Thursday, August 9, 2018

Folly and privilege of the Transhumanist movement

"The Misguided Idiot’s Quest for Immortality: A diatribe on the folly and privilege of the Transhumanist movement" is a recent article by Alex Perlman in the magazine Future Human. She states "nothing has raised my hackles as much as this movement’s quest for immortality and the ignorance of the inherent inequality of the discussion around that idea... It is irresponsible, if not actively harmful, to pursue radical life extension as a serious goal, while so many Americans fear that they won’t be able to make [it] through the next few years."

This criticism was dismissed as "journalistic idiocy," and "bio-luddism." However, the author states,
"I very much agree with ... self-experimentation and morphological freedom, and I enjoy investigating the ethical challenges associated with using scientific knowledge to enhance the limits of the human body." I commented on G+, "The author is an ethics researcher and a transhumanist. It isn't from someone who is "not able to visualize the bounty of future possibilities and progress." It is a warning that transhumanism/cryonics in the USA is on a path of self-destruction. One key failure is the lack of insight into the long-term political dynamics that will bring transhumanism/cryonics in the USA into direct confrontation with the mainstream culture.

A recent book To Be a Machine by Mark O’Connell offers a similar critique. The reviewer comments, "O’Connell is a highly sceptical observer, sometimes horrified and often amused, but offers reminders that this is not a simple tale of eccentrics and the freaky fringe. Some very rich and influential people dabble in aspects of transhumanism, and his series of reports, taken together, provide a commentary on the (at times) sinister and (always) hubristic faith in technology radiating outwards from Silicon Valley."

The censorship and other attempts at "controlling the message" about cryonics is now backfiring. The pioneers of the transhumanist/cryonics movement have shown they are incapable of adjusting to the challenge of exponential growth and the need to become a mass movement. Unfortunately, the undemocratic structures in the movement make it extremely difficult to dislodge the fanatics, who at this point are promoting their own death by ignoring social and organizational dynamics. I discuss some of these issues in The Growth and Decline of Cryonics.

Transhumanism/cryonics is mostly dominated by those supporting neo-liberalism and libertarianism (as defined in the USA). As I point out in my above publication, the effect of neo-liberalism has been a stagnation in wages for the majority. An important predictor of enrollment in a cryonics suspension program is wealth: “Individuals making more than $100,000 were generally more favorably disposed toward cryonics (Badger, 1998).” We can conclude from this that the macro-economic preferences of many of those in the movement are suppressing the growth of cryonics. Many of these people see the Scottish economist Adam Smith as their intellectual father. However, this is a flawed understanding of his actual teachingsLibertarianism is even more philosophically at odds with its own roots with its worship of the "free market." 

In his video Transhumanism and Immortality, Isaac Arthur comments on how difficult it is to distinguish between science and hype when investigating this topic. He is a competent commentator on future-oriented science and technology, and considers himself to be a transhumanist. So, this should be considered to be a positive view of the state of transhumanism. Expecting the public to take transhumanism seriously is unrealistic under these circumstances.

A solution could be a comprehensive critique of the underlying philosophical positions within transhumanism. As Jones has demonstrated, unrealistic views of technology make it impossible to take transhumanism seriously. A firm grounding in accepted science combined with a peer-reviewed publication of a high scientific standard appears to be essential to escape the perception of transhumanism as a "freaky fringe" science or new-age religion. 

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