— Renée Hann (@rennhann) January 23, 2017
When I wrote about the body being a site where the search for social distinction plays out, I challenged the notion that concerns for equality would amount to anything substantial politically within transhumanism. However, I underestimated the complexity of the transhumanist movement, perhaps in part to my previous cyberpunk viewing and its focus on a dystopian future.
Amy DeBaets (2011) provides insights into the political alignment and history of the transhuman movement(s) in her article, Enhancement for all? A feminist ethical analysis of the discourses and practices of democratic transhumanism.
Transhumanists are not all the same, and there are a variety of sub-movements that vary substantially based on their respective politics and visions of the future (p. 3).
DeBaets differentiates between libertarian transhumanism or extropianism, and social democratic transhumanists or technoprogressives. Libertarian transhumanism grew out of California in the 1980s and 1990s, consisting largely of men who were the early adopters of information technologies, who took on “cool” high-tech names and strange handshakes (Regis, 1994) and united in Hayekian-libertarian anarcho-capitalist political beliefs (DeBaets, 2011). In contrast, social-democratic transhumanism or technoprogressivism started in Europe, with core values of broad access to technology and a social safety net for all. A further sub-movement is that of Singularitarianism, which claims we are rapidly approaching a period of human history where computers will surpass the capacity of the human brain and become a self-improving superintelligence that forever changes the human condition.
Clearly, of these three sub-groups, the technoprogressives – now active through the Institute for Ethics in Emerging Technologies – are the only group with any level of commitment to principles of equality and justice. However, as DeBaets highlights, technoprogressive perspectives may fall short of ensuring equality and justice through a definition of personhood which may be both:
- too narrow, and
- too exclusive.
DeBaets suggests that the definition of personhood may be too narrow in that it is reliant on a Lockean perspective, which values reason, reflection and rational thought but ignores the role of embodiment and physicality, which are important to personal and political identity within feminist perspectives. Similarly, it is too exclusive because historically groups such as women, Africans, and less abled people have been excluded (for example, from political process) on the grounds of not possessing the required rationalism (2011, pp. 6-7).
These are themes I will be watching out for in my viewing this week.