clap clap blog: we have moved

Monday, August 11, 2003
I commented on this at Matt's blog, but let me just say that it's simply adorable to see politics geeks talk about transhumanism, in much the same way that, say, literature geeks would talk about straw polls. They just don't quite get it, and that's OK, but it should still probably be addressed. (In a, um, non-dumb way.)

Special you-can-tar-me-with-this-later notice: I believe in most of what I'm about to explain.

While "transhuman" has a particular meaning for tech geeks, the originators of most of the ideas being propagated in the above-linked articles, it has a very different meaning for the cultural theory crowd, who call it "cyborg theory"--google this and you'll come up with a lot of references to Donna Haraway, whose "Manifesto for Cyborgs" is one of the best pieces of half-ironic theory I've ever read. By "transhuman" the Wired crowd seems to mean specifically electronic bodily enhancements such as super-eyes, super-limbs, etc., whereas cyborg theorists think it's silly to limit this classification to the internal body and point out that we have things like telephones to artificially enhance our voices, "calling out" to people far away, and telescopes to enhance our sight. Even within the body, we've had artificial limbs since the pegleg, and it's difficult to see how injections--which we put directly into our circulatory system to change our body chemistry--are any different from super-eyes, except in their visibility and psychological impact. It's just an updated version of the kind of shudders the Romantics had at the Industrial Age, seeing machines "replace" (rather than "enhance") human labor.

The bottom line is that by most intellectually defensible standards, we've been "transhuman" for a few centuries now, and so the issue is not whether we're going to become "transhuman," but whether the pace at which that happens is going to be so fast that it's noticeable and protested against. The rate is really the only thing that matters in this debate, I think.