Is the Transhumanist-Technoprogressive Distinction Meaningful in Political Debate?

In this article, guest contributor Gareth John argues that the “Transhumanist Party” might fare better under the alternative name “Technoprogressive Party”.

Throwing two-pennerth into the ring

I usually start my articles with some sort of self-deprecating disclaimer as to my lack of scientific or technological credentials. Well here’s another to add to the list: I’m no politician.

Indeed I have as much understanding of political discourse as I do about quantum mechanics, which seems to have something to do with incorrect usage of my electrical toothbrush coupled with the disappearance of one of my socks and the sudden appearance of a cat means I might very well inadvertently create a black hole in my bathroom. That is, not much at all.

Nonetheless I am a paid-up member of the Transhumanist Party UK (TPUK) and proud to be so. I was a little late to the party (pun intended) so missed much of the initial decision making process and policy enumerations, logo adoption etc. I’ll admit I remain somewhat on the fence as to whether the time is right or productive to introduce the radical ideas and aims of transhumanism to the general public, but I am fully committed to to do what I can to help further the cause.

Let’s be clear from the outset: I have no desire (nor luckily the clout) to stir up schism or division that detracts from TPUK’s stated goals, but I have spent some time considering my own political stance along with my technoprogressive ideals and would like to throw my two-pennerth into the ring as to my thoughts with regard to TPUK’s political presentation.

Supporting the three broad policy statements

First off, I should commend the Party’s introduction to transhumanist principles via the upfront pitch they make on the Party website homepage. The three broad policy statement demonstrate a perspective fully in line with my own viewpoint as to what are the most critically important points to advocate.

For those who haven’t looked at the party website (http://www.transhumanistparty.org.uk) the three policies listed are:

  1. Evidence, Science and Technology.
  2. Bright Green.
  3. Personal Freedom, Social Justice.

A video on the party website from the British Institute of Posthuman Studies adds a nice touch, although does to an extent exacerbate the issue I have with with the Party’s debut, namely that of the terminology used to frame the debate. (Transhuman? Posthuman?…)

In particular, I am most concerned with the demarcation of the terms ‘transhumanism’ and ‘technoprogressivism’ and whether that should matter to those of us moving forward in the sphere of political discourse and indeed, that of the ordinary voter.

A choice of name, a choice of direction

Technojanus.png

Let me nail my colours to the mast. I identify myself as a technoprogressive. I try to use the term as much possible when writing about ‘transhuman’ issues (already the problem is apparent). I wish that IEET Director James Hughes’ attempt at popularising the term ‘technoprogressive’ had been more successful.

For me the marriage between scientific and emerging technologies together with strong ethical and social principles is critical. I want a just distribution of the costs, risks and, most importantly, benefits of this new knowledge and capacities such that they do not remain the province of the rich and dangerous alone.

From Wikipedia:

‘… for most techno-progressive critics and advocates, the achievement of better democracy, greater fairness, less violence, and a wider rights culture are all desirable, but inadequate in themselves to confront the quandaries of of contemporary technological societies unless and until they are accompanied by progress in science and technology to support and implement these aims.’

Hear, hear, say I. I am a strong supporter of progress in science and technology. And it’s apparent that precisely these self-same values are shared by TPUK given the aforementioned introduction on their website.

To be clear, I’m not writing this to debate the similarities and differences between those who choose to identify as transhumanist or technoprogressive or both or neither. That would be fruitless; within both camps there are many and varied ideologies and political leanings that are either in agreement with each other or not. My argument is that it does appear that TPUK sits very much at the technoprogressive end of the spectrum and it’s here that I’d like to set forth my stall, so to speak, in that I believe terminology matters.

Accordingly, I’m not entirely convinced that TPUK as a political party has chosen the right name for itself.

I believe there is a core difference between the terms transhumanism and technoprogressive that makes a huge difference to how people view each. The latter seems to me to describe something that is concrete: the embrace of emerging technologies together with social justice and opportunity. I’m not sure this is the case with the former, which owns to a far greater and broader range of aims and ideals and – crucially – politically so.

As a simple example, James Hughes and Zoltan Istvan are both transhumanists, but I’d bet my bottom dollar you’d only describe one of them as technoprogressive in his political stance.

Beyond preaching to the converted

All of this would be academic were it not for the fact that TPUK is a radical political party that needs to spread the word in ways that ordinary people can understand. We’re not simply going to preach to the converted and spend our time debating among ourselves and other technologically-minded individuals or those with the ready cash to consider life extension etc as soon as it’s up and running.

The problem for me is that being a transhumanist can mean many things across very broad political spectrums.

While there’s an argument to be made for diversity being a positive thing, canvassing voters is made that much more difficult when there appears to be no central core to the view we’re espousing. Is the transhumanist libertarian, liberal, small ‘c’ conservative, green, socialist, anarchist? What is it about transhumanism that appeals to them in particular and what will they prioritise as a consequence when out on the street?

I suppose you could make an argument that the same applies to a technoprogressive, but I think it’s that much more difficult to sustain this view in light of the fact that this person has already to a far greater extent identified their political aims and ideals by mere fact of identifying as a technoprogressive. As it states on the homepage of TPUK, ‘Anyone who agrees with [the Transhumanist Party Principles] and who is legally eligible to join a UK political party can do so.’ It’s clear and up-front where you stand on the major issues right from the get-go.

The need for a central political premise

It’s going to be a hard sell however you look at it, but I think it’s going to be much more difficult as ‘transhumanists’ where, when questioned about it would almost have to start with the details and work backwards. By this I mean take what’s important to them and rationalise it to fit their current agenda. A broad range of views across the political spectrum is healthy – difference of opinion and debate yes – but a political party without a central political premise is not so much a political party as it is a group of utterly diverse political opinions glued together only by their vision of the future (and even these will vary widely).

So, given the three founding principles of TPUK appear to lead one to inexorably define them as ‘technoprogressive’ in their ideals, why not define it as such? Technoprogressive Party UK sounds so much more inviting, let alone clear, to my ears than the current monicker.

A straw poll

A quick straw poll among friends and acquaintances resulted in them grasping the technoprogressive angle much more quickly and easier than transhumanism.

Transhumanism seems almost to frighten people with visions of being ‘beyond human’ – the uninitiated seemed to envision little more than lab coats, Skynet and grainy images of eugenic experimentation. The alternative, however, was far more easily understood and seemed less scary – it led to discussion whereas the former was more likely to lead to dismissal. It particularly appealed to left-of-centre participants in my little study and flashed up huge warning lights to those further to the right and also some Greens (who admittedly have their own reservations about emerging tech for specific reasons of their own).

Now this was by no means an Ipsos MORI poll as I don’t have many friends or acquaintances, but all but one said that the term technoprogressivism expressed its viewpoint clearly from the outset whereas transhumanism required a little explanation which quickly led to sci-fi scenarios and glazed eyes. Incidentally, many of them thought the TPUK logo was a little scary too, a point on which I have to agree.

th party logo

In conclusion, I’m not suggesting that things should change. Lines have already been drawn in the sand and our attention should now focus on being the best that we can be in order that the Party can be the best that it can be: best at advocating positive social change through emerging technologies. To improve ourselves and societies using the most effective tools available to us – to go beyond what we have been in order to overcome the world’s most pressing problems and create a better future.

You know… kind of like what a technoprogressive would do.

Gareth JohnAbout the author

Gareth John is a technoprogressive transhumanist ex-Buddhist priest fascinated by how people perceive, interpret, respond, and interact in an increasingly media rich world. His interests include ethics and emerging technologies, personality types in cyberspace, transhumanism, cyberpunk culture, philosophy, Zen. A psychotherapist in training, he Lives with bipolar disorder.

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