Opposition and Expanding the Community

The ever thoughtful Russell Blackford has penned a good article on barriers to adoption and support of transhumanist ideas - such as working to greatly extend the healthy human life span.

It is something else again, and something far more radical, to propose that we should quite literally upgrade our human biology. For many thoughtful, intelligent people in the professions and the academic world, this is a frightening idea. Now that transhumanism is getting media attention, it is not surprising some conservative commentators (such as Francis Fukuyama) are starting to brand it as dangerous.


Still, until very recently, even the relatively modest idea of gene therapy has attracted expressions of concern. In this intellectual environment, the goals of transhumanism are ruled out of discussions from the start, except as targets for attack. To associate yourself with them is to be perceived as at best idiosyncratic and naive and at worst the sort of person who would happily consort with Nazi doctors and mad scientists. It is far easier to associate yourself with movements that project the picture of a caring person, dedicated to benevolence and justice.


It would be nice if opponents of transhumanism were open to rational debate. However, I have gradually been learning some important, not terribly palatable lessons. One is this: We have moved beyond the point where liberal arguments about individual freedom and personal choice have much impact. I have argued in many forums that there is little intellectual basis for laws against innovations such as human cloning, which liberals should accept as a legitimate option for those who feel a need or preference for it. It is already too late to argue in that way, at least exclusively, for the cloning debate has demonstrated again and again that transhumanism's main opponents have abandoned traditional liberal ideals. John Stuart Mill's claim that experiments in living are to be welcomed now receives short shrift in public policy. The tone and content of the debate show that we are up against a scarcely disguised wish to impose certain moral ideals as legal norms, and a fear of strange directions that society might take in the future.

Food for thought for those of us who are engaged in activism for healthy life extension, fighting anti-research legislation, and efforts to expand our community. You should read the whole thing. One final thought:

What else can we do? The main thing is simply to stand up and be counted.

Ideas are important, as is stepping up to the plate to do our part. Insofar as healthy life extension goes, I believe that the larger problems relate to misinformation and misconceptions rather than animosity towards the concept of living heathily for longer. Education - even if only a more public airing of conversations within the healthy life extension community - is thus vital. We generate new supporters by explaining healthy life extension with greater clarity and presenting it as a simple extension of current medical practices and goals: prevention, curing age-related disease and delaying degeneration where possible.


Life extension and morphological freedom need to presented as a civil rights movement. Human beings own their own bodies and lives and, therefor, have the unalienable right to modify themselves as they see fit.

We also need to separate the issue of morphological freedom from that of reproductive issues. Instead of the divide between therapy and enhancement, the dividing line is between that you do to yourself (adult self-transformation) and that what you do to someone else (designer babies). A clear line of demarcation needs to be made between the two and "bioethicists" be shunted off into the second area.

Posted by: Kurt at October 15th, 2004 8:23 PM

I'm currently developing a 'Transhumanist framing' dictionary of terms which I think more precisely describe what it is we are actually trying to do. I think use of these terms when trying to explain transhumanist concepts will be very helpful. Let me just list a few of the terms related to life extension which I've come up with so far:

Alleviation of suffering
Better than well
Civil rights issue
Curing disease
Ethical use of technology
Freedom of choice
Hopes and dreams
Human flourishing
Human yearnings
Self ownership

Posted by: Marc at October 16th, 2004 2:48 AM
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