April 1, 2023

Are we already living in a transhumanist reality?

Last year an Oxford expert in transhumanism published “Future Superhuman: Our transhuman lives in a make-or-break century”. Elise Bohan, an Australian, argued that “ape-brained meat sacks” (aka human beings) need to be upgraded with technology to meet the challenges of the 21st Century.

Her book offered an opportunity for an interesting debate with Mary Harrington, a columnist at Unherd, the British online magazine.

Harrington is a transhumanist sceptic. She says that we already live in a transhumanist society in which we rely upon technology to fulfil basic needs. And the experience has been altogether negative.

This era began in the mid-twentieth century, with a biomedical innovation that radically changed what it is to be a human, in the human social order: reproductive technology.

The Pill was the first transhumanist technology: it set out not to fix something that was wrong with ‘normal’ human physiology — in the ameliorative sense of medicine up to that point — but instead it introduced a whole new paradigm. It set out to interrupt normal in the interests of individual freedom …

Nearly every adult woman in the developed world has implicitly accepted the belief that full adult female personhood is structurally reliant on technologies that interrupt normal female fertility. And by the definition I opened with, that makes nearly every adult woman in the developed world a transhumanist.

She observes that technology, despite its liberating promises, is a scarce commodity which is governed by the rule of the market:

And where technology is used to “liberate” us from the kind of givens — such as normal female fertility — that were previously managed, pragmatically, by social or legal norms, what replaces it isn’t a human ‘person’ free from ‘nature’ but a market in which that ‘nature’ becomes a set of supply and demand problems …

We’re already well into the transhumanist era. But the story so far suggests that far from delivering utopia, what it mostly delivers is a commodification of the human body that disproportionately benefits those who already have power and privilege.

She also points out that transhumanism is incompatible with the old-fashioned humanism. If transhumanism were to prevail, there would be a massive cultural and ethical revolution:

You can’t have transhumanism without throwing out humanism. And if people are just “ape-brained meatsacks” as Elise describes, urgently in need of upgrading, what possible reason could we have for objecting to a market in human organs? Or infanticide? Or genetically engineering the masses to be more docile? All these are only repellent when held against a humanist anthropology.