UPDATE: This article has now been re-published on H+ Magazine.
A couple of days ago, on Humanity+, author Dustin Ashley argued for what he called “Cishumanism” – a bridge, per se, between Transhumanism and Neo-Luddism. Ashley starts off his article with mention of the negative press Transhumanism tends to get by mainstream media. This is true, however I disagree that it’s the result of Transhumanists being too radical for the majority of people to embrace. Rather I find the people who see Transhumanism as something to fear as merely victims to a misunderstood media and fearmongering intellectuals, such as Francis Fukuyama.
I certainly agree that we need to broaden our means of delivering the Transhumanist “message,” if you will, as I’m sure most Transhumanists would also agree. But then only in doing so to address the misunderstanding mainstream media tends to invoke when talking about Transhumanism. Not to cater to every fear and lie made about it, which would only give off a false sense of equal weight of value in the neo-luddite mindset.
So how then does “Cishumanism” tie into all this? According to Ashley:
“Cishumanism, like transhumanism, is based upon the enhancement of human capabilities beyond the capability of normal humans. Unlike transhumanism, cishumanism is also based upon the idea that the human body shouldn’t be enhanced without proper reason.”
Understand that the author isn’t saying that Transhumanists shouldn’t embrace Transhumanism out of sheer desire, which is arguably what the majority of Transhumanists will do, but rather “If a superior replacement is available, then he/she should pursue” radical enhancements, as opposed to Transhumanists replacing their limbs and organs for non-superior replacements. Which I can get behind, if any of this was actually the case, but then I’ve yet to see any Transhumanist chop off their leg for a flex-foot cheetah.
Whether or not this becomes a problem in our near future, however, is up for debate. I certainly hope no one makes such a hasty and rash decision, but then I’m also of the opinion that each individual should be given the right to decide for themselves whether to enhance or not. In fact, isn’t that the Transhumanist way anyways!?
Which brings me to my real problem with Ashley’s coining of “Cishumanism”: its underlying argument is no different from what Transhumanists have been arguing for beforehand.
According to Ashley:
“If someone is born as a human, then it should be their choice to stay human. It is not to be seen as an antithesis to transhumanism, but rather a complementary idea that accepts the technologies accepted by transhumanism and disagrees on how often they should be used. The cishumanist believes in the idea of human identity and refuses to give it up.”
To which they’d have every right to make that choice. But again, I ask, isn’t that the Transhumanist way anyways? I could be wrong here, in which case I’d ask anyone to prove so, but I’ve yet to see or read any Transhumanist argue for forced enhancements on people who would otherwise wish to remain human. Ashley also attempts to compare “Cishumanism” with cisgender identity, but then I find this to be hazardous thinking, since it would give weight to the erroneous idea that cisgender individuals are in anyway being “oppressed” from their right to remain cisgender. There is no transgender plot to force cisgender people to change their identity, just as there’s no Transhumanist plot to force “Cishumanists” (read: humans) to change their nature.
Other than that, however, what Ashley is calling for is nothing more than the right for humans to decide whether or not to maintain their humanity. To which I agree. In fact, most, if not all, Transhumanists would agree as well. In 1993 philosopher Max More argued for the very same thing, coining it “morphological freedom.” Since then, it’s become a basic tenet to the Transhumanist mindset. What is morphological freedom? It’s the basic civil right for each individual to decide, through informed consent, whether or not they wish to enhance, and if so, by whatever means they so desire, i.e. surgery, genetic engineering, nanotechnology, etc.
Since this is a common idea we all who call ourselves Transhumanists agree upon, why even attempt at calling for a new, confusing term such as “Cishumanism”? I can only speculate, which I’d rather not do. So I’ll leave that up for everyone else to ponder on, or for the author to try and explain better on a later date.
“Needs” and “Wants”
One other problem I found in Ashley’s article wasn’t so much that I felt he was wrong, but rather that he wasn’t considering the complexity of matters. According to Ashley:
“For cishumanism, the enhancements would be possible in the scenario of the individual requiring them for everyday living. In the replacement arm example, the system would not pay for the transhumanist’s procedure because said person doesn’t need it and would be considered a frivolous expense. For the cishumanist, the procedure would be possible at the time he/she needed it. In this scenario, the case between what is needed and what is desired should be considered the defining factor.”
I found this to be worrisome because it completely goes against the right of each individual to embrace their own morphological freedom. Not only that, it ignores the current reality of the matter in the vagueness of how our current healthcare system defines “needs” and “wants”.
In my article, “Will Today’s Handicapped Become Tomorrow’s First Post-Human?”, I argue that those we consider to be disabled today will be the first in line to embrace Transhumanist technology. But this “will” can only be achieved if we Transhumanists are to fight for the disabled community’s right to enhance themselves with high-tech technology if so desired.
The problem is that the majority of those within the disabled community are only provided with what’s affordable or what their healthcare insurance covers. In most cases they only provide what I call “getting by” needs, i.e. canes, walkers, low-tech prosthetics, etc. When it comes to high-tech prosthetics however – what I call “thriving” needs – our society has labeled them as mere “wants” and thus not covered by medical insurance.
In fact, this is also an ongoing problem the transgender community faces on a daily basis. For many insurance companies and healthcare providers, transgender therapies and surgeries are looked upon as mere “wants” rather than needs, and thus not covered or made affordable. Knowing this brings more trouble in Ashley’s correlation of cisgenderism with “Cishumanism.” Wouldn’t the “Cishumanist” argument for “enhancements only when deemed necessary” also negatively affect the transgender community!?
As Transhumanists we must stand up and fight for morphological freedom. With this comes the right of disabled individuals to acquire affordable high-tech prosthetics and enhancements. On the other side of this, however, is the right of everyone to affordable high-tech prosthetics and enhancements, and not just those who need it most. Of course, speaking for myself as a Transhumanist, I believe it would be quite altruistic of us to recognize and accept that the disabled be the first in line for our coming post-human future.