Richard Eskow has a great post up on IEET about the Singularity Summit and the hurdles still faced by the transhumanists.
Objects in the rear-view mirror—those artifacts of human history that may seem archaic to some in the Transhumanist community—are likely to be sources of substantial public resistance. The artifacts in question include religion, patriotism, attachment to old family structures, and the other quotidian pleasures of many people’s lives. Confronting those artifacts with derision will not be an effective strategy for selling the enhancement vision. Even relatively simple “enhancements” like birth control and other reproductive technologies have been met with a firestorm of religiously-based resistance. In fact, this country has actually moved backwards from the widespread acceptance these techniques enjoyed had in the 1970s.
That fact was brought home for me when I was researching Spider-Man as an example of what I call “zero-sum” enhancement characters from religion, legend, and popular culture. (“Zero-sum” figures are those who receive special talents or gifts, but pay an equivalent price in other parts of their lives to preserve the balance of nature. Think Icarus, Iron Man, or Dorian Gray.) I learned that Marvel Comics released a pamphlet for Planned Parenthood in the 70s in which Spider-Man explains why teenagers should not get pregnant and explaining the services available to them. If Marvel did that today they’d face a nationwide boycott—so much so that there’s little chance they would even try.
I agree. The threat of old social norms and institutions is precisely why I focus on critical theory and gender studies as much as I do. The battles already being fought by feminists, liberaltarians, and progressives are indicative of the enormous power of entrenched culture. I agree it’s going to take a lot of work, but the recent sobriety and mainstreaming of the transhumanist/ human-enhancement philosophies is an extremely good sign. More and more discussions are shifting from “what might be” and “what if” to questions of rights, autonomy, personhood, justice, and self. I, for one, am excited.
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