Why democratic transhumanism

From: James J. Hughes (jhughes@changesurfer.com)
Date: Wed Apr 25 2001 - 23:02:45 MDT

>Do you have a thumbnail version of the techno-utopianism tradition of the
>left that you might want to share?

The starting points for any political or normative philosophy is an idea of
The Good, and the things most likely to lead to the Good. I think most
liberal and social democratic thought shares with transhumanist
techno-utopianism the idea that the fullest expression of the capabilities
of human beings, including the richest experience of their own intellectual
powers, is a Good. Liberty, equality and solidarity are means to that end,
although each has also become an end in itself for one strand or another of

The basic disagreement between libertarians, radical/social democrats and
folks in between is over what proportions or forms of liberty, equality,
solidarity and democratic representation are most likely to bring about the
full development of human potential. Libertarians put a lot of emphasis on
the ways that coercion, including democratic coercion, limits human
potential, but gives little attention to encuring that human potential is
raised for all rather than a few. In my view, social democrats achieve a
more intuitively correct balance of the relative importance of equality,
solidarity and a democratic state with liberty and market forces.

For example, I believe that although the right to cloning and genetic
engineering should be recognized as a basic personal liberty, I think the
general good is best served by having an FDA that works to ensure that new
genetic technologies are safe and efficacious (as cloning currently is not),
and further that we should have a national health insurance system that
would allow all citizens to avail themselves of the fruits of these new
technologies, and thereby prevent the emergence of a genetic bourgeoisie.

Also, I think that there is several practical reasons why leftists should
rediscover the techno-utopian side:

A. A high-tech egalitarian society is a sexier organizing vision than a
pastoral, Luddite society

B. Its far less depressing to see technology as a terrain of struggle for
democratic opportunities than as a monolithically corporate juggernaut whcih
we can only throw our bodies in front of

C. The fullest expression of automation and intelligence enhancement will
make possible the egalitarian visions of Marx and other utopian socialists,
by eliminating necessary labor, and with it the "relations of production"
that gave rise to classes and oppression. Genetic and body control will also
blur and eliminate race and gender distinctions.

Reasons why transhumanists need to open up to democratic thought include:

A. Defending transhumanist technologies, and the right to use them, can only
be achieved by engaging in the political process, and not by diddling around
with anti-political abstractions like Privately Produced Law

B. The chief driver of Luddite passions is fear of the unaccounatble rich,
powerful and corporations using technology to disempower people. By laying
out realistic democratic paths for technologies - ways they can be
regulated, and their potential ill effects ameliorated - transhumanists can
reassure the public.

C. Anarcho-capitalism is bad social science. All markets require social
construction, and the rule of law. Accepting that, one slowly has to
acknowledge the utility of democratic institutions, although dog knows they
can and should be made more efficient, far-sighted and accountable. Look at
"capitalist" Russia in the 1990s for an example of the efficiency of a
market without a functioning state, and Germany and Sweden for examples of
the productivity and social well-being that can be achieved by social
democratic market economies.

J. Hughes "Why do we need to pay for things?"
Changesurfer Radio Tristan Bock-Hughes, 5

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