[Paleopsych] New Oxford Review: Bio-Luddites & the Secularist Rapture
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Mon Jan 2 20:55:43 UTC 2006
Bio-Luddites & the Secularist Rapture
New Oxford Review
Coming soon to a theater near you: cyborgs. Not on the screen, but
sitting next to you in the audience.
This is "the coming reality" in our technological world, or so say a
group calling themselves "transhumanists." According to transhumanists,
man has, since time immemorial, depended on technology for his survival
in this hostile world: From the first primitive tool to walking sticks
to eyeglasses to emergency alert bracelets to artificial intelligence --
man's dependence on machines increases with each new development. Soon
one may be indistinguishable from the other. No surprise, say the
transhumanists, because we have long been on our way to becoming
cyborgs. Some would contend that we are already cyborgs. That cyborg at
the movie theater? That cyborg could be you.
A perusal of recent news clippings could easily lead one to believe that
the prototypical elements of the transhumanists' "coming reality" are
more science nonfiction than science fiction. To wit: A robot governed
by neurons from a rat's brain (a "hybrot" -- a machine with living
cells) is now reportedly drawing pictures; a lab monkey, via a chip
implanted in its brain, is now able to move a cursor on a computer
screen by thought alone; a rat was made to climb over fences and up
trees, and walk through pipes and across rubble by signals sent from a
remote computer to a chip implanted in its brain. Even more to the
point, a British cybernetics professor became the first human to have a
chip implanted into his central nervous system. This chip records and
transmits his sensations (such as movement and pleasure) to a remote
computer, which later plays back those sensations, causing the professor
to experience them again. Since then about 20 people across the U.S.
been "chipped" by the Applied Digital Solution's VeriChip Corporation,
which for $200 up front and $10 a month will chip and track anyone from
its traveling ChipMobile.
Giddy from the possibilities stories like these present, the World
Transhumanist Association (WTA) held a conference at Yale University
this past June, as reported in The Village Voice (Jul. 30-Aug. 5), "to
lay the groundwork for a society that would admit as citizens and
companions intelligent robots, cyborgs made from a free mixing of human
and machine parts, and fully organic, genetically engineered people who
aren't necessarily human at all." The first order of business is to
expand the definition of what we now call human rights to include
"post-humans" -- robots, hybrots, cyborgs, and other such "people" who
may, or may not, be human.
According to Natasha Vita-More, founder of the transhumanist movement,
we must begin the process of redefining today. Why? "To relinquish the
rights of a future being merely because he, she, or it has a higher
percentage of machine parts than biological cell structure would be
racist toward all humans who have prosthetic parts." Racist? Really? We
weren't aware that amputees constitute a "race" of humans.
The conference's opening debate was titled "Should Humans Welcome or
Resist Becoming Posthuman?" with the overwhelming sentiment favoring the
former. Echoing the majority opinion, Kevin Fitzgerald, a Jesuit priest
and "bioethicist" at Georgetown Medical Center, is quoted in The Voice:
"To err on the side of inclusion is the loving thing to do." Oh, right.
We certainly must be inclusive. And of course we must be loving. We must
love our robots. Still, Fr. Fitzgerald may be onto something here. The
Jesuits have experienced a steep decline in ordinations -- might a fleet
of robo-priests be the answer to the Jesuit priest shortage? At least
then we could be assured that the rubrics of the Mass would be adhered
to, albeit in a mechanical, robotic fashion. Domo arigato, Fr. Roboto.
The Voice reports that transhumanists "look for inspiration to civil
rights battles, most recently to the transgender and gay push for
self-determination." (The WTA has even modified a popular homosexualist
slogan, decrying "technophobia.") James Hughes, Secretary of the WTA,
says this: "The whole thrust of the liberal democratic movement of the
last 400 years has been to allow people to use reason and science to
control their own lives, free from the authority of church and state."
Dr. J, as Hughes is affectionately known, has expanded on this theme in
a series of columns on the Better Humans website. He applauds the
"enormous progress" we have made in "overcoming" the "barriers to
active, guilt-free sexuality," and in "transcending...biological
Despite the transhumanists' gushing over the "gay" and transsexual
movements, the admiration is apparently not mutual. Homosexuals and
transsexuals, reasons The Voice, "might not particularly like being
associated with imagined cyborgs and human-animal hybrids."
Still, the transhumanists are preparing for what they see as an
impending battle against those who would resist the proliferation of the
technology that is supposed to lead to the inevitable intermingling of
man and machine. Hughes, quoted in The Voice, throws down the gauntlet:
"If...the technology of human advancement is forbidden by
bio-Luddites...that becomes a fundamental civil rights struggle." But
not one of those nonviolent civil rights struggles. No, "there might
come a time," predicts Hughes, "for the legitimate use of violence in
self-defense," for "liberation acts" to unyoke "fully realized forms of
artificial intelligence" from possible enslavement by humans. Suddenly
the phrase "technological revolution" takes on an ominous tone. One
pictures hordes of Arnold Schwarzenegger clones plodding about, shooting
things, blowing up buildings, and setting entire cities aflame.
Transhumanism's "coming reality" may be closer to this scenario than we
might like to think. Transhumanists would like nothing more than to
transform themselves into a technologically enhanced race of
Uebermenschen. Their "vision" isn't limited to protecting amputees.
According to The Voice, a good many transhumanists are "feverishly
anticipating" an event they call "the Singularity" -- the moment when
"technologies meld and an exponentially advancing intelligence is
unleashed." This limitless technology is messianic in nature:
Transhumanists "aspire to immortality and omniscience through uploading
human consciousness into ever evolving machines." There is even a
"Singularity Institute" for the furtherance of their agenda. The
Institute's website heralds Singularity as the moment when man will be
"capable of breaking the upper limit on intelligence that has held since
the rise of humanity."
The Singularity is akin to a transhumanist version of the Rapture, an
endtime event invented by Protestant millennialists who believe that
Jesus will at any moment whisk His true believers away before the onset
of the 1,000-year reign of the Antichrist. Only for transhumanists,
man's Ascension (through a deified technology) to the throne of
omniscience begins right here, right now. And we sorry bio-Luddites who
aren't plugged in, online, and geeked out will be "left behind" to
suffer the Tribulation.
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