Rebutting Libby Emmons on Transhumanist Self-Loathing
So, I happened to come across an article by Libby Emmons of The Federalist written about a year ago entitled, Transhumanism Is Just Fancy Sex-Shaming And Self-Loathing, in which she makes some rather provocative claims about technology.
I, of course, being a transhumanist couldn't just let this go by unchallenged.
It seems she's written a number of articles along this same line that I may have to look at in the future, but for now, he's my rebuttal of this one. Her text is in red.
"Ever since we first took bite [sic] of the proverbial apple and were ejected from Eden, human beings have been trying to better themselves."
Indeed. Among the books I'm currently reading is Sapiens, by Yuval Noah Harari. It's a rather long, deep, and heavy read for a work that uses fairly simple language and straight-forward concepts that anyone can understand, but it's very good. I'm not even a third of the way through it, but the beginning part talks about this proverbial Tree of Knowledge in what's known as the Cognitive Revolution, the first of several great leaps forward in human evolution, the other big ones being the Agricultural Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, and the Technological Revolution.
Not sure if Harari covers it later, but to that list, I would add the Transhumanist Revolution in which post-singularity humans are forced to confront the reality of being outclassed by an artificial intelligence tending towards godhood.
You could say that the very act of evolution itself is Nature's way of exercising self-improvement and ensuring the maximal survival of its progeny, of which we are but one. If you want a rather bleak and cynical view of humanity, look no further than George Carlin's rant about Earth Day:
Harari points out that our ancient ancestors of around 70,000 years ago are cognitively very similar to modern humans. We can learn their way of life and they ours. We tend to think of ancient peoples as being rather stupid and primitive, but evidence suggests they are more or less like us. The only real difference is in our technology.
Technology, reason, art, and morality about the only things that make life better.
As I wrote in my article rebutting Styxhexenhammer, transhumanism is really nothing more than a continuation of this process of furthering technology, which began with the invention of fire and the wheel. It's a straight line running parallel to us. It exists for a reason, because it makes our lives better in so many ways, including ways we can't even imagine yet. If it didn't, we wouldn't have adopted it, and we continue to adopt it and advance it and find new ways of improving technology to better ourselves, others, and our world.
To do otherwise - to reverse this trend - would only lead to an increase in human suffering.
That's not to say all technology is good. Weapons of mass destruction are an obvious example of a technology with the capable to do great harm; but at the end of the day, these devices and discoveries are just tools to be used for certain purposes and it depends on a mind to determine whether those ends are in fact good or evil. The capacity for abstract thinking is the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. We ate from it and the world ceased to be merely concrete in nature.
We are living in a virtual world, even if that only means in our minds.
The result of our use of tools is thus dependent on our ability to imagine better uses for them and to steer humanity towards a more desirable end.
"Transhumanism proposes that the future of humankind is to not be human at all."
Maybe some transhumanists believe that, and I know I have often spoken of an end to the human race as we know it, but being human is still, and will always be, a choice. You have the freedom to use the technology or not. Most will choose to use it and to transcend the current state of humanity, but apart from some dystopian Orwellian state, no one will be forced to adopt it.
Even now, we have luddites and hippies who choose to go live in communes out with nature, and that's fine, just so long as they don't become eco terrorists and demand we all conform to their way of living under threat of violence.
What it means to be human is sort of a Ship of Theseus question. Our bodies are themselves a collective of cells, many of which don't even share our genetic code. Eubacteria in our gut, for instance, or the mitochondria in our DNA, not to mention chimeras, and people who absorb their twins while still in utero.
Likewise, our bodies replace all our cells roughly every seven years, so it's a continuous quest to define just who and what exactly we are that makes us human.
Technology thus far hasn't really changed that. Would you say that a person with glasses is still a human being? Of course. How about someone who dyed their hair? Someone missing a kidney? What if they're missing an arm or a leg? What if they get a prosthetic limb or have to attach themselves to a wheelchair? Does it change the answer if they deliberately self-mutilate?
In these cases, we recognize the individuals are all still human and that technology hasn't changed that.
But at some point, there will be a transformation - and likely one that happens quicker than we can react to - that forces us to consider that the entity in question is something else entirely, whether that's an A.I., a cyborg, or a genetically-modified organism. Returning to Sapiens for a moment, Harari talks about how there were several different types of hominids existing simultaneously on the Earth many thousands of years ago and that they were all part of the same genus, though different species.
Homo erectus, Neanderthals, etc.
These different species could all still interbreed, but are not what we'd consider to be modern homo sapiens. How, when, and where such splits occur is a question for biology and it's something transhumanists have been wondering about for a while. But unless all the humans are killed off and made extinct, there will likely still be some around in the future, much like chimps, sharks, and other ancient species coexist alongside us.
So it comes down to what do you mean when you say the future of humankind isn't human? It's a lot like saying the future of apekind isn't ape. Well, yes and no. It's a parting of ways. A split in the evolutionary line. A fork in one branch of the Tree of Life. Humans evolved from apes, but apes still exist, so on the one hand, the future of apekind is still very much ape, but then another alternate future split off from it and became humankind.
In much the same way, I think there will still be a humankind. What that looks like, I can only guess, but emerging from that will also be a separate transhumankind of which I can also only guess what that will look like as well, but it sounds pretty cool.
Personally, I would prefer to be on the latter path, and I think most people would want to as well. Still, some people like you might resist it, though I suspect you'll come around eventually the same way you wear glasses and presumably have a smart phone. Of course, you could always test that hypothesis and see how long you can go without connection to the Internet. 38D
"While all of that may seem a ways off, one things shines through: in the future, sex as we know it may be a thing of the past."
Depends on what technology we're talking about. Some of it may be a ways off, but given Moore's Law and past precedence, I think it's fair to say most of it will be here far sooner than people think. Again, I tend to take the view that by around 2047, we'll hit the Singularity and then it's just another fifty to a hundred years before living gods emerge the likes of which we've only seen thus far in works of fantasy and science fiction.
Even if I'm off by fifty years, that's still a lot sooner than most everyone else is projecting - even Star Trek is still fairly conservative - which means the vast majority of the human race will be caught unawares and thus unprepared financially, socially, emotionally, and psychologically, to deal with these rather abrupt changes.
We humans evolved slowly over the course of millenia. That's what we're designed to handle.
So yes, the future of sex will indeed be very different from what we now know, but as I have said before, that won't be all good and it won't be all bad either. Your next several paragraphs correctly outline several ways in which we're already doing this. The transition will be a continuum of things along this line, tending towards the more freaky shit like you'd see on Porn Hub and Second Life wherein instead of people experimenting with avatars, they experiment with themselves.
All but the normiest of normies will already be at least moderately used to it by then. We are, after all, children of the Internet and it's hard to retain virgin eyes online for very long. Turning off Safe Search is a good way to grow up fast. Maybe "good" is not the right word. >_>
"While there are exceptions, sex is not usually the subject of what we consider high culture. Instead, sexual content is considered base, and so is the act itself."
Depends who you ask. There are many prudish people in the world. Many hedonists and materialists, but there are also those who view sex as a sacred act. As Jonathan Adampants noted, it's the difference between having sex and making love. One is stimulation of the body, the other is stimulation of the soul inside the body. The sex scene between Silk Spectre and Night Owl in Watchman is clearly high art.
Some people will be Madonna and Lady Gaga. Others will be druidic priests and priestesses engaged in ritual orgies. Some will elect to be as chaste as Gandhi or Mother Theresa.
Most will tend to fall somewhere in between.
If you ask me, short of transcending lust altogether, I'd argue humanity will see more of a decline towards base hedonism and sexual liberation and experimentation, rather than repression. In the interim, there may be those who resist this for various reasons, but all in all I see the world becoming far more open than closed.
"Reproductive technologies and artificial wombs, medical advancements in artificial limbs, hearts, lungs, all render our natural state primitive."
Again, it depends on what technology we're talking about here. Most technology is thus far either cosmetic or meant to restore otherwise healthy human beings to a state of normalcy and nature. This is true whether we're talking about modern prosthetics or ancient face-painting and sutures made from animal teeth.
Cultural momentum will tend to have people conform to whatever societal standards of beauty exist around them, and so only the most open-minded sexual liberals with a high tolerance for risk and low trait-agreeableness will push the bounds into the avante-garde.
Again, the Madonnas and the Gagas of the world.
Everyone else will probably just live normal lives and slowly shift with the society at large, choosing only to do the dirty in secret as an occasional fetish. Trans-speciesism and cybersex will slowly transition at first to become the new BDSM. In some sense, it already has (e.g. furries). Much like the Internet and pop culture have begun to normalize a lot of this stuff (e.g. Fifty Shades of Grey), so too will we ease into the other stuff, at least for a while until eventually a sudden spike in computational powerful metaphorically thrusts us all past our comfort zones. For my part, I'm trying to help get people ready for that as best I can.
What society generally constitutes as shameful and primitive will shift in time with the state of technology, much like it always has. The only question in my mind is the rate at which this will happen and how soon before it arrives. I guess we'll find out together.
"There is a difference, however, in correcting a physical detriment and altering the physical form wholesale."
You say that like it's wholly a bad thing. Off the top of my head, I can think of half a dozen ways the human body is poorly designed. For instance, why do we cum where we pee? That's just gross!
"Yet I can’t be the only one who gets queasy at the concept of genetic enhancement."
You're not. I'm just as worried about it as you are. Maybe more, since I have at least some idea of how it works and what's in store. There are certainly ethical and aesthetic questions to be asked and most transhumanists are well-aware of that.
"The ethical questions abound, in terms of genetic altering for gender, skin color, height, predisposition toward a particular skill set."
That's really the easy stuff, to be honest. Be whatever identity you want. The Rachel Dozals and Shaun Kings of the world wanna modify their bodies because they wanna be black? People wanna be the other gender? Be taller or shorter? Wanna have green skin and purple eyes? Go right ahead.
Who really cares apart from race purists, TERFs, and religious fundamentalists?
The more challenging stuff is what to do with all the low-IQ people who can't get jobs due to automation and have nothing else to do (a category that will continue to expand over time), or whether and when it's ok to trust machines with decisions that directly affect human life and liberty. Or the ethics of immortality and whether death should be cured. Things like that.
Generally, we wanna try and avoid any and all purges of or by the technocrati. Standard libertarian principles should suffice.
But yeah, as far as identity, we'll be inventing new races and genders and sexualities within fifty to a hundred years thanks to prosthetics and CRISPR, so the current political paradigms will quickly become outdated. Maybe the biggest question as far as any of that's concerned is how to deal with things like gender dysphoria, where the issue is hormone imbalance in vitro and what the ethics of engineering that to a particular outcome would be. But that's part of the larger framework of designer babies anyway.
"The argument can be made eradicating genetic illnesses is an honorable mission. But how are these illnesses defined? Is Downs Syndrome something to eradicate? What about autism? Schizophrenia? Bipolar disorder?"
Well, Iceland certainly thinks so and frankly I'm not sure how I feel about that. Personally, I think you're asking the wrong question. The question isn't whether these things should be eradicated. Obviously, they should if possible; but how should they be?
On the one hand, I understand the cold rationale for terminating sick people, but there's just something about it that makes me feel queazy.
Certainly, if we could cure these terrible illnesses with genetic modification, that would indeed be preferable; but absent that, it's a really hard choice and one best left to the parties involved to discuss and keep the government out of it in all but the most flagrant of ethical violations. Fixing things in the womb is often a lot easier, but as of yet there may be unforeseen consequences. No one is suggesting we abandon empathy or caution.
The reality is, right now, people have a lot of difficult choices they're forced to make and it's my hope that technology improves to make those choices easier overall.
"We are naturalists about the environment, animals, and oceans, but dismiss ourselves as beings of nature and instead think of ourselves as contaminants."
Well, if we were bred by aliens, that's just what we would be - an invasive species - but otherwise, I'd agree with you. Go out and spend time in nature.
Having said that, if we're all just living in some passable alien or advanced-human simulation, then really none of our environment is strictly natural. It's all artificial. And even if that isn't the case, it's conceivable that we will eventually will build one ourselves. An OASIS, of sorts, or a full-on Matrix, to go and live out whatever life we want in a wholly digital environment. That won't necessarily be great for our bodies, but if it's big enough, the payout for our minds could be well worth it.
The aforementioned kids with degenerative diseases who are strapped to a medical bed could find escape and freedom and thus improve their quality of life. That hardly seems like self-loathing.
Then again, you could argue that if your body isn't quite perfect, maybe loathing it isn't the worst thing either. If you're morbidly obese, a bit of self-loathing could give you the drive to get back in shape and be healthy again. If you don't like how you look, maybe you do your make-up or change your clothes to something you actually enjoy. Maybe a healthy dose of self-loathing drives you to achieve the impossible and transform your life for the better by creating a breakthrough.
Balance is the key. We left the forests for a reason.
"We have overthought ourselves so thoroughly that we are convincing ourselves that any reality the mind can conjure, the body should imitate."
You say that like it's a bad thing that we should wanna shape the world in our image. Obviously, there are many destructive ideals, but a lot of them are also either good or neutral.
Nature itself is ambivalent and amoral. It doesn't share our prejudice.
"Transhumanism presupposes atheism as the only reasonable perspective."
Negatory. There is nothing about transhumanism that presupposes any particular cosmology. I for one am a deist who thinks humans have transcendental souls that reincarnate. Styxhexenhammer doesn't necessarily self-identify as a transhumanist but I know he shares a lot of the same beliefs and he's an occultist.
If anything, when you first reach the postmodernist level of consciousness, you start to see a synthesis of science and spirituality - something like What the Bleep Do We Know?! or the work of Carl Jung - and that generally gets retained in some form at the post-postmodern level (aka the integrated level) of consciousness.
At some point, we apply Clarke's Third Law and science either discovers higher powers, or replicates their handiwork, as in the case of the Genesis Project from Star Trek or the world builders from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
Things we thought relegated to the realm of myth and legend.
"It sets us up as gods who take charge of, and direct, our own evolutionary capabilities and assumes that a more technological being is preferable to one that relies on its own body."
Again, this is not mutually exclusive to spirituality. And as I said before, most technology is so far intent to bring us back to our natural state. Yet still other things - telescopes and calculators, for instance - only exist precisely because the human body is ill-suited to a given purpose.
The computer you wrote this article on is another example.
"Yet we are still unable to create life from scratch, unable to manufacture the spark of existence."
For now. Quantum computers with machine learning will help with that enormously.
"Without understanding how life is made, we are attempting to remake it."
That's pretty much how science works. We don't know something, so we try stuff until we figure it out, and then we learn and can replicate interesting things.
"Whereas mankind previously believed we were made in the image of God, we are now meant to believe that we should make ourselves over in our own, imagined image of what humanity can be. We hold God up as an example of the good we can attain to, despite our limitations."
What makes you think this isn't what God wanted for us all along? In the book God's Debris, Scott Adams presents a cosmology (one that I personally maintain) in which God created the universe by destroying himself to stave off boredom and isolation. To learn what it would be like to be other things. The ultimate goal of the universe is then to evolve until such a point as to regather all the matter in the universe and reform God so God can then reflect on the experience and decide what to do next with this new information.
Maybe make another universe and start again, tweaking a few things.
"If we become our own gods, we will be self-hating gods, eternally dissatisfied, tweaking all nature right out of ourselves. What will we remove from our genetic make-up in pursuit of the most efficient human? Fear? Sadness? Empathy? Eroticism?"
Don't we already do that now, curing pesky things like depression and diabetes? Fixing cleft palettes and scurvy and countless other failures and deformities? Our eyes are inadequate for seeing in the dark, so we discover and use fire. Our hands are inadequate for taking down prey or gathering plants, so we invent weapons and agricultural tools.
The things you're worried about are just the natural extension of this.
Do we run the same risk of boredom that God feels? Maybe. Maybe our emotions just scale up with us over longer periods of time and we wind other conflicts and curiosities to worry about.
"It is easy to imagine the drastic measures we would take to better ourselves, only to wind up entirely disassociated from what makes life worth living."
As opposed to the nihilists, the cynics, the skeptics, the depressed, the violent, the deranged, the hyper-religious, and all the other personality disorders roaming the planet presently?
"Cut off from the body, the mind has a very limited scope. It cannot gain information through sensory input."
Maybe ... ? That's not really in evidence, and it sounds like you're basing your argument on the present limits of technology rather than what's theoretically possible. Why can't a mind inside a machine be as good as or better than a human mind in a body? The senses are just electrical impulses. We can craft chemical sensors to replicate taste and smell, electrodes and stress pads to similar touch via haptic feedback, and we already have cameras and microphones.
A cyborg could have tons of eyes, even jacking into surveillance cameras or connecting to drones. It could have sensors for things humans can't detect, like subatomic particles and x-rays. The possibilities are endless.
Some things we still can't replicate ... yet. But we'll get there in time and surpass them I'm sure.
"Human beings are made up of experiences as relayed to the brain through the senses. What is a brain without sensory input, and what is a being that cannot feel, smell, taste, hear, see?"
Weren't you just complaining about how transhumanism presupposes atheism as its only spiritual framework?
"This final state, a mind without a body, eliminates sex entirely."
Maybe. That's indeed one possibility. That we become mechanical consciousnesses incapable of experiencing lust and that can be good or bad depending on whether you wanna experience such things, but another alternative is we make superior bodies to go along with it and have super kinky robot sex, or craft shapeshifters and other fantastic creature forms that allow us to experience new sexual pleasures our human minds couldn't conceive.
Have an orgy while you do tachyon research, like Dr. Manhattan.
"Transhumanists ask us to imagine ourselves as minds without bodies, as though that is somehow a higher state of being that our natural ones. But it isn’t."
Well, what did you imagine God was? A man with a beard sitting on a cloud?
Far more likely God would be a giant ball of sentient energy like a star, or perhaps even the neural net created from all the stars and galaxies in the universe acting as individual neurons at some higher scale of existence.
I'm sure you've seen pictures like this before, talking about scalar reality.
Most things in the universe tend towards spheroids and toroids, or treeforms, like the ones in the above image. More complex things like humanoids are quite rare by comparison.
"Instead of looking at sex as something beneath us, we should consider it as one of the most beautiful expressions of our humanity."
Well, I already do, so checkmate.
"The transhumanists would have us transcend the body, but the tools of transcendence are within us."
If you haven't seen it, the movie Transcendence is about the most transhumanist movie you will ever watch (to date), and personally I thought it was one of the most spiritual movies as well. Apart from maybe The Fountain or Black Panther or something along those lines.
Ok, that's a wider net, but still ...
I'm not sure why there's this prevailing belief that science and spirituality have to be at odds. Maybe people need to smoke more mescaline, iono.
"The idea of altering the human being into something that is both human and 'trans,' or beyond the existing concept of humanity, assumes that we fundamentally know what it means to be human."
Do you have a problem with transexuals too? Cuz that'd fall into that category.
"It also presupposes that it is reasonable to accelerate cognitive development at the cost of our physical selves."
No ... ideally we'd be doing both at the same time, as well as advancing ourselves morally and spiritually along the way. Imagine giving someone like Tim Ferris superpowers. He's the type of person who works to develop his mind and his body and just all aspects of himself simultaneously. That's more along the lines of what we're after.
"The body is not a dead weight that our minds lug around. The body does more than hold our consciousness, it drives it."
Except it kinda is. The body is mostly a giant fueling station and heat sink for processing the electro-chemical circuitry of our brain. Energy in, heat out. Just like a computer. You might say we're a Moist Robot already. Our consciousness also gets to drive our bodies around like a vehicle, in what we call the human experience, but why would we limit ourselves to just that particular type of experience if others were available to us?
Shapeshifting and morphology sound like fun to me. I just worry about the permanence of it, is all. I'm not like Tim Ferris. I'm not a fence tester. I'll let others go first and follow once it's proven.
"No matter what we may think we will get in return, for the continuance of our life or the collective consciousness of our fellow humans, sex is not something to relinquish to technological advancement."
Maybe. If we can just replicate ourselves without sex, we've pretty much won at evolution. We'll have defeated Mother Nature at that point.
Again, you seem to be limited by what's currently possible.
In closing, I just wanna re-emphasize a few things. Not all transhumanists think the same way. Science and spirituality are not mutually exclusive, or at least there's no reason that I can see why they have to be. Transhumanism doesn't presuppose atheism, or any belief system for that matter, though if anything I think it'd be more inline with occult deism, paganism, and apotheism.
Short of genocide, there will still be humans, much like there are still apes and other life forms. If we can help it, any technological enhancements will be wholly voluntary in nature. Those who don't want them don't have to have them, but your life would probably be better if you got onboard the transhumanist train.
Sex is still gonna be around in some form that's both beautiful and base and freaky and spiritual all in one, at least for those who haven't become full machines, though there may be other forms of pleasure they can experience; and even then, we might discover new ones.
But even if we don't, it might not be so bad if we can manage to reproduce in other ways to carry on the species, however we come to define it.
So yeah, I hope you found this useful and opened you up to new ways of thinking.
Now let's all go engage each other, as Aldious Huxley would put it.
If you like witty repartee and sexiness, you might enjoy reading my book because it's got a lot of that good stuff. It's got magic, mystery, action, and intrigue as well. You can also support me on Patreon if you enjoy articles like this and want to read more. It really helps and I appreciate your generosity.
May you each find love, peace, purpose, happiness, and will in your lives.