Monday, January 21, 2013

What is there to gain in this transition?

I start with what I consider axiomatic, an assumption about who we are. I would love to see this challenged and I will research to refine and expand on this in the years to come:

The human ability to learn and adapt is what sets us apart from all other creatures. We are the self-aware learning animal. We are the only social group that can determine its own evolution. With that role comes a responsibility to shape who we will become mentally, morally, socially, and physically.

In defining our future, I agree with Greg Ulmer that we are in a transitionary period of human history, and that contemporary information storage and retrieval systems will change humanhood at a core level. We have been shaping our future at a deep level for quite a while now. Survival of the fittest has been replaced by survival of the richest. Those with access to technology can repair themselves (extending their life) and alter their appearance (increasing chance of propagation). This is a limited example, but points to our newfound deviation from Darwinian survival-of-the-fittest. We are already controlling some evolutionary variables. We have even largely removed some, like poor eyesight. There was a time when having very poor eyesight would limit what you could do for work, and lessen your chance to have children. Left un-corrected poor eyesight might naturally dwindle through the generations, but poor eyesight is no longer a challenge. We are now stuck having poor eyesight until we can correct it at a genetic level that will propagate to our children. We are stuck correcting genetics with technology in a huge number of ways. We have arrested the mechanism that brought us to where we are now. An expansion on these ideas and their consequences can be found in the book "Our Posthuman Future."

We have already defied Darwin, now we accept it and move forward responsibly. What is there to gain in this transition? Very old problems can be rethought for new solutions. Is there one major change that can be brought forth during this shift to propel us healthfully into the future? An intelligent society. We have to shape who we will become, because it will not happen for us anymore. I would like to give future generations a right to access all information. 


  1. Ulmer would say that we need to make public policy decisions based on "well-being" (Spinoza's conatus), since "Problems B Us" (that is, we create the problems that plague us). I'd say genetic modification and experimentation has the potential for some scary problems! (as some dark dystopic sci-fi suggests). As for our becoming an intelligent society, Ulmer is fond of saying that all of the information now available to us makes us--as a society--like an idiot savant... This is where we need the electrate emphasis on embodiment and aesthetics/feelings/mood to help us bring all of that knowledge into balance...

  2. Hey Richard, thanks for the comment. I agree completely, the point I am trying to make with this post is we are in complete control over who we will become. To the point where the previous automatic checks and balances are no longer functioning. I believe it is easy to recognize that we are in control over who we will become culturally and socially, but we are also already in control over who we are physically. I believe this points to a central issue in an electrate society(and a problem as we shifted Epochs before): we cannot expect the value systems of the previous epoch to get us through the current one.

    In a previous epoch the idea of genetic modification would be horrible, but now we are doing it every day. Simple in utero tests for diseases and the choices that can be made from those tests will and are having an impact on who we will turn into. Just saying "it is horrible" is not acceptable. We are forced to take a nuanced view and possibly change our values/morality to face the new epoch. I take an extreme example because it is happening in smaller ways everywhere.

    How can we get beyond the idiot savant? I think you hit it, entertainment as cultural education. Actually this is already happening. Entertainment might be the best way to change morality. I believe the positive and accepting view of gays in television has had a major impact on their being accepted more and more throughout society. And, the next generation will grow up accepting them more and more. I think I am starting to understand why Ulmer puts such a high value on aesthetics. He is good at taking the long view. If I back up and try to imagine the impact of a shift in common aesthetic has on society after two generations it is quite dramatic! I also feel we need to take the idea of "education" and widen its reach. I tend to think of education as what happens in school, but entertainment is educating us about the norms of society constantly, it is shaping the next generation by telling them who they are and how they should relate to others. I suddenly feel that media makers hold some great power....