[a response of mine taken from the Technoliberation list]:
> my point: if we invite nonhuman animals to take part in our evolved
> social and democratic processes (and our technological developments),
> will it be understood that we need to respect their own goals for their
> future, particularly if they are able to very clearly indicate that they
> want or don't want a certain modification? Or, will we take the
> position that we know that it's fundamentally good to be able to make
> human speech-sounds, and that obviously Mr. Bonobo shouldn't expect to
> receive his piano lessons unless he agrees to (for crying out loud!) put
> on some PANTS?
There’s no perfect answer to this, mostly because society and medical ethics are not cut-and-dry. As you noted, there are examples already in society where some individuals claim to fall within the bounds of acceptable human functioning while others claim that the same individuals are somehow ‘deficient’ or ‘disabled.’ The autism rights movement (and the disabled rights movement in general) is very much about protecting perceived distinctiveness; a high degree of repugnance is given to efforts in which autistics are forcibly neurotypicalized. The same sort of reaction is experienced by the physically disabled when, for example, an effort is made to ‘cure’ a disability by conforming to the bounds of normal human functioning (e.g. a person without legs should be given artificial legs instead of wheels).
And as you indicated in your post, notions of neurotypicality are normative. Homosexuality was once thought of as a psychological condition and efforts were made in the name of rehabilitation. Western society has a very puritan view of human psychology. It’s one of the reasons why recreational drug use is so chastised. There is a powerful conviction that runs through the West suggesting that altered or alternative psychologies are undesirable and potentially crippling.
So, we’re not doing a great job today recognizing the validity of alternative psychology types, but I have cause for hope. First, a number of movements are afoot that seek to preserve one’s right to their own desired psychology. The Centre of Cognitive Liberty and the Autistic Rights Movements are two examples. I also think that the idea of alternative psychologies will normalized in society, particularly once more powerful neuropharma hits the market.
I think we all need to promote a broader interpretation of neurotypicality, but as we’ve discussed before, not one in which an inbound person’s ability to participate in society is dramatically lessened. It’s unethical for parents to deliberately constrain or predetermine capabilities that will limit their child’s ability to engage in life (or as Rawls would say, invoke inhibitors to the attainment of social justice: “each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive basic liberty compatible with a similar liberty for others.”) Obviously, this is open to huge interpretation, which is why we’re having this conversation. Moreover, an entirely new set of complexities is introduced when a person reaches the age of consent, at which point they (arguably) should have the right to ‘tune out’ in Learyesque fashion. The point, I think, is that a parent can’t impose a Learyesque existence on their child – persons deserve the right to a genetic constitution that will by default maximize their life options rather than constrain them.
In relation to uplift scenarios and animal welfare considerations, there are three things I’ll say to that. First, I agree that uplift must be done respectfully and incrementally with consideration given to advancing the species itself (and its proto-culture) without conforming necessarily to human cognitive and morphological standards. Second, during the course of the process, the input and preferences of the animals themselves must be taken into consideration.
And finally, to second a point that James made earlier, we must acknowledge the fact that as a subject is uplifted, the subject changes. There is no such thing as the immutable self – even outside of uplift scenarios. While continuity of self and existence will be maintained through memory, the precise parameters than make up the animal’s psychology will be in flux. Consequently, the desires and preference of the uplifted subject will change over the course of time. The effect will be akin to a child growing into an adult; we remember our childhood and we maintain certain personality characteristics from our childhood, but we most certainly do not retain our childish personalities and preferences.
Back to the issue of coercion versus consent, I think nonhuman animals who are being uplifted and who wish to preserve their distinct identity and characteristics will have to go about it in the same way humans do today – through the creation of rights movements and by increasing general awareness. That’s how you get people to think outside the box.