May 28, 2004

Dr. J Comments on Free Inquiry's Treatment of >H

[via WTA]James Hughes had this to say in response to the Free Inquiry article, "The New Perfectionism":
Free Inquiry Gives Back-Handed Salute to Transhumanism
Sometimes siblings are a little jealous of one another. Perhaps that explains the recent back-handed compliments for the transhumanist movement from Free Inquiry magazine, published by the Council for Secular Humanism. Secular humanism is kind of like a bigger, older brother to the tranhumanist movement in the larger family of humanist movements. In the editorial "The New Perfectionism" in an issue with a cover title of “Upgrading Humanity: Are People Obsolete” the editor Austin Dacey (also a philosopher) opines that one of the weaknesses of transhumanism is that it is a movement and not just a philosophy:

"One obstacle to discussion is that transhumanism is not just a philosophy; it is also a grassroots movement. The movement, which has gathered force in the last ten years and coalesced around organizations like the Extropy Institute, the online magazine BetterHumans, and the World Transhumanist Association, is a motley crew of serious academics, journalists, and scientists, cyber self-help gurus, nanotech venture capitalists, polyamorists and gender-benders, cryonics freaks, and artificial intelligence geeks."

As opposed to brie-eating, NPR-listening, PhD-holding, Volvo-driving, suburban, 50-80 year-old secular humanists? This is fun.

But Austin makes a good point about the way movements sometimes portray an argument as an all-or-none matter, when there are actually a lot of flavors and places for gray:

"Additionally, the prominence of organized transhumanism in the debate reinforces the illusion of an all-or-nothing choice between the bio-Luddites and the Borg. Grand Zarathustran dreams of becoming posthuman may leave you cold, though you might nonetheless favor some of the specific developments being proposed. You might be for life extension and gene therapy while being indifferent to whether nanotechnology will ever materialize and opposed to colonizing Mars. Unfortunately, this moderate, piecemeal approach is seldom represented by the ideological camps now squaring off."

In the end, this piece is really a surprising positive piece for the “t” word because it prefaces an article by J. Hughes, WTA Executive Director, on the the philosophical continuity between humanism and tranhumanism in their emphasis on the person as opposed to humanness, which Austin heartily endorses:

"Presumably, the fundamental point of posthumanism is that the humanness of a trait is simply irrelevant to whether it ought to be valued or pursued."

"Understood as the body of intellectual and moral ideas that united Renaissance classicists, Enlightenment rationalists, and twentieth-century scientific naturalists, Western humanism was a great and necessary thing. But its moment may have passed, if only because its anthropocentrism accords too little concern to nonhuman animals and too much to human non-persons. The moment may be right for a posthumanist philosophy, if it can be articulated and ethically defended by enough clever and resourceful—you guessed it—human beings."

The fact that the rival American Humanist Association decided to run a much more positive cover article the very same month in their magazine The Humanist, and also include a piece on transhumanism by transhumanist George Dvorsky, shows that transhumanism has definitely been recognized as a new member of the humanist family this month.

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