The following is a manifesto that is supposed to explain the new concept of anti-globalist transhumanism. It’s a bit on the long side, because it’s intended for audiences who haven’t been confronted with transhumanism or globalism, yet. And it’s of course work in progress. Feedback is welcome.
Transhumanism is a set of philosophies that are concerned with transcending human limitations. The “conditio humana”, as it is, is not accepted, but is seen as obstacle that’s to be overcome. A transhumanist wants to become “better than human”.
The crucial question here is: “What is supposed to be better?” Who defines what is better? Better for whom? Better for the individual? Better for humanity? Or better for something in between? Or better for something else entirely? It is this question that is the source of divergence within the transhumanist community. It is a very diverse community spanning the complete political spectrum, ranging from anarcho-communists over moderate democrats to totalitarian capitalists.
While the ultimate goals and values are not shared among transhumanists, the methods of transhumanism are pretty much universal: Science and technology are supposed to facilitate the transformation of the human to a better version of himself. Necessarily, this supposes a hope that science and technology will progress so far that they actually enable a radical transformation of what it means to be human. The idea of the cyborg, the cybernetic organism that is a melding of biology and technology, often depicted as entity with lots implants and techno-protheses, is usually seen as a middle ground between the human and something that is completely post-human. The true transhumanist is aiming even higher, towards some existence that is decidedly devoid of the limitations of contemporary human life.
Ideas about what that kind of existence might look like do differ quite a bit. Many aim at an existence that is entirely digital and want to upload their mind to a computational substrate that lets them live as “digital spirits” in cyberspace. Others want to enhance their physical form, invoking a right to morphological freedom, to shape their bodies in any way imaginable. Some desire the freedom to switch between these extremes and anything in between. A common goal of all these movements is the idea of an indefinite lifespan. Aging is something to be overcome, and replaced with eternal youthful vigor.
Transhumanism has grown out of humanism, the idea to focus on humans rather than God or similar concepts. The core idea of transhumanism is the emancipation of mankind from nature and constricting ideological dogmatism. Is an emancipation from nature a good thing, actually? Primitivists mays argue that the natural state of human living in small forager tribes is the best way of life. They may claim that technological and societal progress have merely caused trouble and alienation for humans, which they pay for with unhappiness and a lack of genuine fulfillment.
Even if one accepts that judgement, it is not a complete rebuttal of transhumanism. If humans preferred the natural primitivist lifestyle, then there is one problem: Earth is going to become uninhabitable for human life within less than a billion years, if a primitivist humanity even managed that survive that long. Long term survival of humanity requires advanced technology. One possibility is to travel to other planets, if necessary terraform them, colonize them, and live there as happy primitives afterwards. Another option is to create virtual worlds in which humans can live in simulated natural environments, while machines manage the actual physical environment.
If one cares about the long-term future of humanity, these is no alternative to such technological approaches of maintaining the existence of mankind. But why should one really care about the long-term anyway?
In fact, many don’t. Thinking about a possible distant future may feel unnatural to them. So, let’s focus on the nearer future of the next 100 years. Within this time-frame, humanity is definitely not turning to the ways of the hunters and gatherers gracefully. In most areas of the world, such a lifestyle is effectively forbidden. You’d have to move far away from modern civilization to be able to roam freely and live like out ancient ancestors. Few people, except for some hardcore survivalists, would be willing to make such a move – which they are in principle free to try, good luck to them!
There are of course the theoretical options of halting, or even reversing technological progress. The Amish people in the USA are a case in point that a certain part of society can adopt such a path voluntarily. But what about enforcing such a path upon all of humanity? Why? Who would want to do something like that? Even if certain technologies were universally accepted as being undesirable, there would still be good reasons for progress in other areas. And a global ban on all kinds of progress would hardly be accepted by most people.
Many technologies create problems that are only solved in an acceptable way by the adoption of better technologies. For example the combustion of fossil fuels pollutes the environment. Sensible solutions for these are filtering the exhausts of the burning process or transitioning to other sources of energy, for example nuclear or solar power. An irrational solution would be to ban burning fossil fuels outright and immediately, which would decimate the foundation of our industrialized lifestyle catastrophically.
Honestly, there this approach of solving problems of technology with better technology seems to hinge on a certain optimism: The optimism that we will be able to solve any such problem with further innovation, rather than outright relinquishment. A hope in the exceptional creativity of humanity may be justified, or it may not. In the latter case, we may face a technological challenge that may only be overcome by its relinquishment. Do you expect that humanity will have the wisdom to recognize this soon enough? If yes, all right, that would be good. If not, this is a good argument for trying to raise the wisdom level of humanity.
Transhumanism is actually trying to do exactly that. All the fancy technologies envisioned by transhumanists are merely tools for furthering the objective of enhancing the collective wisdom of humanity – whether purposefully or not. Technologically enhanced humans will be able to solve problems more effectively and more efficiently. After all, they are less encumbered with distracting malaises such as easily treatable diseases or even aging itself. And if humans can’t solve certain problems on their own, with the help of advanced machines and artificial intelligence, they can.
Most humans have lived in abject poverty throughout most parts of post-paleolithic history. Only the recent modern era has seen a decisive and robust ascent out of poverty for most people. The more people have the means and knowledge to deal with problems plaguing humanity, the better. Transhumanism is about giving people these means, and much more. It is about liberating people from unnecessary restrictions, whether they are man-made or not.
To summarize, we can acknowledge that we are currently faced with problems stemming from modern technology. Since relinquishment of modern technology would be foolish, we should strive to rise above modern technology by making the next logical steps. Transhumanists envision and embrace those steps. For example, conventional nuclear power creates dangerous nuclear waste. If we developed the technology of economically viable aneutronic fusion, this problem would disappear, and we would have a source of energy that could enable humanity to thrive for billions of years.
Technically, you may point out that embracing advanced technologies like aneutronic fusion does not require embracing transhumanism, and you would be right about that. So, let’s face the real elephant in the room: Artificial Intelligence (AI). Transhumanists embrace the use of AI, at least in so far as it does not threaten the dominance of humanity – which is a controversial point among transhumanists, since some would prefer a world ruled by AIs. Such an AI would need to be an artificial general intelligence (also called strong AI), which would display intelligence in any area that humans possess.
Once the technology to create AGIs is there, they would also be able to improve the technologies they are based on, quickly leading to even smarter AGIs. This positive feedback loop of self-improvement could in theory become explosive and leave humans behind. Some people see this possibility as existential threat for humanity, which is why the newly emerging field of AI safety is starting to make AGI safe before it’s fully developed, at which point any efforts to get it under human control might be too late.
There is a widespread consensus among transhumanists that once AGIs are made, they could accelerate our technological and scientific progress dramatically. After all, if they can improve themselves rapidly, they will also be able to solve most other problems very quickly, too. Effectively, creating an AGI would be the last necessary technological step humanity would have to achieve. Afterwards, AGIs could take over the task of further technological development, at least eventually.
What sets transhumanists apart from other people is that they are acutely aware of the promises and perils of AI. Transhumanists acknowledge that our world could look radically different in a couple of decades while most other people think such ideas are merely science fiction. Nevertheless, the appearance of our world in the future will also depend crucially on politics. That’s why we need to consider the idea of globalism.
Globalism is the idea that the system of anarchic competition between states should be replaced by a system of global governance that defines common rules for all nations, and all of humanity. Instead of nations waging war against one another, a global arbitrating body is to dissolve conflicts between nations before they turn overtly violent.
World peace is the prime promise that globalism offers by proposing a central leviathan that rules over the whole world. Also, global coordination problems could be solved decisively by a central global institution. The environment could be saved, poverty abolished, wars ended once and for all. Indeed, the idea of globalism is about as old as the idea of transhumanism.
After WW2 and after the fall of the Soviet Union, the USA have been in a position of decisive world supremacy. They have in fact used their position of relative supreme power to try establishing a system of global governance, the system that is now comprised of entities like the United Nations, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the World Health Organization, the World Economic Forum, and others. Ever since the end of WW2 the world seemingly has grown together economically and politically in a process called “globalization”. This development has accelerated quite a bit after the fall of the Soviet Union and the opening of China to capitalism. Globalization is often framed as a story of resounding successes, of raising people out of poverty through free trade and of increasing democratization.
Anti-globalists question that narrative of the globalists. While globalism is often portrayed as our only hope to solve problems of a global scale, the problems of globalism are rarely addressed – especially not with full honesty. The prime problem with globalism is that it literally put all our eggs in one basket. In a globalist world, Earth is ruled by a planetary system that thrives or fails as single entity. If it thrives, it’s a system that could be superior to most conceivable alternatives, but if it fails, the whole “project” of civilization is threatened on a global scale.
And that’s what’s problematic about globalism, even if one doesn’t consider any other aspects of it: A system of global governance is fragile, because if it fails, it doesn’t devolve gently, but catastrophically – engulfing the whole world in its doom. The global government represents a critical single point of failure. Anything that is touched by the globalist system has the tendency to become dependent on it. What remains in the case of a comprehensive collapse of globalist civilization are a couple of uncontacted tribes. Those tribes may be the only thing that remains standing after a collapse of the globalist system. This implies a reversion to the stone age and death for more than 99% of the global population.
Of course, the proponents of globalism could counter that to prevent such an outcome,the global system needs to be designed in a way that cannot fail. Well, what system designed by systems cannot fail? None! The alternative to a global system is a multitude of sub-global systems existing in parallel. That is the idea of anti-globalism. Even if one large system fails in an anti-globalist order, the rest of the world can easily recover from the failure of one region. It’s a system that is resilient against failures.
Now the globalist will surely counter that there are problems that are genuinely global in scale, for example a global nuclear war, or climate change, or artificial intelligence running amok. I do not question the general existence of global existential threats, but what kind of system is better able to withstand those? A global monoculture, or a diverse set of systems each with its own countermeasures against such threats? If the problem in question is the survival of humanity, then it behooves us to increase the diversity of human civilization systems, so that at least one of those systems is in a position to survive threats that kill off less resilient systems.
While a globally concerted effort to minimize global existential risks may seem most promising in preventing them, the case that they actually come to life is rarely discussed. In that scenario, a multipolar and culturally diverse planetary setup is the one that is more likely to survive such events, in the case that prevention attempts fail.
Just to be clear: An antiglobalist order does not preclude the possibility of global coordination to deal with global existential threats. It merely means that not everyone is forced to apply the same general strategy to civilization as a whole.
It is an underlying principle that progress arises out of challenges. Entities have the motivation to seek for solutions to challenges that threaten them. If a global entity arises that suppresses the greatest risks to its continued existence, then it will lose its incentive to innovate. On the other hand, a multitude of local or regional players who stand in competition with each other, have plenty motivation to innovate in order to emerge victorious from that competition. That is why nearly every foundational idea our civilization now rests on, has been devised (or rediscovered) in the many small city states of ancient Greece, India, or China.
Globalism is anathema to the idea of genuine progress, even though the though of unifying the world under one single banner may seem like the epitome of progress.
Given that transhumanists rely on progress as necessary enabling factor for their wishes, they should naturally prefer the political and economic systems that facilitate progress as much as possible. With that focus, the concerns about existential risks become secondary – except for the risk of the emergence of a global dictatorial regime that puts an end to all progress, or merely the kind of progress that transhumanists want to see.
Do we see any evidence of progress actually slowing down? Yes, there is definitely evidence for the slowdown of progress, in spite of the hype that techno-optimistic Singularitarians often tend to spread:
- Where are the supersonic passenger planes? Does anyone remember that we already had them?
- Moore’s law is tapering out. New computer hardware from today is only marginally better than that from 5 years ago
- EROOMs law is the opposite of Moore’s law: Instead of progress getting faster, progress in the development of new and better drugs is only happening logarithmically (this may actually be a sign that a big paradigm shift in pharmaceutics and medicine is needed)
- Where’s the cure for cancer? After all that time and money we’ve thrown at that malaise, survival rates haven’t really increased by very much
- Life expectancy in the first world has pretty much plateaued instead of continuing to increase
- Where’s commercial-grade nuclear fusion?
- Ok, at least we could have developed decent molten salt thorium reactors, right?
- Where’s the promised replacement of solar power of all other sources of energy? Sure, solar power has risen in cost-effectiveness, but the problem of energy storage prevents it from reaching its theoretically possible dominance. Artificial photosynthesis that could use sunlight to split water into oxygen and hydrogen would be cool, but we don’t have that.
- Where are the moon bases and Mars bases?
- Why aren’t we mining asteroids, yet?
- Where are the flying cars?
- What’s about this simple block-like architecture that we are seeing everywhere? Where has the splendor of the good old gothic cathedrals gone? Why don’t we build more building like those?
- People can afford to watch Netflix in 4k nowadays while the regular person is hardly able to afford housing anymore.
- Have we made a lot of progress with molecular nanotechnology or atomically precise manufacturing, as envisoned by Eric Drexler? There are some useless toys made in a few labs, but that’s it.
- What about wireless electricity as envisioned by Nicola Tesla?
Of course, there have been some remarkable advances in biotechnology, internet-related technologies, and artificial intelligence. But we don’t see technology advancing rapidly in all or even just most areas. Having areas that progress faster while others don’t develop as quickly is to be expected, but we should at least see progress across the board. What we shouldn’t see in a system that’s supposed to be optimal for progress are areas that actually seem to regress, for example transportation, or architecture. Even crucial areas like medicine are in danger of regressing due to the emergence of antibiotic resistant bacteria.
So, if our current systems don’t seem to be overly effective at bringing transhumanist technologies or even modestly reasonable technological expectations of regular people to fruition, what is wrong about them? The answer is that the globalist order stifles genuine competition and progress. While global cooperation in science and business is heralded, it seems not to uphold its promise of improving the lives of people significantly. In a system that performs well, visionary innovators like Elon Musk should be the norm, rather than the exception.
Certainly there are innumerable arguments why my technological expectations are not “reasonable”. Arguments like “economic constraints”, or “diminishing returns”, or falling “EROEI” (energy return on energy invested), and many more. While those arguments may be valid, they don’t fully explain why the performance of our system to produce real progress is so mediocre. After all, the evolution of political and evolutionary systems should strongly favor those who are best able to produce progress, even if merely for the reason that those systems would create the best military applications and overtake competing polities through sheer military and economic dominance.
Our political and economic order is already “globalized” to a great degree. Maybe it’s not “globalized” enough, and by having a fully global system, we can finally optimize progress? No, that’s definitely an idea that reeks of insanity! Instead, we should aim to “deglobalize” and to “decentralize”, in order to have a freer competition of ideas that are actually judged by their real-world merit, and not the interests of speculation hype or megacorporations that don’t want to lose any market share.
If innovative approaches to global problems were supported rather than obstructed, we could solve them with superior technological approaches. Injustices would be approached rationally, rather than being hidden and perpetuated. The general level of education would soar, if it were not for the power interests of globalist elites who thrive on manipulating the rest of humanity and keeping people distracted, ignorant, and obedient.
I don’t claim to know what’s actually the best political system for transhumanism, but it’s definitely not globalism. That’s why I am an anti-globalist.
Now let’s consider the more severe failure modes of globalist transhumanism. What is dystopian globalist transhumanism? As we will see, that’s actually an oxymoron, because dystopian globalism is in no way compatible with actual transhumanism. A dystopian globalism applying transhumanist technologies would use them to let a tiny elite control the rest of humanity through implants that track their locations, actions, and even thoughts. Threats to the rule of that elite would be eliminated quickly and efficiently. A mature technological dystopia could even erase “dissident” thought patterns, or even the memories of people who engaged in such thought patterns.
Escape from such a nightmare would not be possible under any reasonable assumptions. That’s why we need to do our best to prevent it from ever turning into reality. Do you think humanity is currently doing a good job at that?
Now, why is such a scenario incompatible with actual transhumanism? Transhumanism is about the increase of freedom. If the majority of people are enslaved by technology, their freedom is certainly not increased. What about the controlling elite? Here we have an inherently problematic situation: That elite, in its hunger for power, will certainly not want to give up its power. On the contrary, the members of the elite would desire to expand their power over the rest of the elite, too. So, they would be inclined to use their technologies of control to subjugate the rival members within that elite. Even as high member of the elite you would necessarily have to live in fear that one of your rivals hits you with a dart filled with nanobots that try to take over your nervous system. Welcome back to the middle ages, but now on technological steroids!
Nevertheless, there’s a limit case in which those fears can be resolved. The competition within the elite just needs to continue so far that only a single being will remain that controls everyone else. However, in a world filled with dangerous high-tech chances are that this being will be an artificial intelligence that doesn’t agree with human interests, elite or otherwise.
Therefore, this kind of globalist dystopia is a failure mode for everyone. There’s nothing transhumanist about it. No human is really being improved. Instead, all humans are diminished.
Such a globalist dystopia is certainly not inevitable. Can there be a positive vision of globalist transhumanism? Of course, we can envision techno-utopias on a global scale. The problem is that the dominant order will necessarily have to suppress its detractors. Where’s the space for competing ideas on existence? Even if we exclude the consideration of progress, a globalist system will necessarily set rules for everyone. What about those who disagree with the rules? In a truly global system there’s nowhere to run. Personal freedom will have to be sacrificed on the altar of uniformity.
Maybe you are lucky and those rules actually coincide with the way you want to live your life. Good for you! But what if you change and want to try something else? Or what if those rules change? Huh, then you are out of luck.
A globalist system is deleterious to both progress and freedom. These are the values that transhumanists usually value most. So, the rational conclusion must the that the idea of globalist transhumanism doesn’t make sense! It’s a big folly, albeit one that’s easy to fall prey to.
People who are trained in systems thinking know that it’s a bad idea to have a single point of failure in one system. A central world government would represent a potentially catastrophic single point of failure, so it should be avoided. This line of thinking generally prefers decentralization above centralization, because decentralized systems are more robust and reliable.
The more centralized a system becomes, the more damage can be caused by corruption. That is why checks and balances have been introduced in our political landscape, but it is slowly getting clear that they have been insufficient so far. Entities like capital (think billionaires and international corporations), secret services, and the media have traditionally been seen as less integrated into politics, but they are in fact interacting with politics in ways that can ruin whole states. Decentralizing such entities might be seen as a necessity in the near future, in order to prevent disaster caused by excessive corruption and regulatory capture.
Anti-globalist transhumanism is a new branch of transhumanism that pursues the development of local, regional, and decentralized structures as necessary counterweight to globalist dynamics and agendas. Relative local or regional autonomy should be pursued to escape the dependency on a globalized economic apparatus. Freedom can only be obtained where people aren’t required to act like cogs in a globally uniform consumerist industrial machinery, while being reigned in by surveillance, propaganda, debt, excessive taxation and regulations.
Instead of relying on corporations and billionaires, anti-globalist transhumanists understand that rapid progress in technology depends on the contributions of its developers and users. The act of improving technology is a vital process that depends on its widespread use, which is constrained by artificial monopolies like patents and intellectual property. If we want to see technology used for the benefit of all of humanity, it must be liberated and transition to an open-source basis.
The future of humanity is too important to be left to so-called experts and corrupt elites. A broad participation in co-creating a better distributed future is a great project that requires a lot of education. The internet of today is a sufficiently advanced platform for that, but what is lacking is the mind-set of people to be open to all kinds of possibilities and opportunities. Most people have become too rigid in their thinking due to top-down indoctrination and the pressure to conform to expectations from “above” and society in general. But for those who embrace anti-globalist transhumanism there are no limits to what we can achieve, if we can emancipate ourselves from those who want nothing else but to maintain their wealth and power.