The following article below was originally published by SERIOUS WONDER:
Here recently there has been a brewing storm amongst the horizon in light of the debate between Disabled Rights Activists and Transhumanists. On the one corner, we have Zoltan Istvan, whom is running for the 2016 Presidential candidacy under the Transhumanist Party ticket, and the other corner we have disabled rights activist Emily Ladau. Both are quite passionate in terms of how we should perceive disability, bringing these two seemingly at odds.
Though, despite conveying the appearance of these two ideas remaining in conflict, I believe the best solution to this debate is compromise. For Istvan, disability is a biological limitation that could be easily alleviated, if not completely expropriated, via advanced technologies, e.g. cybernetic limbs, exoskeleton suits, etc. Whereas, for Ladau, Istvan’s viewpoint that those with disabilities are broken, thus in need of fixing, is not only wrong but quite offensive. Again, I believe compromise can be easily acquired here.
You may ask: what kind of compromise could we really make which ensures both sides of the debate becomes, in the end, allies, per se? In 2014, MIT’s Hugh Herr – who is a double amputee – walked out on stage at a TED conference, using his two bionic legs. His speech was both passionate and cogent, arguing a clear case of how we can fight disabilities, all while empowering the disabled. Herr asserted:
“Every person should have the right to live life without disability if they so choose — the right to live life without severe depression; the right to see a loved one in the case of seeing impaired; or the right to walk or to dance, in the case of limb paralysis or limb amputation. As a society, we can achieve these human rights if we accept the proposition that humans are not disabled. A person can never be broken. Our built environment, our technologies are broken and disabled. We the people need not accept our limitations, but can transcend disability through technological innovation.”
– Hugh Herr
Watching Herr speak in front of everyone was like watching Istvan and Ladau speak in unison. On the one side, Herr is arguing in favor of people having the choice to transcend their limitations via advanced technologies. Whereas, on the other side, Herr is attempting to change the societal mindset that those who attain disabilities are, in some way, broken – rather, quite the contrary! As a solution, Herr wishes to empower those with disabilities with choices, as opposed to acceptance.
Which brings us to a fundamental right that we in the Transhumanist movement have explicitly supported and will continue to support – that is, Morphological Freedom.
What Morphological Freedom entails is the right of each individual to make the choice of whether or not they wish to enhance their biological features and functionality. If they do choose to enhance themselves, they’d be of the right to choose which enhancements. If they choose to not enhance themselves, however – whether disabled or able-bodied – then their right to make that choice is just as valid as those who chose enhancements. But the fundamental point being that each individual is empowered with the right to choose for themselves.
Those with disabilities are already using technologies to help them re-acquire some sense of being able-bodied once more, whether it’s wheelchairs, prosthetic limbs, cochlear implants, etc. What’s lacking is technologies that’ll not only help them officially become able-bodied again, but subsequently are given the ability to transcend biological limitations. In other words, we have a technological system that is currently broken and is in need of fixing. In doing so, we will empower those with disabilities to determine their own fate, as opposed to their fate being dictated by the slow and limited process of biology.
Transhumanists and Disabled Rights Activists need not be enemies. Indeed, we are allies in a war against disability. Winning this war won’t just require advanced technologies for people to integrate with, but equally an established set of rights for each individual to determine their own Morphological Freedom.
Photo Credit: Cityvisitor