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Transhumanism ain’t that old-time religion June 21, 2010

Posted by Summerspeaker in The Singularity, Transhumanism.
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Despite what folks like Mark Gubrud claim, it really isn’t. I’m growing weary of this attack hurled against the movement. Calling it a cult increases the absurdity of the charge.  Given my experience growing up under one of the Abrahamic religions, transhumanist and religious thought appear in stark contrast. The latter values authority above all else. Arguments center on interpretation of the sacred texts. Why doesn’t always matter; if a suitably divinely inspired person wrote it, it’s the will of God. Yield or get out. Transhumanism functions nothing like this. Peer-reviewed research comes the closest to scripture, though even that receives criticism to make the devout cringe. Anyone appealing to a key figure such as Ray Kurzweil had better include a compelling argument as well. No one possesses anything remotely resembling supernatural insight or benefits from an aura of inviolability. Prominent transhumanists disagree about fundamental questions of purpose and approach. For example, Aubrey de Grey wants to cure aging as soon as possible while John Smart considers the whole notion of biological enhancement dubious.

As such, the movement can much better be described as an ideology akin to my beloved anarchism. They have in common with religions traits such as a shared system of values, community membership, utopianism (sometimes), and irrational beliefs (sometimes), but this hardly makes them the same animal. Definitions of religion vary, but by my perspective preference for authority over reason and faith in supernatural agents stand as the telling factors. This standard has transhumanism compare favorably with Marxism; I’ve never seen any transhumanist author quoted with half the reverence that Marx often receives. While I should note that I have yet to encounter transhumanist community in person and thus could be missing out on the movement’s cultish interior, I suspect these allegations come from a desire to discredit dreams of radical transformation by any means necessary and so avoid addressing the substance on the matter. Dale Carrico’s use of “Robot Cult” (his capitalization) as a refrain merits a dishonorable mention.

There’s plenty here worth critiquing, which furthers my disappointment with the direction taken by the lion’s share of attacks on transhumanism. The technoprogressives over IEET such as James Hughes sparkle as stars in dark sky. Every transhumanist out there needs to read the linked piece by Hughes as well as the one on radical uncertainty. (The latter will help prevent us from falling for teleological fallacy and resembling the most dogmatic of Marxists.) As you would expect, I have greater affinity for his analysis than for his proposed path forward. His respect for liberal democracy in view the current state of the planet does not promote confidence. I would suggest that his quest for a form of governance better in line with his principles is in vain; to achieve liberty one must renounce ruling and being ruled. Hughes and I share many values; as per the book by C. Alexander Mckinley, we anarchists are the bastard children of the Enlightenment. Primarily our methods differ.

To conclude, I ask critics of transhumanism from both within and without to engage deeply with the subject rather than disingenuously dismissing us as brainwashed fanatics. The contrast I have outlined distinguishes secular ideologies from religions. Unless my primitivist comrades get off their cell phones and start blowing up the towers, technological change will continue to powerfully affect the life of each person on Earth. We’ll all benefit from honest discussion on where are now and how we should proceed.

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