Re: humanism vs. transhumanism?

Technotranscendence (
Sat, 4 Apr 1998 08:10:16 -0500 (EST)

At 03:29 AM 4/4/98, David C. Harris <> wrote:
>Does this sound familiar?:
>"The next century can be and should be the Humanistic century. Dramatic
>scientific, technological, and ever-accelerating social and political
>changes crowd our awareness. We have virtually conquered the planet,
>explored the moon, overcome the natural limits of travel and communication;
>we stand at the dawn of a new age, ready to move farther into space and
>perhaps inhabit other planets. Using technology wisely, we can control our
>environment, conquer poverty, markedly reduce disease, extend our
>life-span, significantly modify our behavior, alter the course of human
>evolution and cultural development, unlock vast new powers, and provide
>humankind with unparalleled opportunity for achieving an abundant and
>meaningful life."

It does sound agreeable, especially to someone like myself, who is under
the spell of transhumanism and Extropianism. Nonetheless, I am wary
because I wonder how much is platitude and how much is substance.
(I apply the same to Extropian and transhumanist manifestoes. Maybe
manifestoes have to be this way. I hope not! But maybe...)

> I have been involved for over 5 years with organized humanism, inspired
>by the promethean stance suggested by the quote above. The Humanist
>Community meets at Stanford University. See <>. My
>own impression is that Humanists are more accepting of conventionally
>assumed limits of human nature, and less interested in extrapolating from
>current technology than the Extropian/Transhumanist movement. Sometimes I
>get bored. They definitely are more inclined toward collective solutions
>to problems than the libertarians in the Extropian movement.

To some extent, this might be expected. I don't wish to be too charitable
either. I _bet_ most secular humanists are desirous of passing themselves
off as reasonable and conventional, while with transhumanists, Extropians
and libertarians -- never those who are all three!:) -- there seems to be a
tendency to be more radical than thou. (I find this trait to be mostly pleasing
even if it is sometimes shallow and tedious.)

> I agree with someone who said that Humanists, although agnostic/atheist,
>have more of the Judeo-Christian values than Transhumanists, and Humanists
>tend to address issues from more of a religious/ethical viewpoint. Perhaps
>that is why they are so reviled by fundamentalist Christians --- you can
>write off someone who is radically different, but it's frustrating to deal
>with someone who is culturally similar enough to you to be relevant, yet
>differs sharply on important issue(s).

With humans, this is usually the case. The nations which are in close
geographic proximity are typically the worst of enemies -- typically but not
necessarily. In ideology and philosophy, the more radical the ideas, it
seems, the less tolerant of difference and dissent seem the purveyors of

> Any anthropologist who was dropped into both communities would observe
>that Humanists are generally older than Extropians/Transhumanists.

This has been my experience also. I've never met a secular humanist under
thirty. However, my experience is very limited in this area. Need I metion I
do not seek their company these days?

> My view is that Humanists and Transhumanists have enough common values to
>work together in science-promotion, euthenasia legalization, and other
>areas. But to do that we have to avoid overemphasizing where we differ.
>If you want to travel widely, build bridges, not walls.

That depends on whether the differences are fundamental and how we
define fundamental. To illustrate, both libertarians and socialists, in their
more pure forms, would agree that the present society is unjust. They
might even agree on many other issues, such as abolishing corporate
welfare. Even so, would libertarians (on this list and elsewhere) really
think it good to form a coalition and even offer support to socialists? I
doubt it!

I think a very divisive, and rightly so!, issue would be that of mortality.
Secular humanists seem to embrace it while transhumanists/Etropians
see such an embrace as anathema -- even if we admit to having no
means of immortality as yet. Still, perhaps secular humanists take this
position merely for tactical reasons. Also, it might be the case that
only the leaders of the movement take this position, while the rank and
file don't care. And it could be that secular humanists on the whole
have no thought the matter over and would likely be swayed our way
if we make the effort.

In final analysis, we need to ask not only if it is possible to persuade
them but if it is worth it.

Daniel Ust