Re: The Politics of Transhumanism

Date: Wed Jan 09 2002 - 21:12:37 MST

J. Hughes provides a pointer to his article at Others have done
a good job pointing out some of the flaws and errors, but I want to pursue
the question of whether and how transhumanism can be politically agnostic.

The original Extropian Principles are quoted as:

   Boundless expansion
   Dynamic optimism
   Intelligent technology
   Spontaneous order

It's the last one which seems controversial to people: "Supporting
decentralized, voluntaristic social coordination processes. Fostering
tolerance, diversity, foresight, personal responsibility and individual
liberty." Unthreatening as these goals would seem, they do nevertheless
imply a social order which is different from what we see today.
Our governments rely on centralized and involuntary (coercion-based)
social coordination. Challenging this orthodoxy brought the Extropian
Principles into line with libertarian thought, which was anathema to
many who were otherwise interested in transhumanism.

However there are libertarian concepts lurking behind others of the
Principles as well. There is an implicit assumption that people
should have the right and power to expand beyond their limitations,
to change themselves, to exploit new technologies and new capabilities.
Extropianism is (or was) a doctrine of potentially unlimited expansion.
This implies a degree of personal autonomy and self-direction which is
libertarian by its very nature.

In the context of transhumanism, what is the difference between
libertarianism and its main alternative, modern liberal Western
democratic government? How would a libertarian and a modern social
liberal disagree about the proper way to approach transhumanism?
In my opinion the disagreement must relate to individual autonomy and
the right of government to regulate the individual. The libertarian
believes that the individual has the right to do as he wishes so long as
he doesn't harm others. To the extent that the social democrat disagrees,
he must believe that the individual does not have such rights. He must
believe that government has the right to decide what forms of transhuman
expression are to be allowed.

When we look at non-libertarian transhumanism and contrast it with
traditional Extropianism, this must be where the difference lies.
Non-libertarian transhumanism, as exemplifed by the WTA for example,
must not believe that individuals have the right to do what they will
(subject to the limitations of not harming others), otherwise they
would be libertarians. Hence they must believe that society should
have the right to limit what individuals will do, even in the context
of transhuman enhancements which do no harm to anyone else.

The Transhumanist Declaration of the WTA explicitly declares,
"Transhumanism does not support any particular party, politician or
political platform." It attempts to be politically agnostic and not to
favor libertarian politics. However when we come to point 4 of the
Declaration, an inconsistent element arises:

"Transhumanists advocate the moral right for those who wish to use
technology to extend their mental and physical capabilities and to improve
their control over their own lives. We seek personal growth beyond our
current biological limitations."

Here the Declaration moves beyond simply accepting whatever society
decides. It advocates a "moral right" for people to engage in self
improvement and to grow beyond their biological limitations.

What is a moral right in this context? It means that it would be immoral
for others to interfere with the exercise of this right. In particular,
it means that it would be immoral for society to interfere with an
individual who chose to use technology to peacefully engage in self

But this is exactly the libertarian position on the question of transhuman
self-improvement! And it is in complete contradiction to the social
democratic position, which is that society and government have the moral
right to regulate even individual activities which do not harm others.
Hence it seems that on the crucial question of self-improvement, which
is indeed the only relevant question with regard to trans-humanism,
the WTA while paying lip service to being politically agnostic, in fact
adopts the Extropian position, which is the libertarian one: that people
are and should be the masters of their own fate.

The WTA's Transhumanist Declaration therefore seems to be somewhat
contradictory on this crucial question. On the one hand it presents
itself as an alternative to Extropianism which is politically agnostic
or even tending to the social democratic side of the poltiical spectrum.
But on the other hand it adopts the Extropian, libertarian position that
people have a moral right to engage in self transformation. Is it just
a matter of trying to sneak in libertarianism through the back door,
so as not to antagonize people? Is there a hope that supporters of the
WTA will not realize that they are being asked to accept a fundamentally
libertarian position, because of their prejudice against what they see
as a right-wing (or as Hughes has it, even neo-Nazi) philosophy?

I'd like to hear more about how the WTA expresses its position on
individual versus government rights, especially with regard to transhuman


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