Hi Theri, thank you for your courage to start with a provocative post. Those may be relatively rare here, but I think they are important to get a serious discussion going.
If transhumanists have a "bias" towards optimism, that's mostly because they want to believe that real change is still possible. A bit of optimism isn't wrong per se. There are certainly some transhumanists who are less optimistic. Those can mostly be found in the existential risk community, and the AI risk crowd in particular. And then there's also those transhumanists who worry about global warming, disruption of society through increasing inequality, financial instability, political instability, and so on. The problem is that transhumanist dreams can hardly be realized in a post global nuclear war scenario – at least not for 99% of people living today anyway. If you believe that the world is going to get screwed, you most likely get screwed, too.
I find such a statement surprising. That sounds like you knew more about transhumanism than established transhumanists who would mostly agree with the history of transhumanism presented in that article. Note that it's a history of actual transhumanism, not a history of precursor movements to transhumanism. If the article tried to include anything that could be seen as precursor to transhumanism, then it would be very difficult to say what's to be included in it. I mean, there are a lot of candiate precursors that one could consider:
- The Gilgamesh epos that reflects on the quest for immortality
- The gnostic schools of thought in Christianity
- Buddhism in general
- Humanism of course
Yet most of those movements started way too far in the past, and so they had neither the knowledge, nor the technology to count as fully transhumanist. This only changed in the 19th and 20th century, where we developed the true prerequisites for a transhumanist transformation of humanity.
I find it an interesting idea to root back transhumanism to Darwin. This points to the interesting alternative of going back even further to Lamarck, who was the first to think seriously about the principle of evolution. Transhumanism could be interpreted as conscious technological and scientitic pursuit of expected goals of evolution, though it's equally valid to see transhumanism as technological and scientificf pursuit of personal development goals that are seen in conflict with the proposed "goals" of evolution. Transhumanism can equally be seen as continuation of evolution with new means, or as the transcendence of evolution through the victory of rationality over blind chance and biological necessities. It all merely comes back to one's view on evolution, and one's interpretation of its "goals". Nevertheless, it's problematic to attribute "goals" to a mechanistic process like evolution.
Having written that, it's understandable that there's some temptation to consider social darwinism as one of the first incarnations of transhumanism, since it's based on a conscious use of the ideas of "natural selection" and "surival of the fittest". Nevertheless, social darwinism can hardly elevate humanity above its baseline, if at all. When having the control of evolution in mind, humanity has practicsed that since it has become familiar with the idea of selective breeding. The principle of breeding animals for the amplification of traits has also been applied to humans, in particular to royal blood lines. It could be said that the idea of royalty is most transhumanist than the idea of social darwinism, but then that sounds more like a reductio of absurdum. But then, is could be seen as natural progression of applying the principles of "genetic mindfulness" to the whole population, rather than to a small exalted class of people.
I'm not sure if you would be happy to trace back transhumanism to animal breeders, royalists, social darwinists, and nazis. I wouldn't deny that this was a valid interpretation of the pre-history of transhumanism, but it's also possible to trace back transhumanism to other core ideas like those of rationalism, scientific reasoning, technological advancement, self-improvement, and so on. Integrating all of those themes into a complete history of precursor movements of transhumanism would get quite overwhelming. Perhaps it would still be an interesting endeavour, but then what's the driving motivation behind it? Curiosity? Intellectual integrity? Rewriting / reframing history? If anything, the possibility of associating transhumanism with all kinds of ideologies merely demonstrates that we should be carefuly about what to call "transhumanist" and what not.
The disregard for human live outside of one's own ingroup has been universal throughout history, so that is hardly a defining characteristic of transhumanism. Then, what else can be seen as transhumanist here? The use of markets? Pretty old idea, too. What about globalized markets? We had those at least since the Silk Road. If there's anything new here, it's perhaps the intentional elimination of "undesirable humans" in the name of evolution. Do you think this is the "negative side of transhumanism" in action? Should we acknowledge the existence of a "negative transhumanism" that doesn't focus on the increase of the positive, but the decrease of the negative in the human population? Sure, we could do that, and the main value of that would be to emphasize how ineffective negative transhumanism really is. It only works at a glacial pace, if at all, and whether the outcome is really what one had in mind, and if even the intended outcome was desirable are additional issues.
Yes, authoritarian state-implemented eugenics has been fashionable for a while. It has to be noted that it was mainly negative eugenics. Historically, eugenics had hardly ever been used to enhance really desirable features like health or intelligence. On the contrary, it has been misused to justify moving into the opposite direction through the selection of unusually intelligent ethnic groups like Jews, which in turn probably acquired their intelligence as a result of their systemic discrimination (meaning increased selection pressure) throughout history. This whole mess has discredited the idea of eugenics in general, whether that's justified or not. It shouldn't come as a surprise that eugenics is not the favourite topic of transhumanists.
Ok, while it's true that we now enter the realm of "real transhumanism" now, what's misleading is calling what I would term "neoliberal elitist transhumanism" as "transhumanism" per se. The idea that the "free market" suffices to create a transhumanist utopia has been relatively popular over the last decades in trasnhumanis circles – mainly within the USA. It's not surprising that the expression of transhumanism changes with the currently dominant economic doctrine. There's no "pure" transhumanism that exists outside of the realm of economics and politics.
While it's a frequent mistake to attribute the idea of a basic income to this line of neoliberal thinking, the roots of that idea reach back more than 200 years before. The idea of a basic income is natural consequence of capitalist industrialization that disrupted the dominant self-sufficient existence of farmers who lost their land due to the privatization of land, and were forced to sell their labour to survive. Basic income was initially conceptualized by Thomas Paine and Thomas Spence as compensation for this loss of self-sufficiency.
Nevertheless, your criticism has a valid point: Basic income could be used as mere tool for pacifying the masses. That's especially true, if it's kept at a level that merely allows people to surive. But a basic income is definitely a part of the solution, if it's high enough to allow for real participation in society.
"Bread and circus" has been a historically successful strategy for keeping the people pacified. Inequality usually only gets politically explosive, if it's so high that a large percentage of the people doesn't have access to the "bread" part anymore. There are few exceptions to that rule. The end of the "German Democratic Republic" could be seen as one of them. Sometimes it's enough for people to see that living in a better system is real possibility, but that's rather the exception than the rule.
And those discussions are very necessary. Without hardcore cyborgization, there won't be much paid work left for unaugmented humans. Though, if you live on a decent basic income and decide to continue working for free, you might see that more as liberation than as a problem.
Does this mean you fear an outcome in which the majority of the population end up "lazy and fucked up" once we run out of paid jobs? You ignore the possibility that people may have something better to do with their time than filling it up with a mere "job". There are still lots of big problems left in the world waiting to be solved. Merely the lack of resources thrown at these problems is what keeps them from being solved. But if we have human resources liberated by a decent basic income, then people can decide to work on solving those problems – for free if you will. Of course that requires decent levels of education and access to basic social, informational, and material resources, but in the Network Age those shouldn't be the biggest problems.
If anything, there are economic, social, and psychological hazards in a world with decent basic incomes. In every system there are some people who have problems adjusting to the system. But I think it's better to accept the existance of those small minorities than trying to force anyone to adapt to the system by force.
What about considering alternatives to earning money for attracting a wife? After all, having to resort to money as attractor for potential mates implies a lack of other important qualities. But no, realizing that is too hard of a pill to swallow, isn't it?
The main decentralised problem is human stupidity. That can be solved with decentralised education and human enhancement – well, at least partially. Another decentalised problem: Environmental degradation. Solution: Make humans pay for degrading the environment. Decentralised sensor networks and AIs who estimate environmental harm could do that. That is, if there's the political will to implement people paying for the damage they cause. And that's a global problem, because nation states live in compeition with each other. That's why nationalist solutions won't work. Only a global political framework can solve global and decentralised problems.
What do you base your claim on? I've harly met any transhumanist who claims that there isn't inequality in intelligence. What's your point anyway? This sounds like an obvious straw man.
If people were serious about rushing towards authoritarianism, they should migrate to Russia, China and North Korea. Perhaps they aren't desperate enough to resort to these alternatives, yet. It may be what lies ahead in coming decades anyway, if the USA and Europe don't get their shit together.
But what do you want to imply with that? Are you saying that transhumanist should pander to the masses who seemingly long for more authoritarian solutions? Do you think we need an authoritarian transhumanism? How should that look like? Perhaps like China with its ambitions to create designer babies? Or like the scenario depicted in Zoltan Istvan's book "The Transhumanist Wager" with a transhumanist dictator ruling over the world? Perhaps in the end, you may get your wish fulfilled in the form of an AI dictator that implements authoritarian transhumanism for all (surviving) humans.
Basic income is becoming increasingly popular within the whole political spectrum. I'm not claiming that it's a solution to all problems, but it looks like we will get a basic income anyway, if this trend continues. Additionally, it's hard to see a good and viable solution to basic income.
A for the demands for sovereignty, well, those are very hard to fulfill in a neoliberal globalised economy. Of course, states can try to withdraw from the globalised economy, but the usual outcome is impoverishment, unless that nation decidedly uses its resources to create its own national industrial basis. Unfortunately that requires a lot of time and political dedication, and until the process is completed, the people remain very poor. But hey, if people get their self-worth through not starving and depairing through a period of economic harship, then that's worth it, isn't it?
If instead, we had a decent global basic income, this would liberate people to create their own kind of sovereign polities, since they won't be forced by economic necessity to adjust to the global economic and political doctrines. Only a globalised world enables true regional sovereignty, as paradox as it sounds. The fractal society (or metatopia as I prefer to call it more recently) is the synthesis of globalism and localism. Diversity and homogeneity don't need to be polar opposites. Instead, they should merely pertain to different scales: Diversity on a global scale and homogeneity on a local scale through voluntary association with like-minded peers.
I completely agree with Joao here. We don't really avoid that topic, but it's one of the least interesting and promising transhumanist technologies. Germ-line and non-germ-line genetic engineering with CRISPR, or cyborgization with neural laces are both much more promising. And if you want more extreme alternatives, you can resort to AI, or human brain emulations, which will rock the boat so hard that most of humanity will get extreme nausea in the decades to come.
10% of the variance in IQ is ridiculously low. Who cares about 10%? Our world is changing too fast for caring about 10% of IQ variance.
You are trying to frame this as "either or" alternative. Why not give people basic income and grant everyone the options of intelligence enhancement? After all, that's what most technoprogressive transhumanists are in favour of. In fact, intelligence enhancement is most effective for those with relatively low IQ scores. People with high IQs profit little from technologies aimed at intelligence enhancement.
The most obvious aspect of transhumanism? There isn't such a thing. After all, living indefinitely, merging with AI (in order to become gods or what we want), controling with world with molecular nanotechnology, turning the cosmos into our playground, are a pretty big deal, too. If you think your pet topic is getting too little attention, you are in best company with other transhumanists who also think that their own favourite topics get too little attention. So, it's not fear or ignorance. It's just the diversity of different transhumanist pet peeves that makes it look like certain topics are avoided. There are certainly a lot of transhumanist topics that get addressed a lot in transhumanist circles, for example:
- Animal uplifting
- Radical morphological freedom
- Creating a technological telepathic and empathic network
- Creating a transhumanist economy
- Rational technological control over one's own emotions
All of these topics have a potential that's at least as disruptive as increasing the average IQ of humanity by 10 IQ points.
What do you base that opinion on? Are you alluding to the difficulty of getting a job with a low IQ, so those people earn for an authoritarian government that promises them a job? Don't you see how degrading that is? First of all, those people would require on a government to get a rather meaningless job, rather than creating meaning with one's own entrepreneurial efforts. That solution isn't better than a bais income, but worse, since it keeps people in dependence rather than really liberating them. In our industrialised world we do live in mutual interdependence, and basic income is the least paternalistic way of dealing with that appropriately.
Also, there are other factors that are about as important for getting a good job, such as health and conscientiousness (or grit or self-discipline if you will). And self-discipline is a topic that is really avoided by almost everyone nowadays, in particular transhumanists. We live in a decadent age after all – what else should we really expect? People resort to easy and convenient solutions, because they lack the will to face the truth of their own weakness and insufficiency.