Transhumanism and the Radical Left

By Summer Speaker

What is transhumanism?

This techno-futurist movement stresses the possibility and desirability of innovations such as lifespan extension and cognitive enhancement. Transhumanists seek to transcend unpleasant aspects of the human condition and cultivate our positive qualities through technological intervention. While the movement tends to support established military and corporate interests through uncritically trumpeting the progress narrative, it simultaneously contains a revolutionary élan devoted to reshaping society. Transhumanists eagerly entertain ambitious projects, rejecting traditional limits on individual and social change.

Shulamith Firestone’s Transformative Vision

Published in 1970, Firestone’s socialist-feminist manifesto The Dialectic of Sex demands the abolition of gender, the biological family, childhood, and toil. Firestone advocates women seizing control of reproductive technology, employing artificial wombs to separate procreation from body, and creating an egalitarian automated economy based in cybernetics. Firestone’s thought resonates with transhumanism and particularly connects through transsexual inventor and entrepreneur Martine Rothblatt’s 1994 transgender manifesto The Apartheid of Sex. Rothblatt later became a notable figure in the transhumanist movement, making an explicit connection between it and transgenderism.

The Primitivist Critique

Where transhumanism and Firestone show the liberatory potential of technology, primitivism exposes the horrors of the existing techno-industrial system. Iconic modern technologies such as electronics, industrial machines, and powered vehicles come directly out of European imperialism and require resources extracted through exploited labor on stolen lands. The human suffering and environmental damage involved can hardly be exaggerated. We need not embrace the complete indictment of civilization and science, but considering technological progress as a simple positive becomes untenable in this light.

Critical Engagement with Technology

Radical left politics demand a nuanced position toward the artifacts and social structures we lump together as technology. Speaking of these things on the aggregate often rings nonsensical. Laptops and nuclear bombs have decidedly different implications for our struggle. We all want clean air and water; nobody wants to be poisoned by industrial chemicals. Systems of production and the material goods they generate both oppress and empower, harm and comfort. Instances of this vast thing technology should prompt a variety of responses depending on the affected community. Primitivist dreams of driving civilization from the Earth and transhumanist ones of endlessly extending progress across the universe share totalitarian overtones. Outside of hierarchy, a diversity of legitimate life arrangements exist. We need a radical coalition capable united action against the oppressors and a future vision that embraces both reaching for the stars and returning to the woods.

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