perspective and disdain for "unenhanced"
    humanity. But not all transhumanists are the same. [9]A growing number
    see the drive to develop technologies to strengthen and extend human
    capabilities as part and parcel of the push to improve global social
    conditions, and recognize that there is a necessary role for society
    and government in the safe development and fair distribution of new
    technologies. They refer to themselves as "Democratic Transhumanists,"
    and their founding philosopher is Dr. James Hughes.

    Dr. Hughes is a bioethicist and sociologist at Trinity College in
    Hartford Connecticut, where he teaches Health Policy, Drug Policy and
    Research Methods in Trinity's Graduate Public Policy Studies program.
    He holds a doctorate in sociology from the University of Chicago,
    where he also taught bioethics. He is a member of the American Society
    of Bioethics and Humanities, and the Working Group on Ethics and
    Technology at Yale University. He has been a longtime left activist,
    having founded [10]EcoSocialist Review while in grad school, as well
    as working on systemic reform of health care organizations to empower

    He is also a [11]Director of the [12]World Transhumanist Association,
    and the author of the recently-published [13]Citizen Cyborg: Why
    Democratic Societies Must Respond to the Redesigned Human of the
    Future. Dr. Hughes sees Democratic Transhumanism as existing in the
    space left fallow by both the libertarian transhumanist wing and the
    Luddite element of the left. As he put it in his [14]lengthy and
    detailed treatise on the philosophy:

      Democratic transhumanism stems from the assertion that human beings
      will generally be happier when they take rational control of the
      natural and social forces that control their lives. This
      fundamental humanistic assertion has led to two intertwined sets of
      Enlightenment values: the democratic tradition with its values of
      liberty, equality, solidarity and collective self-governance, and
      to the belief in reason and scientific progress, that human beings
      can use reason and technology to improve the conditions of life.

    A recent manifestation of these principles is his founding of the
    [15]Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies (IEET), an
    organization at which [16]I am a Fellow. Over the past month, I've had
    an extended email conversation with Dr. Hughes, discussing the
    sometimes-strained relationship between progressive principles and
    technological utopianism. Because of its length, I'll post the
    discussion in three parts. Today's focuses on the meaning of
    Democratic Transhumanism.

    Cascio: Let's start with the basics: what does "Democratic
    Transhumanism" mean?

    Hughes: To me, the democratic part is a bit redundant, since I see
    transhumanism as a natural conclusion of the democratic and humanist
    philosophical tradition: life is better when people are empowered to
    make decisions about their own lives, individually and collectively.
    The two basic ways we can be empowered are by pushing back social
    domination through equality, liberty and social solidarity, and by
    pushing back the domination of nature through science and technology.
    It seems a natural conclusion that we should help one another use
    emerging technologies to push back sickness, aging, suffering and
    death, which is the key goal of transhumanism.

    However, there are variants of the humanist tradition - neo-liberal,
    libertarian and anarcho-capitalist philosophies - that prioritize
    liberty to the exclusion of equality and solidarity, and try to
    eliminate democratic oversight, regulation, redistribution and public
    provision. Although transhumanists like Condorcet and Haldane were
    most often advocates of radical egalitarianism, the 1960s brought an
    ascendance of the romantic, anti-technology wing of the Left and the
    ceding of narratives of progress to these champions of the free-market
    and corporate capitalism. So when transhumanism finally found its feet
    as a social movement in the early 1990s, many transhumanists were
    attracted to these neo-liberal philosophies, at least up till the
    dotcom bust.

    I think that libertarian tilt to transhumanism is now turning around.
    Progressives are discovering that their natural allies are not the
    Christian Right with its anxieties about hubris, but women trying to
    defend their reproductive rights to use technology, the disabled like
    Christopher Reeve fighting for assistive and restorative technologies,
    and the world's poor who need new technologies to provide clean water
    and abundant food. Transhumanists, in turn, are realizing that our Big
    Pharma is too short-sighted to commit to risky, far-sighted research
    on things like "negligible senescence." These projects need funding
    through the National Institutes of Health, the National Nanotechnology
    Initiative, and the Nano-Bio-Info-Cogno program. They also need to go
    through the Food and Drug Administration. Nothing is more disastrous
    for technology than a thalidomide-type disaster. We've already seen
    with estrogen replacement therapy that the public is ready to adopt
    technologies to try to forestall aging which they then find are
    actually killing them.

    So progressive or "democratic" transhumanists, unlike the free
    marketeers, understand that strong oversight and social reform has to
    accompany technology diffusion. Technologies need to be tested for
    safety and made universally available. Hopefully as this perspective
    becomes more common we can drop the redundant "democratic."

    Cascio: I wonder how much of the negative reaction to transhumanism
    comes from a reaction to the term itself, and its implied disdain for
    being human. While you make a good argument that democratic
    transhumanism is a natural evolution of humanist philosophies, some of
    the ideas that transhumanism encompasses do include outcomes
    (uploading, radical bioengineering to the point of speciation, etc.)
    which discard "human-ness." How does democratic transhumanism speak to
    those who find such a transition frightening?

    Hughes: The first point is that transhumanism does not connote disdain
    for humanity, but disagreement that the category of "human" is
    meaningful. Take our newly discovered Hobbit cousins from Indonesia,
    or Neanderthals. If they were still around would we consider them
    human? What would it mean for our society if we were to deny modern
    Hobbits or Neanderthals human rights on the grounds they weren't
    "human" and treated them as pets or slaves? Are conjoined twins human?
    Is someone in an intensive care unit with machines breathing for them,
    pumping their blood, and maintaining their blood chemistry, are they
    still human? "Human," "human dignity" are empty signifiers that have
    crept into our language as proxies for "soul," and progressives need
    to rethink their use of these categories.

    Francis Fukuyama, in Our Posthuman Future, explicitly argues that
    humanness is a "Factor X," a black box that combines some combination
    of genetics, rationality and emotion. But he doesn't want to specify
    it because if he did it would be clear that there are humans who don't
    have those specifics, and that great apes probably do. Specifying what
    it is that we value about humanness would also allow us to regulate
    biotechnology to protect that, and allow individual choice on the
    rest. Rationality and emotional complexity what makes us human? Great
    - nobody will be allowed to make themselves developmentally disabled
    or autistic. Remaining primarily organic what makes us human? OK, then
    adding lion genes shouldn't be a problem.

    The basic argument between transhumanists and human-racists is a
    debate about what is really important and valuable in the human
    condition, self-aware existence, consciousness, emotionally rich
    experience and rational thought, on the one hand, or having the modal
    genome and body type of human beings circa 2000 (which is very
    different from what it was even 20 years ago, but never mind that)?
    The transhumanist position is known in bioethics as "personhood
    theory": you can be a self-aware person and not be human (great apes
    for instance) and you can be "human" and not be a person (such as
    fetuses and the brain dead). Rights are for persons, not humans.

    But there is a grain of truth to the critics' attack in that we are
    very upset about the limitations of the human body and we think that,
    using reason and technology, we can do much better. That's what
    medicine is to begin with. Is it a lack of love for and faith in
    "humanness" to get vaccinated, or have surgery, or take insulin or
    vitamins? I think one of the thing most people consider core to
    "humanity" is a desire to improve and progress, so in that sense human
    enhancement technologies are quintessentially "human."

    Since "human" is basically a tribal identity with no empirical
    referent, what Kurt Vonnegut called a "[17]granfalloon" , I fully
    expect that in four hundred years there will be people with green
    skin, four arms, wings, endless lives, and nanocomputer brain pans,
    who proudly consider themselves "human" and who organize big family
    reunions for all the people with their surname, or all the other
    descendents of Civil War veterans, or whatever. And there are people
    today who are ready to give up any claim to membership in the human
    race because they have glasses or a pacemaker or are pissed off about
    the persistent ubiquity of ignorance and cruelty in this race that
    pretends to know better.

    I understand that people do get frightened by the idea of a transhuman
    society, with increasing diversity of persons. People were frightened
    that the end of slavery and Jim Crow would unleash anarchy and
    race-mixing, and people are still scared that legal gay marriage will
    destroy Western civilization. We need to try to convince those who are
    afraid of human enhancement that we can still have peace, prosperity
    and tolerance of diversity in that future. And at the same time we
    need to remember that the transhumanist claim is that people should
    control their own bodies and minds, and other people don't get to tell
    us to go to the back of the bus because of their vague anxieties and
    yuck reactions to our choices.

    Cascio: Say a little bit more about the "yuck reaction" -- it's a term
    I see in use among the transhumanist circles, but doesn't have quite
    the same impact in broader conversation.

    Hughes: "Yuck factor" is bioethics shorthand for the many variants of
    the argument that something must be unethical just because it freaks
    people out. For instance people think consensual cannibalism is
    self-evidently immoral even though the alleged ethical arguments
    against it are very tenuous. Leon Kass, G.W.'s bioethics czar, is the
    principal proponent of the theory that people should be guided by
    their gut instincts in ethics. Don't like chocolate cake? Then there
    is probably something unethical about chocolate cake. Most
    bioethicists aren't as bold as Kass in jettisoning reason however, so
    they have invented two variants on the uncontestable "God don't like
    it": that something is "unnatural" and that it violates "human
    dignity." Both of these arguments are just hand waving. As Love and
    Rockets said "You cannot go against nature, Because when you do, Go
    against nature, It's a part of nature too." As for violating human
    dignity its in the eye of the beholder.

    Yuck factor is also closely related to "future shock." When society
    changes fast people get upset and try to slow things down. In
    democratic societies they will be able to use quite a few brakes,
    which is generally a good thing. But balance is provided by the
    protection of individual liberty and minority rights. So, for
    instance, when most Americans freaked out about the Massachusetts
    Supreme Court's decision that gays should be able to marry they passed
    referenda around the country to stop gay marriage. I think the state
    courts and then the Supreme Court should overturn those referenda on
    the grounds that gay marriage is a fundamental right. When we are
    talking about basic rights, like the right to control your own body
    and mind, or vote, or sit anywhere on the damn bus you feel like, or
    marry your lover, those rights should trump other people's future
    shock and yuck reactions.

    Cascio: "We can do better" is at the core of what WorldChanging does
    and what IEET represents. And the "we" is as important as the "do
    better" -- it's not just atomistic individuals trying to compete for
    greatest personal satisfaction, it's a social effort, which reflects
    social concerns.

    Hughes: That's absolutely important. Libertarian individualism is
    completely self-defeating for the human enhancement movement. You want
    to make yourself and your kids smarter? You can take a smart pill and
    do your mental gymnastics, but you still need good books, stimulating
    friends, a solid education, a free and independent press, and a
    stable, well-regulated economy so your PDA keeps beaming Google
    searches and email chat into your eyeball through that laser display.
    And it might be nice to have a strong, independent Food and Drug
    Administration to make sure that your smart pill doesn't cause
    dementia in five years, and that that laser display doesn't blind you.

    Similarly, the principal determinants of longevity in the 20th century
    have been improvements in social technology not medical technology,
    e.g. getting people to suppress infectious diseases. Universal access
    to safe, effective life extension and age-retardation technology in
    the coming decades will require public investments into basic
    research, reining in our out-of-control intellectual property system,
    and the subsidizing of access for the uninsured and the world's poor.
    The libertarian fantasies that atomistic individualism and an
    unregulated free market will build an attractive future are just
    Posted by Jamais Cascio at November 30, 2004 03:13 PM | [18]TrackBack

    Good stuff.

    I could add: It's necessary for a wide variety of humanists to chip in
    in order for the face of the future to be *sane.* Don't leave it up to
    the . . . well, apocalyptic oddballs who have invested religious
    significance into the Singularity.

    "I fully expect that in four hundred years . . ."

    A couple of decades back, "The Space Gamer" ran a cute little story
    set in a spaceport bar.

    A guy wanders in before things get busy. He chats with people as the
    after-work crowd wanders in. Various cyborgs, robots, an uplifted
    dinosaur just in from shooting a monster movie, people adapted to
    other planets, and so on.

    At some point it's revealed that the protagonist is an _alien_.

    The other patrons react with shock and horror. He's tossed out -- they
    don't serve that kind here -- and the fellow he was sitting with feels
    betrayed and scandalized.

    Posted by: [19]Stefan Jones at November 30, 2004 03:53 PM

    I agree that a great deal of libertarian fantasies are simply stupid,
    but I also think that too much regulation and public accountability
    rhetoric can kill the movement in its infancy. Early technologies are
    full of mistakes, bugs and problems. That's just how life is. And if
    these technologies are used on the body, then people will suffer, too.
    In order for the methods to become safe, the early pioneers will have
    to make sacrifices -- and they will have to be _allowed_ to make those
    sacrifices. While libertarian fantasies may be stupid, it is people
    believing in them that are going to make the largest impact on
    pro-transhumanist technology.
    Posted by: [20]Sergiy Grynko at November 30, 2004 05:49 PM

    What a fine interview, Jamais. Worthy subject and good questions.

    I felt my incipient Luddism coming to the fore as I read the articles.
    We haven't been able to solve the many problems that can easily be
    remedied with the technology we already have. And in the present
    culture, I do not trust us to make wise decisions with the tricky
    issues of biotechnology. GMOs are a case in point.

    Perhaps in a social democracy with the corporations under control and
    a much greater awareness of ecology -- maybe then I'd start to feel
    enthusiasm rather than a sense of dread.

    As it is, transhumanism sounds either like a costly irrelevance (e.g.,
    space flight, artificial intelligence) or a Pandora's box (e.g.,
    nuclear weapons).

    To his credit, Hughes seems aware of many of the potential problems.
    Posted by: [21]bart at December 3, 2004 01:27 AM


    9. http://www.cyborgdemocracy.net/
   10. http://web.archive.org/web/19980206065817/http://www.dsausa.org/dsa/rl/ESR/index.html
   11. http://transhumanism.org/index.php/WTA/board/
   12. http://www.transhumanism.org/index.php/WTA/index/
   13. http://cyborgdemocracy.net/citizencyborg.htm
   14. http://www.changesurfer.com/Acad/DemocraticTranshumanism.htm
   15. http://ieet.org/
   16. http://www.worldchanging.com/archives/001547.html
   17. http://encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com/granfalloon
   18. http://www.worldchanging.com/cgi-bin/mt-tb.cgi?__mode=view&entry_id=1659
   19. mailto:SeJ at aol.com
   20. mailto:sgrynko at hotmail.com
   21. mailto:bart at cwo.com

WorldChanging: Another World Is Here: A Conversation with Dr. James Hughes 
(part 2 of 3)
December 01, 2004

A Conversation with Dr. James Hughes (part 2 of 3)

    Continuing the conversation with Dr. James Hughes of Trinity College,
    founder of the Democratic Transhumanism movement.

    Democratic Transhumanism, despite its futuristic trappings, hearkens
    back to an earlier manifestation of the liberal tradition. In the 19th
    and early 20th century, scientific rationalism and technological
    utopianism went hand-in-hand with socialism, feminism, and
    progressivism. This changed in the post-WW2 era, as science and
    technology seemed to many to be increasingly the tools of military and
    corporate giants. The anti-technology perspective emerged most
    strongly in the environmental movement, which often linked ecological
    irresponsibility (industrial pollution, toxic waste dumps, unethical
    animal and human experimentation, etc.) with technological
    development. While many progressives and greens are more willing adopt
    cleaner, better technologies today, some of the anti-technology biases
    remain. From Dr. Hughes' [10]essay on Democratic Transhumanism:

      Today most bioethicists, informed by and contributing to the
      growing Luddite orientation in left-leaning arts and humanities
      faculties, start from the assumption that new biotechnologies are
      being developed in unethical ways by a rapacious medical-industrial
      complex, and will have myriad unpleasant consequences for society,
      especially for women and the powerless. Rather than emphasizing the
      liberty and autonomy of individuals who may want to adopt new
      technologies, or arguing for increased equitable access to new
      biotechnologies, balancing attention to the "right from" technology
      with attention to the "right to" technology, most bioethicists see
      it as their responsibility to slow the adoption of biotechnology

    The tension between philosophies focused on for social justice and
    environmental responsibility and the transhumanist movement is strong,
    and the evident frustration and anger in Dr. Hughes' tone -- both in
    the article linked above and in today's section of the interview --
    reflects his belief that the human enhancement movement should be
    considered an ally, not an opponent, of those who are trying to better
    the human condition. He and I don't see eye-to-eye on many of the
    topics discussed in today's section, but we do agree on an underlying
    value: responsible technological development is critical for building
    a better planet.

    Cascio: A concern many technologically-literate environmentalists have
    about human bioengineering (and life extension, and the like) is that
    it will inevitably be asymmetrically distributed, with the
    already-rich and powerful getting the first shot at it.

    Hughes: In first place there is no inevitability about the cost of
    transhuman technologies. Depending on the type of technology and the
    point in its innovation lifecycle, technologies can be cheap or
    expensive. Just look at anti-retroviral therapy. For a decade
    HIV-positive people in the affluent North were the guinea pigs and
    underwriters of the enormous costs of these therapies.

    Then the developing world threatened to produce the drugs themselves
    and abrogate the intellectual property regime (and I wish they had).
    In response to the threat and the political pressure from the global
    public health lobby anti-retrovirals were licensed for less expensive
    production, and then alternative versions were developed which cut
    costs to less than a dollar day.

    Now, less than a dollar a day is still more than a lot of HIV positive
    people in Africa make, so is the answer of leftist Greens that we
    should ban anti-retrovirals until everybody can afford them? Or do we
    try to get them to as many people as possible, year by year? The same
    logic will apply to every new technology, from those which save lives,
    to those which allow us to improve memory and mood, to those which
    enable radical body art. And some of these technologies will be cheap
    at the outset, such as a cancer vaccine that sensitizes the immune
    system to identify and destroy cancers.

    Cascio: That's an interesting take -- that rather than thinking of the
    early adopting rich countries as getting the goodies first, we should
    think of them as being the guinea pigs (or beta testers) for the rest
    of the world.

    Hughes: I don't want to sound like I think its good for the poor and
    developing world to wait a couple years for new tech. But there is a
    life cycle to most tech that the Luddite left ignores - if a
    technology develops a large enough market among the affluent they get
    then cheap enough so that they become available to the poor. There is
    a strong moral and practical case for using public monies to shorten
    that cycle for technologies that dramatically improve people's lives,
    as human enhancement technologies will. For Gameboys or McDonalds
    equitable access isn't so urgent.

    Cascio: Many left-greens, including me, worry that transhuman
    technologies can result in conditions which would tend to further
    concentrate power and wealth in the hands of those who already possess
    it. Is that a legitimate concern?

    Hughes: Yes, absolutely. There is probably a qualitative difference
    between the feedback loop between wealth inequality and differential
    access to cognitive enhancement, and the feedback loop between wealth
    inequality and differential access to the Internet. In other words, we
    do have to worry about the possible development of a widening gap
    between an accelerating "posthuman" aristocracy and a majority of the
    rest of the world moving ahead at a much slower pace. The best, and
    probably the only way, to effectively reduce the risk of
    GenRich/GenPoor bifurcation is the ensure broad as possible access to
    cognitive, health and ability enhancements. I think this will be
    perfectly obvious even to the most Luddite as these technologies
    arrive. The world's poor are going to want life extension and very few
    left Greens are going to campaign to save them from it.

    The "forbid enhancement because it will only be available to the rich"
    argument does, however, provide one more brick for the bioconservative
    roadblock to funding research in human enhancement. So long as the
    public thinks life extension and cognitive enhancement is "science
    fiction," and will never happen, then the religious fundamentalist
    zealots and their secular and progressive allies can deep six the
    research programs which could bring them online all the sooner.

    One hundred and fifty thousand people die every day, and if you are a
    transhumanist, you see a day when they would not have to have died.
    The profound immorality of the bioLuddite position is not that they
    will be able to stop human enhancement technologies, but that they
    will be able to delay them and kill many people who could otherwise
    have lived. Yes, fresh water and more food and income could save
    people as well. That's why I'm a democratic transhumanist.

    Cascio: What do you think of the "precautionary principle?"

    Hughes: The precautionary principle is a Luddite Trojan Horse. It
    starts with the uncontroversial principle that technologies should be
    assessed for their risks before they are deployed. That's no problem,
    and we can argue about what kinds of approval processes and regulatory
    agencies are adequate, and when we have sufficient information of the
    risk/benefit ratios. But when the principle is applied by the
    technophobic, to things like human genetic engineering, the
    precautionary principle becomes a rationale for permanent bans. The
    first thing the technophobic do is systematically rubbish the
    potential benefits, and take seriously every hypothetical harm from
    now until the end of time. Their second argument appeals to the virtue
    of the known and the supposed inevitability that human efforts to
    engineer the delicate, evolved mechanisms of nature are doomed to
    disaster. On those grounds, no clinical trial or EPA assessment could
    ever capture the real long-term risks of genetic engineering.

    Nick Bostrom has just written a brilliant paper about the "status quo
    bias" in everyday heuristics, and how it is expressed in bioethics.
    Once we take account of real, proximate risks and benefits of human
    enhancement technologies in a balanced way there certainly will be a
    case for banning some until they are safer. For instance, the World
    Transhumanist Association has taken the position that experiments with
    human reproductive cloning are currently unethical since the animal
    research suggests a very high risk of birth defects. Once the animal
    research has got the success rate up and birth defects low, then there
    the risk-benefit would pass the threshold for permitting the technique
    for parents who have genetic or infertility problems and want a child
    related to one of the parents. Then, when the risk of birth defects in
    these first clones has been assessed, and the technique demonstrated
    to be safe, we should permit all would be parents to use it.

    This process suggests the other huge problem with applying the
    precautionary principle to human enhancement. Banning a new industrial
    chemical on precautionary principle grounds doesn't step on an
    individual's self-determination, but stopping them from exercising
    control over their own body, brain and reproduction does. For
    instance, Western feminists are delighted to encourage India and China
    to restrict women's access to ultrasound and abortion, restrictions
    most American women would never accept, all to prevent largely
    hypothetical future social consequences of imbalanced gender ratios
    from sex selection. As a consequence these laws not only harm the
    women who lose some of their reproductive choices, but also the girls
    born into families that don't want them, and who at best are given up
    for adoption. The way people use the precautionary principle is to
    argue that the difficulties that boys in the class of 2020 will have
    in getting a date to the prom trump all other concerns. I don't think

    Cascio: Our *current* understanding of biological and environmental
    systems is more limited than we often like to admit, particularly
    regarding subtle cross-system interactions. It seems to me that some
    degree of a precautionary structure, one designed to consider very
    carefully the implications (both biological and social) would be a
    useful tool for making certain that the enhancements end up being that
    and not long-term degradations.

    Hughes: Anything involving the release of genetically modified
    organisms in the environment and I completely agree. But in regards
    human genetic enhancement I think the right to self-determination
    trumps a lot of those vaguer, long-term concerns. What would the
    approval process have looked like for the precautionary approval of
    organ transplantation back in the 1970s? We might be getting around to
    trying some transplants about now, and untold hundreds of thousands of
    people would have died unnecessarily.

    Cascio: But don't some self-determination choices have broader results
    for society at large? As a simplistic example, wouldn't a society
    already near the breaking point for pension support have a legitimate
    say in the implementation of life-extension technologies?

    Hughes: You want to live in a society that tells people they have to
    die because we can't figure out how to keep them housed and fed? We
    are already living well-beyond the average 65 years that Social
    Security and Medicare estimated at their founding, and they are facing
    crisis as a consequence; so should we now deny medical treatment to
    everybody over 70? Yes, every society has to set priorities, and
    pensions and medical research and treatments can't be allowed to
    consume everything. But my preference is that we try to keep everyone
    healthy and alive first, and then figure out how to adjust.

    Cascio: At the same time, as the recent Vioxx situation demonstrates,
    the current mechanism for assessment (in this case, FDA) isn't nearly
    as effective as one would hope it to be. One could easily imagine
    thousands (millions?) of people adopting an enhancement technology
    that looked good in computer models and fast-tracked trials, only to
    discover a decade or two down the road that it has some pretty
    unpleasant long-term side-effects, perhaps even shortening lives that
    they had expected to be lengthened. How long of a test would you
    consider appropriate for human enhancement biotech?

    Hughes: I don't think enhancement medicine should be subject to a more
    stringent approval process than medical therapies. The calculations
    will be the same. Every medical treatment is a rapidly evolving mix of
    information and unknowns about risks, side-effects and benefits. When
    the FDA approved the weight loss drug Meridia it was controversial,
    and continues to be, because there were minor benefits and
    occasionally serious cardiac side effects. But then morbid obesity is
    a much bigger killer. Why not let people make that calculation with
    their doctor? If we were to come up with a gene tweak that doubles the
    life span of mice, but it had a 1% risk of earlier mortality, I think
    we would want to make it available to the public and let them decide.
    The question is when the possible risks outweigh the possible benefits
    so far that no one should be using it.
    Posted by Jamais Cascio at December 1, 2004 10:08 AM | [11]TrackBack


   10. http://www.changesurfer.com/Acad/DemocraticTranshumanism.htm
   11. http://www.worldchanging.com/cgi-bin/mt-tb.cgi?__mode=view&entry_id=1664

WorldChanging: Another World Is Here: A Conversation with Dr. James Hughes 
(part 3 of 3)
December 02, 2004

A Conversation with Dr. James Hughes (part 3 of 3)

    WorldChanging Interviews

    Concluding the conversation with Dr. James Hughes of Trinity College,
    founder of the Democratic Transhumanism movement.

    While it may be difficult to see in the aftermath of last month's
    election, the compositions of the post-World War II coalitions on both
    the Left and the Right are changing. Emerging issues, from
    globalization to climate disruption to intellectual property rights on
    the Internet, are starting to push some traditional allies apart and
    traditional opponents together. For Dr. Hughes, human enhancement
    technologies will likely prove to be another axis for new political
    friction. From his [11]democratic transhumanism treatise:

      The biopolitical spectrum is still emerging, starting first among
      intellectuals and activists. Self-described "transhumanists" and
      "Luddites" are the most advanced and self-conscious of an emerging
      wave of the public's ideological crystallization. We are at the
      same place in the crystallization of biopolitics as left-right
      economic politics was when Marx helped found the International
      Workingmen's Association in 1864, or when the Fabian Society was
      founded in England in 1884: intellectuals and activists struggling
      to make explicit the battle lines that are already emerging, before
      popular parties have been organized and masses rallied to their

    Will transhumanism -- or human enhancement technology -- be a key line
    of conflict for the 21st century? It's possible, although I suspect it
    will be part of a larger struggle both over the direction of human
    technology and the nature of "personhood." If the core philosophical
    struggle of the 20th century was over "how we live," the core
    philosophical struggle of the 21st may be "who we are."

    I also suspect, moreover profoundly hope, that the "transhuman" meme
    falls to the wayside, and that tools and techniques that help us live
    healthier, longer, happier lives are seen as human technologies,
    something rightly available to us all, not something that implicitly
    divides us. Progressives are [12]thinking a lot about "framing" these
    days, and rightly so: how we describe something imparts a great deal
    of meaning. Just as Dr. Hughes wishes (as said in Part I of the
    interview) that, in due time, "democratic transhumanism" will shed
    "democratic" in the name because the need for equitable, fair, and
    full distribution of enhancement technologies will be obvious to all,
    I hope that "democratic transhumanism" will shed "transhumanism,"
    because the realization that enhancement technologies are simply part
    of our cultural birthright as humans will be equally obvious.

    In the final installment of my interview with James Hughes, we talk a
    bit about what the future may hold for the democratic transhumanist
    movement and humankind in general.

    Cascio: How do you see the politics of transhuman technologies playing
    out over the next few decades?

    Hughes: I'm convinced that politics will become more complex in the
    next decades as new coalitions form along the emerging biopolitical
    axis, an axis with transhumanists at one end and bioconservatives at
    the other. Biopolitics will divide traditional progressives and
    conservatives, and the outcomes of struggles will be partly determined
    by whether progressive or conservative voices are louder at each end
    of debate. I would much prefer that the policy debate be framed
    between [13]democratic transhumanists and left-wing bioconservatives
    like the [14]Center for Genetics and Society, for instance, so that
    whatever the outcome our concerns for safety and equity are reflected.

    The fight over embryonic stem cell research is the current hot
    biopolitical struggle. Some of the issues likely to force a
    crystallization and polarization along the biopolitical axis in the
    future include:

      Demands of the growing senior population for anti-aging research and
    therapies, in the context of increasing conflict over generational
    equity and the tax burdens of retiree pensions and health care.

      FDA approval of gene therapies, psychopharmaceuticals and
    nanocybernetics for "enhancement" purposes, such as improving memory,
    mood, senses, life extension and athletic performance.

      Perfection of neonatal intensive care and artificial uteruses which
    will erode the current political compromise on fetal rights,
    predicated on "viability" as a moral dividing line.

      The intellectual enhancement of animals, which will force a
    clarification of the citizenship status of intelligent non-humans.

      The regulation of the potentially apocalyptic risks of
    nanomaterials, nanomachines, genetically engineered organisms, and
    artificial intelligence.

      The fight over parental rights to use germinal choice technologies
    to choose enhancements and aesthetic characteristics of their

    Cascio: How may "bioconservatives" react as they see people starting
    to use these technologies?

    I think social conservatives and bioconservatives will all use the
    latest enhancement technologies at the same rate as the rest of us,
    and religious Right and neocon leaders will scramble to keep the goal
    post one step ahead of the latest life extending technology. They no
    longer oppose autopsies, condoms, organ transplantation or IVF because
    they can't win those battles.

    Cascio: Cloning as a hot-button issue has died down a bit, at least
    for now. I've always been a bit confused by the fervor of opposition.
    While the opponents seem to assume that there would be a huge
    groundswell of desire for cloning if it was allowed, I just can't see
    that many people actually wanting a time-delayed twin. Or not even
    that close! Identical twins are closer in many respects than clones.

    Hughes: The use of donor eggs for nuclear transfer introduces the egg
    donor's mitochondrial DNA; twinning produces a much cleaner copy.

    Although transhumanists defend cloning as an eventual reproductive
    option once its safe, it is not an enhancement technique. I would go
    so far as to say that once we have enhancement gene therapies it would
    be unethical for parents to make a copy of themselves. It would be
    like insisting that your kid use your grade school textbooks. OK,

    Cascio: I've noticed over the course of our conversation something
    that I've seen in other transhumanist speculations: a subtle mixture
    of medical technologies implemented to protect or restore some measure
    of normative health (e.g., insulin injections or vaccinations) and
    technologies implemented to enhance the human biology beyond what is
    considered a standard part of human biology (e.g., endless lives or
    four arms). It's a very slick slope, of course; is a technology which
    gives what amounts to an IQ of 250 -- vanishingly rare, but definitely
    a part of broader human experience -- an enhancement beyond the norm
    or a restoration of what's possible? How about not an endless
    lifespan, but healthy life to (say) 140? Nonetheless, I suspect it's
    these transhumanist musings about radical divergences that sets some
    people off.

    Hughes: The problem is that that is precisely the slope we want to
    slip down. There is no practical or ethical distinction between
    therapy and enhancement. We're living in an unnatural, enhanced human
    state already. I don't see many people going back to foraging and
    chipping stone tools in caves, or more to the point, giving up aspirin
    and vaccines. The average IQ of the citizens of the industrialized
    countries has already risen by 30 points in the last century, a
    phenomenon called the "[15]Flynn effect." What we are saying is that
    its good for people to be able to live another day, whether they are
    70, 100 or 150. Its good for people to learn more, faster, whether
    they have IQs of 80, 120 or 200. Its good for people to have more
    acuity to their vision, whether they are legally blind or 20/20.
    Moreover, the therapies will not be clearly therapeutic or
    enhancement. If I give you an anti-aging vaccination that reduces your
    likelihood of contracting all aging-related diseases and extends your
    life span to 120, was that therapy for prevention of those diseases or
    an enhancement? We think it doesn't matter.

    Cascio: In a world of limited research resources, which should receive
    a greater priority: research into technologies to enhance human
    biology, or research into technologies to improve social conditions?
    What's the appropriate balance between "democracy" and

    Hughes: As I've said before, I think the two go hand-in-hand, although
    we do have to allocate resources. But take the example of obesity,
    which is growing worldwide. There is very little evidence that public
    health education or diet program interventions have any long-term
    effect for the majority of the obese. The reason people are getting
    fat is that we are programmed to eat good-tasting food when we can,
    and we live increasingly sedentary lives. So, by all means let's
    educate people to eat right, and set up community activity centers,
    and get sodas out of the schools, and tax high fructose corn syrup.
    But let's also pursue research on drugs and gene tweaks to prevent
    obesity in the first place, to be slim and healthy no matter what we
    eat and how much exercise we get, because if we really want to save
    the people's lives that's where the answer will come from. And then
    let's make sure those treatments are available to everybody worldwide.
    Investing in technological obesity prevention will not only be more
    cost-effective than social-behavioral weight control, but will
    dramatically reduce overall health costs. If people want to find some
    spurious social account they can empty out and put into their favorite
    social reforms let's start with professional football not medical

    Cascio: One aspect of your work which I greatly appreciate is that you
    think about transformative technologies as social technologies, which
    while they may directly change the lives of individuals, also affect
    us at the level of social relationships.

    Hughes: One of the books that I was deeply influenced by as an
    undergraduate Buddhist Sociology major was Trevor Ling's The Buddha.
    Ling was a Marxist scholar, and he drew out of early Buddhism a
    radical message of integrated social and individual change. The monks
    weren't just told to go meditate in caves, they were instructed that
    their liberation was an interdependent process involving psychological
    change, behavioral change, a certain kind of community and a certain
    kind of engagement with the world. The Wheel of Dharma, turned by
    these interlocking processes, countervailed against the Wheel of
    Karma, with its characteristic greed, hatred and ignorance and
    attendant behaviors and social systems (e.g. patriarchy, capitalism,
    militarism, the Repuglican Party). I think I bring pretty much he same
    perspective to transhumanism. The core demand of transhumanism is that
    we all should be given the means to reach our fullest potentials. But
    helping people achieve their full potential is a matter of social
    reform as much as individual technological empowerment.

    Cascio: Do you expect that, once [16]radical life extension
    technologies are available, the majority of people will adopt them?

    Hughes: In a gene-tweaked heart-beat.

    Posted by Jamais Cascio at December 2, 2004 10:59 AM | [17]TrackBack


    On the whole I agree with Mr. Hughes. I've been following these areas
    (longevity research, nanotechnology, neurotechnology and others.) for
    nearly twenty years now and he is a refreshing change from the
    libertarian-tinged thought that used to dominate these topics.

    On the other hand, I think he's too worried about the power that
    luddites (And I use that term very vaguely.) have to slow things down.
    Change is happening in too many areas and synergizing in too many
    complex ways for anyone to stop it now.

    That's both good and bad.

    Look our current circumstance. We are living in a world almost beyond
    the imagining of the participants of the 1938 World's Fair in New York
    City. We have the superhighways, fast food, cheap telecommunications
    and spaceflight they dreamed of back then. Did their grand utopia come
    to pass?

    Not exactly.

    Upon solving one problem, we always seem to find another to worry

    These transhuman technologies are coming to pass. They will become
    commonplace and even cheap.

    But I am pretty sure that the transhumans and posthumans will find
    something else to complain about.
    Posted by: [18]Mr. Farlops at December 4, 2004 03:46 AM


   11. http://www.changesurfer.com/Acad/DemocraticTranshumanism.htm
   12. http://www.worldchanging.com/archives/001654.html
   13. http://ieet.org/
   14. http://www.genetics-and-society.org/index.asp
   15. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flynn_effect
   16. http://www.worldchanging.com/archives/001378.html
   17. http://www.worldchanging.com/cgi-bin/mt-tb.cgi?__mode=view&entry_id=1670
   18. http://www.worldchanging.com/cgi-bin/blather.cgi?__mode=red&id=4701

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