Transhumanists have a deep antipathy for human exceptionalism.  Indeed, in many ways, that loathing is the core of the movement. Which, when you think about it, isn’t surprising—given its philosophy that humans are not good enough, smart enough, strong enough, beautiful enough, or healthy enough—and we all die so soon!  If human life is so lacking, why would they consider us exceptional?

But there’s more to it than that.  Human exceptionalism is the prime philosophical impediment to the acceptance of transhumanism.  If, we are going to engage in Utopian manipulation and remaking of human biology and existential meaning,  humans must be reduced in moral status to merely another animal in the forest.  Once we morally demoted ourselves, the would-be redesigners would have a much freer hand since nothing of fundamental value would be at risk.

Undermining human exceptionalism may be most easily undertaken indirectly and by stealth—that is by convincing society to elevate other species to our moral status.  And so our old radical friends over at the Institute for Emerging Ethics and Technologies have decided to start an advocacy project intended to raise what we use to call the “higher mammals” (and parrots) to legal personhood, thereby granting them rights equal to our own.  From the IEET announcement:

Owing to advances in several fields, including the neurosciences, it is becoming increasingly obvious that the human species no longer can ignore the rights of non-human persons. A number of non-human animals, including the great apes, cetaceans (i.e. dolphins and whales), elephants, and parrots, exhibit characteristics and tendencies consistent with that of a person—traits like self-awareness, intentionality, creativity, symbolic communication, and many others. It is a moral and legal imperative that we now extend the protection of ‘human rights’ from our species to all beings with those characteristics. The Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, as a promoter of non-anthropocentric personhood ethics, defends the rights of non-human persons to live in liberty, free from undue confinement, slavery, torture, experimentation, and the threat of unnatural death. Further, the IEET defends the right of non-human persons to live freely in their natural habitats, and when that’s not possible, to be given the best quality of life and welfare possible in captivity (such as sanctuaries).

That’s just regurgitating Peter Singer’s Great Ape Project, but with greater diversity. And, of course, these so-called persons will have no responsibilities to go along with their rights, nor even, the knowledge that their moral status has been elevated.  This is solely and completely, a human issue (because we are exceptional).

Such advocacy is par for the course. Thus, J. Hughes yearned in his book, Citizen Cyborg, to bio-engineer a chimpanzee to achieve human capacities.  From page 94 his book:
Human racism will only fully be challenged by animals that have been modified to possess human cognitive and communication abilities. The complete chimpanzee genome has been decoded and is being compared strand by strand with the human genome...Soon we will be able to genetically enhance primates to have human intellectual capabilities, a project dubbed “uplifting” by writer David Brin.  I firmly believe that uplifted chimps will force us to admint that intelligent personhood, not humanneess, is the ticket to citizenship.

That admits we are exceptional, it seem to me, since to prove we are not, we have to genetically engineer animals to be just like us! But logic isn’t the point.  Tearing asunder society’s grip on human exceptionalism opens the door to doing anything.

I don’t worry about transhumanism actually achieving its technological goals.  But I am concerned with the eugenics values it promotes on one hand, and the paradoxical degrading of  human self worth on the other.  Some will laugh and roll their eyes.  But that would be a mistake.

HT: Tom Horn

Articles by Wesley J. Smith


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