Tuesday, April 21, 2009

And Guatama Buddha Said: I Shall Not Rise From Here Until I Understand the Causes of These Things ...

I have received feedback from Dr James Hughes, Director of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. Dr Hughes is an esteemed member of the global transhumanist/posthumanist movement - he is author, among other things, of the book Citizen Cyborg: Why Democratic Societies Must Respond to the Redesigned Human of the Future .

Dr Hughes, first of all, thank you for responding and please accept my apologies for the long delay in writing back. Shortly after you wrote, my computer broke and it took me a while to decide on a new one. However, I am grateful that you wrote, for I was having a hard time convincing some of my friends of the existence of transhumanists: I had started to worry that they would not believe me!

Some of my best friends are agnostics and atheists, but even the most hard-boiled of my atheist friends are just ordinary secular humanists (how very last century!) and even the most unbelieving among them (from a religious point of view) find your movement and its tenets quite unbelievable. I had started to worry: what if the skeptics among them refused to believe that you existed, the way they have been known to do with, for example, God? Therefore it is nothing short of a relief to have an actual member of the movement - and such a notable one at that! - answer, for at least now they know that you really do exist.

Dr Hughes is quick to point out that there are indeed historical roots to be found for the transhuman or posthuman movement, that they can be found in the humanist movement itself, and in the enlightenment - so, thank you for saving me the trouble: that was going to be a whole separate posting, but now the proverbial cat is out of the bag. You see, Dr Hughes, most of my friends and esteemed colleagues in the world of literature have never heard of the posthumanist movement. When last they looked, secular humanism was what they knew, and how innocuous and comforting a school of thought this used to be - how positively civilized it now seems even to me, in retrospect! How close to the Church even its erstwhile secular humanist enemies seem to be now, because at least they take it and its terms of reference seriously enough to care to argue on a level with it, as it were! How positively endearing childish little texts like Russell's Why I Am Not a Christian ... and how certain I am that he would no more approve of the notion of becoming "Citizen Cyborg" than I would! Birds of a feather we are, I tell you: Bertrand Russell and I. I am willing to bet my last dollar that a majority of secular humanists at this moment in time at least, would shudder at the notion of having carcinogenic microchips implanted under their skin in the name of efficiency ... and as for your monstrous notion of what religion might become in such a future world, well it is fodder for a screenplay writer and I shall attempt on a best efforts basis to illustrate my meaning through that very medium, as it is the only way to reach a sizeable enough audience with a clear enough illustration as to what might happen in such a future.

It is interesting to note that thinkers like Habermas have started to weigh in on the issue of human cloning. He seems to concur with the Pope (the Vatican has, as you will know, declared human cloning a sin in the eye of God) that cloning a human is just simply not a nice thing to do. But you see, Dr Hughes, Habermas is - like me and my friends - one of those old-fashioned individuals who think of slavery as an abomination. He accurately identifies the clone as a type of "slave" in that another human being decides for the clone his destiny - in this case his genetic destiny - and presides over the clone in a "god-like" fashion, as master of his world.

My colleagues from South Africa know me as an anti-apartheid activist from way back. I took issue with that system long before it was fashionable, comfortable or convenient to do so; people who know me, know that this point of view ultimately resulted more than twenty-one years ago in taking the stance of "voting with [my] feet" - I sought to live, as I told my readers in the old country often, in Trudeau's "Just Society." Yes, there are people who take that concept seriously, and I am one of them, and we stand for freedom and against slavery. (We have not even started yet on the environmental reasons for opposing the "transhumanist" ideology; we will get there in the fullness of time, I assure you.) It stands to reason that I will take issue with a movement which holds among its ideals the notion that it might, in future, "create" genetically engineered slaves. The feeling of "oh no you don't!" is a quite familiar reflex that I experience when I see people even starting to think in that direction. It is the same feeling of deep, intense revulsion that I felt when people in the bad old days in the "old" South Africa used to think that they had some kind of right to enslave other people. I have been dragged into many a debate as a result of that stance, and there is extensive history online of my participation in my capacity as an anti-apartheid Afrikaner - yes we exist, even though we too have had the problems of doubts surrounding our existence - in debates which I now value very much, given that they provided a strong training ground for this: the debate between humans and posthumanists, which is nothing less than the most important debate in the history of humankind as far as I am concerned.

Yes it is a debate and not simply a given that there will be a "posthuman" future: no, we humans are not complacent; no, we do not accept that we will simply, in the fullness of time, embrace these technologies as par for the course on account of their usefulness; no, we are drawing the line as to what is acceptable and unacceptable, and yes, it is the duty of every human being alive today, to protect our future as humans - note, humans, not cyborgs and not microchipped zombies obedient to the fantasy agenda of the "may the smartest geek win" battleground of your imagined future.

I will respond in due course to your postulation of a "trans-spirituality" that would allegedly be a feature of the transhuman creature of the future that you and your buddies expect to create here on God's green planet. I will most certainly respond to that and to your other notions; this is merely acknowledgement of receipt.

As for your claim that "other" (non-monotheistic) belief systems might find the transhuman ideology more attractive than we monotheists seem to do: I was a Buddhist before I became a Catholic, and indeed even confessed to my priest on the eve of my confirmation as a Catholic, my Buddhism that would never really leave me. To be precise, I told him a joke which I once told my father in all seriousness, when he was still alive and once asked me rather disdainfully (for I had caused considerable dismay in rejecting the orthodoxy of my Protestant upbringing): "so, what religion do you subscribe to these days?" I answered very sincerely, in an attempt to convey accurately where I was standing at that point with my beliefs: "I am a Muslim Jewish disciple of Christ with a Hindu background and Buddhist inclinations." My dad said, "My child, no such thing exists!" to which I replied: "Dad, that has always been God's problem."

I told my priest this thing about the Hindu background and Buddhist inclinations, not to mention my long-standing Izaac-Ishmael affinity. My priest said it was okay and not to worry about any of it, and so, to this day, I remain accordingly okay and unworried about my incurable Buddhism. Therefore, to say that you have "dialed the wrong number" in trying to suggest that Buddhists might be more susceptible to your ideology than the monotheists among us, would be an understatement.

I am, for the record (in order to assist you in never making such an important strategic mistake again :) an essentially pantheistic panentheist who resolves the dichotomy of the One and the Many, "Thou Art That" in the comprehension of One God and I am prepared to say which God: Hashem of Israel, "The Name" being known likewise to the Islamic world and likewise recognized as the One true God; Jehovah of the Christians: this one God being Immutable Truth, Prime Mover, First Cause, Sovereign Creator, and Ultimate Ruler over all that is created.

You see, Dr Hughes, you are going to have a very, very hard time trying to set one religion against the other if that is your strategy by which you attempt to prove the superiority of technology over faith. For it is love, ultimately, that distinguishes the God we believe in, and this love is so strong, it radiates so powerfully throughout the Universe that it touches all people of faith, even atheists. The noted Canadian environmentalist David Suzuki is an atheist, yet he will find himself on my side of this debate, for obvious reasons.

One of my agnostic friends said to me that his objection to the transhuman agenda is one based on "aesthetic" rather than religious grounds, but when asked about his background, he confesses to being as Catholic as I am (in his case, by heritage, in mine, by conversion). I therefore argue that his notion of his "aesthetics" are not to be divorced from his religious heritage.

This is a call to all people of faith - yes and that includes people of the atheistic faith! - to become aware of the forces that are threatening the very fabric of our human existence, and to oppose such forces with a sound mind and all the force of human reason. We as yet have time to debate these issues, but time is running out.


  1. Annesu..jy is soos 'n vertraagde kindjie wat roomys met jou voorkop probeer eet. It gives you something to do, but gets you nowhere.
    Jy raak soveel nonsens kwyt,en praat namens ander en dit alles omdat jy kamstig so enlightened is. Wat 'n joke!

  2. Jou kommentaar is disrespekvol teenoor gestremde mense, Wiejyookalis.

  3. miskien is Wiejyookalis, net soos ek, teleurgestel dat dit soms te veel lyk asof jy steeds meer as een God probeer dien ? bid sal ek in die binnekamer bly bid , in ootmoed en om te bemoedig , nie om te oordeel nie ... Shalom !

  4. Izak in vadersnaam geduld. Ek kom by die fyn punte van die Christelike teologie uit soos later belowe. Ek wil nie die opposisie die kans gee om een godsdiens teen 'n ander te probeer mobiliseer nie. 'n Boeddhis wat die natuur respekteer, is nader aan my en jou as iemand wat van ons almal robotte wil maak omdat hy geen respek het vir die natuur nie! 'n Moslem wat God se wet wil volg, is nader aan my en jou as iemand wat geen God en geen wet erken nie. David Suzuki wat nie die Here ken nie maar die skepping met sy hele hart liefhet, is net so bang vir hierdie goeters as ek en jy; hy is nader aan my en aan jou as iemand wat dit goeddink om in die naam van vooruitgang God se skepping te verwring en te verniel. Dit staan in Openbaring: die Here sal diegene wat die aarde vernietig, vernietig. Daar is nie 'n wetenskaplike op aarde vandag wat nie sal saamstem dat ons metodes van omgang met die natuur op hierdie planeet "unsustainable" (onhandhaafbaar) is en dat dit gewis en seker tot die ondergang van die huidige sosiale en ekonomiese orde sal lei as ons nie ons doen en late drasties wysig nie. Almal op aarde met 'n halwe breinsel, sien dit vandag in. Die kwessie is op die huidige tydstip by die dogmatiek en selfs by godsdiensgrense verby. Jesus said to his disciples that those who were not against them, were for them. Laat dus almal wat die Here soek, na ons toe kom en laat ons niemand meer wegwys op grond van verskille soos die dra van hoedjies nie: God alleen weet watter harte hom opreg soek, en Hy sal sy kinders nie in die steek laat nie. Ek gaan egter nie pellie-pellie wees met die antichris net omdat ek maatjies vir my saak soek nie. Kyk weer na die hantering van die godsdiensgrense; dis soos 'n skaakspel. Moenie die goeie werk ondermyn deur te probeer suggereer dat ek twee meesters dien nie; daar is nie so iets nie. Ek het net een God, maar daar is ander mense wat Hom ook soek, en na hulle reik ek uiters graag die hand in dit wat ek op die huidige tydstip as 'n noodsituasie op ons planeet beleef.


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