Tuesday, October 21, 2008
I've always been ahead of my time, it's a curse. The transhumanists I met and wrote about in my book are going mainstream with an online magazine - H +. Transhumanists believe in the technological transcendence of our biological limitations, most obviously the limitation of life span. The death of more than 100,000 people a day is, they say, a catastrophe that will, soon, be preventable. Thinkers like Leon Kass, Francis Fukuyama and Bill McKibben have attacked this idea, arguing, in essence, that death is an essential aspect of our humanity. For transhumanism's response to this see Joe Quirk's heavy irony on page 41 of H+. What I like about transhumanists is their naked, unapologetic radicalism. Like Mustapha Mond debating with the Savage in Brave New World, they simply ask, what's so great about human life as it now is? If, for example, human immortality makes all your art meaningless, so be it, Shakespeare was all predicated on suffering we no longer have to endure. What I don't like about transhumanists is the fact that they simply refuse to understand certain arguments of their opponents - like the idea, best advanced by Bernard Williams, about boredom not with the things of the world but with oneself, or, as Roger Scruton puts, the soul grows tired of inhabiting the body. Also their technophilia is oppressive and naive. Much of the magazine is just gadgetry with attitude. And this is Dave Pearce (page 14): 'For a very different kind of selection pressure is at work when evolution is no longer 'blind' and 'random', ie when rational agents design the genetic makeup of their future offspring in anticipation of its likely effects. In that sense, we're heading for a post-Darwinian transition - ultimately to some form of paradise-engineering.' In the midst of the current crisis, the idea of humans engineering paradise seems more risible than ever. (Or perhaps we can simply engineer out the gene set that created credit default swaps.) In spite of which, transhumanism is a coming thing, a future faith. It's time to burnish your best pro-death arguments.
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 6:48 am