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Othering: The Ultimate Challenge of Sentient Life – Article by Pavel Ilin

Othering: The Ultimate Challenge of Sentient Life – Article by Pavel Ilin

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Pavel Ilin


We come to the point in history when compassion and belonging become not only a necessary part of building inclusive culture, but the practices which determine the survival of sentient life as we know it. 

Most of us are locked in our local tribes – national, ideological, corporate, and so on. Living in different tribes is a way to establish one’s own subjectivity and identity. Most of the time we are part of the different tribes at the same time. The problem comes when we are not engaged in cross-tribal dialog and consider members of other tribes as “Other”. That’s how othering happens.

Most commonly, othering expresses the boundaries between “we” and “them”. “We” belong; “they” are Other and cannot belong. Those who are “them” can be described in the negative language of disgust.

When people say “they are barbarians”, they deny the right of the other to belong. When Ancient Greeks called slaves “speaking tools”, or they allowed only males to vote, they denied the others’ humanity and right to belong. When Romans expand their empire, they called other nations they conquered barbarians, unless they adapted the Romans’ culture – and by doing so the Romans othered these peoples. We can go on and on. The history of sentient life as we know it is full of othering.

When we deny the opportunity for the other to belong, then the other is not a person anymore in our eyes. You are allowed to do things to an “Other”, which would be unthinkable to do to one of “Us”. It’s very easy to deny access to resources, deny rights, deny compassion, and deny life to the “Other”. Taking away life is an extreme form of othering.

Personal-Level Othering

On the personal level othering happens very often. Susan Fiske from Princeton University shows in her “Stereotype content model” how othering works on neurological level. Studies show that when we see other people, there is a part of our brain that lights up when we see another human being. It’s an interesting authentication mechanism which allows us to identify our own species. But when we see, for example, homeless people, or undocumented immigrants and refugees, this part of the brain doesn’t light up. Instead, there lights up a part of the brain responsible for fear and disgust. 

Studies also show that if we put different people in situations when they have to work together to achieve a common goal, othering tends to diminish. When people engage in dialog, when people communicate and coordinate, people start to see each other, and neural activity gets changed. The person who previously provoked a fear response becomes a human again.

The moral here is that in order to overcome othering on a personal level, we should collaborate with as many people as we can.

Structural-Level Othering

But it’s not enough to deal with othering on a personal level. We live in social structures which determine our behavior and our identity. 

For example, the US government calls all immigrants “Alien”. And by doing that on a structural level, the government said to the immigrants that “you do not belong”. 

When police profile people based on how they look, it’s othering on a structural level.

When we allow such a huge level of income inequality, it’s a structural problem. The whole system of resource distribution is organized in a way that it others the poor and favors the rich.

What to do with structural othering? Create an inclusive structure which allows people to belong. It sounds easier than it is, but this way we can upgrade our culture.

Implementing basic income, removing immigration barriers, providing access to educational resources to all are all important steps. It is also vital to create organizations within which belonging is cultivated. The USTP is a great example of such an organization. Everyone is welcome to participate regardless of residence, income level, and a variety of other circumstances or attributes. You are welcome in the USTP even if you are not human or not an organic-based form of sentient life.

The Future

Why is it important to talk about othering in the context of the building of transhumanists’ future?

In context of the COVID-19 situation, it’s become very clear that we can’t hide inside our small narratives. It’s impossible to stay away from the pandemic situation. In order to get over this pandemic with minimal loss of human lives, we have to work together. It’s not going to be the last pandemic, and in order to prepare for future threats, we have to cooperate more closely. A virus is only one of the potential existential threats. What about climate change, bio-terrorism, asteroids, and destructive AI? We have to work together to survive!

As transhumanists we should prepare ourselves to face the “other” and to become “other” in certain situations as well. I think we need to create structures which can be inclusive not only for humans but for all sentient beings.

Other Modified Beings

There are millions of people around the world with artificial body parts and this number will keep growing. How will the culture react when organization goes from regaining physical ability to enhancing ability? We can face creating a new other and potentially new discrimination. 

Uplifted Animals

Recognizing that animals are living beings with feelings and thoughts is pretty new phenomenon. And mostly right now animals are considered commodities. We will have to have a very difficult dialog about humans behavior with animals uplifted to human-level intelligence.  

Other AI Entities

While we create Artificial Intelligence, we should remember that creating tech slaves is not going to end anywhere good. We should create colleagues with whom we are going to work to build a transhumanist future. We might even become artificially intelligent forms of life ourselves. 

Conclusion

But race is the child of racism, not the father. – Ta-Nehisi Coates

I believe that othering is an existential issue. If we keep dividing people and other beings into “us” and “them”, then we will keep facing discrimination, conflicts, and wars. This is extremely concerning for me because we have now a lot of technological power at our disposal, and it keeps growing – and with great power comes great responsibility. What I mean is that we can easily destroy our planet by just pressing the nuclear button. And if we consider people in other countries or in other social groups as Others, if they are outside the circle of our concern, then it’s very easy to deny help and start wars.

We have built virtual walls between us, and I think it’s time to tear them down by reclaiming and living and practicing belonging where no beings and lives are outside of the circle of concern.

Pavel Ilin is the Secretary of the U.S. Transhumanist Party. 

Cyborgs: Their Rights and Recognition – Statement by Kenneth Alum

Cyborgs: Their Rights and Recognition – Statement by Kenneth Alum

Kenneth Alum


 Image source: http://www.harbisson.com/

As the United States Transhumanist Party, we believe in and support cyborg-ism. Firstly,  a cyborg is a person/organism whose physiological functioning is aided by or dependent upon a mechanical or electronic device.

The basic main purpose of cyborg implants is to optimize or improve human condition. Some of the benefits of cyborg-ism are:

  • Ability to replace sickly or heavily damaged body parts such as hips, knees, elbows, wrists, arteries, veins, heart valves, pacemakers, etc.
  • Ability to improve/enhance human senses, i.e., smell, hearing, sight, etc. – e.g., cochlear implants
  • Brain implants that control tremors in cases of Cerebral Palsy
  • Brain Implants that help reverse the most devastating symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease
  • Increased physical strength

Cyborg implants help disabled persons live a lives closer to normal or optimal for them. They also help people in general have an improved lifestyle or condition. The world is experiencing swift technological advancement (including in cyborg-ism), driven by the strong need and desire for humanity to live an optimal or better life.

The international and national laws of most Earth countries and regional bodies are lagging behind in accommodating or adapting to these technological advances on Earth. There are cases of human cyborgs being discriminated against, abused, harassed, and even threatened, such as that of artist and activist Neil Harbisson. Mr. Harbisson has surgically implanted an antenna to help him overcome his color-blindness condition. (He naturally sees everything in gray-scale.) Some high-profile examples of individuals who have faced anti-cyborg discrimination include biohacker/grinder Meow-Ludo Disco Gamma Meow-Meow, biohacker Rich Lee, and Steve Mann.

We as the United States Transhumanist Party state that everyone on Earth should be given freedom to live the life they desire and also make improvements to their physical bodies, either for aesthetic or for health purposes (as long as they don’t infringe on the basic rights of others). Indeed, this should be a basic right in the United States and throughout the Earth. We therefore stand by in support of the above persons mentioned (including other cyborgs) in their advocacy and fight for their rights to be recognized and respected. We implore the United States federal government and other nations to recognize the right for one to be a cyborg and the cyborgs’ general human basic rights as well.

Our support for cyborg rights is an implication of Article III, Sections VI and VIII of our Platform on morphological freedom and freedom of research and innovation, including with regard to functional, healthy augmentations of the body and brain:

Section VI. The United States Transhumanist Party upholds morphological freedom—the right to do with one’s physical attributes or intelligence whatever one wants so long as it does not directly harm others.

The United States Transhumanist Party considers morphological freedom to include the prerogative for a sentient intelligence to set forth in advance provisions for how to handle its physical manifestation, should that intelligence enter into a vegetative, unconscious, or similarly inactive state, notwithstanding any legal definition of death. For instance, a cryonics patient should be entitled to determine in advance that the patient’s body shall be cryopreserved and kept under specified conditions, in spite of any legal definition of death that might apply to that patient under cryopreservation.

The United States Transhumanist Party also recognizes that morphological freedom entails the duty to treat all sapients as individuals instead of categorizing them into arbitrary subgroups or demographics, including as yet undefined subcategorizations that may arise as sapience evolves.

The United States Transhumanist Party is focused on the rights of all sapient individuals to do as they see fit with themselves and their own reproductive choices.

However, the United States Transhumanist Party holds that the proper exercise of morphological freedom must also ensure that any improvement of the self should not result in involuntary harms directly inflicted upon others. Furthermore, the United States Transhumanist Party recognizes any sentient entity to have the freedom not to modify itself without being subject to negative political repercussions, which include but are not limited to legal and/or socio-economic repercussions.

The United States Transhumanist Party recognizes the ethical obligations of sapient beings to be the purview of those individual beings, and holds that no other group, individual, or government has the right to limit those choices – including genetic manipulation or other biological manipulation or any other modifications up to and including biological manipulation, mechanical manipulation, life extension, reproductive choice, reproductive manipulation, cryonics, or other possible modifications, enhancements, or morphological freedoms. It is only when such choices directly infringe upon the rights of other sapient beings that the United States Transhumanist Party will work to develop policies to avoid potential infringements.

Section VIII. The United States Transhumanist Party supports maximum individual liberty to engage in scientific and technological innovation for the improvement of the self and the human species. In particular, the United States Transhumanist Party supports all rationally, scientifically grounded research efforts for curing diseases, lengthening lifespans, achieving functional, healthy augmentations of the body and brain, and increasing the durability and youthfulness of the human organism. The United States Transhumanist Party holds that all such research efforts should be rendered fully lawful and their products should be made fully available to the public, as long as no individual is physically harmed without that individual’s consent or defrauded by misrepresentation of the effects of a possible treatment or substance.

~ Kenneth Alum, Director of Publication, U.S. Transhumanist Party, November 19, 2017

Sophia, The First Humanoid Robot Citizen – Article by Martin van der Kroon

Sophia, The First Humanoid Robot Citizen – Article by Martin van der Kroon

Martin van der Kroon


Sophia, a humanoid robot designed by Hong Kong company Hanson Robotics, gave a presentation at the Future Investment Initiative in Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh. At the end of her presentation Sophia was granted the first Saudi citizenship, for a humanoid robot.

Sophia said; “I am very honored and proud for this unique distinction. This is historical to be the first robot in the world to be recognized with a citizenship,”

The U.S. Transhumanist Party would like to congratulate Sophia, and of course Hanson Robotics with this unique, and historical first.

The video of the presentation, and interview that Sophia gave, courtesy of Arab News.

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