Intellectual revival of transhumanism (Waldemar's challenge to us)

From: Waldemar Ingdahl (
Date: Mon Sep 03 2001 - 19:52:46 MDT

Date: Wed, 29 Aug 2001 21:01:28 -0900
From: "John Grigg" <>
Subject: Intellectual revival of transhumanism (Waldemar's challenge to us)

Waldemar wrote:
Unless we can make the philosophic foundations of a transhumanist
society once more a living intellectual issue, and its implementation
a task which challenges the ingenuity and imagination of our liveliest
minds, the prospects of dynamism are indeed dark.
But if we can regain that belief in the power of ideas which was the mark of transhumanism at its best, the battle is not lost. It can be turned into victory. The intellectual revival of transhumanism must start. Will it be in time? I think it is still in time, especially if we add Aristotle to our discourse.

John replied:
Would the "intellectual revival of transhumanism" be achieved by ExI, the WTA, or Natasha's Pro-Act organization? I guess Pro-Act would lay the groundwork so that a society could arise where transhumanistic thought would have a chance to really take root. And she will need the foundation you are speaking of.

Should an extension of your goal come from a focus on getting a college curriculum together so that transhumanist thought will be taught at that level? Will this ever actually be done?

Is it time for a Transhumanist political party? : ) Do you ever see one being formed? Could it become a force to be reckoned with, or would it simply be a fringe political group which would not be taken seriously by the media and political powers?

Again, when you say, "intellectual revival of transhumanism," I wonder exactly what you mean. I have read articles where journalists and so-called intellectuals mock the very idea of transhumanist/extropian philosophy. They then go on the stereotype and pigeonhole what we "supposedly" believe in. How will your intellectual revival counter this?

And what happens if the revival does not happen in time?

best wishes,


Sorry, for taking such a long time to reply, John. But it has been well spent by writing on a book on genetics, one article for a Swedish magazine about morphological freedom and also negociating some deals for further work for Eudoxa ;-)
If you want to change things get down to doing it.

These are some of my thoughts about your questions.
If we don't wish to deny the fact that the world presently is seeing a vast technological, economic, communicational and socio- cultural change, and also agree that many of these changes are in fact positive and desireable in their nature, we must enable a corresponding change in the political discussion in our respective countries and in the emerging global discussion.
Thus the political discussion, in order to be sensible and constructive, should start from the necessity and immediacy of change. Change should become its natural start point, and not as all too often the keeping of the old, the previous paradigm.
It is necessary to raise the level of the debate.

To put change in the centre of the political discussion is the first step towards a work of renewal that must start with the impetus of a mental change, a change of paradigm in our way to think.
This is done by undermining the defensive stance that has dominated world politics since 1989.
Sure some changes have been done for the better, but always as a last resort (at huge costs and in worsened options for action)- when every possibility to preserve the old has failed.
This must be thouroghly pointed out in the intellectual debate. In the new public debate the good change must always be the first option.
Transhumanists must create a new intellectual hegemony where change and dynamism are seen as the base premise of discussion, a self- evident fact for citizens, intellectuals and politicians that have understood that we live in a time changes, experiments and multiple options, a world where safety lies in the successful and good change.

To achieve this new and change- friendly political discussion is a hard task.
Such a discussion is radically different of the narrow and ideologically void political discussion that we are used to.

So what should we do?
We need intellectuals.
I use this word according to F. A. Hayek's definition.

The intellectual is neither an original thinker nor an expert.
Indeed he need not even be intelligent.
What he needs to possess is the ability to speak and write on wide range of subjects; and a way of becoming familiar with new ideas earlier than his audience.

But these intellectuals need to get busy.
What they need to (gradually) offer is an explicit programme of societal development, a picture of the future at which they are aiming, and a set of general principles to guide decisions on particular issues.
The strength of becoming one of the few explicit general philosophies of policy, one of the few systems or theories which raise new problems and new horizons, must not be underestimated.
There are very few playing in the ballpark, at present...
This will also inspire the imagination of other intellectuals.
One of the strengths of transhumanism is that it is "the unknown ideal" and if we can turn this into a contrast between an existing state of affairs and the one ideal of a possible future society which transhumanists alone hold up before the public, we will have a good chance of succeeding.
We have seen historic precedents on this one.
By this way we can even change the political field, by making opponents to become mere compromises or half- way houses between the more radical forms of transhumanism and the existing order.

Being visionary is important, even in this respect.
If you can gain strength in the debate and turn the debate in your direction you can change the whole political field.
This because many see something as "reasonable" just if it lies in between of the extremes of the political spectrum.
This is fallacious, because those extremes can be moved.
What was extreme today, may be the mainstream of tomorrow- pushing the political field to choose between moderate dynamism or ultra- dynamism.

But in order to achieve this we need to debate, debate on a higher level of discussion both internally and externally (particularly externally).

Let me make an example from history:

Socialism has never and nowhere been at first a working- class movement.
It is by no means an obvious remedy for the obvious evil which the interests of that class necessarily demand.
It is a construction of theorists, deriving from certain tendencies of abstract thought with which for a long time only the intellectuals were familiar; and it required long efforts by the intellectuals before the working classes could be persuaded to adopt it as their programme.

In every country that has moved toward socialism, the phase of the development in which socialism becomes a determining influence on politics has been preceded for many years by a period during which socialist ideals governed the thinking of the more active intellectuals.
Experience suggests that, once this phase has been reached, it is only a question of time until the views now held by the intellectuals become the governing force of politics.
Now think of what views are dominant among present day intellectuals...

What to the contemporary observer appears as the battle of conflicting interests has indeed often been decided long before in a clash of ideas confined to narrow circles.

Paradoxically enough, however, the stasists have done most to spread the belief that it is the numerical strength, of the populace that "are not naturally inclined towards change no matter how fast or slow" which is deciding (or should decide) the political issues, whereas in practice these same parties have regularly and successfully acted as if they understood the key positions of the stasist intellectuals.
Whether by design or driven by the force of circumstances, they have always directed their main effort towards gaining the support of this elite, while the more dynamist groups have acted, as regularly but more unsuccessfully by vainly trying directly to persuade individuals.

There is little that the ordinary man of today learns about events or ideas except through the medium of the intellectuals (journalists, teachers, ministers, lecturers, publicists, commentators, writers of fiction, cartoonists, and artists etc.).
And outside of our special fields of work we are in this respect almost all ordinary men, dependent for our information and instruction (after all, we cannot be Ph. D:s in all conceivable subjects) on those who make it their job to keep abreast of opinion. In this sense, the intellectuals decide what views and opinions are to reach us, which facts are important enough to be told to us, and in what form, and from what angle they are to be presented.
Whether we shall ever learn of the results of the work of the expert and the original thinker depends mainly on their decision.

Outside of his own special interest (growing in gravity depending on how techno naive he/she is) the transhumanist is generally no less dependent on the intellectuals and scarcely less influenced by their selection.
The result of this is that even the most determined dynamists derive from stasist sources their knowledge on most subjects on which they have no first- hand information.
With many of the more general preconceptions of stasist thought, the connection of their more practical proposals is by no means at once obvious; in consequence many who believe themselves to be determined transhumanists in fact become spreaders of stasist ideas.
Who does not know of the transhumanist who in his own field (mainly that of technology) denounces stasism but, when he steps outside that subject spouts stasism like Jeremy Rifkin?

Intellectuals generally judge all particular issues in the light of certain general ideas.
They also tend to tend to erroneously apply new generalisations which have proved their value in other fields.
The conglomeration of these views is what constructs the characteristic climate of opinion of a period, which will be favourable to to the reception of some opinions and unfavourable to others and which will make the intellectual readily accept one conclusion and reject another without a real understanding of the issues.

But all of the above could also be applied by transhumanist intellectuals.
If we are to change the current world view among the intellectuals we need to do further intellectual advances, and often advances on points which are very abstract and may seem very remote from practical issues.

"Without a revolutionary theory there cannot be a revolutionary movement", to quote Lenin.
And an ideology without a programme for seeing its ideas implemented in reality, in the actual society in which its members live, isn't an ideology but a social club.
I have nothing against social clubs, they can be fun.
But a political and philosophical movements cannot survive well as a social club.
It isn't vital, nor intellectually vibrant.
Soon the forces of techno naivism and cybergnostism will make it impractical in the members' own eyes.
I think this is the reason behind much of transhumanism's silence.
By not engaging in the public debate the ideology looses the interest of its members.
It doesn't seem to deal with the real issues of today (because other, more active movements, set what is considered "the real issues").

And a new Enlightenment is not an "authentic" occurence.
It is very much a construction by the intellectuals.
Hoping that isolated individuals will do it is very dangerous.
Memetic chain reactions do not happen without a constant filling of life from directed intellectual sources.
So should we talk about a "transhumanist system" today?
Well I think we should always hint at it, but so many debates are on a too low level for us to be hinting at "transhumanism".
We need to raise the level of the specific debates before starting to use the term.

Why don't we have Big Daddy Melatonine racing up the tracks with "Straight outta Nanotopia"?
Well, those are not the ideas that float around in the cultural climate, they are not considered "cool" or "fly".
Ask yourself why?

It will take a lot of spreading before we have our own limousine left

I think we are the counterforce against today's intellectual hegemony that is winning because of the lack of opposition.
To not advocate transhumanism "because it may create a counterforce" is doomed, because that counterforce is present and it is winning.
Indeed, a social analysis of the contemporary from a transhumanist ideological viewpoint is much needed.

There is a danger in just getting reactive, and not pursing of establishing a shift in the societal cultural climate. It boggs down into just countering the enormous force behind the latest moronoid banning (wich somehow just seems to win anyway since it is supported by the present cultural climate).

In think I think that transhumanism will fare well if it is theoretical and harmonistic (as I wrote in an earlier mail).

We have to acknowledge that the opposition against our ideas is programmatic, it strives for another project(s), and is presently in control of most of the "commanding heights" of societal discourse (to use Lenins term) and that these heights must be attacked and ultimately conquered.

A college curriculum? Nice idea, but in the end it is more important that the transhumanist studies (pardon the term, I don't like it either) become the mainstream, the undisputed paradigm.
And this will take a long time, and a long work with the intellectuals and a lot of political clout of the future activist organisations.

A political party? Well, in the very long run yes.
But one has to remember that a political party is the highest form of activism.
It requires an enormous amount of support from a strong intellectual movement, because this can create a very ideologically conscious membership.
And of course, we must also strive to create supporters in the present political parties for our ideas, making them to accept them without thought, without consideration (for one eminent example: look at the green ideology).

Murray Rothbard talked about that a movement needs to be constantly talking, even if only to itself to keep the ideas vibrant.
I agree with him but I also think that that discourse needs to be high level and ideologically conscious, and indeed monitored.
Perhaps even through thinking at creating a new sort of "bourgeois arena" (in the line of Habermas) and taking a long look at the dangerous Internet- trap of the discourse of the '90s.

And if we don't succeed in doing this?
Well history is full of ideas that faded into obscurity while others set the agenda of society.
And I am personally a bit afraid that we are at a very critical point in the existence of transhumanism...

And the work needed will take time, a lot of time and a lot of effort I'm afraid.
To turn a cultural climate isn't done in a few years, especially when you are trying to counter it.
The world is run by people with the motivation to chase their dreams, and when there are no dreams, people decay and stagnate.

Have you chased your dreams lately?
Towards Eudaimonia!

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