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Date: Fri, 12 Jun 1998
From: Arjen Mulder

Transhumanism and its Absent Discontents

by Geert Lovink

"If I hear the word 'evolution' I grab my gun." Andre Simon

The advocates of good will have at least learned something about the post-modern condition. They have accepted the fact that the world is constantly changing, and accordingly they act in a "flexible" way. The same cannot be said of transhuman cults like the Extropians or the followers of Richard (meme) Dawkins. Their deep-rooted conviction in the primacy of technology over human nature cannot be questioned. Whereas large NGOs like Greenpeace, the Soros Foundation, Oxfam, or Amnesty International have adopted corporate management and PR structures to reach their goals, the deadly serious character of the "cyber-optimists" makes them the true idealists of our time. Their belief system is, at best, mindblowing in its naivete. They are serious about the entire population of the world having Internet access within a decade. And if you object to their market expectations, you are a reactionary cultural pessimist, someone who reads too much European philosophy. They lack any humour -- which is how they can be exposed as the scientific arm of future dictatorships.

Humanism had died, at the latest in 1945. What it left behind was too soft, too weak, to become a hegemonic force. Instead, Western elites mixed it with bits and pieces of New Age and other out-of-context religious fragments, and ideology became invisible, hidden in the commodity form. The love-and-peace types had an idealistic touch, but only a few of them faced the consquences and chose the radical option of armed struggle. The presumed revival of humanitarianism in the '68 movement only gained influence at the unstable level of "mentalities." It lacked a masterplan to obtain power. In fact, it continuously undermined itself by questioning the notion of power altogether. The diffuse movements of the late 20th century rejected futurism and were "retro-garde" in their efforts to deconstruct every possible totalitarian concept, whether modernist, Stalinist or facist. Finally, the critique of representation undermined the few appeals from the environmentalists and anti-nuclear activists left to speak on behalf of "mankind."

The post-modern critique of humanism lacked a serious opponent. Why debate with some Protestant clergymen who have finally discovered Heidegger? In that respect, humanism (and its critique) is a phantasm of the 19th century. It only left traces -- because it lacked serious infrastructure. It was neither a party nor a state ideology, let alone a world religion. Its supposed claim on "universality" could therefore never be imposed, as the failures of the League of Nations and the UN show. That is why the post-modern critique of the "human" has such a bitter taste. It is cowardly because humanitarianism has failed in such a tragic way. This, in turn, made post-modernism itself so flabby. Well-off middle-aged academics, obsessed with their own mistakes, carry the burden of Western civilization in its entirety, and its legacy. Busy with their micro policies they avoid serious enemies. They cannot cope with the rise of religious fundamentalism, nor with the victory of global capitalism, its technologies and its ideological avant-garde: transhumanism.

Postmodernism itself is too infected by the discourse of chaos, complexity, genes, and fractals to understand the metaphorical aura of today's techno-science. There is nothing alternative any longer in the emphasis on "bio-politics" -- transvestites, cyborgs, cyberpunks, netsurfers ain't no rolemodels but generic citizens of the global economy. They are not making any difference, except for the rising gap between the rich and poor. What makes transhumanism so strong is its embedding, its deep penetration, in the infrastructure and software. We can laugh about the silliness of Hans Moravec and his poor, linear imagination. But that is cheap. There is no radical critique of the new technologies. The few luddites refuse to develop a systematic understanding and can only act as kamikaze fighters. The dream of a nomadic counter-movement, constantly in fear of being appropriated, prevents any serious form of organization or the accumulation of enough knowledge, power, and even capital to make it a serious threat. So transhumanism does not even have to present itself as an ideology -- it can immediately enter the room of the ruler. And so it happens, willingly supported by artists, visionairies, followed by marketing researchers. The rest is history.

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