India Future Society

Posthumanism and the Subaltern: Through the Postcolonial Lens

by Monirul Islam

PosthumanismIntroduction

As a consequence of the rapid growth of technological innovations the world has seen the emergence of discursive fields like transhumanism and/or posthumanism. The origin of these discursive practices can be traced back to the Renaissance humanism and the Enlightenment project envisioning a teleological progress of human civilization, though it is customary to regard these developments as a point of separation from the Enlightenment or Renaissance humanism, particularly due to its inclusion of the non-human animals and the extra-human futuristic technological beings. However, its basic objective remains to be the realisation of the human potential through the extension of the field of science and technology. As it happens to be the case with many other postmodern discourses the discourse of posthumanism seems to be a corollary of neo-colonialism. Once colonised, now third world subaltern subject becomes the strategic object of the discourse, since the posthuman man will require its ‘other’ and the otherness will be realised in the pre-posthuman subaltern agency. The subaltern subject with its lack of accessibility to the newest innovations and because of its inability to participate in the discursive practices is fated to become the ‘techno-slaves’ in the hands of the ‘techno-masters’ . Even with partial access to technology this is bound to happen since the colonised subject will have little control over them. The objective of this paper will be an exploration of the hidden colonial agenda in the discourse of posthumanism. Attempt will be made at an explication of the available instances of the process of working of the posthumanist colonial practices

Terminological problems

Posthumanism/Transhumanism: There is much problem regarding the term posthumanism and transhumanism. Posthumanism, as noted by Carey Wolfe, “generates different even irreconcilable definitions” (Intro. p. xi). The two terms have been used alternatively but they have also been conceived as opposed to each other and certain posthumanist thinkers have tried to dissociate themselves from transhumanism. Carey Wolfe for example calls transhumanism “bad posthumanism” (Intro p. xvii) and regards post humanism as the “opposite of transhumanism” (Intro. p. xv). But even when bad, transhumanism is post humanism. Joel Garreau defines transhumant as “those who are in the process of becoming posthuman” (Joel Garreau. 232). Transhumanism has been dubbed as popular posthumanism and its better half is critical posthumanism. This discussion concerns both the popular well as the critical branch of posthumanism.

Critical posthumanism has some similarity with postcolonial theories and at times seems to be an extension of postcolonial concern in their use of similar methodologies. Both of the discourses originate in the Western academia and are criticised as extended form of Western liberal humanism. postcolonialism paid attention to the human ‘other’. Posthumanism aims to pay attention to the ‘non-human others’ (that include the non-human animal as well as the technological beings). Postcolonialism offers critique of white West’s domination of the colonial other and it is an effort to deconstruct the colonial discoursesor the colonial mode of thinking that helped perpetuating the colonies. Its aim is to decentre the Eurocentric discourses or the Eurocentric model. Critical posthumanismm also aims at decentring but it aims to decentre the human and decolonise the whole earth/universe by displacing the anthropocentric model of thinking. This, according to the posthunanists, does not mean an announcement of the end of man. Thomas Peperrell puts it in following terms:

“What is meant by the ‘posthuman condition’? First, it is not about the ‘End of Man’ but about the end of a ‘man-centred’ universe or, put less phallocentrically, a ‘human-centred’ universe(171).”

The observation makes the points of divergences between two discourses clear: the focus postcolonialism is man and the focus of posthumanism lies beyond the human. Edward Said in his last book Humanism and Democratic Criticism wrote that humanism is a way of “letting vernacular energies play against revered terminologies” (29). Posthumanism plays against the revered term ‘human’.This retreating back/ moving forward from the human and the valorisation of the ‘non-human other’ is something needs to be critically viewed as it may be a strategy to force our attention away from the human victim. In other words, it is here postcolonial theories can be critically used against posthumanism.

Two important theoreticians Sylvia Wynter and Charles W. Mills sum up the precise problem with this decentring of man from the humanistic perspective. The problem is when some people have not been considered and treated as humans, posthumanism serves as an alibi for further denial of humanity to these same people. Cybernetics may be a step beyond the old fashioned humanism but the newly emergent subjects of humanism—colonised, people women and minorities—need to be respected and dignified as humans first. Here the question is not, as Shu-mei Shih writes about temporality — the subhumans are asking for old- fashioned humanism and hence are hopelessly anachronistic —but about priority within the same historical moment shared and lived by all. This humanism is not to be conflated with pseudo-emancipatory liberal humanism (against which Jan Mohamed warns) but a trenchantly political and collective move against dehumanization (30).

The popular posthumanism or transhumanism

Bart Simon observes that popular posthumanist discourse structures the research agendas of much of corporate biotechnology and informatics as well as serves as a legitimate narrative for new social entities ( cyborg, artificial intelligence and virtual societies ) composed fundamentally of fluid, flexible, and changeable identities. For popular posthumanism, he writes, “the future is a space for the realisation of individuality, the transcendence of biological limits, and the creation of new social order” (2). This form of posthumanism or transhumunism is, thus, closely connected to areas like extropianism and reprogenetincs, bio-technology and bio-informatics etc. It would be interesting to look at some of the transhumanist agendum to feel their pulse:

“Whether somebody is implemented on silicon or biological tissue, if it does not affect functionality or consciousness, is of no moral significance. Carbon-chauvinism, in the form of anthropomorphism, speciesism, bioism or even fundamentalist humanism, is objectionable on the same grounds as racism.”

They shrug off the principle of what we normally understand as morality and they look at humanism as a form of racism. Another of their agenda reads:

“Biological evolution is perpetual but slow, inefficient, blind and dangerous. Technological evolution is fast, efficient, accelerating and better by design. To ensure the best chances of survival, take control of our own destiny and to be free, we must master evolution.”

Their target is to master evolution and this is similar to the Extropian view, which according to Thomas Peperrell, can be summarised as an optimistic belief in the power of technology to transform, for the better, that which we now know as human existence( 169). One of the Founders of extropian movement Max More defines transhumanism in following terms :

TRANSHUMANISM: Philosophies of life (such as the Extropian philosophy) that seek the continuation and acceleration of the evolution of intelligent life beyond its currently human form and limits by means of science and technology, guided by life-promoting principles and values, while avoiding religion and dogma. (Max More www.extropy.org).
Interestingly his definition of the Posthuman is intimately connected to transhumanism or extropianism:

POSTHUMAN: Posthumans will be persons of unprecedented physical, intellectual, and psychological ability, self-programming and self-defining, potentially immortal, unlimited individuals. Posthumans have overcome the biological, neurological, and psychological constraints evolved into humans.

“Extropians believe the best strategy for attaining posthumanity is a combination of technology and determination, rather than looking for it through psychic contacts, or extraterrestrial or divine gift. (Max More www.extropy.org).”

So it is easily discernible what their target is but a number of questions pop up in our mind: What are the possible effects of all these developments? Who is going to master evolution and for whose benefit? What is the effect of this mastering—socially, economically, and environmentally? It is precisely against these thoughts drives Fukuyama to sound a warning: contemporary biotechnology may alter human nature and move us into the ‘posthuman stage of history’ (7). The unchecked progress of corporate technoscience may alter the condition of our common humanity and it will alter the material and biological basis of natural human equality and human rights: “what happen to the political rights once we are able to, in effect, breed some people with saddles on their backs, and others with boots and spurs?” (9-10).

The posthumanist argument for freedom and individuality seems to be a disguise for its hidden agenda of power, politics and money. In a society where even the life saving medicines are controlled by the capitalist mode of production and distribution where money is more important than life one feels terrified at the prospect of these developments. More importantly such developments may lead to a foreclosure of any possibility of dissent or change and the whole world may turn into a colony governed by the ‘techno-masters.’

Fukuyama’s apprehensions become obvious when we consider the transhumanist project of ‘reprogenetics’ and GM food. According to Lee M Silver “Reprogenetics refers to the use of genetic information and technology to ensure or prevent the inheritance of particular genes in a child.” For him the difference between reprogenetics and eugenics is consent(Eugenics – forced. Reprogenetics – consented to). However, Barabar H. Peterson calls it new eugenics and defines it as “the genetic engineering of man to create a human race according to scientific design.” Silver cannot dismiss the question as to who will have access to this technology and what will be the effect if it is used at large scale. He writes,

“The use of genetic enhancement could greatly increase the gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ in the world. A gap between classes within societies may emerge initially.”

He hopes that in future when the cost of “reprogenetics drops, as the costs of computers and telecommunications did, it could become affordable to the majority in Western and other industrialised countries.” He finally concludes:

“The only alternative seems remote today and it may never be viable: a single world state in which all children are provided with the same genetic enhancements and the same opportunities for health, happiness, and success. But politics are far more difficult to predict than science.”

Further it runs the equal risk of being misused as it happened with eugenics. The underprivileged become the target of eugenics project all through Europe most famous being the German example of racial purification. Similarly currently China is being talked about as practicing mass reprogenetic. Apprehensions are there that China is practising eugenics to become create a race of people who would dominate the world.

Bio-technology and genetically modified food and Monsanto Corporation: “Curing world hunger through biotechnology”: Genetically modified food has been regarded as a panacea for many problems. It is regarded as a solution not only to the growing demand of food but also to the diminishing green forests on earth. As it would require less land and produce more, it would save the greeneries from being wiped out for the requirement of farming land. Crops genetically modified can resists herbicides that would kill weeds but not the plants. Mon 810, the GM corn seed, for example is genetically modified to produce toxin the voracious larvae of the corn border moth (Green technology p. 69-70). But the things to remember

1. Companies such as Monsanto are basically a business house and their target is to have full control over the farmers by controlling the food chain that begins with the seed productions. It is feared that uniform corporate capitalist agriculture would dominate and have control over world’s food supply. At the receiving end will be the farmers everywhere and it would affect countries like India, Brazil, Canada and China most. How Monsanto wants monopoly in business is evident from the case Monsanto registered against the farmers for violating companies IPR. One of such cases was in Canada where the Monsanto sued a farmer called Schmeiser after Monsanto found the company’s patented gene in canola plants on his farm.

2. That the future impact of the GMO food is still unknown, how it would impact humans at the genetic level. Countries like Hungary, Austria, France, Luxemburg have banned GM corn, complaining that MON 810 is harmful to the environment.

3. The herbicides that are applied to the Gm crops are affecting the environment and killing bio-diversity. The farmers cannot reproduce seeds they have always had to buy from these companies.

The scientific researches supported by transhumanist agenda may revolutionize the world technologically and so it may revolutionize it politically, economically, infomartically, robotically whatever. But the point of concern is we are gradually moving towards a future where everything will become programmable in a sense pre-determined. And in this technologically advanced universe a there may be two kind of population: one that will have access to every technology and the other who will have little or no access to it. On the hand one hand there will be money technology power there are going to be the dominant master class; on the other hand will be the poor in terms of money and access to technology they will be the subordinated, dominated and be the subaltern. Today’s subaltern is tomorrow’s human or pre-posthuman.in the posthuman world the movement of the subaltern will become foreclosed since in the technologically advanced civilization there will be no human error. So things will be repeated mechanically without the human error.

An interesting work of science fiction The Bohr Maker by Linda Nagata, one of the most promising new authors of transhumanist fiction, imagines a future society that is in a sense post-posthumanist that strictly controls and monitors the use and researches in technology. The novel is based on nanotechnology researches. The novels has two group of characters: the wealthy citizens of the commonwealth, orbiting celestial cities and Corporate citizens and the impoverished people of Sunda Free Trade Zone. The people of the Sunda are victims of biotechnology, often enslaved to their masters who control their physical movements through brain implants. The affluent have monopolized migration from earth to nearby corporate space colonies while most of earth has become a reservation housing area for the impoverished.

The people of the Commonwealth either ignore the victims of bio-technology or hunt them down to destroy them. In the novel Phousita and Nikko are victims of nanotechnology—Nikko consented victim and Phousita is the forced victim of nanotechnology. Nikko is regarded as a no-human because he is far advanced than the humans of the common wealth and Phousita in non-human because she cannot be modified as human.

What is interesting in the novel is the fact that the Commonwealth has its own technological advancement but they are now against further technological advancement and they maintain strict vigilance over the Sunda inhabitants and scientists that who dare to go beyond the rule of the Commonwealth. They have become posthuman and they want to maintain their status quo.At the end of the novel we perceive that both Nikko and the citizen of the common wealth refuse to leave their body and border and live a disembodied existence as the posthumanists dream of. In a final turn we see the Summer House rejecting the rule of the common wealth and build a bodiless existence but people of Sunda and other earth bound countries cannot access the ‘biogenesis function’ because they lack wealth and science. Nagata’s fictional representation of the posthuman world shows the collusion of money and technology and it simultaneously depicts the condition of the subaltern who has access neither to technology nor to money.

The aim of the paper has been an illustration the possible links between the discourses of posthumanism and/or transhumanism and postcolonialism. It takes the hypothetical position that subaltern populations in the once colonised countries are in danger of possible marginalization and ‘othering’ in the posthuman world. The paper links the discourses on the subaltern and the postcolonial discourses keeping in view the apprehension that the ‘colonial other’ and the ‘subaltern other’ may get fused together to form the ‘posthuman other’. The matter, of course, requires greater research and investigation.

References:

1. Barbara H. Peterson Transhumanism: Genetic Engineering of Man – the New Eugenics http://farmwars.info/?p=11212 Accessed: 19/01/2014.
2. Bart Simons, “Introduction: Towards a Critique of Posthuman Futures”, Cultural Critique No. 53, Posthumanism (Winter 2003), pp1-9. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1354621 . Accessed: 19/01/2014.
3. Dustin Mulvaney and Paul Robbins . Green Technology: AN A-Z sage New Delhi . New Delhi: Sage, 2011.
4. Fukuyama, Francis. Our Post Human Future: Consequences of Bo-technology Revolution . NewYork: Farar, Straus, and Giroux , 2002.
5. Jack Goldsmith and Tim Wu. Who Controls the Internet? the Illusion of a Bodiless World . New York: OUP, 2006.
6. Joel Garreau. Radical Evolution: The Promise and Peril of Enhancing Our Minds, Our Bodies—and What it means to be Human . New York : Random House , 2005.
7. Lee M. Silver, “Reprogenetics: third millennium speculation,The consequences for humanity when reproductive biology and genetics are combined” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1084251/
Mills, Charles W. The Racial Contract . Ithaca, new York: Cornel University Press , 1997.
8. Mohamed, Abdul R Jan. “Humanism and Minority Literature: Towards a definition of Counter Hegemonic Discourse.” boundary 2 ,12 no 3 (1984): 281-99.
9. Nagata, Linda. The Bohr Maker. New York : Spectra-Bantam, 1995.
10. Pepperrel, Thomas. The Posthuman Condition. Bristol: Intellect Books , 1995.
11. Said, Edward. Humanism and Democratic Criticism. New York : Columbia University Press , 2005.
12. Wolfe, Cary. What is Poshumanism? London: University of Minnesota Press, 2010.
Wynter, Sylvia. “Unsettling the Coloniality of Being/Pwer/Truth/Freedom: Towards the Human After the Man, Its 13. Overrepresentation–An Arguement.” CR:The Centennial Review 3.no,.3 (2003): 257-337.
Foot Notes

(i) Techno-slave does not simply refer to the addiction to various gadgets or to the Internet but the term includes:

a. The producer-labourers of technological goods who work to create the technology and the technological goods but they do not receive the benefit of it, if there is any.

b. It includes the end users of technology who have partial access to it because though this group have access to technology they do not have any control over it.

c. It also those who do not have any access to technology and also those who refuse to accept it.
The term ‘techno-master’, as used here, does not refer to the person whose brain is behind particular technological innovations but rather refers to those who have control over the production, distribution and to some extent consumption of these technologies. It may be the power houses of business, may be the state itself and at times the intelligent producers/ the experts in the fields of the technology.

(ii) Shu-mei Shih, “Is the Post-in Postcolonialism the Post- in Posthumanism?” Social Text 110 Vol. 30, no.1, Spring 2012. Pp. 27-50.

(iii) Bart Simons, Introduction: Towards a Critique of Posthuman Futures, Cultural Critique No. 53, Posthumanism(Winter 2003), pp1-9. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1354621 . Accessed: 19/01/2014. p. 2

(iv) http://www.singularityweblog.com/a-transhumanist-manifesto/

(v) Barbara H. Peterson Transhumanism: Genetic Engineering of Man – the New Eugenics http://farmwars.info/?p=11212

(vi) Lee M. Silver, “Reprogenetics: third millennium speculation,The consequences for humanity when reproductive biology and genetics are combined” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1084251/

(vii) Geoffrey Miller Evolutionary psychologist, NYU Stern Business School and University of New Mexico; author of The Mating Mind and Spent http://edge.org/response-detail/23838

See also Hervard Asia Pacific Review :Imperfect Conceptions, Medical Knowledge, Birth Defects, and Eugenics in China by Frank Dikötter http://www.hcs.harvard.edu/~hapr/summer00_tech/bookreview.html.

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