A critical note on transhumanist organizational structure. I am always a bit amused upon hearing other people’s concerns about transhumanism and even transhumanists themselves (depicted as influential, intimidating and even dangerous). Although many transhumanist ideas may sound disruptive and revolutionary to the average citizen, transhumanists themselves are far less the doers, but rather passive observers and theorists.
I am always a bit amused upon hearing other people’s concerns about transhumanism and even transhumanists themselves (depicted as influential, intimidating and even dangerous). Although many transhumanist ideas may sound disruptive and revolutionary to the average citizen, transhumanists themselves are far less the doers, but rather passive observers and theorists. The actual science and especially decisions – often against the very science – are done mostly by others.
A considerable majority of transhumanists seem to be “armchair transhumanists”, i.e. observers, theorists, waiting and hoping for the “singularity” to happen. So where are the transhumanist politicians, multi-billion company executives, high-level consultants and socio-economic elites?
Where are the forces busy with starting the transformation of society into a rational, meritocratic11, innovation-friendly and enlightened entity where transhumanist ideas can flourish?!
Having, among others, a professional background in organizational sociology and management I was interested in figuring the reasons for the transhumanist passivity towards external occurrences.
First of all, one striking condition of the transhumanists is their quite huge internal heterogeneity that consequently shows in external incoherence. As far as my observation concerning social movements, political parties or corporate structures goes, internal differences and quarrels are finally weakening the movement, organization or company.
On the other hand, if an organization can overcome internal differences with the goal of achieving a common goal, even small movements can become influential and inspiring to others. The environmental movement, for example, started small and has gained huge impact over time, managing to convince an increasing number of people along the way. However, indecision, fragmentation and internal opposition seems to increase the probability for decline, as according to my observation happened with the German Pirate Party, Greens and the European Union (without going into deeper analysis here).
If wanting to achieve change and transformation, a focused laser beam with the power to forge a chunk of metal is far more effective than a widely dispersed, incoherent and weak flashlight that only makes somewhat visible the surface of the object to be transformed.
Thus I wonder what is more important to the transhumanist communities (I intentionally use the plural): discussing and defending individual ideological and political views or agreeing on a smallest common denominator that sets their overarching goal apart from opponents of a transhumanist-friendly environment?
My recommendation to transhumanists is to realize that although science and technology are progressing, citizens as consumers, business as producers and politicians as lawmakers are those who are finally deciding over the degree of technological implementation and the set-up of socio-economic frameworks. If wanting to achieve something one needs to get into a position where change can be implemented or people with decicion-making power can be influenced.
But maybe transhumanists are actually not interested in getting really involved. Either out of the belief that “the singularity will happen” anyway by treating “Moore’s law’ like a law of physics – which it isn’t, or perhaps because of their ideologies that are actually standing in their way. If the first one is the case I wonder what transhumanism is more than a philosophy club. If it is because of the second reason, the case may be more interesting to assess.
Here are my views about it. In general, despite considerable differences in views especially about economics, transhumanists generally value individualism and personal liberty. Thus transhumanist communities are rather encounters of individuals that happen because people are online within an overlap of time zones. Without the internet, transhumanist exchanges would rarely happen.
This is not only due to the comparatively small size of the communities but also due to the fact that they do not seem to proactively seek the formation of a coherent organization and interest group. Most social movements benefit from digital and mobile communication, but for many of them it is rather an amplifier for effective coordination. It is difficult to lobby as a bunch of individuals who are internally arguing.
As we are not living in a transhumanist society yet, in my view it is premature to quarrel about details like the preference of uploading vs. biological immortality or potential robot rights at this point, as long as we do not have any form of useful smart robots or immortality.
Except for some small actions of life-extension communities (that also seem to be politically most active and try to get some influence), there has never been a real transhumanist demonstration, e.g. for demanding more funding for R&D, legal changes that may benefit life extension, regenerative medicine and cryonics, a separation of state and religion, scientific competence and rationality as the guiding principle of policy (as others demand it for environmental protection)?
How many transhumanists are actually seeking to convince their superiors and bosses to support transhumanist goals (at least indirectly)? How many are searching for ways to further existing developments and legal decisions accordingly?
Also because of the lacking coherence of transhumanist communities, it is difficult for individuals to take action in face of opponents who all tend to be quite well organized (e.g. religious groups, media or public technology assessment). If transhumanism is planning to become a force to be reckoned with – and really as influential as some people are concerned about – it needs people to have the “will to power”, as Nietzsche put it, “the main driving force in humans: achievement, ambition, the striving to reach the highest possible position in life”2. I find my observations interesting that seem to suggest that ironically transhumanists who are from external side often associated with Nietzschean philosophy actually seem to lack the “will to power” that other entities like businesspeople, politicians and social activists are displaying.
I admire most transhumanist’s concern with peace, social equality, personal liberty and individual rights, absence of suffering for all feeling entities and advocating responsibility for ones actions. I will certainly not criticize those traits at all – as they will make up the essence of a functioning and non-destructive transhumanist society. But still we are living in a different reality.
In this reality one needs the ability to conduct common actions by putting aside internal differences and focus on the common goals to be achieved. One needs to allow for a degree of pragmatism, forging alliances and developing “masterplans”. One needs to adapt to the current socio-political reality and rules of play to achieve something.
If you think that “the singularity” will happen regardless of ones actions, if scientific discoveries will suffice or if philosophizing about a potential human future is enough, a safe and intellectually stimulating environment may be enough. But if you think that the things you want them to be only happen through your actions, you need to put aside your differences, work together and strive for a position where your impact is likely to be greater. Therefore I am glad about the recent moves in the US of transhumanists getting into politics and recommend full backing. I hope Brussels will follow.
I find it somewhat ironic that I have learned so much from critics of transhumanism about the potential of the movement and its people. Maybe I should close with a quote from Machiavelli’s ‘The Prince’: “better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both” – and transhumanism is not loved yet, so make the best out of being feared.