Transhumanists as Nihilists

Posted by Jesse Reynolds on January 16th, 2008

Yesterday, the World Transhumanist Association released its third survey [PDF] of its members. Some of the results are predictable: The respondents were 90% male, for example. (Fortunately, no questions were asked about Star Trek.) But the results of two questions surprised me with what amounts to, at the very least, an acknowledgment of the limitations of the organization's philosophy. Almost a third of the respondents predict "that emerging technologies will cause an abrupt, cataclysmic, worldwide social change by 2040" (emphasis mine). Thus a large minority seems  to be happy to promote technologies and policies that they think will lead to dramatic, widespread, and negative results.

Similarly, only 46% agree that "believe humans and posthumans will be able to coexist in one society and polity," implying that a majority foresee that the path they advocate will lead to significant social conflict among the enhanced and "naturals." Sounds like the prediction by George Annas at the 2001 World Conference against Racism. Annas asserted that such strife would lead to "genetic genocide":
This is because, given the history of humankind, it is extremely unlikely that we [the "naturals"] will see the posthumans as equal in rights and dignity to us, or that they will see us as equals. Instead, it is most likely either that we will see them as a threat to us, and thus seek to imprison or simply kill them before they kill us. Alternatively, the posthuman will come to see us (the garden variety human) as an inferior subspecies without human rights to be enslaved or slaughtered preemptively.

It is unclear to what extent the transhumanist survey respondents fully thought through the implications of the answer to their question. Yet one need not be radically dystopian to see that once one segment of society believes it is biologically superior to the rest, then trouble if not violence is a likely consequence.

Previously on Biopolitical Times:

Posted in A "Post-Human" Future?, Jesse Reynolds's Blog Posts


Add a Comment
  1. Comment by Davide, Aug 12th, 2010 4:31am

    Consider this: human genetic engineering will eventually become reality and that, once it happens, someone, somewhere will use it. Wouldn't it be better to find a way to make it more accessible rather than fearmongering?
    It reminds me of a document written by the italian league of candle and petrol lamps manifacturers:they asked the governament to forbid the fabrication of lightbulbs.
    What you seem to advocate is just as ridiculous.

  2. Comment by Ryan Donovan, Jan 29th, 2009 6:22am

    The notion of posthumans enslaving the un-modified is ridiculous. If individuals reached a point where they could be considered superior or posthumans or whatever, one would think that they would be more interested in creating a workforce that didn't need to be fed and housed like human slaves would. I mean, why enslave people, only to clothe them, feed them, house them, guard them, when they could simply build hundreds of thousands of robots that needed no effort to maintain?

    This whole 'ubermensch under the bed' (and I use the term ubermensch, because the neo-luddites running this site seem determined to draw parallels between Transhumanism and outdated and frankly childish ideologies like eugenics and it's origin in nazism.

  3. Comment by Richard Twine, Feb 8th, 2008 3:36am

    I wonder then if there is something bound up in contemporary constructions of masculinity that veers toward technological solutions to social problems as in the ethos of the WTA....



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