Tag Archives: immortality

we live our lives within the poetry of our own demise

While I am under no illusions that they would ever count it as a valid rejoinder, this from Nick Cave pretty much nails the pre-philosophical (which is to say poetic, I suppose) objection I’ve had to the immortalist dreams of the transhumanoids. Someone in the mailbag asks whether, were it possible, he would want to live forever. Quoth Cave:

[…] the answer must be no. I wouldn’t because, as far as I can see, the meaning of life is nested within the set terms of our own mortality. ‘Forever’ is both incomprehensible and utterly meaningless. I don’t believe we live just for the sake of it; rather we live our lives within the poetry of our own demise, within our own time, and our own limitations, and for that very reason alone we do so meaningfully. We work, we love, we care for each other, and we suffer together, knowing that one day we will die. The children in the schoolyard run headlong toward adulthood and their own disappearance, and we adults are the living breathing reminders of that. The man who waves at me as he walks his dog up the lane will die, as will the people filing into the church at the ringing of the bell, and the shop assistant hurrying to work, and the parking inspector, and the street sweeper, all will die in time — oh, and the squirrel (ah, there he is), he too will die (ouch), and the flowers, the swaying trees, and the earth itself. It is toward this temporal inconvenience — our finitude — that we move, with only a few precious moments to add value to this world. What can we do in this time that we are given, that is running through our fingers, even now? How can we lighten our mutual predicament that is drawing ever closer? Assaf, there lies the meaning in life — it is in the expansion of ourselves, in our benevolence, to fully occupy our allotted time.


a defiant assertion of the individual against its own impermanence

Doug Rushkoff knows the score:

Ironically, transhumanism is less about embracing the future than fixing the human experience as it is today. Medical and life extension interventions seek only to preserve the person who is alive right now. Cryonics seeks to freeze the human form in its current state in order to be reanimated in the future. Uploading one’s mind simply transfers the human brain, or a perfect clone of it, as is, into a more durable substrate.

In some ways, transhumanism is a reactionary response to the sorts of changes inherent in nature, a defiant assertion of the individual against its own impermanence. The cycles of life are understood not as opportunities to learn or let go, but as inconveniences to ignore or overcome. We do not have to live with the consequences of our own actions. There’s an app for that.

There’s a missing point here, though, which is that the “we” of the transhumanist is always an in-group “we”, even if only implicitly—that comes most often, I think, from an underexamination of the rhetoric by the majority of folk who identify with the movement. However, it’s quite clear and explicit in the actual writings of its intellectual leading lights, whose commitment to free markets and eugenics is replete with all the dogwhistles you could ask for. If you’re not on Team Immortality, then you’re just a walking organ farm, a store of tradeable fragments of genetic value.

But a double thumbs-up for Rushkoff noting the point about avoiding the consequences of one’s actions, which for my money is rooted in the failure of transhumanists to understand their always-already privileged cyborg status, courtesy of the infrastructural metasystem. I’ve been reading (finally!) Anna Tsing’s magisterial The Mushroom at the End of the World this week, and she illustrates the point very clearly: the role of supply chains, which extended the logic of the earlier national / regional infrastructures to a global scale (and in the process operationalised an off-the-radar mode of accumulation) is—quite deliberately—the effacement of consequences (whether environmental or social, if that’s a distinction you want to make) and the externalisation of risk (under which category we can file pollution and emissions).

So, once more, for the avoidance of doubt: transhumanism is a solutionist cult that is not even congizant of that which it fetishises, an unneeded and incoherent answer to the question “what can you offer the man who already has literally everything?” There is far less to fear from its prestidigitatory promises of technological uplift than there is to fear from the political projects being built backstage.

(I know there are some readers of this blog who identify as transhumanists, but who reject those political projects explicitly and vocally. I humbly offer that those people, and others like them, need a different name for their political identity; while it may once have been more contested, transhumanism is a toxic brand, and far beyond rescue. Posthumanism has always been the leftward path taken from the same starting concepts; regrettably, perhaps, it’s heretofore been more a academic-theoretical position than a movement. But it’s never too late to change that! If you grok Haraway, for example, I’d argue you’re a posthumanist already.)