Re: Essay critical of transhumanism

From: Mike Lorrey (
Date: Sat Dec 08 2001 - 09:20:49 MST wrote:
> Hey there folks,
> Yes, that was a fun essay to read...The writer seems far more
> Hyper-Transhumanist than Anti-Transhumanist. I am glad that this
> author is playing the Devils Advocate though...Humourous or not, it is
> a great wake-up call for people holding Extropian views to re-evaluate
> themselves and progress further...That is what Extropianism is about,
> right? Constant re-evaluation and least that is how I
> understand it so far but perhaps I need to re-evaluate my position

Well, he seems to be of the sort who already call themselves
'posthumans': their emphasis is entirely focused on the individual
'spiritual' or philosophical development. However, he does suffer from
at least one wrong assumption, to whit:

"Transhumanism is the philosophy that states 'Life is beyond our
control'. They predict an inevitable state of rapid technological
change, during which there is no predicting what will happen next. This
view of having no control over the fate of the universe itself is key to
validating their most cherished beliefs of freedom, individual rights,
and happiness."

The writer erroneously conflates the ability to predict the future with
being able to 'control' it, as well as erroneously confusing the
viewpoint of the present with that of the future: i.e. just because WE,
at the present time, may not be able to control the future does not mean
that we, in the future, will not be able to control it. Another bad
assumption of the writer is that 'control' is something which is

Transhumanism is the philosophy which states that we, as individuals,
have the ability to control our own future, to create a better future at
an ever increasing rate, and that as the human animal has evolved since
its beginning as a technological animal, that technology is the
preeminent (though not necessarily exclusive) means by which we will
achieve it.

"But maybe it is not so much a particular set of beliefs that defines
the transhumans as much as a certain conformity or lack of resistance to
those memes that happen to be popular in our era."

Where the writer gets this idea I can't conceive. We all tend to be
rather highly resistant to memes which are popular in our era (with the
exception of those which are popular specifically because of our work).
We are generally resistant to superstitions of all kinds, especially
religion, while the rest of society seems to be suffering from a
backlash of superstitious revivalism.

"The only relevant way in which they distinguish themselves as a group
is their belief that spectacular technological breakthroughs will occur
within their lifetime. This is, in my view, a distinct possibility;
however, the idea of imminent uncontrollable change has no substantial
benefit in promoting progress."

That 'control' meme of his, again, seems to be his primary peeve. He
also seems to suffer from a non-standard definition of what exactly
'progress' is, and is completely ignorant of the work of Kurzweil et al
in demonstrating how change is the lone significant contributor to
promoting progress in human life.

"Instead of striving to create progress oneself, one merely keeps up
with an inevitable technological race. It is no better than watching TV
in that the outcome is already predetermined, and one's reason for
involving oneself is for personal satisfaction, the pursuit of

Ah, now accusing us of being trapped by 'feelings' rather than logic and
rationality. I really don't see at all now where this person is getting
his ideas, unless he's been assuming that the emotive relativists seen
here occasionally (and on the >H list more generally) are 'true'
transhumanists or extropians.

Now, where he does have a point is that there has not been a lot of
'new' thinking in a while. We've been fleshing out ideas, delving into
that idea space created years ago to greater depth and color, with a
more critical eye, but we are, in fact, limited in what we can forsee by
the conceptual limits of the singularity. Some, like Vinge, Egan, and
Broderick, can go beyond this in highly speculative ways, but the
problem with this is not that it is impossible, but that there is a
significant barrier between what is considered by science to be
'rational speculation' and outright fantasy. The fact that we have this
sense of a conceptual limit within us is due to the scientist within us.

It seems, though, in the end, that the writer's primary peeves, outside
of his need for 'control', is that he dislikes the degree to which we
commonly accept ideas like the free market (one of those other things
which is highly resistant to 'control'), individual liberty over
community need, and the very idea that technology is good.

We are generally oriented toward 'individual liberty', an orientation
which smacks squarely against the writer's evident peruile need for
'control'. It is because of this fascist/statist orientation of his that
he is most certainly an 'anti-transhumanist', or at least an
anti-extropian. He is a Borganist, and therefore the arch enemy of any
extropian. Fortunately he admits it right here:

"I am merely stating what is obvious to everyone, and so it is not
surprising that even popular science fiction depicts exactly what I am
saying. I am specifically referring to the Borg, who strive for
perfection through the elimination of individuality and diversity. Out
of all species depicted in Star Trek, the Borg alone have a logical
philosophy and a reasonable approach to life."

The fact that he disregards the logical philosophy and stoic beauty of
the Vulcans, the hyper-rationality and amusing joy of the Q (who are the
real only species which is truly posthuman in nature in the show), as
well as the logical and rational Data, the android, who goes through
life striving to be more than he is, is evidence enough that the writer
is the one who has 'a certain conformity' of outlook, a rather limited
perception of what progress actually is.

He then exposes that not only is he a proto-Borganist, but that he also
embraces the idea that the need for consensual ethical control is more
important than progress itself:

"Control is more important than speed. Present society is postponing the
question of how technology is to be used, and merely produces it. That
there is someone somewhere who is willing to pay for it is enough. In a
microcompetitively evolving society, immediate rewards are favored over
long-term ones. Freedom, individual rights, and justice are symptoms of
poor organization and lack of strategy. As long as the majority believes
that ethical rules are needed, we are not ready to go through a period
of great technological upheaval. For ethics clumsily tries to keep in
check opposing interests. And overcoming the need for ethics requires no

First off, I'll point out the writer's obession with control. He doesn't
understand that society determines how technology is to be used by the
means of market mechanics. He evidently does not accept the precept that
'the market will decide'. His blanket dismissal of individual rights in
toto in favor of 'organization' and 'strategy' (i.e. control) identifies
him squarely as a fascist.

Furthermore, he further doublespeaks, by conflating his belief as that
which 'the majority believes'.

Finally, I find the following most amusing:

"Feedback Form (disabled)"

Sure, he wants you to think he's interested in your opinion, but he
really isn't.... ;)

Mike Lorrey

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