The Social Implications of Transhumanism


Super people are the stuff fantasy and Sci Fi are made of, but there are in fact scientists out there working on turning fiction to fact. They work toward eliminating weaknesses, illness, deficiencies, and even death through technological innovation. We’re talking technology beyond pills, and more geared toward genetic engineering and the like.

It’s exciting to think humans could finally achieve superhuman status, as long as things worked out as well as they do for Superman. But long before we can go shopping for a schnazzy red cape comes the problem of deciding what gets axed and what gets favored. Do we eliminate anger? Do we eliminate sadness? Do we eliminate physical limitations, even if it means missing out on the next Carl Sagan?

To read transhumanist perspectives, there is a clear common thread that revolves around the notion of pushing evolution. The improvements are not on humans as we are today, but in actually revamping what we consider to be human nature. This school of thought contends that the value of a human being does not lie in the biology of the person, but in the abstract aspirations and ideals the person holds. Thus, altering the human organism is not seen as off limits or undesirable.

Critics argue that tinkering with people’s genes is messing with nature. For them, pushing humans evolution this way is dangerous or just unacceptable.

However, the transhumanist response to this objection is that there is nothing more human than pushing to improve quality of life. This is done precisely through altering and affecting the environmentnature, if you will. Since humans are part of nature, modification of our physical selves is not outside the limits of what humans have been doing since the dawn of time.

For a transhumanist, the evolution of humankind is the key to freedom.

The best end result is viewed as independent informed people choosing or passing over the option of enhancement. Eugenics (the practice of involuntarily sterilizing the genetically unfit) is absolutely outa fear common among those who disagree. The idea is that as people evolve, freedom to act and think as they please will create a more responsible and tolerant society of autonomous people.

And autonomy is seen by transhumanists as the very achievement that will fuel progress. Many even firmly state that this autonomy would naturally eliminate the nation state.

The thought is that government will no longer be necessary in a society that values above all else people’s ability to shape and direct their own lives. In a sense, the expectation is that respect and tolerance of other people’s choices will prevail.

While we might sigh and smile at the idea of such a free and perfect society, the doubts are many.

Both supporters and opponents of transhumanism are concerned with the potential for antagonism between enhanced “posthuman” individuals and non-enhanced “human” individuals. Will posthumans try to enslave or kill off humans? Will humans attack posthumans in a preemptive strike? Some see blood in the water and speak of the risk of genocide.

Religious groups struggle with the notion of “bettering” the work of their creator. Even those groups that find transhumanism intriguing are uncomfortable with the movement’s widespread atheism. Transhumanists find their faith lies in the scientific method and logic. But for those that believe in a higher power, this sort of faith is a distortion of abilities made and given by a higher power.

Environmentalists ask the question of Earth’s capacity to accommodate a population that reproduces and, potentially, never dies. There isn’t enough room for us even now. Transhumanists typically respond to this argument in two ways. One: they point out that the planet’s capacity is stretched every day through medical advances, safety regulations, and suicide prevention efforts. Two: Earth isn’t the only place in the universe to live. How? You got it: technology. Technology to more efficiently subsist on Earth and to colonize space.

Unsurprisingly, the idea of colonizing space spurs a whole new set of debates. Can humans survive off the planet? Will moving to the moon just muck it up like we’ve mucked up Earth? How would colonists be chosen? Would this mean new types of epidemics? Etcetera.

But long before we have posthumans and humans facing off, new funky forms of dementia and starships under construction, we have to settle the myriad debates of cryonics, the criminal justice system, stem cell research, air pollution (here on Earth), molecular nanotechnology, AIDS, cloningwell, let’s just say we have our hands full.

Regardless of the direction humanity steers towards, these questions of how far we’re willing to go will persist, along with the fears that come with every new frontier.