Re: The Politics of Transhumanism

From: Anders Sandberg (
Date: Mon Jan 14 2002 - 15:13:31 MST

On Mon, Jan 14, 2002 at 12:39:10PM -0500, Smigrodzki, Rafal wrote:
> Anders Sandberg [] wrote:
> ### Just to comment on the "central meme" of transhumanism, the idea that
> technology should and will be used to radically change human minds and
> bodies - I do think that it is a significant ideological breakthrough, a
> very large mental step for any human or society. As such it deserves a
> suitably exalted name. While I sympathize with your interpretation of the
> *natural* values which should underlie transhumanism, I think that we could
> play the naming game differently.

I think it is wrong to identify transhumanism with the technology part.
Mark is right in pointing at it as an distinguishing aspect of
transhumanism, but it is not enough to distinguish transhumanism in any
reasonable sense of the word from many other views. It is also very easy
to be made obsolete as technology develops.
> As Fabio suggested, we could abandon the use of the word "transhumanism" to
> signify a world-view, instead use it to describe the attitude towards
> technology, the central meme in pure form. It's useful to have a term to
> describe this attitude in separation from the ethical systems in which it
> might be embedded, since it allows the formation of temporary goal-oriented
> coalitions with groups which do not share a long-range outlook (you can
> still exclude nazis, though, not because they are "un-transhuman" but
> because they are nazi). Thus transhumanist goals could be better advanced by
> appealing to a larger number of persons, and only later, as we get closer to
> achieving our goals, could the specific flavors of transhumanism be sorted
> out.

This is exactly the idea I think is dangerous.

First, how do you motivate the exclusion of nazis? You cannot motivate
it by saying they are not transhuman, so you have to motivate it from
some other core values, or in that while their views are acceptable
views they hurt the movement in a practical political sense. Even worse,
what about the people who claim to be liberal democrats but advocate
government run eugenics programs? They are not nazis, so you cannot
exclude them for their ideology, and if they promise to promote their
policies discreetly and professionally so that nobody gets upset, will
you then agree that they are acceptable? And if damaging the movement by
having weird views is a problem, then what about us libertarians who
have the outrageous idea that less government and taxes will solve a lot
of problems?

Second, and I think this is a more severe problem, is that trying to
appeal to a lot of people by having more diluted values or ideology will
mean that you get more people importing their own favorite ideologies
into the movement and more people who don't get understand whatever
central values there are and are more into it for the community or
networking. As an example, compare this list now with how it was several
years back in terms of actual idea production: the huge increase in
diversity of people on the list has not led to an increase in quality or
even quantity of ideas. Some of the old issues of Extropy are composed
to a large extent of threads from the list, with amazing insight and

Third, what use are the masses? I notice again and again that people try
to make transhumanism appealing to everybody, so that lots of people
will flock to its banner. But washed out ideologies not saying anything
has never appealed to anybody - in fact, many of the most successful
political movements have had narrowly defined programs. But I question
the point in having a million members in WTA or ExI if their membership
doesn't *mean* anything. A far more successful strategy is to create a
real world view (and a world-view is far more than a view of
technology!), make the intellectuals and cultural leaders recognize it
and then watch the mainstream move in your direction. It has worked
well in the past.

Note that these issues are not new. Every political movement the last
200 years have had these problems. Those that solved them prospered,
those that didn't vanished. The socialists remained a marginal group
composed of eternally squabbling and fantasising factions until various
sub-groups got their internal houses in order, then they became major
political forces or took over entire nations. As the joke in the Swedish
social democrat party goes: "How do you tell who is a social democrat?
By the method of exclusion". I'm not saying we need to throw out
everybody not agreeing 100% with the party line, but there better be
*some* ideology beyond "cool technology is coming" to define a
transhumanist unless we actually want to relegate ourselves to the
trashheap of history.

> In the end, we are not really arguing about ideas here but rather which
> words should be used to describe which idea. The naming scheme which is
> most intuitve and easiest to use without confusion, should win.

Maybe. I think it is a very large probability that by the end of this
year I will not refer to myself as a transhumanist.

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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