[Paleopsych] Reason: Ronald Bailey: Trans-Human Expressway

Premise Checker checker at panix.com
Thu May 12 19:17:59 UTC 2005

Ronald Bailey: Trans-Human Expressway
Why libertarians will win the future
May 11, 2004 [I'm sure Reason is a year behind the rest of the world.]

    Here's a prediction.

    Politics in the 21st century will cut across the traditional political
    left/right rift of the last two centuries. Instead, the chief
    ideological divide will be between transhumanists and

    James Hughes, the executive director of the [25]World Transhumanist
    Association, explores this future political order in his remarkably
    interesting yet wrongheaded, [26]Citizen Cyborg: Why Democratic
    Societies Must Respond to the Redesigned Human of the Future. Hughes,
    who lectures on health policy at Trinity College in Connecticut,
    defines transhumanism as "the idea that humans can use reason to
    transcend the limitation of the human condition." Specifically,
    transhumanists welcome the development of intimate technologies that
    will enable people to boost life spans, enhance intellectual
    capacities, augment athletic abilities, and choose their preferred
    emotional states.

    Hughes does an excellent job of describing the transformative
    possibilities of biotech, nanotech, information systems and cognitive
    research. Citizen Cyborg is not just about the wonders of technology,
    but also about how Hughes thinks transhumanists can best persuade
    their fellow citizens to welcome the changes.

    Hughes begins by offering a good history of the beginnings of
    transhumanist thinking and demonstrates that it is the legitimate heir
    of humanism. Humanism is the philosophy that humanity is the proper
    measure of all things; its practical manifestations include scientific
    inquiry and liberal politics. Transhumanism argues for the freedom of
    people to use technology to go beyond their naturally given
    capacities. In the late 20th century, transhumanism was chiefly
    celebrated and promoted by a group of libertarian techno-optimists.
    Among the chief leaders of this fledgling movement were philosopher
    Max More and Natasha Vita-More who founded the [27]Extropy Institute
    in 1992.

    Hughes makes it clear that he is uncomfortable with Extropian
    libertarianism and his project in Citizen Cyborg is to articulate a
    big tent transhumanism that can attract social democrats,
    tech-friendly political moderates, Greens and so forth. His preferred
    scenario is somehow to combine social democracy with the transhumanist
    goal of enabling people to use technology to transform their bodies,
    brains and progeny in ways they deem beneficial. As a self-described
    man of the Left, Hughes does recognize and effectively rebut the
    "left-wing bioluddite error" of "fighting individuals' free use of
    technology instead of power relations and prejudices."

    Where Hughes goes wrong is in fetishizing democratic decision-making.
    He fails to recognize that the Enlightenment project that spawned
    modern liberal democracies began by trying to keep certain questions
    about the transcendent out of the public sphere. Questions about the
    ultimate meaning and destiny of humanity are private concerns. Worries
    about biotechnological progress must not to be used as excuses to
    breach the Enlightenment understanding of what belongs in the private
    sphere and what belongs in the public. Technologies dealing with the
    birth, death and the meaning of life need protection from
    meddling--even democratic meddling--by others who want to control them
    as a way to force their visions of right and wrong on the rest of us.
    Your fellow citizens shouldn't get to vote on whom you have sex with,
    what recreational drugs you ingest, what you read and watch on TV and
    so forth. Hughes understands that democratic authoritarianism is
    possible, but discounts the possibility that the majority may well
    vote to ban the technologies that promise a better world.

    However, even as he extols social democracy as the best guarantor of
    our future biotechnological liberty, Hughes ignores that it is
    precisely those social democracies he praises, Germany, France,
    Sweden, and Britain, which now, not in the future, [28]outlaw germinal
    choice, genetic modification, reproductive and therapeutic cloning,
    and stem cell research. For example, Germany, Austria and Norway ban
    the creation of human embryonic stem cell lines. Britain outlaws
    various types of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis to enable parents
    to choose among embryos. (Despite worrisome [29]bioconservative
    agitation against this type of biotech research, in the United States,
    private research in these areas remains legal.)

    Hughes also favors not only social democracy but global governance
    centered on the United Nations with the "authority to tax corporations
    and nations," and a "permanent standing international army," and with
    UN agencies "expanded into a global infrastructure of technological
    and industrial regulation capable of controlling the health and
    environmental risks from new technologies." This is the same UN that
    just voted for an [30]ambiguous resolution calling on nations to ban
    all forms of human cloning which are incompatible with human dignity
    and the protection of human life. Fortunately, the resolution leaves
    some wiggle, but the next time the UN makes one of these democratic
    decisions, transhumanists may not like the result.

    Furthermore, Hughes's analysis is largely free of economics--he simply
    ignores the processes by which wealth is created and gets busy
    redistributing the wealth through government health care and
    government subsidized eugenics. After reading Citizen Cyborg, you
    might come away thinking that Hughes believes that corporations exist
    primarily to oppress people. While acknowledging that the last US
    government involvement in [31]eugenics--a project that involved
    sterilizing tens of thousands of people--was a bad idea, Hughes fails
    to underscore that it was democratically elected representatives, not
    corporations, who ordered women's tubes tied and men's testicles

    Although it clearly pains him, Hughes grudgingly recognizes that
    libertarian transhumanists still belong in his big tent. And why not?
    You will not find a more militantly open, tolerant bunch on the
    planet. Adam and Steve want get married? We'll be the groomsmen. Joan
    wants to contract with Jill for surrogacy services? We'll throw a baby
    shower. Bill and Jane want to use ecstasy for great sex? We'll leave
    them alone quietly. John wants to grow a new liver through therapeutic
    cloning? We'll bring over the scotch to help him break in the new one.

    In a sense, Hughes himself has not transcended the left/right politics
    of the past two centuries; he hankers to graft old fashioned left-wing
    social democratic ideology onto transhumanism. That isn't necessary.
    The creative technologies that Hughes does an excellent job of
    describing will so scramble conventional political and economic
    thinking that his ideas about government health care and government
    guaranteed incomes will appear quaint. The good news is that if his
    social democratic transhumanism flounders, Hughes will reluctantly
    choose biotech progress. "Even if the rich do get more enhancements in
    the short term, it's probably still good for the rest of us in the
    long term," writes Hughes. "If the wealthy stay on the bleeding edge
    of life extension treatments, nano-implants and cryo-suspension, the
    result will be cheaper, higher-quality technology."

    In the end, Citizen Cyborg is invaluable in sharpening the political
    issues that humanity will confront as the biotech revolution rolls on.


    Ronald Bailey is Reason's science correspondent. His new book,
    Liberation Biology: A Moral and Scientific Defense of the Biotech
    Revolution will be published in early 2005.


   24. mailto:rbailey at reason.com
   25. http://www.transhumanism.org/index.php/WTA/index/
   26. http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0813341981/reasonmagazineA
   27. http://www.extropy.org/
   28. http://www.glphr.org/genetic/europe2-7.htm
   29. http://brownback.senate.gov/LIStemCell.cfm
   30. http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2004/10/21/tech/main650621.shtml
   31. http://www.commondreams.org/headlines/021500-02.htm
   32. http://www.rppi.org/phprint.php
   33. https://www.kable.com/pub/anxx/newsubsprem04.asp
   34. http://www.1shoppingcart.com/app/aftrack.asp?AFID=179647
   35. http://www.freedomsummit.com/
   36. http://www.enlightenedcaveman.com/
   37. https://www.kable.com/pub/anxx/multigift.asp
   38. http://www.reason.com/choice/
   39. http://www.thisisburningman.com/

More information about the paleopsych mailing list