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 — 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.