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Transhumanism Is Not an Alt-Right Conspiracy!

Being equally diseased, disabled, and dead is only fair, says New York magazine.

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As part of its special issue on the so-called alt-right, New York Magazine has published an especially dim-witted article attacking transhumanism, entitled "Techno-Libertarians Praying for Dystopia." The author, Mark O'Connell, begins by going after Silicon Valley venture capitalist and wrong-headed Trump supporter Peter Thiel, who also happens to have some interest in how the technological Singularity may unfold. Thiel has made no secret about the fact that he has long had "this really strong sense that death was a terrible, terrible thing." Thus he finances researchers who hope to develop anti-aging technologies and think tanks that try to foresee the consequences of succeeding at that goal. Fine.

To illustrate Thiel's evil intentions, O'Connell points to his 2009 assertion, "I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible." As further evidence of political depravity, he cites Thiel's 2011 observation, "Probably the most extreme form of inequality is between people who are alive and people who are dead." Based on these statements, O'Connell accuses Thiel of "ethical simple-mindedness." Really? Is it not more ethically simple-minded to believe that democratic authoritarianism cannot run roughshod over minority rights or that ensuring that everybody is equally diseased, disabled, and dead is somehow the height of moral probity.

O'Connell then notes that other Silicon Valley "libertarians" share Thiel's interest in human enhancement (and not only those who reside in purlieus of Palo Alto do too). Apparently, for O'Connell, the desire for ageless bodies and enhanced minds necessarily amounts to a rightwing conspiracy. As evidence for his claim that transhumanism is a manifestation of the alt-right, O'Connell digs up a couple of oddballs who've hung around the fringes of transhumanism who now call themselves neoreactionaries. Of course, anybody can apply the labels libertarian and transhumanist to themselves with malice aforethought. Remember how progressives stole the term "liberal" back in the day. Once O'Connell has made the old guilt-by-association rhetorical move, he does admit that one of his two exemplars of supposedly alt-right transhumanism is "these days something of a pariah from the transhumanist movement." Indeed.

Transhumanism is a big tent. For example, my sometime intellectual sparring partner James Hughes, who is former executive director of the World Transhumanist Association, is a fierce social democrat and author of Citizen Cyborg: Why Democratic Societies Must Respond to the Redesigned Human of the Future (2005). In his Transhumanist Values manifesto, Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom argues for wide access to enhancement technologies:

The full realization of the core transhumanist value requires that, ideally, everybody should have the opportunity to become posthuman. It would be sub-optimal if the opportunity to become posthuman were restricted to a tiny elite.

There are many reasons for supporting wide access: to reduce inequality; because it would be a fairer arrangement; to express solidarity and respect for fellow humans; to help gain support for the transhumanist project; to increase the chances that you will get the opportunity to become posthuman; to increase the chances that those you care about can become posthuman; because it might increase the range of the posthuman realm that gets explored; and to alleviate human suffering on as wide a scale as possible.

The wide access requirement underlies the moral urgency of the transhumanist vision. Wide access does not argue for holding back. On the contrary, other things being equal, it is an argument for moving forward as quickly as possible. 150,000 human beings on our planet die every day, without having had any access to the anticipated enhancement technologies that will make it possible to become posthuman. The sooner this technology develops, the fewer people will have died without access.

Is transhumanism some kind of ultimate threat to humanity? Not all. Last year I explained in the Washington Post:

One crowning achievement of Enlightenment humanism is the principle of tolerance, of putting up with people who look different, talk differently, worship differently and live differently than we do. In the future, our descendants may not all be unenhanced Homo sapiens, but they will still be moral beings who can be held accountable for their actions. There is no a priori reason to think that the same liberal political and moral principles that apply to diverse human beings today would not apply to relations among future humans and transhumans.

The highest expression of human nature and dignity is to strive to overcome the limitations imposed on us by our genes, our evolution and our environment. Future generations will look back at the beginning of the 21st century and be astonished that some well-meaning and intelligent people actually wanted to stop bio-nano-infotech research and deployment just to protect their cramped and limited vision of human nature. If transhumanism is allowed to progress, I predict that our descendants will look back and thank us for making their world of longer, healthier and abler lives possible.

Does that sound like anyone is praying for a dystopia?

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  1. I don’t know, shadowrun is my favorite RPG setting. I’d pray for that dystopia.

    1. Shadowrun did have a pretty interesting take on the breakup of the U.S., other than the Native American running the Rocky Mountain states and elves controlling Oregon.

      1. Oregon sounds about right.

        1. No, my mistake.

          I think it’s the Hobbits that control Oregon.

          1. still Oregon

  2. New York Magazine headline, tomorrow:

    “Noted Alt-Right Climate Denier, Ron Bailey and Transhumanism”

    New York Magazine headline, one year later:

    “Noted Alt-Right Magazine, Reason, and ‘Free’ Markets”

    Soon everyone to the Right of Stalin will be labeled Alt-Right. Once there is a convenient boogey-man, everyone you disagree with becomes associated with that boogey-man

    1. This is what happens when morons decide to embrace a label that was invented by social untouchables.

  3. One crowning achievement of Enlightenment humanism is the principle of tolerance*

    *TBD

  4. Transhumanism Is Not an Alt-Right Conspiracy!

    Alex Jones used to say it was a demonic globalist conspiracy.

  5. I used to get a lot of spam email offering products for human enhancement. Trust me, none of them worked.

  6. A longer snippet from which a quote is taken: Asked in a 2011 New Yorker profile whether the kinds of life extension technologies he was investing in might exacerbate already grotesque levels of social inequality, Thiel’s response offered a glimpse into the ethical simple-mindedness of his techno-libertarianism: “Probably the most extreme form of inequality,” he said, “is between people who are alive and people who are dead.” Emphasis added.

    You’re a dumb ass who doesn’t know shit about history if you don’t realize there’s less inequality now than there was at any point since the first hominid figured out a stick or a rock could be used to bash his neighbor’s head in. For thousands of years, some people literally actually for-really-and-for-true starved to death by the buttload because they didn’t have enough food while at the same time others enjoyed all the luxuries human beings were capable of producing. Tell me there’s a greater difference between me and Bill Gates than there was between King Edward III and one of his serfs. Only the fabulously wealthy had access to things the average person takes for granted these days, and somehow the average person today is relatively worse off than his filthy-dirty malnourished illiterate pig farmer ancestors were? I don’t think so.

    1. J: Just calculated – the average life expectancy of Edward III’s eleven legitimate children was just shy of 24 years. Around 1350 or so in England, according this article in the Journal of Ethics: “Even without the plague, the average life expectancy for women was about 29 years and for men, only 28.”

      So you see, O’Connell would have to conclude that the medieval world was a better place ethically because everyone was equally diseased, disabled, or dead. 😉

    2. It’s petty darned recent too. Cafe Hayek loves giving examples of how much better off even the poorest of us is today compared to John D Rockefeller just 100 years ago. The best single example of improvement is that one of President Harding’s sons (or maybe it was Coolidge; one of the 1920s Presidents) died from an infected blister he got playing tennis.

      If the freaking President, less than 100 years ago, couldn’t get useful medical care for his son’s freaking blister, then life was pretty crappy. To say that we are more unequal now is the height of ignorance.

    3. One of these days, someone’s going to have to explain to me what’s so great about equality. It would seem to me the only people who would find that a virtue are the inferior. Seriously, do you see anyone of superior ability demanding to be equal?

      Telling me you consider equality a virtue tells me something about you right up front, and it’s not anything flattering!

      1. I see no benefit in equality, and I know quite a few people far better off than me. But they either got it by chance (inheritance, lotto), disaster (insurance payout after accident), or damned hard work, long hours, perseverance, and the kind of work I have zero interest in.

        I have my life. There are many others unlike mine, and I would not trade my life for any other. I made my life myself, faults and misfortune and piss poor planning all my own.

  7. It’s ok for me to cut off my penis and declare myself a woman, but I can’t “enhance” myself to acquire all the strengths of a spider and call myself, oh I don’t know, “arachnid man”. OK.

    1. Correct. Unless you try to get by using parody law.

    2. Why hasn’t anyone before thought of combining man and spider?

  8. Anybody else remember the magazine Omni from back in the day?

    It was half science and half science fiction. That seems to be a terrible combination, especially if average people can’t differentiate between the two, but that seems to be where we are with the popular press these days. Science is just there to support a partisan vision of the future and denounce the future of their opponents.

    It doesn’t surprise me that a New York newspaper can’t tell the difference between transhumanists and Nazis. The future is all Nazi if the enemies of progressives and Democrats have their way–and it’s really hard to understand what science is telling them until you understand that fact first.

    Eight out of ten scientists agree that the future is all Nazi unless the progressives get their way, and the other two scientists are probably Nazis themselves or on the payroll of the oil companies or something. Otherwise, only a stupid redneck would question science–and if a newspaper article extolling Thiel’s Nazism doesn’t tell you that the underlying science and/or transhumanism is morally wrong, then I don’t know what to say.

    We have to be careful or people will start trying to think for themselves, and obviously we can’t have that. Much better to believe what you’re told.

    1. I just thought of Omni several days ago, for some reason. I’m in no way a STEM kind of guy, but it was a cool magazine.

    2. Yes, Ken. Jesus you are old. That was printed on stone tablets delivered by dinosaurs.

      1. It closed down in 1997, fer goodness’ sake.

        1. I used to read it for the naked ladies…oh wait that was the other Guiccione publication…

    3. I can see how someone could relate transhumanism to Nazi “master race” fascism and eugenics. It’s kind of stupid because transhumanism is individualistic – the presumption is that individuals will of their own accord choose to pursue life extension or body-enhancing technologies. Whereas the Nazis wanted a eugenics program to forcibly eliminate genetic defects.

      But in a grossly broad sense you can sort of see them both as desires to be supermen or something. (As if the desire to be more than human is inherently fascist).

      However, transhumanism is not even a part of libertarian philosophy. It is an intellectual hobby that some libertarians enjoy. So not only is transhumanism not fascist, it’s not really libertarian either.

      1. HM: Allowing people to take advantage of advanced technologies to enhance their physical and mental capacities is libertarian, don’t you think?

  9. Does that sound like anyone is praying for a dystopia?

    Progressives probably are.

    1. The old civilizations claimed that they were founded on love or justice. Ours is founded upon hatred. In our world there will be no emotions except fear, rage, triumph, and self-abasement. Everything else we shall destroy everything. Already we are breaking down the habits of thought which have survived from before the Revolution. We have cut the links between child and parent, and between man and man, and between man and woman. No one dares trust a wife or a child or a friend any longer. But in the future there will be no wives and no friends. Children will be taken from their mothers at birth, as one takes eggs from a hen. The sex instinct will be eradicated. Procreation will be an annual formality like the renewal of a ration card. We shall abolish the orgasm. Our neurologists are at work upon it now. There will be no loyalty, except loyalty towards the Party. There will be no love, except the love of Big Brother. There will be no laughter, except the laugh of triumph over a defeated enemy. There will be no art, no literature, no science. When we are omnipotent we shall have no more need of science. There will be no distinction between beauty and ugliness. There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed.

      1. But always — do not forget this, Winston — always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — for ever.

      2. Yeah, well that’s life in 2525.

  10. I find it encouraging that so many people are attacking libertarians while simultaneously being so pig-ignorant of what it is. This guy, the Pope, a bunch of Dems and GOP contenders. Go ahead, set up your strawmen, attack the, destroy them … because it will distract you and mislead your sheep, and when they discover that so many friends are real libertarians and nothing like the strawdogs, your credibility will be exposed.

    Go ahead. Make my day.

    1. I know what libertarianism is. It is fucking dead. A necessary condition for libertariansim is the rule of law. We don’t have that. At what point the Republic of limited enumerated powered ended is arguable. I’d argue Castle Rock v. Gonzales, 545 U.S. 748 (2005) or July 3 2016 when comey failed to indict Clintion. We have a standing army, the police, who have no accountablity save the fucking thread of tort law.

      Reason chose the lead role in a cage. I shall mock you accordingly.

      1. Pretty damned arrogant to assume such recent changes are so significant. You must not know much history.

        I can make a better case for the Civil War, because it showed that if you want massive social change, there is nothing better than a coercive government. All those decades of pamphlets and preaching, and all overshadowed by a government working for four years.

        It is no accident that Progressivism began soon after, and its main weapon was federal coercion. Every bit of propaganda was now aimed at the government, not the public.

    2. I’m inclined to object whenever people ignorantly assume libertarians are associated with the right, but maybe I should let it slide.

      The Nolan Chart notwithstanding, if someone is that dumb, it perhaps isn’t worth bothering to try to educate them.

      1. people ignorantly assume libertarians are associated with the right

        If not the right, what? Too pure for labels, therefore hovering above it all, mocking the impure and getting absolutely nowhere politically? Congrats on that strategy. Not that anyone believes you.

  11. We’ve been calling guns “equalizers” for a long, long time. One would think technological improvements to humans would be along the same lines.

    1. That’s been my thought on the matter. Individual enhancement as expression of the armed-therefore-polite society. It’s monopolies of force that inevitably lead to abuse.

      It’s also a good way to counter things going wrong. The Terminator is less of a threat when there are 20 Iron Men in the crowd.

  12. Why am I reminded of Flight from rebirth?

  13. We enjoy so many luxuries today because people killed themselves for our progress. You seek to defeat death? Yes, yes, spend every penny my friend!

  14. “so-called alt-right”

    And it is always gonna be “:so called” because none of the lazy bastards at this magazine are gonna do any honest journalism to find out. A good starting point would be Vox Day’s 16 points that he has bothered translating into a bunch of different languages. I’ve yet to see any serious analysis from any writer at Reason other than smug.But hey, when you work for a non-profit, it isn’t like you have to accomplish anything.

    1. Yes, cuckaschmuck Reason writers. Where is the serious analysis of Vox Day? I, for one, would love a Reason TV feature addressing the 16 points, read by Gary Busey.

    2. I think they’re pissed because the alt-right stole the libertarian’s thunder as the edgy bad boys of American politics, and are getting all the attention and momentum. Kind of makes you think of the Plain Janes at school making catty comments about the prom queen, no?

      1. Or, more topically, the fugly public college grievance-studies professors being all catty to the hot private college philosophy professor.

      2. Uh, the alt-right can keep it’s “thunder” as retarded racist untouchable morons. Enjoy!

          1. The squirrels can even got Ron Bailey.

        1. Speaking of the fugly grievance-science major…

    3. Progressitarians do what Progressitarians do when they don’t have arguments – shriek “racist”.

      I don’t find Vox’s arguments against civic nationalism compelling, nor his 16 points, but since media doesn’t argue with him beyond the “Racist!” shriek, and he’s not particularly interested in arguing against people on his own forum, his ideas run unopposed.

      He’s smart and has good arguments against the status quo and the factual inaccuracy of the usual received historical narrative.

      1. Here is an unserious analysis of the similarly unserious 16 points by Cathy Young
        The Unbearable Dumbness of Being Alt-Right

        And a Response by Vox Day
        (((Cathy Young))) critiques the #AltRight

        Did you know that “Cathy Young” is actually (((Ekaterina Jung)))?

        Actually, no. Original name is much cooler.

        Cathy makes a decent point about the mongrel nature of American culture, but it’s not embedded in enough actual argument to matter.
        “Antisemitism! White Supremacy!” The “Racist!” Shriek. Yawnaroonie.

        1. Original link for Young’s column at allthink instead of the archive link:
          The Unbearable Dumbness of Being Alt-Right

          1. b: Vox Day states that the alt-right “is also an alternative to libertarianism.” A bad alternative.

  15. Future NYT headline:
    Human lives lengthened, women and minorities harmed most.

  16. Tanshumanism? What, humanism isn’t good enough for you? You don’t like people? What the fuck is wrong with you, you’re too good for people? Fuck you.


  17. Transhumanism Is Not an Alt-Right Conspiracy!

    But maybe it should be.

  18. Transhumanism is like flying cars. It’s not gonna happen.

    1. It’s more subliminally existential than flying cars. It’s never going to happen until it has happened and then it will have always been, unless you’re human… then it never happened.

      NPR recently ran a piece about how hearing aid regulations impose onerous burden and prevent marketable solutions and how one company is marketing a bluetooth earpiece for therapeutic or selective hearing purposes to surmount the obstacle.

  19. The worst thing about this is the attempt to link libertarianism to the alt-right.
    Fuck the alt-right. Fuck anyone who tries to associate libertarianism with the alt-right, whether they are alt-right trolls or NY Times columnists.

    1. ‘attempts’ to link.

      how funny!

  20. Lots of tranhumanists have been leftists. Charles Stross, Iain M. Banks, etc…

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