Re: The Politics of Transhumanism

From: Anders Sandberg (
Date: Mon Jan 14 2002 - 07:12:55 MST

On Mon, Jan 14, 2002 at 01:11:28PM +0000, estropico > wrote:
> Anders? vision of transhumanism is totally agreeable, but it is only a
> humanist?s interpretion of that ?central meme of transhumanism?, in the
> same way that extropy is a libertarian?s interpretation of it - to put it
> brutally!

You can interpret ideas as you want, but some interpretations are plain
wrong. They miss out fundamental parts of the idea and are no longer the
same idea - if somebody claims Christianity is worshipping five gods and
having rape as the highest virtue, or that the goal of socialism is to
paint the world blue - they are not merely interpreting these ideas
strangely but actually erroneously.

[ Here I could insert a rant about how the lack of error-checking in
much of modern critical studies has allowed this kind of "anything goes"
interpretation of everything to flourish, but I'm not going to go into
this at depth. ]

My claim in the paper was that humanism is integral to the concept
transhumanism, and if you leave out the humanism part you are not
talking about transhumanism. Part of this is purely semantic, since the
humanism part of the term transhumanism ought to signify something. But
there is also ample historical reasons to see transhumanism not as
something invented from scratch in 1990 by Max More but a long
ideological stream in Western thought, and if one examines both the
extropian principles and transhumanist declaration one finds these
values enshrined therein.

That a lot of people claim to be transhumanists while not being the
least humanist is true, and this tends to confuse things. But the fact
that East Germany called itself Deutsche Demokratische Republik doesn't
mean that it was democratic.

To sum up: yes, I believe there is a one true transhumanism that has a
greater claim to the name than other ideologies (which is rather broad,
but has some core ideas you have to believe in to be a transhumanist).
A definition of transhumanism as merely being in favor of radical
technological progress does not have the same claim.

> >It seems to me that the best way of reconciling the differences
> >between the different views is to recognize transhumanism as a
> >meta-ideology, not attempting to prescribe all aspects of
> >political ideology but providing an underlying set of values and
> >assumptions.
> ?Meta-ideology? is the correct description of transhumanism in my opinion
> too, but I don?t think it?s possible to prescribe ?underlying sets of values
> and assumptions? anymore than it is to ?prescribe all aspects of political
> ideology?.

Liberalism (classic European sense) has often been described as a
meta-ideology, in that it has no problem with people having their own
private ideologies and forming private communities with more specific
rules, as long as the overall society works according to a liberal
system of freedom. It clearly does not prescribe all aspects of
political ideology. But liberalism does have underlying values such
as freedom and human rights.

In fact, the humanist transhumanism I described would act very similarly
to this.

> Trying to bolt-on humanism (or any other ism) on what I called the ?central
> meme of transhumanism? can indeed succeed in creating a movement that
> combines the "ism" in question and the "central meme of transhumanism", but
> it cannot prevent unsavoury ideological sides from carrying out the same
> operation, because a nazist/communist/racist/etc could just adopt that
> central meme and discard the rest (including the word "transhumanism"
> itself) without a second thought.
> We need to learn to let go of that "central meme" and concentrate instead on
> promoting our version of it (and stop pretending that ours is the only
> possible version).

OK, we should let go of what you claim is the only thing defining
transhumanism, and then only promoting our own version of transhumanism,
with no assumption that it has anything to do with technology, humanism
or anything else, just our own (current) opinions? Isn't that throwing
it all away?

Again, as I tried to show in my paper, humanism is *not* a bolt on to
transhumanism in the same way a socialist transhumanism or a satanist
transhumanism would be. There is a stronger connection. You are
constantly misled by seeing the technology as the important part of
transhumanism, which means you have no defense at all when somebody
claims fascist transhumanism is as valid as your version. In fact, if
the fascist transhumanist manages to show that his society is better
than yours in creating hightech, he would be a better transhumanist than
you. Is that really the kind of ideological debate you want?

> Finally, this (relative) ease of adoption of transhumanism?s ?central meme?
> should not be seen as a weakness, quite the opposite in fact and I'll try to
> show why with an example.
> In Italy, where I come from originally, federalism is continually in the
> news these days. Twenty years ago it was very much a fringe subject, but
> today all political parties describe themself as federalist, to some
> extent.
> As illustrated in an Italian newspaper's satirical vignette:
> man-in-the-street asks a politician: ?Are you federalist?? ?Of course!?
> answers the politician ??and I have been for over half an hour, now!?
> Replace federalist with (?central core?) transhumanist and, with a bit of
> luck, you could be looking into the world?s political situation of 2010.

Yes. Everybody is a transhumanist. The transhumanist eco guerrilas are
looking forward to a posthuman world without any humans in it.
Transhumanist dictators execute people for "crimes against
transhumanity". The great transhumanist Berlusconi is celebrating his
re-election. Transhumanist social democrats redistribute research money
in Sweden: "Since the natural sciences has already got so much funding,
we must make sure the transhumanist progress in gender and unemployment
research keeps up, so they can also reach a signularity". In the US the
transhumanist government is working on AI combined with genetic scanning
to identify potential terrorists before they are born and forcing the
womens to abort. The transhumanist catholic church is protesting this,
since abortion and indeed any form of birth control is anti-transhuman.

Do you see the problem? I certainly don't want to live in a world where
transhumanism didn't mean anything. I want real achievement, not that
everybody claims to agree with me.

A friend of mine encountered a girl talking about feminism. When he
asked her what kind of feminist she was she couldn't tell him, and when
he listed a number of forms of feminism she still couldn't tell him. She
said "But feminism is something individual, we all have to define it for
ourselves". "Aha, *my* feminism is about the right to bear arms, take
drugs and watch pornography!". "But that's not feminism!" she cried.

Watch out for broad but shallow definitions.

Anders Sandberg                                      Towards Ascension!                  
GCS/M/S/O d++ -p+ c++++ !l u+ e++ m++ s+/+ n--- h+/* f+ g+ w++ t+ r+ !y

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