I wrote this discussion board post for E-Learning and Digital Cultures, a MOOC offered by the University of Edinburgh. Readings included the Transhumanist Declaration. This is my response.
The Transhumanist Declaration constructs technology as a blinkered utopian ideology. Here are eight reasons why this is a problem.
1) The declaration is Western-centric. It whole-heartedly buys into the notion of “progress” (an article of faith for Westerners from medieval Catholics to diehard Communists) and “human potential” (an Aristotelian precept that has informed Western thought ever since–look at Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs). Problem is, Asian and indigenous philosophies generally adopt a cyclical worldview, in contrast to the linear Western Weltanschaaung. The declaration is highly Western-centric.
2) The declaration absurdly proposes to establish “forums” for “constructive discussion,” when in fact the global community has repeatedly failed to agree on implementing even a land-mine treaty ban or a 5% CO2 emissions cut. No amount of research or positive thinking will prompt concerted global action.
3) The declaration is classist. While it stresses the reduction of suffering and promotes human rights, it assumes that participants in the transhumanist project have disposable income and leisure time to participate in discussion forums and acquire bodily and cognitive enhancements. This is impossible for the vast majority of humans under the current global capitalist system.
4) Although the declaration acknowledges the risks accompanying biotech, it, it is unrealistic, dreaming of human liberation from earthly “confinement” and the realization of maximum human “potential.” Enough religious and secular utopian schemes have failed to prove that circumstances, including people, have a deplorable tendency to deviate from such utopian programs.
5) The declaration shows fuzzy thinking by resorting to platitudes: “Although all progress is change, not all change is progress.” Biotechnology is too existentially problematic a tool to dismiss with such platitudes.
6) The declaration stresses freedom of personal choice to apply enhancing biotechnologies. But what if someone is too poor to afford an enhancement? And what if people chose to modify themselves to eliminate free will?
7) The declaration embraces technology not as an instrument or a means to an end, but as an article of faith. Technology is a non-monistic plural–“technologies”–not a singular entity that will somehow empower human beings to transcend their adjectives.
8) The declaration does not self-critique.
All that being said, I admire the declaration’s embrace of animal rights, scientific research, freedom of choice, and moral responsibility for future generations. And certainly it is a declaration of intent a la the Futurist Manifesto, the Communist Manifesto, or the Rights of Man, and therefore does not need to be a closely reasoned argument backed by a plan of action. Nevertheless, its vision smacks of ideologization, utopianism, and privilege.