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Transhumanism, the Lazy Way to Human ‘Improvement’

Crossposted at National Review

Sometimes you have to laugh. In “Transhumanism and the Death of Human Exceptionalism,”published in Aero, Peter Clarke quotes criticism I leveled against transhumanism from a piece I wrote entitled, “The Transhumanist Bill of Wrongs” From my piece:

Transhumanism would shatter human exceptionalism. The moral philosophy of the West holds that each human being is possessed of natural rights that adhere solely and merely because we are human. But transhumanists yearn to remake humanity in their own image—including as cyborgs, group personalities residing in the Internet Cloud, or AI-controlled machines.

That requires denigrating natural man as exceptional to justify our substantial deconstruction and redesign. Thus, rather than view human beings as exclusive rights-bearers, the [Transhumanist Bill of Rights] would grant rights to all “sentient entities,” a category that includes both the biological and mechanical.

Clarke claims that I was “clearly fearmongering,” but then admits,“this depiction is fairly accurate.”Okay, then.

Clarke takes on the question I raised and slams human exceptionalism quite explicitly.

Human exceptionalism posits that humans are categorically unlike, and fundamentally better than, any other animal. It’s not an explicitly religious claim, but it’s very close to one. In practical terms, it often functions as shorthand for we are special because we are created in God’s image.

From an evolutionary perspective, this is preposterous. The fact that humans are different from other animals is a distinction of degree, Once we properly orient ourselves on the it becomes clear that we can learn more about ourselves by focusing on our similarities with other animals than by perpetuating the myth that we’re categorically unique.

No. One doesn’t have to believe in the soul to understand that we are not just another animal in the forest.

If the distinction between us and fauna is just a matter of degree — which I dispute, it is also of kind — then that difference is akin to the Matterhorn versus a small hill in the flatlands of Kansas.

After all, what other species in the known history of life has attained the wondrous capacities of human beings? What other species has transcended the tooth-and-claw world of naked natural selection to the point that, at least to some degree, we now control nature instead of being controlled by it?

What other species builds civilizations, records history, creates art, makes music, thinks abstractly, communicates in language, envisions and fabricates machinery, improves life through science and engineering, or explores the deeper truths found in philosophy and religion? What other species can ponder “seizing control” of its own evolution, as transhumanists do? Which has true freedom? Not a one.

It seems to me that human exceptionalism is as close to a self-evident truth as one can find.

Transhumanism goes so badly wrong by hubristically claiming that we have the ability — not to mention, the wisdom — to remake ourselves into something “better,” that we can somehow “improve” on what evolution, intelligent design, or Creation — take your pick — produced. That is eugenics, plain and simple. The movement’s fatal flaw can be found in its rigid mechanistic beliefs, that sees us basically as the sum of our materialistic parts.

The movement swoons over increasing intelligence. If I had to choose between increasing the intelligence of the human race to beyond Mensa levels versus enhancing our capacity to love, I can say unequivocally that the human race would be far better off embracing the latter than the former.

There is no brain implant for that. There is no pill. It is a virtue toward which we have to consciously strive – in the way we behave toward others, in the charity we exhibit, in the humility we attain. Only human beings have the capacity to pursue virtues. It is part of what makes us exceptional.

Transhumanists don’t seem much interested in such real improvements in the human condition. They want quick, easy technological fixes; a gene edit here, a brain implant there. They dream of becoming extraordinary, with the physical prowess of fictional super heroes, all without having to actually work for it. Sad.

Wesley J. Smith

Chair and Senior Fellow, Center on Human Exceptionalism
Wesley J. Smith is Chair and Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism. Wesley is a contributor to National Review and is the author of 14 books, in recent years focusing on human dignity, liberty, and equality. Wesley has been recognized as one of America’s premier public intellectuals on bioethics by National Journal and has been honored by the Human Life Foundation as a “Great Defender of Life” for his work against suicide and euthanasia. Wesley’s most recent book is Culture of Death: The Age of “Do Harm” Medicine, a warning about the dangers to patients of the modern bioethics movement.