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Dale Carrico on the Trouble with Transhumanism
Jamais Cascio, 23 Dec 04

One of the hats I wear is Global Health and Development Fellow at the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. It's no secret that the founders of IEET (as well as many of its Fellows and supporters) openly describe themselves as "transhumanists;" this concept, in turn, troubles some people who might otherwise sympathize with the Institute's aims. As it happens, I'm uncomfortable with the term, as well.

WorldChanging friend (and fellow IEET Fellow) Dale Carrico, in his Progressive Futures column at the futurist/technology site BetterHumans, makes a persuasive case that the use of the term "transhumanist" is dangerously confusing, inaccurate, and ultimately not in the interest of those who would promote the socially-beneficial use of new technologies. (Disclosure: Dale shared earlier drafts of this essay with me, and I responded with comments and suggestions, some of which are reflected in the final version.) The Trouble With Transhumanism (Part One and Part Two) argue that "transhumanism" undercuts the outcomes-orientation of those who would support progressive technologies, but feel either excluded from or disturbed by the identity focus of the term. I agree very much with his perspective, although I'm more willing to jettison the term entirely than he is.

I would encourage you to read Dale's pair of essays, even if you have no interest in "transhumanism" as a concept. The tension between identity and outcome is found in nearly every activist community (e.g., "environmentalist" or "feminist"), and the question of what technology-progressivism entails is relevant to many WorldChanging discussions. You may not agree with his perspective on human nature or human modification, but his larger arguments are important to consider.

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Isn't it possible the real challenge is that we do not have a firm grasp on the definition of "human"? Really, what is "post-human"? or "pre-human"? Another example is the issue of abortion; at what point in time is the zygote/ embryo/ fetus a human? In regard to the death penalty: do persons forfeit their humanity in taking of other human lives? It's no wonder, then, that we are so conflicted about "transhuman"; at what point does the extension begin and the human end? One could argue that any extension is human if conceived consciously by humans...or can they?

Posted by: Rayne on 23 Dec 04

I may sound foolishly naive in asking this, but has the so-called Sloterdijk Debate made it across the pond?
Here in Europe, a few years ago, there was a huge and at times vicious debate about what to do with Humanism in this transitional epoch of biocultural engineering, particularly because it was launched by the most cynical of all living continental philosophers, Peter Sloterdijk, and in Germany, no less. Eugenicism and Nazism, Humanism and Modernism -- suddenly these empty terms became full of meaning again.
It was this debate which suddenly made millions of European citizens interested in high academic philosophy of the otherwise impenetrable kind (because Continental). It united Europe in a bizarre public debate like never before.

An online collection of the major texts in the debate, with the exchange between (the father of post-war modernism) Habermas and Sloterdijk, and between them and the different French schools can be found on the multitude samizdat (it's a french, german, english, dutch debate).
(and see the links further down that page).

The original text which opened the debate is entitled "Regeln für den Menschenpark" and is construed as a reply to Heideggers critique of humanism.

I think this debate may be of interest for those who struggle with the term "transhumanism".

Posted by: Lorenzo on 24 Dec 04

I'm sorry, I think my html doesn't work, so here are the links:

-the multitudes samizdat:

-Regeln Für das Menschenpark:

(there's no online English translation).

Posted by: Lorenzo on 24 Dec 04

Thanks for those links, Lorenzo. If you have english translations, that would be wonderful.

Posted by: George Dvorsky on 24 Dec 04

I did a few searches and found that Sloterdijks main works have been translated in English (please find them on amazon).

The specific debate about post-humanism and the problem of modernity, hasn't had much English press. But as is often the case with continental philosophers: it takes a while to permeate the Anglosaxon world.

There's one very accessible source of info however: a theme evening about Sloterdijk, aired on the European culture channel ARTE.

Please find this information in the following link:

And another website covering the press reviews devoted to the Sloterdijk debate:

Posted by: Lorenzo on 25 Dec 04



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