Why are transhumanists such dicks?

edited February 2015 in Everything else

Apologies for the clickbait headline, but “politics and
philosophy of transhumanism” was a bit of a snooze-fest.

I’ve been around and interviewed quite a lot of self-identified
transhumanists in the last couple of years, and I’ve noticed many of them
express a fairly stark ideology that is at best libertarian, and at worst
Randian. Very much “I want super bionic limbs and screw the rest of the world”.
They tend to brush aside the ethical, environmental, social and political
ramifications of human augmentation so long as they get to have their toys.
There’s also a common expression that if sections of society are harmed by transhumanist
progress, then it is unfortunate but necessary for the greater good (the greater
good often being bestowed primarily upon those endorsing the transhumanism).

That attitude isn’t prevalent on this forum at all – I think
the site tends to attract more practical body-modders than theoretical transhumanists
– but I wondered if anyone else here had experienced the same attitudes in
their own circles? What do you make of it? 

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  • edited December 2014
    Yay! A rant thread! Ooh ooh pick me!

    Are you asking why the elitist, mostly white male, mostly upper middle class, nerd culture on steroids with a side helping of pseudo science, has a tendency to be a bit shrill and rabid in their claims of validity and entitlement to the future, despite the majority of breakthroughs happening not by "transhuminists" but by normal scientists and engineers that don't usually maintain that particular party line?

    I'm as stumped as you ;D

    That being said, the grind scene has it's own share of the similar. As you rightly noticed, most things here tend to be closer to the mod scene than the armchair scene. That in itself lends to a certain wishy washy artyness that sometimes bites us in the ass and a distinct focus on the personal as opposed to the global. The community is close and accepting, but it is still pretty personally focused. Plenty of wanting bionic limbs and no discussions of ramifications to go around here.

    The two non grind pet projects I have on my plate are a solar powered aquaponics system to make our lab / home more robust and sustainable and gm remediation microbiota. I believe that as a transhumanist and a grinder, thinking large about the biome is crucial, cause having that sweet body armour implant is pretty useless when you are choking to death on your neighbors suv fumes. Maybe other people feel that way too, or have other projects like that. If so, they don't come up on this forum because they don't have to do with the personally focused projects everyone is excited about.

    EDIT: Not saying that there is anything wrong about it. I mean, that's what this board is for, so I don't expect more. I'm just pointing out the similarities.
  • edited December 2014
    I've always felt like that's one of the things that tends to define the separations between griders and transhumanists. Transhumanism seems to sprout from the 'top' of society where money, time, and resources are overflowing. Meanwhile grinding is more of a roots based effort, where I see a lot of people aiming to broaden a shared pool of knowledge and lower the barrier of safe access for others.

    I feel like a lot of transhumanists also already see themselves as 'more than human' and start from a place where they already reassure themselves that they're already at or near the top of humanity. Grinding however seems to start from being just human and building on that, grinding away and upgrading as new knowledge is shared and new techniques are forged. Including actually doing that forging and research to bring new tools and techniques to the community. Not just ourselves. The community. I think that's a big part of it.

    It's something I've definitely noticed, and part of what puts me off on the former, but draws me into the later.

    Edit: Glims... that opener right there is 100% wonderful!
  • edited December 2014
    I should say, I'm not insisting that everyone wielding a scalpel and a magnet should have a stated position on the ethics and impact of ferro-philic fingertips; but I am curious as to why whenever transhumanists do venture into philosophy, they always reveal themselves to be Randian types. 

    Take for instance, Steve Fuller and Veronika Lipinska's book The Proactionary Imperative, which expoused throwing out the precautionary principle to "embrace risk", and was given a drubbing in New Scientist:

    If the authors are aware how their plans might sound to vulnerable populations, to disabled people or ethnic minorities, they don't give much evidence of it. Yet it was in response to abuses of these populations that we developed the current research regulation. 

    For example, the Nuremberg Code, an early set of research ethics principles, was adopted in response to medical experiments on Jews and other prisoners in Nazi concentration camps. And some years on, in 1974, came the National Research Act, which led to federal guidelines governing medical research in the US. This act was a response to outrages including the Tuskegee syphilis study of impoverished African-American men, and the Willowbrook hepatitis study, which was conducted on institutionalised disabled children.

  • My experience has been pretty similar. The Silicon Valley/H+ mag/Zerzan crowd seems pretty Randian or at best right-Rothbardian. Down here in the slums of the movement we get libsocs/anarchists, people who just don't give a shit, and Pinky & the Brain (I'm looking at you Rich. Whatcha wanna do today? ;) )
  • ZING! Well, guilty as charged.
  • edited December 2014
    I think it might have to do with the idea of transhumanism itself lending well to the idea of being better than others- completely missing the point, which is to advance and transform humanity as a whole. When a lot of the more self centered people call themselves transhumanists, I imagine they see it as they themselves being more than human, leaving everyone else in the dust.

    But here, we're doing things for the community. We report our findings, we do proper experiments, and most importantly, we share how to do it safely and learn from one another's mistakes.

    Basically, we're not rude and help one another.
  • This is interesting. I guess I always felt that grinding could be considered a part of transhumanism. If not, then a starting point.
    I was talking to my brother a few days ago about how I feel like I've been getting colder towards others. But I'm not a privileged white male, I'm more like lower-middle class Mexican male. And though I usually talk down to religious people, I do try to get them to understand modern tech.
    As well as improving my body, I would like to improve my mind. So I'm trying to be more tolerant, less judgmental etc..
  • I think grinding could definitely be part of transhumanism - it's about doing the impossible after all. (Though I'm wary of labels in general, as people have their individual motivations. The transhumanists I'm moaning about were all self-described as such) 

    Case in point - I was on a panel along with an amputee where a transhumanist guy stood up said (and I paraphrase) "we shouldn't be scared to do extreme research and yes some people will get hurt but it will benefit everyone in the end" and all I could think was "hey, dude, those people you're going to hurt... that's me and the guy sat next to you". Then he started extolling eugenics, and it all got weird. Did I mention this was one of the speakers, not some random cat in the audience?

    I wonder if anyone here has had similar experiences, or I'm simply unlucky...
  • Well you can have extreme research that is ethical Frank. For example if someone gives there informed consent to an extreme augmentation then there is no ethical breach. At least in my opinion I haven't taken classes in ethics.
  • You're not wrong, DEL - the Ebola vaccine being fast-tracked (and given immunity from prosecution under US medical negligence laws) is a good example. (though I'd argue informed consent is not by itself enough to make something ethical)

    "Extreme" was probably the wrong word to use; this guy (like Fuller and Lipinska) was arguing that we should set aside pesky ethical regulations because they were standing in the way of him getting his super cyborg arms or whatever. He didn't seem to understand that it's overwhelmingly the poor, desperate and disenfranchised who get harmed when you suspend these rules.

    I don't know a huge number of transhumanists, though - so it's possible there are prominent voices in the area that don't subscribe this philosophy.
  • While I agree that some ethical lines need to be drawn, it can be very hard for even a small group of people to come to a clear consensus of where those lines are.  It just isn't possible to please everyone, and because of that, we err on the side of caution and at times overly restrict what we will and will not allow.  I worry that often times we end up with laws and regulations that hold us back and ultimately cause far more harm than the few "broken eggs" we would get along the way to the omelet.  Sure, not too many people would want to be the broken egg, but that's partly where grinders come in.

    I would dare say that many grinders feel like we ARE the disenfranchised.  There are so many possibilities just beyond reach, so many things that a bit of money or crossing a few "ethical" lines would yield.  For our own benefit, sure, but for all of humankind as well.  Because of this feeling of disenfranchisement, we're willing to risk being that broken egg.  It's an informed decision and one we actively seek.  To push boundaries, to reach for a future that we know is just over that next rise.  And if when we top that rise, should we see another "unreachable" goal (and we surely will), so much the better.  Every time we tell a person about our implants spreads information, makes them look at the world a little differently, brings them a little further up the ladder of transhumanism themselves.  Every failure we make that we share with the world helps to increase our knowledge base and helps us advance.  In essence, every step we take that we share with others is advancing the human condition.


  • I love this thread. The title is clickbait, but bait I am happy to take. 

    I too have noticed that many of the more vocal, self-described transhumanists tend to espouse political ideologies that strike me as ethically repugnant, so much that I hope they are simply politically ignorant. "The Transhumanist Wager" terrified me. Spend some time on the poorly-named facebook group "Scientific Transhumanism" for plenty of examples of either willful ignorance or disgust of identity issues (gender, race, and disability politics). @Frank 's story about the eugenicist is no longer surprising, or the horrifying Proactionary Transhumanist article @Frank also exampled. 

    And it maybe it shouldn't be a surprise. There are multiple societal factors contributing to the sharing of extreme libertarian views, conservative social values, and transhumanism. The first is as @Glims pointed out. To put that point another way, ""The most obvious answer is that there is an even more pronounced bias among longevists (or indeed transhumanists in general) towards IT professionals, mathematicians and similar professions, and there is of course also a strong gender bias in those professions" (Aubrey de Grey...I think). That gender bias and political bias has appeared numerous times in recent media. Remember, it's all about ethics in video game journalism. See also the rise of the neoreactionary ideology, and look at the majority of it's subscribers.

    There is a seductive intellectual ease to transhumanism. Transhumanists is concerned with future of all humanity (or just a few lucky immortals), that sticky and squishy issues like the poor, the environment, or politics and identity in general are just not a concern. Certain transhuminists have an ultimate goal, one that is on intellectual level that transcends traditional humanity and thus traditional morality, and the ends justify the means.

    However I do think transhumanism is an apolitical ideology (disregarding Mr Istvan and a handful of others), thus it intersects with all sorts of ethical persons. IEEET, The Mormon Transhumanist Association (bare with me here), for example. There was an organization seeking to crowdfund a feeding the hungry program called "Transhumanists against hunger." The work of Kate Darling discussing the ethical and empathetic issues between robots and humans. They all share transhumanist values along with a more empathetic and collectively-centered values than the "transhumanist dicks" first mentioned. 

    Assholes are everywhere. I do wish there were louder organizations of ethically and politically-minded transhumanists, but the argument could be made they'd fail because they'd only appeal to a certain class of liberal, intellectual elite (like me). 
  • @avinn Interesting view that grinders themselves feel disenfranchised!(compared to a future version of themselves...)

    @pib I had to look up the Transhumanist Wager - oh my. It sounds like a re-write of the Turner Diaries for the H+ set. I think you're certainly right that some people tend to see transhuman things happening in a space isolated from their squishy, sticky issues. I think these people tend to have a very individualist mindset. The "but these things improve all humankind" is kinda tacked on as an afterthought to "I get what I want". 

    But then if I'm honest there's an element of individualism within transhumanism that I'd subscribe to - of the self being a sovereign entity and not wanting to be constrained by outside forces (clear example: I'm not allowed to reprogram my own hearing aids, which is obviously bullshit...). But I'd stop short of pretending this is a good philosophy wholesale...
  • Funny thing though, from what I heard from another transhumanist the ones that are currently holding sway in the movement are what he termed "transhumanist left": people who are more about "people should be allowed to do what they want and we should not judge what they think their 'improvements' are (he believes that sex change itself is already part of transhumanism: you're altering your human condition to suit what you need)" as opposed to "we should all upgrade ourselves and cane everyone else's arse!" 
  • edited December 2014
    I dont think transhumanists are dicks at all.

    I'm in a local transhumanist group, and we meet for beers and do projects with VR and tDCS, etc. All of these people are awesome. Not a single one comes off as elitist. 

    Aside from that, most of my experience with other people that call themselves transhuman is through Humanity+. I'm a member and have had direct interaction with the organization's leadership.

    My experience with them hasn't been 'bad'... in conversations with board members, they've been respectful and friendlly. They do seem to have an attitude that I would call 'aloof'.

    Here is the essence of the conversation I tried to start with them:

    Transhumanism at its core is just acknowledgement that humans use tech to evolve. Its just human evolution.

    Humans are human, Transhumans are human. Posthumans are human... We're all transhuman. Preaching it is like telling humans to be human.

    The point was missed entirely. While friendly and respectful, the responses were how people could be trained and educated.

    The idea of being trained and educated on how to evolve seemed pretty ridiculous to me, so I just let it go.
  • Let me take a stab at why this may have confused some people there.

    "Posthumans are human"?
    So, I'm assuming that we are just giving up on the traditional method of preffix usages completely?
    _Wanting_ to be more than human is human. _To_be_ more than human is to not be human. Otherwise we need to just start throwing out adverbs as well...
    That's where that aloofness comes from I am guessing.

    That and you can't train people how to evolve. People change, species evolve. You can educate people on how to better the species, or technically, even how to use crispr to mess with genetics, but that's not evolution. That's a modification. 

    Sorry for those who have heard me talk about this before, I just think it's a good idea we use the words correctly so we don't think we're binding nature to our will or something. Use the words wrong and you start thinking things are happening that aren't...

    I don't see any transhumans around me. Definitely not posthumans. We are currently good and well mired in standard humanity with light modification. There is no speciation going on yet.

    Doesn't mean there isn't potential, just that the philosophical handwaving should be kept within the confines of physical reality.
  • edited December 2014
    "giving up on the traditional method of preffix usages completely?"

    No... As it has been the prefix describes the word it prepends. I don't really know how to clarify except to say:

    A pretest is still a test.
    A postdated check is still dated.
    A transplanted plant is still planted.

    In this case, the prefix in question describes the state of the word it prepends. I believe my usage is correct... transhumans and posthumans are still humans. 


    "We are currently good and well mired in standard humanity"

    My point exactly.

  • We could have a little latin throw down right here but it's off topic. Suffice to say, your point is technically valid, but contextually, as the word is commonly used, not so much. A post operative patient is no longer being operated on, post natal recovery is definitely after natessence (is that a thing in english, i forget). language is funny that way.

    Regardless

    My point was that transhumanists tend to think this way. "We are already moving beyond being human". I use tranhumanist as a separate concept from an actual transhuman because we have little to no good example of true transhumans, as the definition goes. Excellent example of misuse of language for back patting. A few art projects and a couple of sensationalistic science projects. One or two really good things, that required removal. It's that ol' we're all cyborgs cause we have contact lenses jazz... Building ourselves robotic arms just to pat ourselves on the back.

    It's that sense of entitlement. That concept that just through a bit of know how and a handful of pretty beads and tech toys, we are passing into the future, not scrabbling to meet it and having it trickle back to us as we always have, picking up the scraps...

  • I'm with @Glims on this one - sometimes I remind people that literacy is an augmentation (we're not born with it, and it doesn't develop naturally). And it's widespread and has big social, political and personal impacts, so it's useful to hold up as an augmentation for study. Of course, nobody thinks being able to read makes you some kind of post-human ubermensch.

    Which comes back to my original question - if "transhumanism" is primarily an identity / philosophy rather than a real thing you can do, is it necessary that it has this libertarian focus? Is transhumanism without libertarianism just... you know... being a normal inquisitive human?
  • I think it comes with it. Entitlement. Chosen, Living forever, Smarter, Better. Posthuman as in what comes after human. The common phrasing thrown up is that a posthuman is to a human as a human is to an ant / flatworm / whatever. So how do you engage in that narrative without using that as your base metric? Thinking about people as ants...

    Sometimes it's subconscious, sometimes it's some weird form of 1st vs 3rd world nonsense where we must go an help the natives cause they are so lost without our tool sets. This time we figured it out. This time it's not cultural imperialism. We're better this time.

    You get enough people in one place, cyclically reinforcing themselves they they are doing better than others (I'm looking at you silicon valley campuses) and you get this kind of crap. Like the guy who was offering homeless people 100 dollars or coding lessons. Not a transhumanist per se, but that mindset. That software will save you. That you can plug and play technology to fix the problems that plague our society.
    They are saying that the "sharing society" (uber etc) isn't a sign that everyone is becoming better through software. it's that we are all becoming pretty fucking poor and we are trying to make ends meet.

    Here's a collection of tweets from Marc Andreessen that Bruce Sterling posted. His brief commentary just about nails it:


    Transhumanists tend to be in the elite status that I mentioned in my first reply up top. Of course everything looks sunny on their side of the divide. The rest of us just must be... not trying hard enough. Or maybe we're just not good enough.

    Transhumanists that aren't in the elite have a tendency to respond to this concept the way that poor people in America do. Oh well, I'm not going to throw stones because it's just a matter of time till I'm up there too. The poor in America don't consider themselves poor, they just consider themselves "not rich yet". Or, the techno hippie peace love and we'll all come together method.  And it's how we fuck ourselves.

    Transhumanist who manage to fall outside that place as well end up starting to look like Grinders. Weird. Scarred. Distrustful of governments and corporations. The opposite. Still flawed, but it's our flaws that give us character.
  • Well, I don't agree with the "flaws give character" argument. Flaws create problems that is ultimately to our detriment.

    I kind of like the argument that a friend of mine has made in this where he argued that transhumanism is about embracing how technology is going to change the human nature, and that gender queerness is actually a part of it (as shown by sex change).
  • Hey, character doesn't mean positive character ;) It was a play on words not meant to be taken too seriously.
  • I have also plugged that gender fluidity is the closet thing to transhumanism we have. While it's not as hot swappable as (some) people would like, the ability to have ones body altered to such a degree is pretty awesome. However, it is at the core level, just surgery. There is no lasting effects, as in, on a long term biological level. Like any other alteration, it is merely as transitory as the person how has it. It may have more sociopolitcal ramifications than a facelift, but they are still within the same scale as compared to genetic alteration etc.
  • Transexualism as a frame for transhumanism is super-interesting... And yet in a weird way I think that Randian ghost is hovering in it. The triumph of recreating yourself in your true self-image, refusing to be constrained by society/biology, etc etc.

    That said, I think it's coincidental. I don't think many people here are getting magnet implants because, their true mental self has magnetic fingers(!). But very interesting all the same.
  • Well, I do identify myself more as a machine than human, so there's that. :P

    I personally am more fascinated by the effects of magnetic fingers (how does it work? Do the receptors sense the changes to the magnetic field of the magnet as it interacts with outside EM fields? How do they do that? etc) and trying to improve on the current process/magnets used/etc.
  • edited December 2014
    "I think that Randian ghost is hovering in it. The triumph of recreating yourself in your true self-image, refusing to be constrained by society/biology, etc etc."

    Also, this sounds a bit too simplistic way of looking at it. Social attitudes (in particular, attitudes towards gender and sexuality) is not necessarily egalitarian (by Western standards my very existence is "Randian" in your view as I am not white, where "normal" is a cisgendered white male). Not to mention that this implies that our choices are not influenced by society/our biology anyway (just ask those who still become transgender even after being raised as their born gender) which is totally not true. 
  • Also, just cause Ayn went the distance and ruined the concept of self sufficiency and independence for a lot of us, doesn't mean that those concepts are inherently "Randian". You could just as well say that they are "American" or any other number of philosophies. I don't see anything particularly Randian in wanting control of your body. Or are you to lead me to believe that everyone who says a woman should have control of her body re birth control and abortion is a secret libertarian?

    Like so many other things, the concepts themselves are not the message, it's how you carry it out.
  • I'm just gonna smack this in here. Saw it on my news feed this morn and figured that I was relevant to this topic of self-centeredness and technology...

    Cory Doctorow interviewing Bruce Sterling:

     Cory Doctorow: Do you feel that the world is, on balance, improved by technology?

    Well, if you ask that question from the point of view of almost anything in this world that’s not a human being like you and me, the answer’s almost certainly No. You might get a few Yea votes from the likes of albino rabbits and gene-spliced tobacco plants. Ask any living thing that’s been around in the world since before the Greeks made up the word “technology,” like say a bristlecone pine or a coral reef. You would hear an awful tale of woe.

  • Well, I wouldn't consider that to be self-centeredness. More like human beings only care about human beings and all other life-forms take a back seat. It's not just about technology but just about everything in terms of human behaviour, from the way that we get our food to the way we change the environment to suit us.

    Suffice to say IMO it is not technology itself per se but it's the human beings that's the problem.
  • edited December 2014
    I wholeheartedly agree. However, you can't really separate humans from their tools. Maybe human centric technology is the problem. I mean, when we as a species figured out how to make sharp rocks and attach them to sticks was right around the time that 60-70% of the macro species on this planet died. It's only gotten worse since then. What's the latest numbers? We reduced the number of animals, just like straight up moving biomass by 50% in the last century or something like that. Human centered, species centered, self centered, call it what you will. 

    I thought it was funny, when people expressed concerns about the mouse uplifting experiment. All I could think was, "what's the problem, worried they might hold a grudge?"

    So I guess that's maybe a new question. I mean if you want to point some fingers at people being dicks, we have to examine ourselves first.  How do we not be dicks like the outspoken transhumanist armchair faction? What is it that we could or should be doing to not be world bothering, libertarian whatnots? Instead of just high fiving for being different, can it be broken down? Are we a different fruit or just different flavour?

    edit: too many commas
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