Transhumanism – what is it and what should we think about it?

Trans-humanism is the name for the notion that the human as it exists needs to be overcome and replaced not by further biological evolution but through willful, technological evolution. In other words, by taking on technological components which would not be external contingent attachments, like cell phones, but central functional replacements, like improved nervous systems, improved thinking capacity, improved strength through machine implants etc… The purpose of these operations is not to simply enhance the functionality of the existing human being, but to allow a re-conceiving of what the human being is for. As Fukayama puts it:

“As “transhumanists” see it, humans must wrest their biological destiny from evolution’s blind process of random variation and adaptation and move to the next stage as a species.”

The key distinction between trans-humanism and what is implicit in current medical neuroscience, and even internet hand held devices, is that the purpose (not neccesarily the effect) of trans-humanist technological adaptation is not to use technology to better cope with  the world (i.e. Google maps), but to use technology to recognize a different world to cope with than the one we could encounter before (i.e. perhaps the kind of social activities made possibly through google maps).  The difference then, is between using aids to solve problems better and more easily, to changing the problem – changing the question even.
Fukayama is quite worried about trans-humanism. He believes that it compromises the notion that all people are created equal, and that whereas biological human evolution has promoted a long and difficult struggle towards the ultimate human good of freedom, changing the nature of the human being will change the good and produce disastrous consequences:
“Nobody knows what technological possibilities will emerge for human self-modification. But we can already see the stirrings of Promethean desires in how we prescribe drugs to alter the behavior and personalities of our children. The environmental movement has taught us humility and respect for the integrity of nonhuman nature. We need a similar humility concerning our human nature. If we do not develop it soon, we may unwittingly invite the transhumanists to deface humanity with their genetic bulldozers and psychotropic shopping malls. ”

We should notice that Fukayama here immediately associates the kind of change that Transhumanists yearn for with psychotropic drugs. I entirely share his fear for these drugs, because I believe the way they function in society is to turn a large portion of the society into disfunctional yet perfectly orderable addicts. The key difference to be understood is between a becoming, an event of evolution, which moves from one state to another, and in the next state has no more possibilities for further becoming other than by moving back to the first, and a becoming which through the becoming opens up possibilities for further becomings. Drugs are of the 1st kind – they offer a new possibiilty for the way the human relates with the world. However, there is no way out rather than back, or over-dose. No drug trip lasts forever, and even if it did, it does not allow for more and more trips to be added on to it. The only way to engage in a new becoming after taking drugs is by first sobering up. Contrast that kind of becoming with getting fit, for example. Once you have become fit, your body has undergone a transformation which means you encounter the world in a new way – however, this state does not have the characteristic of needing to go back to an unfit state before the body can transform again in a new way. Rather, becoming fit offers many further possibilities for changing the way the body works in other ways, i.e. becoming fit makes Yoga a better possibility, and Yoga makes Karate more possible, and Karate makes eastern meditation more possible, etc… I do not mean this to be an “A therefore B” structure, rather each “A” could lead to any number of “B’s”.

If we distinguish between these two kinds of becomings, we can distinguish between the positive and negative trend in trans-humanism. The negative trend includes drugs, and surgeries which do not offer possibilities for further surgeries. The positive trend involves self-training, achiving the effects of drugs through meditation, and perhaps surgeries that open up possibilities for futher indeterminate enhancements. So long as possibilities remain open and varied, trans-humanism cannot shut down and become a movement of a singular purpose, or one which demands the destruction of any existing structures.

A different view on the Economy

I don’t pretend to be an expert on economics, either Austrian, Marxist, or Contemporary. Nor am I absolutely aware of every aspect of the current crisis. Other than watching perhaps a higher than average amount of news clips on youtube, and listening to both NPR Economy podcasts regularly, and reading the Globe and Mail, I havn’t done any specific research into current issues. However, it does seem that one problem we are seeing is over production leading to not only low prices but deflation – the continual lowering of prices over time, which discourages consumption and shrinks the amount of money changing hands.

Intuitively, it seems strange that low prices and over supply would be a problem – isn’t it better that we can produce more with less labour? Shouldn’t that mean we’d need to work less?

Maybe in a command economy we could just raise everyone’s hourly wage and ask them to work less. But in a market economy, France’s experiment of a legislated shorter workweek is generally considered a failure.

Two other depressing thoughts. First – Hegel. Hegel predicted that over-production is a problem that would plague industrialized economies, and believed it could only be solved through colonization and the creation of new markets for products. This is bad news because the world is already fully economically integrated.

Second – we don’t actually have a problem of “over production” – we hardly produce anything – Canada’s economy is 75% services. So, when we talk about over-production in our context, we’re talking about mostly over-services. I.e. too many jewlery stores, electronics stores – in other words firms that don’t actually produce anything of value. The fact that almost anything bought in a retail store could be ordered from a warehouse over the internet puts into question whether the retailer as a distributor adds any value whatsoever to the transaction.

One other thing – when we talk about our economy being in the duldrums we talk about the rate of consumption being on the decline. But, couldn’t that simply be because people are saving more? Why is saving rather than consuming bad for the economy?