Futurisms: Critiquing the project to reengineer humanity

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Celebrating self-mutilation, Ctd.

In response to my last post about transhumanist celebration of the self-harming behavior of one young woman, tlcraig comments:
I have to say, I am tempted by the view that Lepht Anonym is simply more clear-sighted and thorough-going in her rejection of 'the given', or, more sharply put, her hatred of the body, than her fellow transhumanists. Like the body-builder, or the cosmetic surgery patient, she at least recognizes the necessity of risking the good that goes with our presently limited bodies in order to get FOR HERSELF the thought-to-be-possible good of a deliberately remade body. Her fellow transhumanists are willing, even eager, to risk the goods available to presently limited bodies FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS. The fact that they are willing to risk nothing themselves must be somewhat telling, no? Indeed, from the vantage point of L.A., it looks a bit like cowardice masquerading as generosity.

Of course, this is not to deny that there may be a confusion, even a kind of mental illness, behind her 'daring', and that the actions of the more 'timid' transhumanists in fact points to a prudence. But making that explicit would oblige thinking their way past ridiculous arguments like "searching on Google makes us all cyborgs already" and "aging is a disease no different than cancer"
Tlcraig is right, of course, that one could view Lepht Anonym’s behavior as simply following transhumanist principles without timidity. But now that we have an example of those principles in action, we can vividly see their shortcomings. From a theoretical standpoint, one could argue that we only consider her sort of self-modification to be caused in part by mental illness because of our outdated normative principles — or even that we’re all actually mentally ill for accepting our frail, decaying bodies. But then, as we’ve seen in this case, one becomes unable to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy states of mind — in particular, one loses the capacity to judge any self-modification behavior as unhealthy, or as motivated by unhealthy impulses.

Perhaps there is such a thing as a perfectly adjusted, psychologically balanced, and untroubled person simply deciding for philosophical reasons to cut up himself or herself. But it is striking that none of the transhumanist-friendly discussions I’ve seen about Lepht Anonym have mentioned even the possibility that her behavior might be motivated in part by disturbed psychological states, feelings of self-loathing, or suicidal ideation. Nor, of course, have they noted the easily available confirmation that her behavior actually is motivated by these things. Nor have they discussed whether this might bring into question the praising of self-modification — much less have they discussed whether it might be unethical to encourage it in this one individual.

All of this points to the conclusion that transhumanism has some profound shortcomings in its ability (and desire) to understand the human subject it claims to be so interested in bettering.

2 comments:

  1. But it is striking that none of the transhumanist-friendly discussions I’ve seen about Lepht Anonym have mentioned even the possibility that her behavior might be motivated in part by disturbed psychological states, feelings of self-loathing, or suicidal ideation.

    This is a false statement and you know it.

    Several others as well as I have made the point that there will always be people who will make poor choices with "self-modification" technology, and that some of the people profiled here recently are examples of such. This is the nature of a free society. I have even agreed with your notion that is is reasonable for society to discourage or socially censor such acts as well.

    Where you are way off base is to conflate such self-destructive behaviors with the perfectly reasonable and healthy desire to be cured of diseases such as cancer and aging.

    Curing aging is no more "transhumanist" than curing any other disease like cancer or diabetes. This is a therapeutic application of medicine like any other. You really need to get over this "pro-aging" dogma and move on here.

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  2. Kurt, I'm not sure how you could know what things I have or have not seen on the Internet, but it's absolutely true that none of the transhumanist-friendly discussions I've seen about Lepht Anonym have mentioned even the possibility that her behavior might be motivated in part by disturbed psychological states, feelings of self-loathing, or suicidal ideation.

    Now, I'm not saying such discussions don't exist, which is why I qualified my assertion by stating that I just hadn't seen any. It is completely true, and absolutely reprehensible from both a journalistic and an ethical standpoint, that the original article at Wired.com by John Borland did not mention any of these possibilities — much less the easily findable fact that Anonym has stated she has been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, which has self-harm as a typical symptom.

    But I looked around, just to be sure, searching here, here, here, and here, for any evidence of discussion of these issues by transhumanists. The only admission I could find by apparent transhumanists that this behavior is self-harm was on one discussion thread (WARNING to our readers: this thread contains sexually explicit images), in which a few posters who seem to exhibit some pro-transhumanist sympathy worry that this publicity might lend a bad name to the movement (as well they should).

    I also found one blog post by a transhumanist, Anders Sandberg, discussing whether this behavior is self-harm, but Sandberg roundly rejects the claim. The only other mentions by transhumanists of Anonym's behavior as self-harm were in response to Sandberg or this blog, and those all either mentioned it in passing or dismissed it. There were no transhumanists I found who even mentioned the possibility of mental illness.

    You state that "Where you are way off base is to conflate such self-destructive behaviors with the perfectly reasonable and healthy desire to be cured of diseases such as cancer and aging." I made no such conflation; my point was that transhumanists themselves are unable to make these distinctions: they are so driven to embrace enhancement that they can barely recognize unambiguous self-harming and self-destructive behavior, and instead celebrate it. And this is not some fluke, but is indicative of transhumanism's woefully impoverished understanding of human beings and what is good for us.

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