from the “Introduction,”xvi-xx

This book proposes that the best path toward a transhuman future is the middle way pointed to by Jonathan Glover [What Sort of People Should There Be] two decades ago, and by Buchanan and colleagues [From Chance to Choice] more recently, a path that addresses bioLuddite concerns about safety and equality and avoids the reckless free-market ideology of some on the transhumanist side. We can embrace the transhuman technologies while proposing democratic ways to manage them and reduce their risks. For the new transhuman era to fully empower people politically and technologically we need a democratic transhumanist movement fighting both for our right to control our bodies with technology, and for the democratic control, regulation and equitable distribution of those technologies.

Section One (Chapters 1 to 5) describes the first steps we are now taking into the transhuman future, and how important both technological and political self-determination have been thus far. Chapter 1 outlines the basic insight that technology and democracy are the principal ways we have of improving the quality of life. Then I explore the four motivations leading us to push the envelope of humanness. Chapter 2 looks at the contributions of democracy and technology to achieving control over our bodies, including less pain, disease and disability. Chapter 3 looks at what we know about living longer. Chapter 4 explores how we get smarter. Chapter 5 asks whether it all will make us happier.

In Section Two (Chapters 6 to 10) I argue that the emerging "biopolitical" polarization between bioLuddites and transhumanists will define twenty-first-century politics. The biopolitical axis joins the existing two axes used in political science, cultural and economic politics. By teasing out these three axes in Chapter 6 we can better understand the flavors of transhumanism and bioLuddism already emerging.

Chapter 7 outlines the central political argument between the bioLuddites and the transhumanists, the bioLuddites' "human-racism" versus the transhumanists' personhood-based "cyborg citizenship." The implications of these two views are explored in debates about how to deal with the beginning and ending of life, and with animals modified for intelligence, intelligent machines and posthumans. In each case catalytic technologies, such as artificial wombs, the repair of brain injuries with prostheses and the enhancement of animal intelligence, will force us to choose between pre-modern human-racism and the cyborg citizenship implicit in the liberal democratic tradition.

Chapters 8, 9 and 10 describe various biopolitical strains and groups. Chapter 8 reviews how the religious Right has added transhumanism to its list of dangerous social movements, alongside secular humanism and gay rights. Chapter 9 reviews the contributions of deep ecology, feminism, disability rights and anti-capitalism to bioLuddism. Most of the arguments focus on inheritable corrections and enhancements of the human genetic code, but the arguments generally also apply to cybernetic and pharmaceutical enhancements of human abilities.

I discuss the "precautionary principle," which argues that technologies should not be used until their risks are understood, and is often used to argue that humans should not be allowed to enhance themselves until we understand all the consequences. The catch, of course, is that we can never understand all the consequences of any technology.

I also note the argument that enhancing our kids' intelligence or health is some form of totalitarian control of their lives, which has been made by thinkers as diverse as C. S. Lewis and Jurgen Habermas. In response I argue for "procreative beneficence" and "procreative liberty": We have an obligation, both as a society and as parents, to make sure our kids are as healthy, able-bodied and intelligent as possible. At the same time governments have to meet a very high burden of proof before they can justify interfering in parental decision-making about how, when and what kind of children to have, especially in light of the history of coercive eugenics. The best solution then is to make genetic therapies and enhancements as widely available as possible, and leave it up to the general goodwill of parents to act in the best interests of their children.

Chapter 10 examines the emergence of transhumanism. I start by outlining how transhumanism is the synthesis of the ancient drive to achieve healing, longevity and transcendence, previously sought through magic and mysticism, and the ancient drive to explain the world in natural terms and control it with reason. These two strains meet in the Renaissance in liberal humanism, which celebrates the possibility of human self-improvement through science and reason. Then, in the post-World War Two period, the converging influences of bioethics, science fiction, life extension medicine, artificial intelligence and space exploration converge with secular humanism to birth transhumanism as we know it.

I outline how several of the recent flavors of transhumanism were shaped by the cultural and political backgrounds of their exponents. For instance, extropianism rose out of young, male, Californian, libertarian culture with the emergence of the World Wide Web, followed by the broader, more democratic version of transhumanism embodied in the World Transhumanist Association (WTA), which emerged among a more diverse group of European transhumanists.

In Section Three (Chapters 11 through 14) I describe my vision of a "democratic transhumanism." Chapter 11 returns to the principle I illustrate in Section One: People will be happiest when they individually and collectively exercise rational control of the social and natural forces that affect their lives. The promise of technological liberation, however, is best achieved in the context of a social democratic society committed to liberty, equality and solidarity. The present chaos and misery of societies without functioning governments show the absurdity of the libertopian fantasy of freedom from government: We can only be free, prosperous, equal and safe under effective, accountable government.

Much of Chapter 11 is framed as a conversation with bioLuddite left-wingers on the one hand and the libertarian transhumanists on the other. I make the case for why political progressives should embrace human enhancement, and why libertarians sympathetic to human enhancement need to embrace democratic governance. Then I discuss the various constituencies that a democratic transhumanist movement needs to build coalitions with, such as advocates for reproductive and transgender rights, the gay and lesbian and disability communities and advocates for a guaranteed basic income.

In Chapter 12 I sketch out some of the policies suggested by democratic transhumanism. I flesh out the idea of cyborg citizenship, and what the idea says about what we owe to "disabled citizens" such as children, cognitively disabled adults and great apes. I address the limits of biological property and the patenting of human genes. I argue that we need stronger safety testing and regulation of human enhancement technologies, but that these can be handled within the existing regulatory agencies. We do not need new agencies whose sole purpose would be to ban technology on the basis of vague and spurious anxieties.

In Chapter 13 I discuss how we might guard against the development of antisocial personalities with posthuman powers, in ways that still respect cognitive freedom. I call this the Magneto-Xavier problem, which is a reference to the mutant supervillain leader in the comic-book series X-Men, Magneto, who decides that mutants are superior to human beings, while Professor Xavier leads the mutants working for human-post-human solidarity.

In Chapter 14 I sum up and present a twelve-point agenda for building a democratic transhumanist movement, including our need for transhumanist organizations and a future-friendly Left, as well as the need to build coalitions with key movements, to join campaigns for closely related rights and social programs and to support transhuman sciences.

Within a couple of decades the issues and ideologies I discuss in this book will seem archaic, since it is impossible for even the most visionary futurist to escape the limitations of time and place. John Haldane, an early-twentieth-century scientist who is one inspiration for a democratic transhumanism, said the future will be "queerer than we can imagine." But in my moments of awe-full reflection on the far future of intelligent life, I think of an image from the Chinese Buddhist Avatamsaka Sutra. The sutra describes the society of enlightened beings as an infinite net, laced with pearls and gems, each enlightened mind a multicolored twinkle that is reflected in every other jewel.

My hope is that, whatever forms of intelligence we give birth to, and however long and strange the trajectory of those embers of mind we fling into the universe, they continue to respect their separateness and diversity, as well as their interconnectedness. Whether they all still believe in "Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité" when they are journeying between the stars, I hope they treat one another with the kindness that comes from understanding that other beings are also looking out at the world from finite minds. I believe firmly that the decisions we make in this century, whether to end war, inequality, poverty, disease and unnecessary death, will determine whether we achieve that long-term, inconceivable destiny of intelligence, or flicker out as a failed experiment. Hopefully this book will contribute to a more positive outcome.

Citizen Cyborg
Why Democratic Societies Must Respond
to the Redesigned Human of the Future

James Hughes

26 October 2004