Futurisms: Critiquing the project to reengineer humanity

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Transhumanist self-mutilation

Wired has a story up by John Borland featuring one Lepht Anonym, who performs surgery on herself to implant various small devices intended to augment her sensory abilities. “You just have to get deep enough to open a hole and put something in,” she says. Take a minute and read this short article before continuing here, as it is one of those stories that cannot possibly be improved in the retelling.

Lepht AnonymI can’t be sure, of course, but I’m willing to bet that had such a story appeared in the news anywhere in the modern West up until very recently — the past decade at most — it would have been given a headline more like, “A Curious Case of Self-Mutilation.” But look at how readily Ms. Anonym and Mr. Borland fall into the transhumanist mindset to account for what she is doing to herself (and this despite her contempt for transhumanist theoreticians). When young people cut themselves and do not attempt to stick anything into the incision — as so many today, especially young women, do — it is still relatively obvious even in our tolerant times that they are in need of psychological assistance. That, after all, is pointless cutting, a cry for help. But let a young woman cut herself and implant some foreign and potentially toxic material into her body, and she becomes worthy of respectful attention, a pioneer. Somebody has to show the way for the next step after tattooing and piercing lose their edge, right?

“Self-mutilation” may be one of those ideas that become too old-fashioned to survive in a transhumanist-influenced future. It will be hard enough to maintain any serious idea of mutilation when the transgressive “creativity” that the artistic temperament currently unleashes against innocent canvas is turned on flesh. It might seem as if any diminishment of capacity would constitute mutilation on transhumanist assumptions, but that caveat is unlikely to survive its libertarian relativism.

In this case, however, even “doing her own thing” does not seem to be the last word. She is Lepht Anonym — left nameless — as if despite doing something so distinctive, she does not seek distinction, but rather wishes to be always in motion, to be the one who can be defined by no name. How can there be self-mutilation if one denies there is a self to do it, or do it to?

[Image: Lepht Anonym, courtesy of Wired.]