Schismatic transhuman sects

Paul Raven @ 08-03-2011

Ah, more fuel for my puny brain-engine as it flails desperately to put together a coherent position for the H+ UK panel in April. Having already set myself up as a fellow-traveller/fence-sitter, the landscape surrounding the “transhumanist movement” is slowly revealing itself, as if the “fog of war” were lifting in some intellectual real-time-strategy game. What is increasingly plain is that there is no coherent “transhumanist movement”, and that this incoherence will increase – as entropy always does – under the grow-lamps of international media attention, controversies (manufactured and actual), radically perpendicular or oppositional philosophies and bandwaggoning Jenny-come-latelys. In short, interesting times.

For instance: the Transhuman Separatist Manifesto, which prompted a swift counterargument against transhuman militance. A co-author of the former attempts to clarify the manifesto’s position:

We Transhuman Separatists define ourselves as Transhuman. Other Transhumanist schools of thought view H+ as a field of study. While I am fascinated by the field of Transhumanism, I would argue that H+ is most fundamentally a lifestyle β€” not a trend or a subculture, but a mode of existence. We are biologically human, but we share a common understanding and know that we are beyond human. We Transhuman Separatists are interested in making this distinction through separation.

Do we wish to form a Transhumanist army, and kill the humans who aren’t on our level? My answer here is an obvious no. Do we advocate Second Amendment rights? Absolutely. If anyone attempted to kill me for being weird, I would need to be able to defend myself. There may not currently be people out there who are killing anyone who is H+, but stranger things have happened in our society. If nobody was to attack us, we would not commit violence against anyone. We have no desire to attack the innocent.

I think there is a class distinction in the H+ community. Those of us in the lower/working classes have been through a lot of horrible experiences that those of us in the middle/upper classes might be unable to understand. We have our own form of elitism, which is related to survival, and many of us feel the need for militance. We feel like we have become stronger through our trials and tribulations. Think of us as Nietzschean Futurists. Our goal is to separate from the human herd and use modern technology to do it.

When Haywire claims that transhuman separatism is merely a desire to escape the tyranny of biology, I believe hir. I also know very well – as I expect zhe does, even if only at a subconscious level – that not everyone will see it that way. The most important word in those three paragraphs is the opening “we”; it’s the self-identification of a group that are already aware their goals will set them aside from (and quite possibly at ideological opposition to) a significant chunk of the human species. They may not desire militancy, but it will be thrust upon them.

More interesting still is the way the transhumanist meme can cross social barriers you’d not expect it to. Did you know there was a Mormon Transhumanist Association? Well, there is [via TechnOcculT and Justin Pickard]; here’s some bits from their manifesto:

  1. We seek the spiritual and physical exaltation of individuals and their anatomies, as well as communities and their environments, according to their wills, desires and laws, to the extent they are not oppressive.
  2. We believe that scientific knowledge and technological power are among the means ordained of God to enable such exaltation, including realization of diverse prophetic visions of transfiguration, immortality, resurrection, renewal of this world, and the discovery and creation of worlds without end.
  3. We feel a duty to use science and technology according to wisdom and inspiration, to identify and prepare for risks and responsibilities associated with future advances, and to persuade others to do likewise.

So much for the notion of transhumanism as an inherently rationalist/atheist position, hmm? (Though I’d rather have the Mormons dabbling in transhumanism than the evangelicals; the thought of a hegemonising swarm of cyborg warriors-in-Jeebus is not a particularly cheery one for anyone outside said swarm.)

And let’s not forget the oppositional philosophies. For example, think of Primitivism as Hair-shirt Green taken to its ultimate ideological conclusion: planet screwed, resources finite and dwindling, civilisation ineluctably doomed, resistance is futile, go-go hunter-gatherer.

The aforementioned Justin Pickard suggested to me a while back that new political axes may be emerging to challenge or counterbalance (or possibly just augment) the tired Left-Right dichotomy, and that one of those axes might be best labelled as [Bioconservative<–>Progressive]; Primitivism and Militant Transhumanist Separatism have just provided the data points between which we might draw the first rough plot of that axis, but there’ll be more to come, and soon.

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9 Responses to “Schismatic transhuman sects”

  1. Michael says:

    What on earth are they talking about!!?
    These people are crazy nerds.
    They need a girlfriend.

  2. Paul Raven says:

    Have you considered a career in counselling at all?

  3. Rick York says:

    Has there ever been a period in history where millenialists have NOT predicted the end of humanity/the world/the universe/whatever?

    The two most prominent of the contemporary ones are LaHaye’s Rapture (for Christians only) and Kurzweil’s transhumanism (for geeks and nerds only).

    I’d be willing to bet that there has not been a single year in the last two centuries where some group predicted that that year was the last.

    And, if it isn’t, there’s always next year.

  4. Khannea Suntzu says:

    /me *gigglesgigglegiggles* and concludes outraged, nervous mockery is stage two πŸ™‚

  5. Jamais Cascio says:

    The “bioconservative” /(bio?) “progressive” framing still lumps itself in with traditional right/left models. “Preservationist” (a term used in the “transhuman space” game, but I don’t mean precisely the same thing) is less redolent with existing politics than “bioconservative,” and is less implicitly normative. “Progressive” as implying transhumanist-oriented is even less useful, given the chest-beating/amoral politics of the technolibertarians.

    I’ve written elsewhere that I strongly dislike the term “transhuman,” and I feel little love for “H+” either. It stinks of teenage foot-stamping insistence that they’re *different* and nobody understands them. (I just realized: transhumanists are techno-emo.) Sorry, kids. You’re merely human, especially in your desire for transcendence and transformation.

    That’s what human means.

  6. Rachel Haywire says:

    I enjoyed reading this. What do you mean we will have militancy thrust upon us though? We are helping kids who feel alienated by teaching them to stand up for themselves. We are uniting people who feel detached from the human species. This is not dangerous in any way.

  7. Paul Raven says:

    Hi, Rachel, thanks for reading. πŸ™‚

    We are uniting people who feel detached from the human species. This is not dangerous in any way.

    I guess it depends on how you read history; separatist groups in general have militancy thrust upon them because the world is a hegemonic system that resists attempts by marginal groups to schism away from it.

    Were we at a civilisational point where you could simply decamp to a distant corner of the solar system, then perhaps that would not be the case… but while you’re stuck with everyone else at the bottom of the gravity well, those who desire control will attempt to enforce it upon you. So it’s militancy or absorption, basically; how you choose to assert that militancy is the important matter, and I sincerely hope it will be a non-violent sort.

    However, given the similarity of certain promises of transhumanism to those offered by transcendent religions – longevity/immortality, sense of being a Chosen People, sense of persecution by a hostile world that doesn’t understand – transhumanism will increasingly attract extremist actors as its public profile grows; viz. Xtianity, Islam, libertarianism, etc etc.

    “Transhuman” is like “anarchist” – is a badge that anyone can wear, regardless of how in line with the mainstream of those philosophies they may actually be (if at all). To reiterate: I sincerely hope that Transhuman Separatism doesn’t become a militant or even terrorist ideology, but I’d suggest the best way to avoid that happening is to consider that it is eminently possible, and act accordingly. πŸ™‚

  8. Rachel Haywire says:

    I can understand and appreciate your concerns. It really depends on what angle you’re looking at this from. None of us ever claimed to represent Transhumanism as a whole. We identify as Transhuman Separatists because humanity in its current form is not worth waiting for. What we are separating from is the status quo of humanity and we seek to live in a future of art and science without the bounds of mainstream culture. These are not supremacist ideologies but ideologies of conscious expansion and revolution.

    You talk about the sense of persecution by a hostile world that doesn’t understand. This is not a religious or mystic phenomena but a real life source of conflict. People need to know that there are others who feel like they do. Instead of telling them that they are God’s Chosen People (I grew up in a Jewish family) why not tell them that they are part of a new movement? This is a lot less dangerous than any religious ideology in the H+ community. We have made it clear that we are not the new species in a biological or scientific sense.

    So what is the problem here? I think that people who feel detached from humanity should unite. You must have been here at one point or another. Wouldn’t you want to have united with people like you? For me that is what working in alt-culture is all about. My wish it to become a bridge between alt-culture and the mainstream H+ community by providing alt-culture with scientific fact and providing the mainstream H+ community with something new and upcoming.

    A lot of very interesting minds have been meeting. I invite you to check the group our for yourself or come to Extreme Futurist Festival 2011 in Los Angeles. I would be happy to put you on the guest list.

  9. Paul Raven says:

    I’d love to come to L.A., but as a skint British soon-to-be-academic who publicly swore off travelling to the States until Homeland Security gets the hell over itself, I suspect I’ll have to pass. πŸ™‚

    Lots of food for thought there, and I will be thinking about this for some time to come, I suspect, but here’s the short answer: Yes, I have felt out of sync with the rest of the world. Yes, I wanted to be united with people like me; to some extent, I have been, too, which I consider my great privilege. (As Tim Leary said, “find the others” – and it is a fine commandment.)

    But I suspect almost *everyone* feels that way at some point, which is why we have the sects and clades and religions and politics and culture and arts that we do. (The great irony of global hegemony is that, like fractals, its unity dissolves the closer you look; there is no “normal”, no matter how the media would like us to think otherwise.) Looking at the world as it stands – riven by falsely perceived differences, a multitude of groups arguing over ephemera at cross purposes while the important existential-risk-grade issues go unaddressed – I think seeking global unity is far more worthwhile a goal in the long run than hiving off, taking your ball and going home. If you believe you have good things to offer to the world – and I believe transhumanism *does* have good things to offer to the world – then keep offering them. The only way we’ll fix this mudball enough for us to escape it is by all pulling together; to go separatist is to concede defeat on behalf of the entire species, and in doing so help to ensure your own demise.

    And as the resource crunches and climate shifts hit, anyone wandering off whistling Dixie and saying “well, we washed our hands of you normals, anyway” simply isn’t going to be allowed to head for the hills by the angry mobs. Regardless of their true intent, separatist groups are subject to our deeply-embedded primate-vintage tribal Hatred Of The Other. To imagine otherwise – and to imagine that any one group will somehow pull off, pacifisticly and nobly, what every vaguely rebellious twenty-something has considered at least once in their lives, but which has never been achieved, namely a successful bloodless secession from the rest of the planet – is certainly not evil or wrong, but I struggle to call it anything other than (charmingly) naive.

    (I heartily recommend you read the novel Odd John by Olaf Stapledon, and then the Galactic Milieu trilogy by Julian May, both of which address very similar issues, albeit in very different ways.)

    So much for the *short* answer, eh? πŸ™‚ Suffice to say I’ll be keeping an ear out for your tribe, and the other little schismatic groups that are currently mushrooming up all over the shop. I may always remain a fellow-traveller rather than a card-carrier, but I guess that’s how my own sense of not belonging has played out over time… πŸ˜‰

    Again, thanks for reading, and for your lucid and polite comments; you are very welcome here.