Re: "Post-humanism": The right term?

Chris Fedeli (
Sun, 15 Aug 1999 17:59:10 -0400

Brian Manning Delaney wrote:

>> To put my objections to both "post-" and "trans-humanism" somewhat turgidly: The "human" itself is already the permanent "self-post-ing" of what we are (the
"self-overcoming beast," to sound Nietzschean and/or
Aristotelian). To be post-human would thus amount almost to being "post-post-human" -- not something I want to be (assuming no state of perfection is possible). "Trans-human" would mean moving towards adding that second "post-." Who needs it?


If we fully honor the humanist tradition and consider
"human" to mean "self-overcoming beast" then there is no
need for "trans"-humanism at all. We will continue to be humans until we fully overcome the beast in ourselves, a point that could be arbitrarily designated at either our full genetic re-engineering or at that time we are uploaded.

But by this reasoning, it would also not make sense to keep the 'human' designation as a suffix after we've elimated the beast, because by eliminating the beast we will also have eliminated the defining characteristic of 'humanity' (to the humanists), namely the conflict between reason and animal instinct. To do so would make as much sense as calling our current selves "super-chimps" or "ultra-bipeds".

We need some name for our own current, pro-technlogical evolutionary stance that distinguishes us from those humanists with no real foresight on how we will eventually overcome the beast, or who would prefer that we remain in a perpetual state of 'beast overcoming-ness' (ugh).
"Techno-humanism", "evolutionary humanism", or
"cyborg-humanism" all come to mind as ways to decribe our
position on the current path of humanity.
Any of those terms could adequately replace "transhumanism" without any semantic discontinuity with the original 'human' in humanism.

Changing the name at this point might gain us some points with academics, but would cost us the name recognition in the public that we have developed in the past decade. As it concerns the spread of our memes, I have several reasons for why we might favor keeping the term "transhumanism", at least in some capacity.

"Transhumanism" rolls off the tongue. My experience is that
the term strikes many neophytes as intuitively obvious in meaning (unlike evolutionary humanism, I would guess)
and conjures up a pleasant and perhaps inspiring image for the general population (unlike techno-humanism or cyborg-humanism, probably).

I base some of this on my experience at the recent World Future Society conference in Washington DC. Myself and several other extropians and transhumanists spent hours at a a small display table where we passed out close to a thousand pieces of literature to conference participants, most of it containing the word "transhumanism" at least once. A not-uncommon response was for people to look at the word "transhumanism" in our banner and say "oh, I get it." Part of that intuition surely had to do with the context (being at a conference about the future). But still, the meaning of the term seemed pleasingly obvious to many.

My own thoughts on the effectiveness of the term
"transhumanism" are that it conjures up positive
associations that many people have with the American Transcendentalism of Emerson and Thoreau.
Even if most people don't have a sophisticated understanding of the philosophical underpinnings of transcendentalism, they focus on the "trans" in transhumanism and associate it with some kind of intellectual spiritualism that has something to do with the act of becoming something greater.

I personally like that association - a "spiritualism" for people who don't believe in ghosts or spirits, but rather are looking for an inspiring and personally meaningful worldview along with a community of people who share that common sense of purpose.

This explanation of transhumanism would be an academic hodge-podge of meanings, but it bears a similarity to the effective use that the Unitarian Church has put to the philosophy of humanism. Most Unitarians are probably not strict Nietzschesans or Aristotelians. For them, "humanism" has a more general purpose meaning; it is an ideology that allows them to be a part of church and a spiritual community wihthout having to believe in god or any particular set of doctrines. They are united perhaps by nothing more than a general sense of being pro-human. We could become the Unitarian Church for the 21st century, and I hope that we do.

For the sake of the growth and increased influence of extropianism, I would favor keeping the term "transhumanism" on our letterhead.

Chris Fedeli