The Trouble with Transhumanism
by Wesley J. Smith
Sometimes an article cuts through the fog of public debate and discourse to capture the true essence of a movement or belief system. Recently, a transhumanist named Kyle Munkittrick posted just such an article at the Discover magazine website, encapsulating in a nutshell everything that is wrong with transhumanism (about which nearly everything is wrong).
For those who may not know, transhumanism is a Utopian social movement and philosophy that looks toward a massive breakthrough in technological prowess, known as "the singularity" that will open the door for transhumanists to "seize control of human evolution" and create a "post human species" of near immortals. Don't roll your eyes. Transhumanists believe in their ageless post-human future with a desperate passion that borders onand often serves as a substitute for religious faith.
Not only that, but the movement is getting good press. For example, Time recently published a laudatory profile of transhumanist author and futurist Raymond Kurzweil's quest to live forever, under the serious title "2045: The Year Man Becomes Immortal." Similarly, Aubrey de Gray, who seeks to defeat human aging, receives much respectful media attention even though I heard him give a speech in which he claimed his research should take precedence over funding healthcare aid to Africa, and indeed, that failing to fund the human immortality project is akin to terrorism.
Alas, when it comes to transhumanism, much attention is paid to immortality and quirky personalities, but little attention is paid to transhumanism's poisonous core beliefs and goals.
But it isn't the unlikely Singularity or other technologies required to transform us into posthumans that make transhumanism so potentially destructive. Rather, the movement's explicitly eugenic and anti-human exceptionalist values which cause one's neck hair to stand on end. Indeed, the dark soul (if you will) of Munkittrick's article is well worth studying because it reveals transhumanism's dark soul.
The structure of Munkittrick's article is to tell readers when we will know that the age of transhumanism has arrived. First, he writes, we will know we are in a transhumanist world when prosthetics are preferred over natural limbs. A key social indicator of the arrival of transhumanism, Munkittrick writes, will be when youfind yourself seriously considering having your birth-given hand lopped off and replaced with a cybernetic one. Don't roll your eyes. Serious writers in notable bioethics journals have already sincerely advocated treating Body Identity Integrity Disorder in which people obsess on becoming amputees by amputating healthy limbs.
Needless to say, transhumanists support brain implants and other measures taken to improve intelligence (never the ability to love, I notice) including the ludicrous notion of uploading individual human consciousnesses into computers. And, of course, in keeping with the transhumanism's desperate materialist yearning for a corporeal eternal life, Munkittrick says we will know we are in a transhumanist world when the average age exceeds 120.
Things go downhill steeply from there. Shades of Brave New World and Gattaca transhumanism would remove reproduction from intimacy and female child bearing. Dripping with eugenics values, Munkittrick expects future children to come into being via IVF or cloning technologies that will permit genetic modification, health screening and, eventually, synthetic wombs to allow "the child with the best possibility of a good life to be born." (Eugenics means good in birth.) At the same time, freedom to have children would be legally constrained. Rather than anyone being able to "accidentally spawn a whelp”, the disgusting metaphor is not accidental, our future transhumanist masters would require parental licensing before one could cause a child to be brought into the world. Thus state control and official permitting over human manufacturing including custom design, special order, quality, and inventory controls are core goals of the transhumanist social revolution.
Transhumanism foresees doctors as mere order takers and an anything goes public morality that would be sanctioned by the state. Munkittrick writes:
Actions such as abortion, assisted suicide, voluntary amputation, gender reassignment, surrogate pregnancy, body modification, legal unions among adults of any number, and consenting sexual practices would be protected under law. One's genetic makeup, neurological composition, prosthetic augmentation, and other cybernetic modifications will be limited only by technology and one's own discretion. Transhumanism cannot happen without a legal structure that allows individuals to control their own bodies. When bodily freedom is as protected and sanctified as free speech, transhumanism will be free to develop.
Needless to say, creating such a society foresees the destruction of human exceptionalism, which transhumanists disdain as limiting their genetic recreationist (in Leon Kass's words) ambitions and establishing behavioral norms. Thus, being human in a transhumanist world would be morally irrelevant. Rather, Munkittrick writes, Rights discourse will shift to personhood instead of common humanity."
In such a world, the value of human life would cease to be intrinsic, but would become relative. Animals (including humans), he writes ”deploying yet another human-diminishing sentiment” will be granted rights based on varying degrees of personhood . . . When African grey parrots, gorillas, and dolphins have the same rights as a human toddler, a transhuman friendly rights system will be in place. Indeed.
Transhumanism is a long way from being attained, and the world Munkittrick envisions will almost surely never come fully into being. But that doesn't mean we won't become crassly transhumanist in our personal and societal values. If we are going to preserve a culture founded on the Judeo/Christian ideal of equal human dignity and the obligation for individual behavioral restraint, transhumanism must be resisted intellectually and rejected, both in our public policies and the ways in which we lead our personal lives.
CBC Special Consultant Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute's Center on Human Exceptionalism.