At the very real risk of burying the lead to this post, let me begin by saying that in the poem Sailing to Byzantium, Yeats’s famous meditation on mortality, there is one line in particular that has had a lasting impact on me ever since I first read it, namely the phrase “fastened to a dying animal”.
For, I would argue, in those five simple words, Yeats has managed — in a way unlike any other poet before or after him — to unnervingly capture the existential anguish each and everyone one of us most certainly feels, as mortal creatures of flesh and blood, when we contemplate our own mortality. Our bodies being, of course, in this context, the dying animals to which we are fastened and thereby similarly also doomed to certain death by.
There exists, however, a movement or school of thought which seeks to overthrow these selfsame biological limitations of human existence. Which brings me in a slightly indirect fashion to the topic of today’s thought piece, and that is “transhumanism”.
Among other things, it’s been called by one prominent critic (Francis Fukuyama) the most dangerous idea in the world. In a nutshell, it’s the philosophical brainchild of a loose collective of intellectuals, scientists and futurists who are seeking to overcome death and aging, by applying recent advances in biotechnology etc to the question of human enhancement and thereby marking out achievable steps towards immortality (“so-called ‘longevity escape velocity’ eventually culminating in indefinite lifespans”).
Obviously, pre-genetic testing and the human genome project have already ushered in the possibility of highly selective breeding practices in future generations, with a view to eliminating illness and infirmity, be it mental or physical. And cybernetic implants, for another thing, are no longer merely the stuff of science fiction, either.
So everything would seem to be right on track for the coming posthuman age. An age that posthumanists/transhumanists are sure will be one in which we are no longer fastened to our dying animals, as we currently are. And yet as much as this idea appeals to me, on one level, when I wrote my novel, Missing Zero, I included a scene where the protagonist meets the Devil, who it comes to light is a leading transhumanist.
So, I can only think that my objection with transhumanism, more generally, stems from the fact that I am essentially a humanist at heart. And for this reason I see a transhumanist future as a post-apocalyptic vision of sorts, as inevitable as it might be in the evolution of the human species.
Almost as a case in point (and somewhat ironically in view of the fact that the, largely facetious, tagline for this blog is “Helping to usher in the Apocalypse…”) I came across the following totally legitimate transhumanist site http://www.dnargus.com/ whose tagline reads — and I sh#t you not! —
Our goal is to extend lives and usher in the post-human age
Don’t say you haven’t been warned…