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Transhumanism: the meme that defeats itself?

October 19, 2010

It’s ironic to me that transhumanists–on one hand asserting an enlightened understanding of memes and what makes cultural concepts virulent–often seem to do so very little to apply the principles of effective memetic dissemination. Outspoken voices in the movement gleefully flip the bird at religious persons, then scramble to figure out why membership in transhumanist organizations is stagnant.

The movement has been hard-pressed for growth in the past 20+ years of its existence. I’m starting to suspect that part of the problem is the rabid anti-religiosity in much of transhuman rhetoric. My suspicion is that the level of propagandism turns off not just religious persons themselves, but clear-thinking non-theists who are sincere in trying to understand what it is about religion that speaks so deeply to the human soul. On principle, it’s hard to take seriously an initiative which claims to be ultra-rational when the dialog is decidedly anything but.

Take, for example, the recent article by George Dvorsky published by the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technology on the topics of reproduction ethics. Dvorsky indulges hyper-cynical explanations of modern religious interest in sexuality and reproduction, while simultaneously poisoning the well against any thoughtful conversation about the human spiritual and moral journey motivating religious devotionalism:

Religious leaders and ideologues may argue that the reasons for their interest in human biology extend beyond mere reproduction. Instead, they argue that their domain extends into the realm of morality and spirituality, and that ‘reproductive control’ is a trite interpretation of their motives. Now, I’m sure many of them are sincere when they make this case. That’s how memes work, with hosts convinced that they’re acting rationally and in the collective best interest.

Distinctly absent from Dvorsky’s diatribe is any indication of how human sexual behavior DOES fit into the fulfilling human life, or any suggestion of a framework for positive moral considerations in human sexuality and reproductive technologies. The vacuum of ethical constructivism (ironic for an institution explicitly given to ethics) leaves only the supposition that the author advocates radical libertarianism in the domains of sexual expression and applied reproductive tech. Call me prudish, but the words “train wreck” come to mind.

In short, until the ideals of applied rationalism in transhuman discourse engage human longings for spirituality rather than habitually desecrating and demeaning them, I don’t anticipate that the movement will have the broad-reaching impact of its most ambitious visions.

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One Comment
  1. Well put Michael. I find a similar issue with the stark clean aesthetics of the modernist. Humanity requires a warmth in their environment.

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