Mon chapitre au cœur de cet ouvrage publié en février de cette année (aurait dû paraître initialement en août 2021).
Posthumanism, transhumanism, superhumanism and metahumanism from an adaptive standpoint
When I write “Posthumanism, transhumanism, superhumanism and metahumanism from an adaptive standpoint”, what I mean by “adaptive standpoint” is “as far as are concerned the survival of individual humans and of the human species as a whole”. The question I’m raising thus is to what extent are posthumanism, transhumanism, superhumanism and metahumanism views that analyse adequately and recommend useful proposals pertaining to safe, long and enjoyable individual lives, and indefinite survival of the human species in optimal circumstances.
Before going any further, let us characterise briefly each of those varieties of anti- or neo-humanism.
Although the term posthumanism refers in most cases to an updated and revised version of the humanism of olden times having shed away one or more of its basic tenets, such as a speciest anthropocentric bias, and replaced it by some expansion of the sphere, the term has been used also to refer to visions of a world from which humankind would have been entirely wiped out.
Transhumanism has adopted the radical view of ignoring what had caused in the mid-twentieth century qualms with the Enlightenment and its utopia of an ever unfolding human perfectibility, therefore reconnecting at the very location where the disconnect had taken place. Thus my labelling it as « The Enlightenment recovered ». Transhumanism offers a discourse justifying, however daring they might be, the steps required to ensure the survival of the human species, whether that would occur on planet Earth or anywhere else in the universe.
As opposed to posthumanism and transhumanism promoting a humankind progressing in lockstep to a new stage, Nietzsche’s superhumanism and del Val & Sorgner’s metahumanism, are elitist.
Nietzsche had said so unambiguously:
“The problem that I set here is not what shall replace mankind in the order of living creatures (—man is an end—): but what type of man must be bred, must be willed, as being the most valuable, the most worthy of life, the most secure guarantee of the future” (Nietzsche 1895 : 3).
Elitism, similarly, with del Val and Sorgner if, according to them, “Monsters are promising strategies for performing this development away from humanism” (del Val & Sorgner 2010), as there is no way monstrosity may rise to the level of universality without turning automatically into a new normalcy.
Why envisage these four views in terms of adaptation? Because survival of the human race is in jeopardy at the time we speak as it has trespassed the carrying capacity of the environment as far as it is concerned. In addition, its own capacity at maintaining a liveable environment for itself is seriously compromised, due to pollution, climate change, the accumulation of waste being toxic or not, and the exhaustion of natural resources. Although there is no consensus among scientists on this issue, scenarios envisioning the extinction of humankind within the coming three generations or one hundred years are sufficiently plausible to be taken in dead earnest.
Depending on which mammal species one has in mind, individuals live from a couple of years to about one hundred, the latter being our own case, the rule being that ageing takes its toll ineluctably after a mammal has trod along its reproductive time lapse. A mammal species’ lifetime is typically 2.5 million years.
Faced now with the possibility of extinction of our own species we, human beings, display a wide variety of responses whereof I will first produce a brief catalogue before examining where posthumanism, transhumanism, superhumanism and metahumanism stand in that respect.
I. the denial of an extinction’s risk, which might be
I.1 a passive, privately held personal denial or
I.2 an active denial when a person uses one’s power and money to finance denial publicly through an agnotology campaign, the latter being defined as “culturally induced ignorance or doubt, particularly the publication of inaccurate or misleading scientific data”, or to sponsor smears of bona fide scientists or activists, as was recounted in detail by N. Oreskes & E. M. Conway in Merchants of Doubt (2010).
II.a an acceptance of doom, here also under two guises, a passive and an active one. In the passive form of acceptance of extinction,
II.a.1 a process of mourning for the fate of the human race is at work with an individual holding the fatalistic view that our destiny was sealed, possibly several centuries ago, when, for instance, at the end of the 18th century we started tapping massively fossil fuel reserves as energy sources and burning them into the atmosphere for lack of any alternative medium where to send the fumes.
II.a.2 in the active form of an acceptance of extinction, a person not only hails the demise of humankind but contributes to precipitating it as a proactive way for saving whatever part can be of the current remaining biodiversity. Here active doomsayers intend their activism to be a tribute to life’s survival, with an emphasis on its most sophisticated manifestations apart from us undignified blunderers on our way out for the sake of all.
As an alternative, or as a complement to acceptance of our own demise, we can contemplate
II.b the transmission of our own legacy to future generations of self-replicating intelligent machines, best able to survive in a type of environment that we have failed to keep friendly towards ourselves and has therefore turned hostile. Such successors of ours won’t care about the presence or not of oxygen in the atmosphere or whether or not the water around is drinkable according to human standards of drinkability.
III. restoring our capacity at remaining within the boundaries of the carrying capacity of our environment through the deliberate goal of reducing our imprint on planet Earth. Different methods exist for achieving this aim, covering a wide range of types of behaviour, from
III.a individual reform through voluntary frugality, to
III.b eugenics when filtering of future generations’ desired features is promoted and implemented or to
III.c exterminism, such as genocide, when a wilful shaping is intended of not only future generations and their reproductive potential but also of current ones, starting now.
IV. expanding the carrying capacity of the human species’ environment through technological innovation. This is by now a traditional way for humans to proceed: every one of the green revolutions, the development and rapid expansion of aquaculture, have allowed expanding our species’ carrying capacity. The race has however turned into a losing battle as destruction progresses now faster than expansion.
V. adapting ourselves to a decaying environment, either through
V.a sheltering ourselves within new subterranean or submersed habitats,
V.b through genetic modifications aiming at making us more resilient, or
V.c through downloading our individual selves as software into silicon-based machines relying hence on light as our sole energy source instead of on difficult to maintain assimilable food.
VI. colonising new environments. As we have by now colonised all existing niches on Earth, even the more inhospitable, the remaining overture is through colonising other worlds, either within our current reach within our own stellar system, the solar system, or in other stellar systems where exoplanets with physical and chemical features similar to those of our own planet, for lack of strictly identical ones, may provide a welcoming environment or would be able to accommodate terraforming.
So, tu sum up:
I. Denial of extinction
I.1 Private denial
I.2. “Merchant of Doubt” activist denial
II. Acceptance of extinction
II.a.1. Private mourning of humankind
II.a.2. “Good riddance” activist stance
II.b. Transference of our legacy to our IA heirs
III.a. Individual frugality
IV. Progress will prevail
V.a. Life in the Underground
V.b. Genetic enhancement
V.c. Dematerialisation of the Self
VI. Space colonisation
The four of them: posthumanism, transhumanism, superhumanism and metahumanism, were conceived by their proponents as a “development away from humanism” as Sorgner underlines.
This was indeed the concern at the basis of the rise of these new upcoming views: to depart from the representation of the human subject which had become central to Western culture, by proposing an alternative “anti-humanism” severed from the central tenets of this “Man” as defined within Genesis, the first book of the Christian dogma: Man in the image of God; all other species, animal or vegetal, being subordinated to Man so as to serve his aims. “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth” (Genesis: 1.26).
Man has broken the divine covenant for having tasted the forbidden fruit of the Tree of knowledge, a prohibition akin to that in ancient Greek mythology where Prometheus is cursed and tormented for having provided Man with the premier tool of all technology to come: fire. In the Bible’s terms: “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat. But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Genesis: 2.16-17).
“Let us move away from the superstitious ancient view of mankind and move onto an expanded modern representation, better in tune with our contemporary times”, such is the motto of the four ground-breaking new varieties of anti-humanism. But have they got the potential for saving us from eradication? That is what I would like to see here clarified.
Although survival of individual human beings has from the beginning been a central concern of transhumanism, none of the four: posthumanism, transhumanism, superhumanism and metahumanism has stated a clear concern for the survival of the human species as such in a time of threatening extinction.
As for superhumanism and metahumanism in particular, they’ve been concerned not with the fate of the species as a whole but with the fate of some enlightened members of it: those choosing to rally around their particular stance.
- Denial of extinction
It goes without saying that denial of extinction is not adaptive to the extent that it would constitute a positive factor in the fight against the looming threat.
I.1 Private denial puts its subject at the forefront of the early victims to come as it goes hand in hand with unpreparedness for the hardships that will be the auguries of the coming overall demise.
I.2. The “Merchant of Doubt” activist type of denial sets its protagonist in the category of those who are not simply passive before the process of extinction but are also precipitating it.
Does any of the four, posthumanism, transhumanism, superhumanism and metahumanism, hold a special relationship with denial and acceleration of extinction? No, as varieties of anti-humanism they are reflective, they propose a view that is critical of humanism and as such constitute an articulate counter-proposal to it. They do not stand on the side of obscuring but of enlightening, however effective they might be in that respect.
II. Acceptance of extinction
Acceptance of extinction is not adaptive at least to the extent that is only strictly concerned the fate of our own species. Indeed the threat of extinction requires as a response, a proactive attitude implying planning and gathering together specific resources as the means for preventing such a dire outcome.
II.a.1. Anticipated (what else could it be?) private mourning of humankind amounts to a stoic stance if it is a response attained through profound pondering in the light of a conclusion having been rationally reached that there is no known way for preventing extinction.
II.a.2. The “Good riddance” activist stand that the forcible elimination of the human race is the optimal policy in order to save the other species in their biodiversity, should probably be regarded as a central and standard posthumanist stand, maybe the most commendable of all.
II.b. Transference of our legacy to our IA robot heirs is definitely another variety of the posthumanist stand, where humankind would have vanished but not before having transmitted to self-replicating intelligent machines all that we regard worth of being transmitted to future self-aware creatures, being indifferently carbon- or silicon-based.
This posthumanist position needs however to be clearly distinguished from a transhumanist variation on the same theme akin to it: that of the transference of our selves into a silicon-based substrate. Even if on the day the practical implementations of both might be difficult to tell apart, the underlying view and aims are clearly separable and have arisen with distinct goals in mind: turning the page and passing the baton to our heirs in the first instance, continuing our own existence in a different guise in the second instance.
As such, the purpose of modifying the behaviour of individuals and the composition of the species as a whole so as to bring it back within the natural boundaries of the carrying capacity of the environment is of course adaptive by logical entailment. The issue here as we’re all well aware is not so much that of the legitimacy of the aim as that of the ethical status of the means resorted to.
III.a. Individual frugality would no doubt have been the ideal approach for preventing that we ever had to confront the limitations’ issue. The difficulty with frugality as a consistent method at the current time is double: the critical mass of people who need to adopt a particular frugal behaviour and the chronology over which – should a critical mass of people be attainable – a significant change would be observable in the restoration of the carrying capacity of our environment. In those respects, although individual frugal behaviour is adaptive, the near impossibility of attaining critical mass for any particular positive behaviour, and the length of time required to reverse current trends, render the individual frugality approach however desirable, ineffective at the time horizon of three generations or one hundred years within which the threat of extinction needs imperatively to be first challenged, then second, dispelled.
Some attitudes associated to frugality, such as vegetarianism or veganism, fall within the range of a particular brand of posthumanism, that which has extended the realm of dignity to higher order animals or to all animals around us. Within philosophy Arthur Schopenhauer was at the forefront of such a fight, who Nietzsche took first as an educator (Erzieher) in his Untimely Meditations (1874), before reneging on him in the most counterfeit and provocative manner: “Suffering is made contagious by pity […] Pity thwarts the whole law of evolution, which is the law of natural selection. It preserves whatever is ripe for destruction; it fights on the side of those disinherited and condemned by life; by maintaining life in so many of the botched of all kinds, it gives life itself a gloomy and dubious aspect. […] it is a prime agent in the promotion of décadence—pity persuades to extinction… […] Schopenhauer was hostile to life: that is why pity appeared to him as a virtue.” (Nietzsche  1895: 7).
Let us observe in passing that posthumanism holds an “imperialist” view according to which humankind as a whole shares a single concept of dignity, ignoring for all practical purposes that different groups of humans hold widely discrepant views of the extension of the “Us”. Dignity may indeed be allocated to the entire realm of living creatures – as posthumanism and metahumanism seem to suggest – but also to dismally small groups such as people of one’s own ethnicity, sharing the same religious creed as one, or even restricted to one’s own clan or family alone.
III.b. Eugenics as distinctive from exterminism aims at shaping future generations so as to encourage a shift in the composition of the human population towards a particular type regarded as especially desirable, in a perspective undoubtedly regarded as “adaptive” by its proponents even if other parts of the population would question the criteria retained, in particular that part of the population displaying the features determined as those to be eradicated.
Superhumanism and transhumanism undoubtedly betray sympathies towards eugenics, even if most of their spokespeople would deny such inclination, apart from Fuller & Lipinska, promoting “hedgenetics” as a “participatory” and “democratically accountable” type of eugenics (Fuller & Lipinska 2014: 128).
Both strands of superhumanism and transhumanism would need to deal however with the fact and would have to come up with some explanation for why upholders of eugenics invoke their views, although not specifically referring to Fuller & Lipinska, finding there tools for supporting theirs.
It is indeed a logical entailment of the view that a particular type of persons belong to the ideal type that the preponderance of that type would be sought for and encouraged.
Transhumanism has no qualms with its sympathy towards eugenics even if less controversial words than eugenics are preferably used by its proponents such as “enhancement” or “augmentation” or, as we’ve just seen, neologisms such as “hedgenetics”, genetics and prosthetics being the methods of choice for the enactment of that particular facet of human perfectibility.
Needs to be mentioned here however some ambiguity in the case of superhumanism to the extent that the Superhuman shows disdain towards reproduction. This was the case for Nietzsche himself as a person and no one entertains any serious doubt that the image of the Übermensch was tailored by him from an idealised representation of his own self, as comes about transparently in such texts as The Antichrist (1895) or Ecce Homo ( 1908).
The Metahuman “monster” doesn’t seem to show much more reproductive proclivity and it could be claimed therefore that both the Superhuman and the Metahuman pertain to the category of private mourning of the dismal human experience rather than to a Malthusian view consistent with the restoration of harmony between the human race and the carrying capacity of its environment towards its existence.
III.c. Exterminism as I mentioned above extends to the present – with an aura of life-threatening urgency – the shaping of the population that eugenics projects in a milder manner as a task for the future. Unless that is one expands the range of what is called eugenics so as to include in it exterminism as well. I prefer here keeping a clear difference between the two terms.
IV. Progress will prevail
Climate change is likely to reach cataclysmic proportions; air pollution is on the rise, macro- and micro-plastic pollution is pervasive; endocrine disruptors wreak havoc in our reproductive ability and leads to malformation in foetuses and mental handicap; the natural cycles of nitrogen and phosphorus are by now seriously compromised and on their way towards irreversible degradation. These all require as far as the survival of the species is concerned that our overall technological capacities get mobilised in attempts to reverse those lethal trends.
Posthumanism is biased against technology because of its Heideggerian anti-modernist roots. Superhumanism and metahumanism appear to be agnostic on the topic. Transhumanism is of course highly favourably biased towards technological progress as far as human enhancement is concerned through genetics, prosthetics, and the less well-defined project of dematerialisation of the self. It would be inconsistent therefore with the overall worldview of transhumanism were it to advocate anti-technological views on other issues.
Space colonisation which falls under this heading is dealt with separately.
V.a. The concept of Life in the Underground started historically with bunkers used as bomb shelters. It will have to become a universal feature if – as some scientists forecast for the vicinity of the year 2200 – outside temperature will force mammals to an underground life for lack of a sufficiently efficient cooling system on their part, our thermoregulation breaking down at around a constant 40°C temperature.
V.b. Transhumanism holds that rationality has allowed us to realise that we’re insufficiently robust, a shortcoming that can now be overcome through genetic enhancement which might provide an answer as well to degraded surroundings as engineering of the genes can ensure that we fit harsher environments.
V.c. Dematerialisation of the self would be the ultimate response to an entirely impaired environment, with toxic gases in the atmosphere, polluted water all around us and a shortage of food. Dematerialised, we wouldn’t have to worry about either the quality of the air, water access or the production of assimilable food.
VI. Space colonisation
Space colonisation would be the appropriate adaptive policy for finding a new virgin environment kind-hearted to our future settlement ventures. Within our own stellar system, in the light of what we know about existing planets and their satellites, colonisation would require deliberately induced terraforming.
Space is as such a harsh environment and our current bodies are ill-prepared for life in space. We would need to find ways for countering the menace of cosmic rays and ways for fighting the damaging effects on our body of no gravity or reduced gravity environments.
As well as for technological progress as a whole, transhumanism is among our four anti-humanisms the most favourably inclined towards space exploration and colonisation.
The cunning of Reason
So much can be said in a cursory review of our four anti-humanisms’ attitude towards the risk of extinction.
Our species has a low capacity for reacting adequately to danger of a vast size for two types of reasons, the first being our incapacity of visualising a danger that has never materialised before, the second being our poor intuitive grasp of scale differences, leading us to putting in the same risk bin menaces of different orders of magnitude, tiny and huge, and undervaluing majorly those of the latter type.
As mentioned above, our response to the threat of extinction is totally inadequate in size and in vigour. This at least at the conscious level of deliberate decision-making. The question may be raised however if our species, like is the case for many others, doesn’t possess a secret survival mechanism that would automatically be triggered when a particular threshold in our capacity for survival is hit.
The notion of the cunning of Reason with Hegel refers to these numerous occasions when the human race has made a decisive turn in its history despite no individual human holding a clear representation of the process at work. A convincing illustration of that was offered by Arthur Koestler in his “The Sleepwalkers” (1959) where he described a generation of thinkers painstakingly trying to improve the methods and techniques of astrology, a superstitious divinatory technique while, unbeknownst to them, they were putting together and developing what would be the tools of the never-seen-before innovative scientific methodology.
Let us notice that the notion of a cunning of Reason at work at the species’ level as a whole is inconsistent with the view held by every one of our four varieties of anti-humanism, as each assumes at its centre an individual in full control of what to do next, where willpower allows to transform clearly enunciated intentions into deeds, the whole process being supposedly seamless, with no major deviation being observed between the intention initially formulated and the result attained in the end.
On the contrary, Hegel’s cunning of Reason is perfectly consistent with the view of “Freudian metapsychology” (psychoanalysis) where every individual is the seat of its own self-based cunning of Reason, i.e. deceived as to its own aims, these resulting from a compromise between conscious and unconscious motives.
Let us ask in that perspective of a possible cunning of Reason, the following question: would there be subterraneous processes at work taking over as far as the survival of the species is concerned when our deliberate thinking is inadequate or when our economic system (based on individual profit-seeking strategies) sets insurmountable obstacles? In other words, could adaptive behaviour take place for the species as a whole while our individual behaviour would be counter-adaptive – at least in our representation of it?
Think of the quest for immortality for instance, or of augmentation or cyborgisation as promoted by transhumanism.
To what practical purpose would well serve human immortality or, more humbly a thousand-year life-span, and a human body tinkered in such ways as to much less depend on the specificities of life on earth – or having stopped entirely to depend on those with the script of dematerialisation – if not for traveling to neighbouring stars? To that extent, transhumanism in particular, among our four brands of anti-humanisms, could very well be subterraneously and surreptitiously at work in our psyche as the worldview supporting our long-term adaptation to the fate that will inexorably be ours in the times to come: planet Earth’s environment having become unliveable to us, leaving as alternatives for the future, machine-successors to us or life for us on other planets.
Let us be proud of where we currently stand, whatever perils are surrounding us at the moment, and of what we have managed to achieve so far, having relied on our own strengths only. We were indeed dishearteningly alone and all we did was in truth left to our own devices, even if we have been imagining all along human history numerous superhuman and supernatural entities supervising our deeds, lurking behind the scenes.
Apart from existential risks of an outer nature such as collision with an asteroid, super-volcanoes, etc. or self-engineered risks such as war, the main event likely to prevent us from pursuing on our current survival path is trespassing lethally the boundaries of the carrying capacity of our environment, whatever that environment might may be: our current planet or a new abode that we decided to colonise. It is up to us escaping the millenary nervous breakdown wherein we plunge back every time the thought crosses our mind that we are on our own. Let us create an even more extraordinary world, the one that knowledge makes possible. It might be indeed that God created us to its image but having no clue what that image might very well be, the horizon is limitless, and it is ours to define.
The “Book of Genesis” in The Bible
del Val, J. & S. L. Sorgner, A Metahumanist Manifesto, 2010 http://metabody.eu/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/A-METAHUMANIST-MANIFESTO.pdf
Fuller, S. & Lipinska, V. The Proactionary Imperative, A Foundation for Transhumansim, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014
Koestler, A., The Sleepwalkers. A History of Man’s Changing Vision of the Universe, London: Hutchinson, 1959
Nietzsche, F., The Antichrist. Curse on Christianity  1895, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1918
Nietzsche, F., Ecce Homo  1908 http://www.nietzschesource.org/#eKGWB/EH
Oreskes, N. & E. M. Conway, Merchants of Doubt. How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming, New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2010