Friday, November 6, 2015

Ditch the Pharaohs: Transhumanism as escapism

Iara Lee's "Synthetic Pleasures" focuses on transhumanists and their terrifying delusions and hubris. It only considers our assault on our environment from a human point of view, just as American media about the Vietnam War only considered the war's effect on Americans. Nonetheless it's full of memorable quotes, for example:

    "... the thing that sets human beings apart from other creatures is a built-in dissatisfaction. There's an itch that we have that can't be scratched. Our efforts to scratch it have created civilization, which is essentially the practice of trying to adapt the environment to us rather than adapting ourselves to the environment." -John Perry Barlow

It seems obvious that "taking the machine inside us and uniting with it" has very real costs and dangers, including the danger of isolating ourselves from the impacts of industrialism until it's too late to mitigate them: "the electricity goes off and you discover you're not living in paradise, you're living in hell." Of course most of the human population already lives in hell*, and that goes double for non-humans.

I agree with Robert Gurland that "problems of ecology, are essentially problems of transformation ... we might in the end transform the world in such a way that we won't be able to adapt to it ... that is, we literally won't be able to live in the world that we create." I just don't agree that the ethics of mass extinction are limited to its impact on humans. The view that Earth is a blank canvas, and that the nonhuman world is merely a backdrop for the human drama, is suspiciously similar to the views colonists had of the New World and its native population, and it's achieving a similar result: extermination.

Stephen Hawking proves himself as delusional as any other transhumanist, by refusing to accept that our survival depends critically on cooperation with nonhumans. Merely asserting that "our only chance of long-term survival is ... to spread out into space" like Daleks doesn't make it a viable plan, and the reflexive repetitiveness of this theme is just more evidence that transhumanism is faith-based. Like any religion, transhumanism is fundamentally escapist, requiring adherents to believe that humanity's destiny lies elsewhere--anywhere but here--when in fact "like Prometheus we are bound, chained to this rock of a brave new world." We will either cooperate and show altruism towards future humans and nonhumans, or we won't be around. Science can't decide this question because it's pure ethics.

The deeper question is, what are humanity's shared goals if any, and this is obviously connected to our perception of the meaning of life, but again science can't help us since meaning is culturally relative and highly mutable. If our goal is for a tiny percentage of the population to party like Egyptian Pharaohs while everyone else suffers horrifically until Earth is unfit for mammals, we don't need to change anything. Neoliberalism dovetails neatly with new age spirituality in the sense that they're both built on victim-blaming--whatever happens to you, it's because you deserve it--and together they constitute the perfect ideology for neo-feudal militant theocracy and ecocide along the lines of "The Handmaid's Tale."

However if our goal is to keep earth habitable for humans indefinitely, then maximizing the self-interest of a few sperm lottery winners won't work; instead we need to turn the Titanic around 180 degrees fast, and that means seizing power from the Pharaohs, drastically reducing our population (voluntarily or otherwise) and reorganizing our whole way of life around the fecundity of ecosystems. But make no mistake, either way the long-term future doesn't include us. Bacteria were here first and they will be here last. On this point at least science is abundantly clear.

The script of "Synthetic Pleasures" is here.

*"Almost half the world — over three billion people — live on less than $2.50 a day. At least 80% of humanity lives on less than $10 a day." Source: Global Issues, Poverty Facts and Stats, Jan. 7, 2013.


Bill Bober said...

I agree Transhumanism is religious in nature, but isn't equality also a religious idea? Isn't "seizing power from the Pharaohs" right out of the Old Testament? Why not antinatalism? We now have the ability to put a stop to the entire charade of human existence. I had a vasectomy I'm my late 20's. Maybe we could offer free vasectomies, or maybe even pay people to get them.

Bill Bober said...

Here's a quote from Richard Seed, in case you've never heard/seen it.

"We are going to become Gods, period. If you don't like it, get off. You don't have to contribute, you don't have to participate but if you are going to interfere with me becoming a God, you're going to have trouble. There'll be warfare."