Sunday, April 18, 2010

From Transgender to Transhuman

Chapter EIGHT

We know what we are, but know not what we may become.

- William Shakespeare

From Transgender to Transhuman

At the end of the first decade of the 20th century after Christ’s birth, religiously-inspired apartheid of sex is strong in certain respects, but is crumbling in many aspects. Three thousand, eight hundred years after male-or-female gender roles were first legally mandated in Babylonia’s Hammurabic Code, similar laws continue to demand adherence to rigidly dualistic sex-typing. On the other hand, the Modern World’s Internet Code is awash with a rainbow of gender identities.

Under an onslaught of science, secular ethics and software transgenderism, the once impenetrable fortress of sexual duality is falling apart. A dozen years ago, when the first edition of this book predicted the demise of sexual apartheid, no country in the world permitted marriage without regard to gender. Today, gender-blind marriage is authorized in seven countries and several American states:

> Canada, Spain, Holland, Belgium, Norway, Sweden and South Africa
> The American states of Massachusetts, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Iowa, New Hampshire and Vermont

Additionally, Israel and the American states of California, Maryland and New York recognize gender-blind marriages performed elsewhere

In addition, gender-blind marriage-like alternatives (civil unions or domestic partnerships) are now permitted in 22 additional countries and 6 additional American states, with many jurisdictions making their civil unions or domestic partnerships ever-more marriage-like in subsequent years.

Important regions of Argentina, Brazil, Italy, Mexico and Australia also established legal recognition of sex-blind civil unions or domestic partnerships. Adding all of these jurisdictions together, in the brief span of 14 years since this book foretold in Chapters 3 and 4 the coming of gender-indifferent marriage, approximately 10% of the world’s countries and approximately 10% of America’s states have authorized gender-blind marriage or its secular facsimile. These jurisdictions represent approximately 20% of the world’s population. This is a breathtaking rate of change for an institution that has been locked into sexual apartheid for millennia!

In our diverse world society we may expect the apartheid of sex to continue to live side-by-side with its transgendered antithesis. This, in itself, is a tremendous victory for the sexual continuum paradigm because, for most of history, the only admitted reality was the apartheid of sex. The very fact that world culture now admits of uniquely-defined sex-types in the workplace, cyberspace and culture-space – including “same-sex” marriages in some places and “transgendered” marital life in most places – is proof that the ancient apartheid of sex regime has broken down. From a worldwide view, the apartheid of sex is now just one of many ways to live one’s sex-type (living it in denial and repression) rather than the only way to live one’s sex-type (self-defined and unstructured by biological correlates).

It is unfortunate that as of this time there are still many places in the planet that impose the apartheid of sex as the only permissible gender regime. Yet, this type of cultural fascism is not limited to gender. The world is still peppered with communities of religious, economic and political totalitarianism. These communities may be as small as a Chasidic sect or as large as a Korean state. They may be as amorphous as “no smoking” outdoor patios or as sharply defined as “no immigrant” national borders. The point is that today, despite widespread cultural fascism, there are still many places where gender and other forms of diversity blossom. Therefore, the apartheid of sex is in as much retreat as is totalitarianism, fascism and intolerance generally. None of these artificially restrictive regimes are gone, but none of them have anything more than a shadow of the global and omnipotent reach of their past.

The futurist Sir Arthur C. Clarke once wrote “no form of communication ever disappears, they just become increasingly unimportant as the technological horizon widens.” The same may be said of restrictive regimes such as the apartheid of sex. Gender dimorphic laws and practices will never disappear, but they will become ever less present as the technological horizon widens.

Marriage and Family in a Transgendered World

When the apartheid of race was vanquished in South Africa, it became possible for people of African, Asian and European descent to marry without regard to their government-determined “race.” Similarly, where the apartheid of sex has crumbled most, will it become possible for people to marry without regard to their government-determined “sex”? In general the answer is yes, however, there are exceptions and a high level of controversy on this subject.

The reason a welcoming attitude to same-sex marriage is not as evident as it is for inter-racial marriage is because the marriage rite itself is rooted in a gender dimorphic religious culture. From the religionist’s point of view, their values are being infringed upon by the forced admission of same-sex couples into “their” rite. Controversy arises because over the centuries the once wholly religious rite of marriage has become a predominantly secular building block of the family-based society. Hence, citizens of the family-based society who want to marry without regard to their sexual identity also claim ownership of the marriage rite. These gender explorers claim to have their values suppressed by being locked out of marriage.

In a diverse world we can expect a diversity of solutions to marriage and family law aspects of a crumbling apartheid of sex regime. Where religionists maintain significant political power, they will often succeed in restricting “marriage” per se to its historical gender dimorphic practice. However by doing so they will effectively re-religionize it, and render it less important to society at large. The reason for this is that the more that marriage is characterized as a religious rite, accessible to only that segment of population that fully buys into the apartheid of sex, the more that society will empower marital alternatives such as civil or domestic partnership. These alternatives will have all of the legal trappings of marriage, including family law aspects such as child adoption. Over time the alternatives will become the far more dominant basis for two-person committed relationships because over time technology will enable a growing majority of people to live beyond male or female gender identities.

For example, in the United States, political religionists were shocked that, as noted above, ten percent of the American states had authorized sex-blind marriage or civil union or domestic partnership. They marshaled their political resources and recently achieved passage of laws in most of the other states preempting same-sex marriage. However, these preemptive laws apply only to marriage and not to civil unions or domestic partnerships. When asked by journalists why they have limited the scope of these laws, the political religionists explain that going beyond “marriage” would convert the issue from one of religious sanctity – that they know they can win – to one of civil rights – that they feel they will lose.

On the other hand, in Spain, where 80% of the population describes themselves as Catholics, the church was unable to rally enough political support to defeat a 2005 law authorizing full-equality same-sex marriage. The new law simply provides that “Marriage will have the same requirements and results when the two people entering into the contract are of the same sex or of different sexes.” Consequently it can be expected that marriage will remain a popular institution in Spain because it is not being de-secularized as is occurring in some parts of the United States.

As noted earlier in this chapter, no form of cultural behavior ever disappears, and certainly not one as pervasive as the apartheid of sex. Nevertheless, to paraphrase Sir Arthur Clarke, marriage may become less and less important as our technological horizon widens. This process will be accelerated by religious opposition to same-sex marriage because it fuels family law alternatives, such as civil partnership, that provide equivalent rights and responsibilities to people regardless of the sexual identities. However, if marriage redefines itself as a transgendered institution, one that accepts contracting parties regardless of their sex or gender, then it can continue to thrive into the future. In this regard, marriage becomes like a communications technology that evolves rather than becomes obsolete. More like texting (telegram > teletype > email > cellphone text messages) than handwritten and posted letters (which are quaint but ever more rare).

At the current rate of legal acceptance (20% of the world’s population in a dozen plus years), half the people in the world will live in a place that accepts same-sex or transgendered families within a generation. An example of this momentum is China’s National People’s Congress’s unprecedented open discussion, in 2006, of a proposal (which was rejected) for a sex-blind marriage law. Such a high-level discussion would have been unthinkable even ten years ago. It is a great testament to human flexibility that an age-old edifice of sexual apartheid, such as male-female marriage, can be adapted to accept same-sex or transgendered relationships in so brief a period of time.

The Freedom of Form

Much of this book has explained how technology is the moving force behind liberating people from oppressive male or female sexual identities. We’ve explained how technology demolished the “natural” division of labor that originally gave rise to the apartheid of sex. Technology empowers people with vaginas to perform any job that people with penises normally do. This argument extends even to soldiering.

Technology is also the undoing of the “observational” justifications for sexual apartheid, reviewed in Chapters 2 and 3. Advanced technological instruments taught us that people are born with a continuum, not a duality, of sexual biomarkers such as reproductive system morphology, hormonal endocrinology and cerebral neurology. Surgical and pharmaceutical technology enables body-modification into a transgendered realm. Most recently, as described in Chapter 7, cyber-technology has enabled people to readily clothe themselves in the persona of a limitless variety of sex-types, and to live, work and play online lives in these transgendered identities.

Will technology stop at transgenderism? If a century or so of technology has demolished millennia of absolute sexual duality, what might another few decades of exponentially growing technology do? Sex lies at the heart of biology, and yet in transcending biology technology gave us an explosion of sexual identities. So, as technology continues to transcend biology, what next can we expect beyond the apartheid of sex? An explosion of human identities? The answer, in a word, is transhumanism.

In 1957 the evolutionary biologist Julius Huxley, in a book of essays on the future of humanity entitled New Wine in New Bottles, defined the term “transhumanism” (T.S. Elliott and Dante had also coined the word). Huxley envisioned a new philosophy under this name that was based on the proposition that humans had the duty, and the destiny, to “take charge” of evolution by transcending their biological limitations.

Nearly half-a-century later, Ray Kurzweil, inventor of technologies such as all-font scanners, digital music synthesizers and talking books for the blind, coined the term “singulatarianism” to express a similar sentiment. In his 2005 treatise, The Singularity is Near, Kurzweil calculated, based on many decades of intersecting trends, that humanity was at the cusp of merging with computational technology. This merger was occurring both extrinsically (such as reliance upon computers for civilized life) and intrinsically (via nano-sized super-computer neural implants vastly more advanced but roughly analogous to contact lenses or pacemakers). He observed that due to exponential growth rates in processor speed and digital memory, such computational technology would soon increase its power so rapidly as to be as beyond our current conception – analogous to the inconceivable near-infinite densities at the center of an astronomical black hole. In other words, human merging with rapidly advancing computational technology is the path of future evolution. It will produce a civilization of enormous capability with transcosmic scope via self-replication and virtually unlimited intelligence.

Kurzweil was clear, however, that the new computational “masters of the universe” (and hence of evolution as well) would literally have at their core the minds, and hence the “hearts and souls,” of billions of humans. This is because as humans merge with computers, human consciousness can move from fragile biological substrate to enduring technological materials. In addition, the costs of computational knowledge are dropping exponentially toward universal affordability. Consequently, everyone who is alive during the epoch of humanity’s full-fledged merging with computation will always be alive (if they wish) via computer substrate. Homo sapiens will become persona creatus as it rides the journey of near infinite growth in computational knowledge that is the Singularity. This means that the grace and beauty of human culture will grow right along with the scientific and technological competence of the hybrid human-computer species – as, indeed, it already has even in these early years of hybridization.

Combining both Huxley’s and Kurzweil’s thoughts, we can define “transhumans” as people who have hybridized themselves with computational technology as part of humanity’s effort to control its evolutionary destiny. One can even think of the prefix “trans” in “transhuman” as an acronym for Transbiologically Receptive, Adaptational, and Noetically Synthetic. Hence, a transhuman is a person (an entity with human legal rights) who is receptive to transcending biological limitations and is adapting in this direction by developing synthetic noetic pathways. A “noetic pathway” is similar to a neural pathway but refers more to thoughts than to the neural substrates for the thoughts. Such pathways can be extrinsic (e.g. storing a lot of our memory on laptop computers) as well as intrinsic (e.g. neural implants for humans, or artificially intelligent and conscious computers).

This new meme of transhumanism has two parents. It owes its phonetics and its concept of taking charge of evolution by transcending dumb biology (i.e., natural selection based on random environment changes promoting profligacy amidst random genetic mutations) to Julius Huxley. It owes its practical expression, the concept of hybridization with computer technology as the inevitable path of evolutionary mastery, and its ultimate endpoint the Singularity, to Ray Kurzweil.

Just as genes are comprised of thousands of nucleotide base pairs, memes are built-up of many building blocks that may be called “memetides.” Hence, Julius Huxley’s idea that humanity has a duty and destiny to take charge of its destiny was built in part upon memetides from Francis Bacon. These include his exhortation in the early 1600s to “extend the power and dominion of the human race itself over the universe,” and his optimistic bet “I stake all on the victory of art over nature in the race.” As the historian of philosophy Will Durant observes, “what is refreshingly new in Bacon is the magnificent assurance with which he predicts the conquest of nature by man.” These memetides, combined with thousands of others, comprise Julius Huxley’s contribution to the transhuman meme.

Similarly, Ray Kurzweil’s idea that hybridization with computer technology is our evolutionary future has as one of its thousands of memetides Alan Turing’s 1940s—era hypothesis (and eponymous experiment to prove) that a computer could pass as a human. The concept of an intellectual wave front, something like the aggregate exponentially growing thinking of transhumanity rushing toward the Singularity, has memetides in Pere Teilhard du Chardin’s 1955 book Le Phenomene Humain. This book conceptualized the “noosphere” as the sum total of all kinds of conscious experience, intellect and imagination, emotionally motivated beliefs, attitudes and values, skill-sets, rituals, and aesthetic expressions. Indeed, it is from Prof. Chardin’s noosphere that we have the derivative word “noetic” in our acronym for “trans” in transhuman (transbiologically receptive, adaptative and noetically synthetic human). Many other memetides, the description of which takes us too far from the theme of this book, comprise the Singulatarian contribution to the transhumanist meme.

This book’s fusing of Huxley and Kurzweil into the transhumanist meme itself owes a debt to the 1980s era memetides of a remarkable group of futurists. These include the alphanumerically self-named futurist, FM-2030, who wrote a book Are You a Transhuman? that described transhumanists as people who transcended socio-biological norms; the philosopher Max More, editor of the magazine Extropy: The Journal of Transhumanist Thought, that first defined a general transhumanist philosophy based upon unlimited human advancement, self-transformation, free social order, and critical rationalism; and the filmmaker Natasha Vita-More, a producer of transhumanist-themed arts and cultural programs, among many others. More recently, a World Transhumanist Association ( has been formed based upon the work of these 1980s pioneers.

As transhumanism takes hold, namely receptiveness to transcending biological limitations with adaptive synthetic noetics, questions will arise of human rights for transhuman beings. Are people who have augmented a small percentage of their minds with neural implants still entitled to be treated like humans, get married and raise children? Why not! How about people who have substituted implantable computer circuitry for a large percentage of their minds? Or who have “downloaded” all of their minds into such circuitry so that they are wholly “noetic synethetic”? How about children who are born as computer consciousness, pure code, but are able to experience all human sensations via sensors, simulations and exquisite machines? Can they marry? If their sexual ambiguity is too much for marriage, can they join in civil or domestic partnerships? If their transhuman ambiguity is too much for that as well, can they at least be entitled to equivalent legal rights for transhuman persons?

Just as technology redefined biology in terms of sexual identity, it will next redefine biology in terms of human identity. To avoid an apartheid of form as pernicious as the racial and sexual cognates, we must adopt a mindset of receptiveness to diversity and of openness to unifying ourselves across substrates.

Autonomous computer intelligence is biology for it is the flowering of human intellectual (software) seeds. Biology is computer intelligence for it is the extrapolation of digital (genetic) code. Cyber-biological life spans a vast continuum from a simple bacterium to the Kurzweil singularity. A swath of this continuum, human and transhuman life, benefit from acceptance in their chosen or given identities. There is great survival value for humans and transhumans to achieve unity through diversity. This attribute has been, and will continue to be, selected for in our dynamic environment. Having been able to grant such happiness to millions of people, via fundamental rights of citizenship and family life, regardless of color or gender, surely we can make the next step and transcend substrate as well.

The first step in extending the lessons of transgenderism to transhumanism is to recognize the continuity of life across substrates, just like the continuity of gender across body-types. Just as each person has a unique sexual identity, without regard to their genitals, hormones or chromosomes, each person has a unique conscious identity, without regard to their degree of flesh, machinery or software. It is no more the genitals that make the gender than it is the substrate that makes the person. We must respect the personhood of any entity that “thinks consciously, therefore I am conscious,” just as we must respect the sexual identity of any being that “feels this gender, therefore I am this gender.”

The second step is to prevent the construction of an apartheid of form. This means conscious entities, be they of flesh, synthetics or hybrid, must be treated equally and indifferently under the law. Rights and responsibilities, freedoms and obligations, privileges and duties, rewards and consequences – all of these concepts need to be adapted for applicability to a transhuman world.

Can a conscious computer enjoy citizenship? Why not if incrementally computerized humans do, especially once the humans are so computerized as to be indistinguishable from those who are fully computerized ab initio? And how about when the computers multiply so greatly that they outvote the original humans? This sounds strikingly like the argument Afrikaners made against repealing the apartheid of race. And the argument that men made against giving women the vote. It is just another kind of “bathroom bugaboo” (see Chapter Four), as to which reasonable solutions will be found. American naturalizes millions of new citizens every decade. The naturalization laws can be revised to provide that a person born from information technology may become a citizen in the same manner as a person who immigrates from another country. Death laws can be amended to provide that a person whose higher brain functions continue to be performed by information technology, such that there is a continuity of identity and consciousness to the satisfaction of psychiatrists, is not legally dead even if their heart has stopped beating. The 20th century brought us the marvels of transplanting organs and changing sexes. The 21st century will bring us the marvels of transplanting minds and changing forms.

Transgenderism is on a successful track. But it is ascendant only because previous victories against slavery, racial apartheid and the subjugation of women established the fundamental principle that reason trumps biology. We must remember that battles against slavery energized the women’s rights movement, and civil rights for those with different ancestry empowered civil rights for those with different sexual orientations. Hence, we cannot be surprised that transhumanism arises from the groins of transgenderism. As reasoning beings, we must welcome this further transcendence of arbitrary biology, and embrace in solidarity all conscious life. For it is enjoyment of life that is most important, and the achievement of that raison d’etre requires that diversity be embraced with unity, whether flesh is dark or light, masculine or feminine, present or transcended.

Satellite Beach, Florida, 2008 May 26

1 comment:

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