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Kindness, the Greatest Temperer of Hubris – Article by Hilda Koehler

Kindness, the Greatest Temperer of Hubris – Article by Hilda Koehler

Hilda Koehler


In light of the increasingly alarming reports on climate catastrophe that have been released in the past few months, more and more transhumanists are taking up the gauntlet and putting climate-change solutions on their political agenda. Sadly, the transhumanist movement hasn’t exactly been well-received by the environmentalist movement. Environmentalists such as Charles Eisenstein have blamed “scientism” and excessive faith in the scientific materialist worldview as being primarily responsible for the overexploitation of the natural world. Other environmentalists are hostile towards the transhumanist imperative to find a cure for biological aging, arguing that curing aging will further exacerbate the resource scarcity (a common criticism which LEAF has dealt with so extensively, they have a page dedicated to it).

It probably doesn’t help that a handful of transhumanists are very vocally “anti-nature”. One of transhumanism’s primary goals is to knock down fallacious appeals to nature which are propped up against the pursuit of radical human lifespan extension or cyborgification. However, the way we present these ideas could perhaps be phrased in a more palatable manner.

Environmentalists and bioconservatives are fond of claiming that transhumanism is the apogee of human hubris. They claim that transhumanism’s goals to overcome humanity’s biological limits are inseparable from the rapacious greed that has driven developed economies to violate the natural world to a point of near-collapse. Deep Greens go so far as to call for a total renunciation of the technological fruits of civilization, and a return to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Radical environmentalists claim that a return to Luddism is the only thing that can save humanity from pillaging the natural world to a point where it becomes utterly inhabitable. But I would argue that the either-or split between human progress through technological advancement and compassion towards non-human life is a false dichotomy.

Drawing on David Pearce’s hedonistic imperative, I will argue that transhumanism and environmentalism aren’t necessarily at loggerheads with each other. You could even say that transhumanism entails a benevolent stewardship of nature, and that care for all non-human life is a logical extension of human exceptionalism. If the core imperative of our movement is to minimize suffering caused by biological limitations, that should apply to minimizing non-human suffering as well.

Benevolent stewardship: the Aristotelian mean between Deep Green Ludditism and Radical Transhumanist Anti-Naturism

I don’t think I’ve ever met somebody whose ideas have so radically changed my views on existential teleology and the natural world as quickly as David’s have. What I love about David’s hedonistic imperative and his involvement in the Reducing Wild Animal Suffering (RWAS) movement is how radically his ideology reframes the idea of human exceptionalism.

“Human exceptionalism” is generally seen as a bad thing, and with good reason. For the better part of human civilisation’s history, humans have been exceptionally bad – exceptionally bad to ethnic minorities who didn’t have guns or cannons,  exceptionally bad to women by depriving them of equal status to men and bodily autonomy, and exceptionally bad to all the animals humans have needlessly slaughtered or whose habitats they obliterated. Human beings are stand out as being exceptionally intelligent amongst the animal kingdom, and they also stand out for using that intelligence in extremely innovative ways to amass vast amounts of resources for their “in” groups, by brutally exploiting “out” groups in the most unimaginably vile ways.

But the hedonistic imperative puts a new spin on “human exceptionalism”. The hedonistic imperative is the great Uncle Ben lesson for humanity. With our exceptional intelligence comes great responsibility – responsibility not just to currently marginalized ethnic groups, genders, and social classes within humanity, but to non-human species, too. If we have the intelligence to turn humanity into a planet-ravaging force, then we have the intelligence to find a way to repair the damage humans have done.

The hedonistic imperative movement has also been credited with helping to convert a growing number of transhumanists to veganism, and to supporting planet-saving initiatives.

Aristotle is best known for describing virtue as the golden mean between two vices. I wouldn’t go so far as to call Deep Green environmentalism or radically anti-naturist transhumanism “vices”, but I would say that the hedonistic imperative manages to gel the most effective aspects of both schools of thought while avoiding the practical blind spots of both.

Deep Green environmentalists like Charles Eisenstein tend to promulgate the idea of nature’s sacredness as entailing an acceptance of natural malaises. These include death due to biological aging, but a logical extension of this is that it is immoral for human beings to intervene in nature and prevent animals from harming each other, since it is part of the “natural order”. Radically anti-naturist transhumanists tend to view anything natural as being automatically inferior to whatever man-made alternatives can be technologically manufactured. While we shouldn’t accept invocations of naturalism prima facie, this view isn’t quite tenable for primarily practical reasons. It would probably be extremely unwise to replace all the organic trees in the world with man-made synthetic ones, because the Earth’s biosphere is an exceedingly complex system that even our best biologists and geologists still do not fully understand. Likewise, we cannot solely on carbon-capture technology or geoengineering to be the ultimate solutions to the ongoing climate crisis. Much more still needs to be invested in reforestation and the restoration of currently endangered animal and plant species which have been afflicted by habitat loss or resource depletion.

Homo Deus: Already Here

For all the utter destruction that humanity has wrought over the past 10,000 years, we can’t overlook the great capabilities we hold as stewards of nature. Say what you will about humanity, but we’re literally the only species on Earth that has evolved to a point where we can use science to resurrect the dodo bird, the woolly mammoth, and the pterodactyl. And we can do that with all the other species we’ve driven to extinction. Perhaps those will be the reparations we pay to the animal kingdom for the previous damage done.

Humanity is also the only species in existence that actually has the power to contradict the forces of natural selection and end natural suffering in its tracks. We just choose not to because we can’t be bothered to. I had never in my life thought about how powerful the implications of this were until I listened to David speak about it. We are the only species with the requisite technological power to end hunger, disease, and infant mortality amongst animals, if we so choose.

Basically put: we’re already gods and goddesses.

We are literally gods in the eyes of animals.

But many humans have chosen to emulate the very worst behaviours of the Old Testament Biblical God rather than being the kind of God all human civilizations would long hope would care for them kindly.

One of Ben Goertzel’s major life goals is to create the most benevolent possible AI nanny who will be programmed to watch over humanity, make us immortal and create a post-scarcity condition where all of our physical needs can be met through the application of nanotechnology. Ben acknowledges that deliberately programming an AI to be as benevolent and compassionate is possible, because at present, everyone and their mother is preparing for a possible Terminator scenario where AI goes rogue and decides that it is under no obligation to be kind to its human creators.

If you would like to know exactly how badly an indifferent or uncompassionate posthuman AI could treat us, you need only look at how badly humans treat chickens and cows. You would only have to look up YouTube videos of desperate orangutans feebly trying to push aside construction cranes that are in the midst of pulverising the trees in which they reside.

And it wasn’t too long ago that humans treated different races of human beings in a similar fashion (although they weren’t slaughtered for consumption).

A posthuman ultra-intelligent AI inflicting the same treatment on humans in developed industrial economies might just be karma coming to pay what’s long been due.

“The benevolent AI god who will resurrect the dead and keep us prosperous forever” is the one wild fantasy which transhumanist forums are constantly salivating over. But why should we expect the AI god to be so propitious to us when humans are not even showing a fraction of that expected mercy to the elephants, cows, and salmon alive today?

Gandhi said, “be the change you want to see in the world.” Pearce and the RWAS movement crank this imperative up a notch:

“Be the ultra-intelligent, highly-evolved benevolent steward whom you’d like to see overseeing the well-being and survival of your species.”

The New Narrative of Human Exceptionalism

At their core, the primary message of the Deep Green environmentalism and the transhumanist hedonistic imperative aren’t so different. Both movements say that the narrative of Man as the Mighty Colonizer must now come to an end. Charles Eisenstein and Jason Godesky propose we get there by returning to having Animism as the overarching religious paradigm of global society, and by returning to a more hunter-gatherer-like lifestyle.

Julian Savulescu argues that we nip the problem in its biological bud by using biotechnological intervention to delete the human genes that predispose us to excessive aggression towards “out” groups, excessive resource hoarding, and rape. For reasons I’ve explained in detail elsewhere, I tend to side more with Savulescu. But put aside the means, and you’ll realise that both the Deep Greens and more pacifist-humanitarian transhumanists are both proponents of the same end.

One reason why I tend more towards siding with Savulescu and Pearce is because I think that forsaking technological advancement would be a mistake. If transhumanism is about transcending our biologically-saddled limitations through the application of technology, it follows that the shortcomings of primate-based moral psychology shouldn’t be an exception. As leading primatologist Richard Wrangham points out in his often-cited Demonic Males, our primate ancestors evolved to wage war on hominids from other “out” groups and to be predisposed towards hyper-aggression and selfishness, as a means of surviving on the resource-scarce savannah. And our neurobiological hardwiring hasn’t changed significantly since then. One of Savulescu’s favorite argument points is claiming that had genetic moral editing been available earlier, we’d probably have averted the climate catastrophe altogether. Savulescu sees the climate catastrophe as being a glaring symptom of still-dominant monkey brains’ failures to consider the long-term consequences of short-term consumer capitalist satisfaction.

Furthermore, renouncing the fruits of technology and modern medicine would make us far less effective stewards of the animal world. If we go back to a hunter-gatherer existence, we’ll be renouncing the technology needed to resurrect both long and recently extinct species. Another major goal of the RWAS movement is to use CRISPR gene-editing to help reduce the propensity towards suffering in wild animals, and to engage in fertility regulation. Pearce claims that we might even be able to make natural carnivorism and mating-season-induced violence obsolete using gene-editing in various aggression-prone species. While we’re at it, we could edit the physiological basis for craving meat out of human beings, since our primate ancestors evolved to be omnivorous. Or we could at the very least try to create a future where all of our meat is lab-grown or made from plant-based substitutes.

It’s also worth noting that human beings are the only species on the planet to find out about the ultimate fate of life on Earth. We’ve very, very recently found out that the duration of the planet’s habitability has an expiry date, and that the Sun will eventually turn into a red dwarf and fry the Earth into an inhospitable wasteland. Given that human beings are the only species which has the necessary intelligence to engage in space travel and colonization, the survival of every single non-human species on the planet falls into our hands. The sole hope for the perpetuation of non-human species lies in future humans setting up space colonies in other habitable planets outside our solar system, and taking all of Earth’s animal species with us. Again, this isn’t something we can achieve if we renounce technological progress.

Conclusion

Yuval Noah Harari’s Homo Deus has become a staple read for many in the transhumanist movement. But in the eyes of the world’s animals, we have already become all-powerful gods, who can dole out exploitative cruelty or interventional mercy on a whim. The criticisms of the Deep Green environmentalist movement are increasingly forcing techno-utopians to confront this question; exactly what kind of gods and goddesses will we continue to be to the non-humans of the Earth? If we are going to reconceptualize human exceptionalism from being associated with exceptional human greed and exploitation, to being based on exceptional human wisdom and interventionary benevolence, we need to heed the words of both Savulescu and Eisenstein, and pursue a different human narrative. We’re generally kinder towards women, ethnic minorities, sexual minorities, and the working class than we were three hundred years ago, so there is hope that we’re steadily changing course towards a more altruistic track. If every great moral school of thought has an overarching axiom, the one that defines the hedonistic imperative should be this: “Treat less sentient animals the way you would like the posthuman AI god to treat you and your family.”

Hilda Koehler is a fourth-year political science major at the National University of Singapore. She is a proud supporter of the transhumanist movement and aims to do her best to promote transhumanism and progress towards the Singularity.

The Need for Unity and Stability in Transhumanism – Article by Arin Vahanian

The Need for Unity and Stability in Transhumanism – Article by Arin Vahanian

 

Arin Vahanian


Although Transhumanism is heavily inspired by (and also inspires) advancements in science and technology, I believe the movement could also benefit from implementing cultural aspects; in particular, those from China.

This became very clear to me not just after living in China, but also after reading the works of Dr. Martin Jacques, British professor and journalist, who is, in my mind, one of the most knowledgeable Westerners when it comes to Chinese culture and history.

Specifically, in his writings and public appearances, Dr. Jacques has elucidated various aspects of Chinese culture, two of which I think are important for Transhumanism to consider: unity and stability. I shall cover each one briefly here, and explain how our movement would benefit.

Although the Transhumanist movement is rather decentralized, and I believe in keeping it this way, we most definitely need unity, especially in regard to our values and objectives. To this end, the U.S. Transhumanist Party has published its values on its Web site, which include but are not limited to: eradicating disease; the cultivation of science, technology, and reason; support of all emerging technologies that improve the human condition; life extension; reversing aging; tolerance and inclusivity of all individuals, and so forth. I believe every Transhumanist would support these values, all of which are noble, and all of which would most certainly contribute to having a better, more prosperous, and safer world.

Any organization, family, company, group, team, or political party, for that matter, needs unity in order to stay together and fulfill its goals and aspirations. Conversely, lack of unity may lead to chaos, discordance, and dysfunction. According to Dr. Jacques, the primary political goal for the Chinese is unity. Indeed, there would have been no way for Mandarin to become the national language, nor any way for the dizzying progress (whether it is technological, societal, or economic) we have seen in the country to have occurred, without unity. Please note that I am not advocating for a change in the political process anywhere else, nor am I suggesting that other countries adopt the same political or economic system as China. I am simply stating that being unified in our goals and values is incredibly important if we wish to fulfill these goals and proliferate our values.

Just as the Chinese look at themselves as Chinese, so we must look at ourselves as Transhumanists. However, there is one major difference; while not everyone can be Chinese, anyone can be Transhumanist. Our movement is inclusive to all individuals, regardless of race, gender, class, religion, and sexual preference. Therefore, I believe that we can be unified while also being open, tolerant, and accepting of all humans.

This leads me to my next point, which is stability. There is no question that in China, as well as other Asian countries, stability is paramount. After all, an unstable society cannot work together to fulfill its objectives and protect its values. Fortunately, we have stability in the Transhumanist movement in the areas of political leadership (Zoltan Istvan, Gennady Stolyarov II), life extension (Max More, Keith Comito), aging (Aubrey de Grey), and more. What’s fascinating is that the movement is so diverse and broad, and the areas for improvement on Earth so plentiful, that we have had individuals naturally dedicate themselves to causes they deemed worthy. This has contributed to stability in the sense that people are working on what they are passionate about, and these same people have, as a result, provided stable leadership in these areas. We must ensure that this stability continues, and that we help advance the causes we believe in by promoting them on social media and mass media. We must also support those who are bravely and selflessly dedicating their lives to helping humanity move forward. All of these actions will contribute to further stabilizing the movement and what it stands for.

Additionally, we must maintain stability in our relationships with each other, as well as the messages that we communicate to others. No matter how small or large a role we each take on, our mandate as Transhumanists is to push for reforms that will improve the human condition for as many people as possible, with as much beneficial impact as possible. In doing so, we must communicate our message that science, technology, and rational discourse should be used for efforts such as curing disease, increasing human longevity, alleviating poverty, and battling climate change.

While we are completely opposed to the proliferation of nuclear weapons, we are completely open to tolerance and inclusivity of individuals, and offer assistance to those who may have been shunned by the system, either due to disability or the desire to challenge society so that we may be better humans. We are an organization that values and promotes pacifism, and by doing so, we are creating a more stable society, and world.

So my call to action today is this. Rather than argue whether a certain economic system is better than another for Transhumanism, we should focus on our values and goals, thereby fulfilling our mission, and be supportive of whichever economic system best helps get that done, whichever country we happen to live in. Different economic systems work in different countries, and we should not be dogmatic, but rather, flexible and solution-oriented.

Additionally, rather than debate one another, we must instead discuss and cooperate, again, with the intent of pushing forward our goals. Debating takes valuable time and resources away from achieving our goals, and the time that is spent on needless arguments could be spent on finding solutions to challenges that threaten humanity. While it is perfectly acceptable and in fact, desirable, to have differences of opinion, we should use these differences to collaborate and help develop solutions to the problems we humans face. We are finally getting more traction in social media, mass media, and in various communities and countries all over the world, and so we should take advantage of these trends to further spread our messages of peace, increased health and longevity, and technological innovation that will benefit humanity.

One of the challenges the Transhumanism movement currently faces is an inaccurate and unfair perception that it is a niche movement, unable to appeal to most people, and the product of wealthy technophiles in Silicon Valley. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Among our ranks are people of all nationalities, social statuses, races, genders, and religions, and we are the only movement that supports morphological freedom. Further, we are dedicated to goals such as alleviating poverty, curing disease, eliminating nuclear weapons, spreading peace, and using science and technology to make life better for all humans, not just a privileged few. Surely these are values that most, if not all humans, could stand behind. Based on this, it is quite clear that Transhumanism is most certainly not a niche movement, and that it is one of the most progressive and inclusive movements the world has ever seen.

Therefore, the best way we can promote our messages and fulfill our objectives is by being unified in our purpose, mission, and values, and be stable in our leadership, approach, and relationships. Let’s not do our detractors’ work for them by being splintered and divided, nor become detractors ourselves. Let us coalesce for the betterment of humanity, and turn our detractors into friends, supporters, and partners. Indeed, the future of the world, and that of humanity, depends on it.

Arin Vahanian is Director of Marketing for the U.S. Transhumanist Party.

The Hedonistic Imperative – The End of Suffering – Video by David Pearce and Duarte Baltazar

The Hedonistic Imperative – The End of Suffering – Video by David Pearce and Duarte Baltazar

logo_bgDavid Pearce
Duarte Baltazar


Editor’s Note: The U.S. Transhumanist Party has featured this brief video highlighting the thinking of one of our members, transhumanist philosopher David Pearce, on the abolition of suffering. This video, produced by Duarte Baltazar of Utopian Focus, illustrates one possibility for transhumanist messages reaching larger audiences through concise, powerful films that distill particular transhumanist concepts and aspirations.  

~ Gennady Stolyarov II, Chairman, United States Transhumanist Party, April 15, 2018

Description by Duarte Baltazar of Utopian Focus: Learn more about Utopian Focus at https://utopianfocus.com.

Excerpt from “The Hedonistic Imperative” by David Pearce. Read the full essay at https://www.hedweb.com.

States of sublime well-being are destined to become the genetically pre-programmed norm of mental health. It is predicted that the world’s last unpleasant experience will be a precisely dateable event.

The Hedonistic Imperative outlines how genetic engineering and nanotechnology will abolish suffering in all sentient life.

The abolitionist project is hugely ambitious but technically feasible. It is also instrumentally rational and morally urgent. The metabolic pathways of pain and malaise evolved because they served the fitness of our genes in the ancestral environment. They will be replaced by a different sort of neural architecture – a motivational system based on heritable gradients of bliss.

States of sublime well-being are destined to become the genetically pre-programmed norm of mental health. It is predicted that the world’s last unpleasant experience will be a precisely dateable event.

Two hundred years ago, powerful synthetic pain-killers and surgical anesthetics were unknown. The notion that physical pain could be banished from most people’s lives would have seemed absurd. Today most of us in the technically advanced nations take its routine absence for granted. The prospect that what we describe as psychological pain, too, could ever be banished is equally counter-intuitive. The feasibility of its abolition turns its deliberate retention into an issue of social policy and ethical choice.

Video Editing, Post-Production and Soundtrack by Duarte Baltazar

Utopian Focus: https://facebook.com/utopianfocus

Narration by Elvis Andrumora

Circle of Synths: https://www.circleofsynths.com

The U.S. Transhumanist Party Responds to Jeremy Rifkin’s Plan for a Third Industrial Revolution

The U.S. Transhumanist Party Responds to Jeremy Rifkin’s Plan for a Third Industrial Revolution

Gennady Stolyarov II


Photograph of Jeremy Rifkin by Stephan Röhl

Editor’s Note: Below is a response to Jeremy Rifkin’s plan for a Third Industrial Revolution: A Radical New Sharing Economy by Gennady Stolyarov II, Chairman of the U.S. Transhumanist Party. The original post of this documentary can be found here.

    ~ Dinorah Delfin, Director of Admissions and Public Relations, U.S. Transhumanist Party, March 10, 2018

When it comes to Jeremy Rifkin’s thoughts on the future, and what humankind will and will not be able to accomplish, Arthur C. Clarke’s famous First Law encapsulates my reaction: “When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.”

I think that Rifkin has many ideas that would be aligned with transhumanism, although his general worldview is not transhumanist in itself. I wholly support the concepts of the sharing economy, the goal of production at zero marginal cost, and the smart infrastructure that he describes would support the Third Industrial Revolution. A redesign of our infrastructure – especially in such a way that would facilitate modular upgrades at a local and even individual level – is essential for overcoming some of the current bottlenecks to technological progress and rising standards of living. I also think that Rifkin is correct that, in the short term, building this new infrastructure will require humans and will mean jobs for those humans. This is probably a good thing, although it is dependent on whether the systems for financing the new projects and appropriately recruiting and treating the workers (e.g., giving them high-quality jobs with good pay, safety precautions, and ample assistance from machines and narrow AIs where possible) can come together in time.

Where I think Rifkin falls short of the transhumanist vision is in his rejection of the goal of a society where basic human problems – including mortality and many of the other key causes of suffering – can be eliminated or at least greatly reduced. He characterizes this as “utopian” thinking, but at every stage of the way, the approach toward these goals would not be utopia, but rather steady improvement. It would be a shame to reject the goals especially as the technologies for making them possible are becoming available. As I have often stated, it is not a matter of if we will have indefinite life extension, but when – and this matters a lot from the standpoint of how many people alive today could be saved.

Where I also differ from Rifkin is that, instead of his focus on the negative (“humans are destroying the Earth”), I and the Transhumanist Party prefer to focus on the positive potentials (humans can improve both our own lives and the Earth through emerging technologies). Many of the solutions may look quite similar – e.g., smart infrastructure, greater energy-efficiency, and renewable energy sources that would move humankind away from fossil fuels (although, unlike Rifkin, I also strongly support the next generation of nuclear reactors, which would use thorium, would be meltdown-proof, and would not be subject to the need for cooling via massive amounts of water that Rifkin criticizes). I think that the way forward is through technological advancement; Rifkin is halfway there – certainly much better than the Neo-Luddite thinkers who have often dominated the environmental movement. But his goals are not in conflict with life extension, massive economic growth, and super-abundance of material prosperity for everyone. In fact, humans need to move along all of these avenues simultaneously and in parallel, as their achievements will reinforce one another and enable progress to occur more readily.

Article III, Section IX of our Platform – http://transhumanist-party.org/constitution/#Article3 – actually summarizes this sentiment quite nicely: “The United States Transhumanist Party supports all emerging technologies that have the potential to improve the human condition – including but not limited to autonomous vehicles, electric vehicles, economical solar power, safe nuclear power, hydroelectricity, geothermal power, applications for the sharing of durable goods, artificial intelligence, biotechnology, nanotechnology, robotics, rapid transit, 3D printing, vertical farming, electronic devices to detect and respond to trauma, and beneficial genetic modification of plants, animals, and human beings.”

Again, Clarke’s First Law comes to mind. To the extent that Rifkin sees potential in any of the above technologies and others, he is correct. To the extent that he does not see it or considers those technologies to be detrimental, he is mistaken.