Re: comparisons with other lists

From: Charles Hixson (
Date: Mon Aug 06 2001 - 09:48:19 MDT

Greg Burch wrote:
> ...
> Unfortunately, I don't think it *is* that simple. Transhumanism and
> extropianism are all about human nature and changing that nature. Race and
> sex are part of human nature. If we're going to talk about transcending the
> current human condition, we will perforce discuss these topics.
> Greg Burch
> Vice-President, Extropy Institute
There are certainly senses in which that's true. But there are also
senses in which that's ... beside the point. If people can use viral
surgery to change their skin color (etc.) instead of cosmetics...then
the old basis of race disappears. If genetic characteristics remain
fixed from the time of conception (or at least from birth) then I guess
that it continues relevant. Or at least as relevant as tatoos, scars,
and other hard to change features. And cosmetic surgery can also be
expected to improve... or at least become more extensive in what it can
handle. Just consider the possibilities inherent in self-cloned skin
grafts (i.e., skin grafts of pieces of skin whose DNA matches your own).

To assert an intrinsic covariance between features is to make an
assertion that could generally do with a good deal of proof. You don't
very often see assertions that all people with lime-green mohawks are
stupid. (Perhaps that they look stupid, but that's a different matter.)
  Because that is acknowledged to be a rapidly changable feature. A
reasonable extrapolation would seem to project that the percentage of
features available that were fixed would decline in the future.

Now it has been asserted that all white haired persian cats with blue
eyes are deaf. Supposedly there is one small area of the chromosome (or
perhaps even one gene) that has two effects simultaneously. And all
currently known calico cats are female (each color comes from a separate
X chromosome, and the white color is separately determined). So there
are genetic covariances that are difficult to disentangle. But such
cases are quite rare, and the assertion of one is something that needs
considerable justification.

OTOH, human plasticity under social conditioning is well established.
There have been some interesting twin studies on this. People seem to
define themselves in their environment so as to be relatively distinct
from others in their environment (but not too distinct). This is far
from being quantitativly exact... but given the difficulties in such
studies, even when discussing the social behavior of rats (which we can
pretty much manipulate as we choose), quantitative exactitude is too
much to hope for.

So it seems to me that as more features are subject to voluntary choice,
the concept of race will decline in importance, becoming more similar to
other voluntary social groupings. (I.e., it is implicitly acknowledged
that if you press people hard enough, they will slide from one group to
another.) I'm not totally convinced that this is good. There may come
to be a strong pressure for everyone to slide into the same mold. But
it's certainly a different problem than what current racism is.

Charles Hixson

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