Thursday, December 30, 2004


It appears I am not the only person to have been recently thinking about the problem with the transhumanist label.

I think that with religious adherents making up majorities in America, it will be a long time before they can be sold on the idea that transcending one's humanity in ways other than dying and going to Heaven might possibly be good. It's not that religious people are stupid; many progressives are religious or spiritual. The problem is one that the Republican Party learned in the 1970s: framing the issue. Most people like being human, and in fact use human as a synonym for person. In that mindset, anything that makes us non-human -- genetic engineering, cyborgization, mind uploading -- makes us non-persons as well. Combine that with a "God's creation" view of nature and the fact that most outspoken transhumanists are radical individualist free-market types, and transhumanism is seen as a negative.

For that matter, it alienates many people who might be allies. While I think there will be some radical changes to humanity in the future, transcendence is not a goal I particularly look towards. Transcendence implies something almost magical, a freeing from bonds, a rising to a new level of existence. I don't care about that, and doubt the possibility. I just want to free people -- myself included -- from disease and poverty while ensuring them the freedom to live their lives as they wish. People who I agree with politically call themselves liberals, leftists, and progressives. People who I agree with as far as how to achieve goals call themselves transhumanists, but many of them don't agree with me on the goals themselves.

In the above column, Dale Carrico suggests the term tech-progressive as a more acceptable alternative to transhumanist; coincidentally, I recently pondered the word technoprogressive. I think it's clear that a technoprogressive seeks progress through technology, and progressive has long been associated with the political left. Incidentally, Mr. Carrico has now adopted my version after I suggested it to him. If it catches on, I'd better be in the OED, damnit! What greater thrill for a former English major?

What I would really like to see is a technoprogressive movement that would actively lobby for increased federal funding of science education, research, and technological development to counter the rapidly expanding bioconservative movement, in addition to the usual liberal values of equity and choice. If I had the means, I would organize such a movement.

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