Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Transhumanism: not eugenics but super babies

I read a most erudite blog post on transhumanism today.

No, I didn't write it.

It comes from a source called...of all things...Illegally downloaded blog. What it says about topics such as genetic engineering and so-called "eugenics" is both sensible and necessary if we are to cut through the thick fog of misconceptions and rhetorical wordplay, terms and phrases sent out on peripatetic journeys through the discourse, only to come back with godawful new meanings hanging leech-like from them.

As the post points out, many transhumanists support genetic engineering as a subset of self-modification just as cybernetics is. Recall Kurzweil's proposal of "GNR"--Genetic engineering, Nanotechnology, and Robotics. Unfortunately, the subject of genetic therapy is too often slapped together with "eugenics." That latter term conjures all manner of insidious memories and justifiably so, but this conflation gives rise to the false connection of fascism to transhumanism.  

Granted, there are concerns and I've never been shy about voicing them. Class inequality is certainly a pitfall to be mindful of. Notice what I said. "Mindful." "Concern." Having a concern over a facet of an issue does not automatically mean throwing the baby out with the bathwater...no pun intended. Instead, it is a challenge to be wary of and overcome.

"Eugenics," whether correctly or not, is a troublesome term. It brings with it images of blonde hair, blue eyes, and black jackboots. "Super babies" may entail many facets. Yes, that may include hair and eye color but more importantly it can mean screening for hereditary diseases. It can mean finally getting access to our "sourcecode" and taking control of our own bodies. This can lead to cures for disease and the means for significant life extension. As someone struggling to cope with the death of David Bowie, that certainly sounds appealing.

I don't mind someone criticizing transhumanism and its subset components such as genetic engineering on technical grounds. Can we actually make these modifications? If we do, will the outcome be what we wanted? These are valid questions revealing distinct challenges that must be examined head-on.

But if your objections stem from fears of, as the blog post eloquently says, the "re-emergence of a fascist pseudoscience" or worse: a belief that humans are precious fucking snowflakes, perfect exactly as we are and shouldn't be "tampered with," then there's no discussion to be had.

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