In Case I Die: Transhumanism

I was in the kitchen with your mom the other day talking about a kid in the neighborhood who’s been sad to the point that he’s not going to school (he’s not the first of your friends to have this problem and he won’t be the last). You were cruising by and said that you thought that it was stupid to not go to school for that reason. Your mom made an effort to do some empathy coaching, but I don’t think you really got it. 

I made you put your hand on the little battery implanted under the skin over my clavicle and told you that I’ve got a machine inside my body to address my recurring profound misery, free of charge in the context of a research trial because of how common it is for people to be so sad that they can’t go to work or school. I’m also going to pat myself on the back for not telling you that people get so sad that they kill themselves. 

Generally our society only cares about people’s sadness to the extent that their sadness prevents them from going to work and only if the way to address that sadness can be sold at a profit. I’ll go on record as saying that chronic stress is a major component of the depressive syndrome and most people’s chronic stress begins in the workplace. Work won’t set you free, but you should do your best to set your work free. 

But it’s not the relationship between work and sadness that I wanted to write about, but a subject that’s somewhat relevant to the device in my chest.

I’m reading a book about ‘transhumanism’, which is not a thing that I know much about but that I take to not refer to the idea that technological development will lead to human beings changing dramatically in the near future but instead to thinking that this is an inherently good thing. I don’t know if I believe in inherently good things, so I’ll award points to the author for their skepticism of the whole enterprise, though I have reservations. 

I think it’s important to go into the future knowing that it’s unwritten. The only guarantee we have is that eventually everything ends. It’s a fashionable thing among humans to say that the ending of a story that they’re most fond of is inevitable. The people this book is about are very devoted to a particular story about the future and I think it’s about as silly as people thinking that communism is right around the corner or that Jesus is coming back. 

The book is mostly concerned with the efforts of the extremely wealthy to escape death by way of technology, and I get the author’s discomfort with all these uber-rich shitheads who think they’re so much better than the rest of the species that they’ll sink money into very, very unlikely-to-succeed immortality schemes while people freeze to death in Manhattan. 

But while I agree that these people are the absolute worst and I don’t really want them to be alive an hour from now, let alone hundreds of years in the future, I kind of like the idea of a science fiction future in which I’m able to have a greater degree of freedom in how my body works, what it’s able to do and how long my consciousness remains intact. 

As of today, the super rich are still subject to the same genetic misfortune as the rest of us, so I don’t want to overstate the case, but I think it’s largely going to be the rest of us that are going to be the motor of any transhumanist future. Executives and shareholders generally don’t lose their limbs or eyesight or hearing in industrial accidents and war zones, and thus they aren’t the ones who allow prosthetics to advance. Their brains and hearts break less frequently and are better maintained and so they aren’t the ones who receive implants. And it’s not their work that creates the wealth that they command, and so they’re not the ones whose productive capacities they want to develop. I think it’s the rest of us who are going to blaze paths that fundamentally change the nature of the human organism. 

Another thing that occurs to me is that you don’t get to have a nuclear power plant without a shitload of hamburgers getting sold first. The people who plan on being gods make their plans by vivisecting rats.  

Two conclusions: 

  1. The rich and powerful don’t create the future, no matter how adamantly they insist that they do. It’s the small and humble things that make the world possible and you can’t have a space program without meals getting cooked and floors getting swept. 
  1. I would like to see the range of colors that a butterfly does and would also like cosmic background radiation translated into tones that I can hear and I wouldn’t complain about another couple hundred years of existence if those first two things were in play, although I would like an ‘off’ switch. 

And an excerpt of an excerpt by Laozi that speaks to the project of would-be immortals: 

If you hold on too tight you will lose your grip. 

The master lets things take their course and thus never fails. 

She doesn’t hold onto things and never loses them. 

By pursuing your goals too relentlessly, you let them slip away. 

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