Wednesday, June 21, 2006

"The Catman Cometh"

My piece on the transhumanism conference is in this week's Weekly Standard, but there is no link available other than for subscribers. Here is a brief overview.

In the article, I describe how transhumanism advocates obliterating the belief in intrinsic human value and replacing it with personhood theory to "allow all self aware entities--whether human, post human, machine, chimera, or robot--to qualify for all of the rights, privileges, and protections of citizenship."

Protecting "post human dignity" was one of the primary focues of the conference. Thus, Nick Bostrom, co-founder of the World Transhumanist Association state "that society must understand that discrimination 'based on substrate'--meaning the kind of material from which a being is made, e.g., biological, silicon, etc.--is as odious as racism. Ditto to discrimination based on 'ontogeny,' that is, how a consciousness comes into existence, which I guess means whether they are born, assembled, or hatched."

"Other presentations revealed transhumanism to be obsessively solipsistic. The 'Catman' was touted as a template, an example of early transhumanized recreationism. Catman--whose real name is Dennis Avne--has tattooed his face, sharpened his teeth, undergone cosmetic surgeries, had 'whisker' implants, and reportedly wants a tail implant—all to look like a cat. Catman is weird, but of no real concern other than about the harm he has done to himself. His transhumanizing, after all, is only skin deep. If he sired a son, the child wouldn't be 'Kitten Boy.' But transhumanists ultimately want to do more than create Halloween costumes with their own bodies. Post human enhancements are to flow down the generations, including through the genetic designing of offspring, resulting eventually in the yearned for, radically individualized post human species."...

"For all of its emphasis on enhancement, the true emotional core of transhumanism is a yearning for immortality. This desperate desire to defeat death made the eccentric and somewhat famous transhumanist anti-aging researcher, Cambridge professor Aubrey de Grey, the clear star of the conference. De Gray's presentation was titled, 'Our Right to Life.' But his use of the phrase did not mean a right not to be aborted, euthanized, or executed. Rather, he claims we have a putative right not to die at all.

"Toward this end, de Gray, whose long beard and pony tail makes him look like a cross between ZZ Top and Rasputin, is working on a 'cure' for human aging that will erase the 'physiological differences between older and younger adults.'...De Gray is obsessed with his work and believes we all should be too. He told the conferees that inaction is really a form of action. Accordingly, society's unwillingness to make anti-aging its top scientific funding priority is akin to actively killing the people who would have been saved if the research had been bounteously supported. He even claimed that supporting anti-aging research is more important than increasing access to health care for the poor in Africa, likening the diversion of funds away from anti-aging research to 'killing with a time bomb in a car.'"...

"Transhumanists like to say that their movement cannot be stopped," I write in conclusion. "That we are already on the slippery slope to the post human future so we might as well enjoy the ride...But as Rosanne Rosannadana used to say, 'If it's not one thing, it's another.' Even if cancer is eradicated and the aging process slowed, new afflictions will soon arise to take their places. Just read the current headlines: After 25 years, we still can't cure AIDS. Antibiotics are beginning to fail. And now the new worry is about a possible bird flu pandemic. All of the fantasizing about living forever and morphing into 'post biological units' won't change the hard fact that we are born to die. Far better then, to embrace our fully human lives rather than seek in vain for a post human future that will never come."


At June 22, 2006 , Blogger Don Nelson said...

Thanks for the last paragraph and especially the last sentence.

At June 23, 2006 , Blogger boinky said...

Transhumanism is indeed merely the latest wish to live forever.
The despair of living forever however is a theme in science fiction.
Read Cordwainer Smith's Underpeople series on chimera also.

At June 26, 2006 , Blogger Winston Jen said...

If they really believed that people had a duty to live, they would forbid people to obtain assisted suicide via starvation.

They do not oppose this, most likely because they value the right to die from refusing treatment, including chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

At June 27, 2006 , Blogger BAP said...

The transhumanist idea of a right to live is strange in its application within their movement, particularly when it is applied as a duty to live so that it is seen as an evil not to throw money at anti-aging research to the neglect of other areas of research. On the other hand, if there is a transcending ethical standard, then a case could be made that we do have a duty to live in a sense that affirms that standard and its Originator.

The connections between anti-aging and other areas of research are so numerous that it's difficult to take seriously anyone who would suggest that we drop everything but anti-aging research. That area of research can't be so discretely selected. We can't even use the intent to prolong life as a criterion because so much of the research that we do has that presupposed intent. They may just have to arbitrarily select certain research areas to condemn.

Actually, I think the duty to live, in its most idealistic form, would probably not dictate that transhumanism reject assisted suicide. The ideology seems materialist and utilitarian, to be sure, and this might lead some in the movement to view assisted suicide and euthanasia as options much like the abandonment of the beneficiaries of non-anti-aging research. This abandonment would most likely reflect a 'lost cause' mentality with respect to the individuals forsaken so that resources could be redirected toward those with the greatest likelihood of benefit from anti-aging 'treatments.'

At November 24, 2007 , Blogger Justice said...

so... me and quite a few other people want tails, i want a tail because i always felt like it was supposed to be there, but isn't. I don't care if i die tomorrow, living forever is far from being a goal of mine. but some of the concept of post-humanism is, in effect, pre-humanism. (sorry if i use the wrong terms, but i hope you get my idea) we want to return to our roots, because the neural pathways for those body features are still there, and we wonder why they aren't being used. we want explore sensation by exploring our own bodies' potential.

i hope this helps some people see that we don't want to live forever by changing our appearance, but we want to fundamentally change ourselves to a being that we are more comfortable living in.

At November 24, 2007 , Blogger Wesley J. Smith said...

Well, good luck with that, Justice. I don't care if you change yourself into purple plaid. But I do care if you alter embryos in your desired image and whether you suck resources out of more urgently required areas.

At November 24, 2007 , Blogger Justice said...

i have always believed that a child must have the ability to choose what to look like, since i value my own choice so much.

At April 07, 2009 , Blogger Zarius said...

live forever? bah... forever to remember all the mistakes i made? forever to watch all the echos from the choices i made, could have made, or should have made? bugger that. i just want a tail. yes, there are always extremists who want everything... there will always people that want to force there ideas on other people, like the doc. there will always be people who think that their opinions are always right, like Wesley. if man wasn't intended to play God, we wouldn't be able to. either there isn't a "higher being", or said "higher being" wants to see what we'll do with the ability to create. should we make weapons out of people? no. should we let people find their own happiness, their own way? certainly. just my opinion. don't like it, bite me.


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