Sunday 12 July 2015

The implicit modern religion of Transhumanism

Transhumanism is not ridiculous - not something to be disposed of with a sneer - rather, Transhumanism is the implicit religion of modern, secular Leftism - it is mainstream and near-universal in the West - it has great power and reach - it underpins the main assumptions of public discourse and policy.

In sum, most modern Western people's actual lives and opinions are based on the Transhumanist belief that Man can, will and should transcend his humanity -- and that the nature of humanity, as it has existed so far, should be considered as a set of defects and limitations that need to be transcended.

Transhumanism is an incremental outgrowth of the secular religion of progress - it sees itself as the optimistic alternative among modern secular Leftist ideologies.

What is Transhumanism? -- well, it is a network of beliefs that people can/ will - sooner-or-later/ and should:

1. Always be happy - never suffer (except insofar as they wish to)

2. Never be ill, never age

3. Never die - there will be no ageing (see above) and death will be infinitely postpone-able - the person will be open-endedly repairable or restoreable - death will be reversible

4. Be able to improve intelligence, personality, strength, capacity for pleasure etc - beyond anything yet attained by any human

5. Be able to change sex, make new sexes, abolish sexual identity and the need for sex itself - or redefine and modify them endlessly

6. Wholly detach reproduction from sex - be able to make babies, perfect babies, without intervention of parents - to bring them up perfectly without 'need' for families

7. Go beyond historical levels of human wisdom, goodness - achieve a higher morality (which will be effortless and universal)

and so on...

None of these things have actually been achieved, indeed in many ways we are further from achieving them than we were a few decades ago - as human capability dwindles and hype increases...

But the core idea is to live-by the belief that such things could-happen - and therefore we should behave asif they have-happened.

Capability dissolves good and evil - because good and evil are subsumed within pleasure/ pain - and when good is pleasure, and pleasure is psychological - then goodness become the technical problem of ensuring pleasure (and abolishing pain) and removing any obstacles to this - and any 'moral' factors which interfere with this can and should be engineered-away.

Human nature is something to created and recreated - the purpose of Transhumanism is, after all to transcend the human; so the core project is not to make humans happier but to go beyond humans - the idea is that humans should build something better than humans - where better is seen in terms of the hedonic axis of pleasure/ fulfillment versus suffering/ misery, such that any human, biological, historical limitation on positive emotional states can and should be removed.

Because, from the Transhumanist perspective, to think otherwise is to want, and to enforce, pain, suffering and misery on oneself and others. And that is evil.

The basis of Transhumanism is that human limitation is the primary problem in life, and human capability is therefore the primary good for humanity; and more capability is better - because (and this is key) any problems that may arise from capability should/can/will be solved by more capability.

Name your problem, and Transhumanism has a solution: Loneliness? Solved by manipulating emotions, perhaps pharmacologically but ultimately genetically - so you cannot feel lonely anymore (i.e. human nature will be re-engineered to become immune to the problem).

Or technology will provide everyone with a perfect virtual social world - psychologically-indistinguishable from the real social world, and completely satisfying and available without limitation. (Meanwhile, the necessary work and reproduction will be done by other means.)

And people will never get fed-up of these solutions, because that fed-up-ness too will itself be engineered-away.

If you happen to believe or feel that the above approach is wrong or wicked or pathetic - then that too is something which can - and probably should - be edited-out -- because it is obstructive at best, evil at worst.

In the end, all reasons for misery and conflict will either be solved in reality, or else we will be re-engineered so as to case caring about them - so 'problems' will cease to be perceived as problems, 'limitations' will cease to be felt as limiations.

And this will not be boring, because boredom will become a thing of the past -- we will be satisfied with what we have, and the possibilities of novelty are open-ended - everything can be change; life will be an endless play and adventure - with all the thrills but none of the risk -- That is the Transhumanist hope, or promise.

The thing to recognize about Transhumanism is that it does not have any respect for human nature as it is - it sees nothing 'sacred' in humans as they are; indeed humans as they are are seen as on the one hand arbitrary, contingent products of natural selection - which could easily have been otherwise, and which are - anyway - simply optimized for average reproductive success under average ancestral conditions...

Why on earth should such a bundle of historical chances be preserved?

And further than this, human nature as it is is seen as a major problem - if not the major problem - because on the one hand we are full of aggression, hatred, sadism, spite etc - while on the other hand we are vulnerable to pain, misery, despair, terror and all manner of sufferings. Both sins and the vulnerability to sin can and should be deleted.

To understand Transhumanism, and understand its visceral appeal and its almost universal influence on modern values - one needs to appreciate, to experience for oneself, this intoxicating sense of liberation that comes from regarding Man as nothing but the contingent product of natural selection... 

One needs to feel the sense that every problem by progress can be solved by more progress - including that any insoluble problems can cease to be regarded as problems

- so that subjectively (so far as he knows) Man attains through progress nothing less than absolute freedom, and complete happiness - forever.

Now, the fact that this is not actually happening is irrelevant so long as the people who have implicitly bought-into Transhumanism, and made it their core belief and hope (typically without knowing the word Transhumanism, nor even thinking-about the subject)... none of this matters so long as the adherents believe that it is going-to happen. 

My feeling is that Transhumanism is immune to argument - it is a circular system (as are all viable metaphysical systems) but it is dependent on optimism - it feeds upon itself, but that self is fueled by the hyper-reality of the mass media.

So, at present Transhumanism is sustained by the fact that people live mostly in the virtual world of the mass media, where mass media reality feels realer than real reality. 

When the mass media crumbles and collapses, when the major social systems such as the economy, law, science, medicine, police, military collapse (as they will, because we, as a culture, are 'not even trying' to maintain and sustain them - we are trying to do various other things but are not trying to maintain functionality - indeed, we have long since ceased to regard reality as real)... when these collapse, so will the psychological basis for Transhumanism collapse.

Transhumanism is the objectification of subjectivity - it is the belief that subjectivity can be engineered at will and without limit to become absolutely gratifying - it is the belief that subjectivity is everything. 

If and when objectivity re-asserts itself, when objectivity become impossible to ignore - Transhumanism will evaporate with no trace left behind - it will seem no more than a group-insanity, no realer than the other mass delusions which beset our civilization in relation to sex and sexuality, economics and law, education and medicine - none of which are amenable to discussion or refutation - all of which are themselves versions of the triumph of subjectivism.

Of course, people can retain their subjectivism in the face of anything and everything. The ultimate subjectivism is indeed that of Satan - who pits the subjective self against the whole of reality, and chooses to prefer the self. And Satan cannot be persuaded. 

But the pervasive mainstream Transhumanism of modernity is a much shallower thing - dependent on  an 'optimism' that is itself dependent upon very specific and unsustainable levels of escalating engagement with the mass media; and a consequent mind-set which takes for granted fundamental technological progress in capability and efficiency without troubling itself about the sources. A mind-set consumed by virtuality, subjectivity, hype and spin. 

However, the real, underpinning sources of actual objective techno-progress are all going-going-gone -- all of them.

The foundations are gone from under the post-industrial revolution system of capability. The edifice of modernity is become a house of cards balanced on sand - the whole being sustained by self-delusions. 

And the surface hope of Transhumanism is continually being undercut and undercut, by the deep daily reality of Godless cumulative nihilism and despair. 

Techno-optimism and the capability of attaining it as a reality is continually being eroded by endemic Western self-hatred; and by the mostly-covert but increasingly obvious, cultural wish for escape from the modern situation by some kind of painless suicide into a suffering-free, blissed-out, eternal nothingness... 

(But the possibility of that, is itself is not solidly believed.)

In sum, Transhumanism is much more powerful and pervasive than generally realized - it is a real factor in the behaviour of modern Man. It facilitates many of the most deeply damaging trends of our culture -  but Transhumanism itself prevents the possibility of its own attainment; for which thanks be to God!

(Note - for a deeper understanding of Transhumanism, its causes and its consequences, read That Hideous Strength and/ or The Abolition of Man by CS Lewis.)   



Nicholas Fulford said...

We are drugged on technological potential as the thing which will continuously elevate us above where we are today. And if we look at some of the results selectively it is easy to see why people feel this way. We have a higher life expectancies, can in many cases postpone morbidity, fix many traumatic injuries and illnesses, and do things which a few short centuries ago would be seen as miraculous.

What is not seen is that every advancement has unintended consequences which in turn require another advancement to fix. Some unintended consequences may introduce threatening and unsolvable problems. (Possibilities include the rogue AI popularized by films like "The Matrix" and "The Terminator", as well as the grey ooze scenario if nano-technology runs amuck, or if we want step back to the 1950's there is the "Forbidden Planet" scenario of our unconscious manifesting during sleep but amplified by technology to express itself directly in the physical world.) You probably get the idea. People are on some level aware of the shadow of progress, and it manifests in such forms as film and novels.

Man seeks transcendence but thinks he can bootstrap it. That really is the core of transhumanism. It fails to consider that fatal flaws exist which will become, and are already becoming evident. We are addicted to the idea that we can bootstrap ourselves out of suffering, but do not see that something dark - the shadow as Jung called it - will bring about the unintended consequences that may lead to extinction. Being a sorcerer's apprentice is a very risky business indeed.

Leo said...

Parahumans are on the technological horizon in ways they were not in Lewis' day. And we are mentally glued to and mentally consumed by our electronic gadgets as never before. Brave New World, indeed.

Nathaniel said...

This is the best argument against "video games" as a lifestyle that I've read.

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

"the Transhumanist belief that Man can, will and should transcend his humanity -- and that the nature of humanity, as it has existed so far, should be considered as a set of defects and limitations that need to be transcended"

The thing is, this is also a Christian belief -- that human nature as it has existed so far (including such things as sin and death) should be considered as a set of defects and limitations that need to be transcended. As the Book of Mormon puts it, "the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he ... putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint" (Mosiah 3:19).

The problem is not the idea that human nature is defective and needs to be transcended. It is only when this idea is combined with the idea that "good" just means "whatever people prefer" that it sends us into nihilistic free-fall.

Human nature can and should be changed to meet the demands of morality -- fine -- but add the thesis that moral demands are themselves derived from human nature, and necessarily change as human nature changes, and you've set up an endless, pointless feedback loop.

Anonymous said...

I'm late to the comment party again.

One hopes that before transhuman engineering gets much farther, that the illogic in believing that man can create something superior, or indeed equal, to himself becomes patent. But, thanks to the subjectivism of which Bruce speaks, will there be only debased comparative criteria for what constitutes 'superior' or even 'human' in the minds of the Cheerful Robots, to use C. Wright Mills' term, that are swelling the ranks of those doing the theoretical and practical work?

"If life were a thing that money could buy, the rich would live and the poor would die." Perhaps there is hope for humanity in those bereft of means, what one of C.S. Lewis' villains dismissively called the canaglia (Italian for 'rogues'). The poor may remain human, while their betters go dangerously out on a cybernetic limb.

Then maybe they can be unplugged. It might not even be murder.

Bruce Charlton said...

@WmJas - Probably the clearest difference to explain is thay mainstream Transhumanism is a type of utilitarianism, engineering happiness and editing-out the capacity and possibility of suffering as the primary goal - with happiness conceptualized as a state of mind.

Another difference is that Transhumanism conceptualized transcendence as something built-up - ordinary Men create a slightly-Super-man, when then creates a slightly-more-Super-man and so on. Whereas the process of divinization as conceptualized by Christians is top-down - God shows us the way, and promises to *make* Men into Sons of God (or rather, He already has begun this).

But the core of Transhumanism is not really weird in the context of modern culture - it is not an idea for a possible ideology, it is the actuality of our ideology (although the practical side of achieving the the ideology has made little progress) - Transhumanism is mainstream, normal, official culture when that culture's implicit goals are understood.

So, Transhumanism is as different from Christianity as our mainstream modern culture is different from Christianity - which is to say there are a few, rather superficial, similarities - but they are fundamentally extremely different in terms of metaphysics, meaning and purpose.

R.B. said...

Humans have technology, can improve it and are competitive.

Therefore, sooner or later human nature is going to be changed in order that some nation or business entity can become more powerful.

It is going to be grisly, but way less than natural selection towards such capabilities would need. And it is going to happen later, as laics continually underestimate how hard it is to get something right..

This transhumanism you expound on is half projection, half mere wishful thinking by people who are generally useless when it comes to doing something.

I recommend reading Blindsight and Echopraxia by Peter Watts.A book seemingly written to act as a very cold shower on the idea of transhumanism..