Beyond the Human Race

The problem with the idea of posthumanity is that the thing it is supposed to be beyond, “humanness,” is an imagined community to begin with. So why imagine posthumanity at all?

There will certainly be identities that unite and divide us in the future, and some of them may revolve around the technologies we use to modify our bodies. People who have had nose jobs or vaccinations, or who have pacemakers or prosthetic limbs, may feel some faint abstract solidarity with one another. But few think of themselves as technologically modified transhumans who are transcending humanness. So why do we imagine that our descendants will suddenly feel this desire to declare themselves a new species?

It’s as if we were 16th century peasants trying to imagine the 20th century when monarchists will have to confront the scary powers of the “post-monarchists.” We are post-monarchists today, but our myriad modern identities and factions have nothing to do with monarchy.

I have contributed to this illusory posthumanity problem. As a transhumanist, my comrades and I talk a lot about transhumans and posthumans as if there will be such a break. But I fear that accepting these terms carries a lot of unnecessary baggage that plays into the hands of the “human-racists,” those who believe there are clear boundaries that define humanness which must not be transgressed. Some become human-racists because they believe Man was created in imago Dei, in the image of God, and that messing around with our bodies and brains violates a divine plan. But there are also plenty of secular people exercised about defending humans against posthumans.

In 2002, for instance, the liberal bioethicists George Annas and Lori Andrews published “Protecting the endangered human: Toward an international treaty prohibiting cloning and inheritable alterations,” in the American Journal of Law & Medicine. They argued for an international treaty to make cloning and germline genetic therapy “crimes against humanity,” a call taken up by other would-be defenders of humanness. Annas opined:

The posthuman will come to see us (the garden variety human) as an inferior subspecies without human rights to be enslaved or slaughtered preemptively. It is this potential for genocide based on genetic difference, that I have termed “genetic genocide,” that makes species-altering genetic engineering a potential weapon of mass destruction.

http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/hughes20100512/

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