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Citizen Cyborg: Why Democratic Societies…

Citizen Cyborg: Why Democratic Societies Must Respond To The Redesigned…

by James Hughes

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(Alistair) A decent enough but flawed book. (I should disclaim, first, for objectivity, that naturally I would think it so because I adhere to the "libertarian transhumanism" school of thought, rather than the "progressive transhumanism" one. Nevertheless.)

Mr. Hughes does a good job of describing the near-term benefits, particularly in biological terms, and of describing the overt enemies of progress on both the right (divine-law and natural-law fundamentalists, bioluddites) and left (deep ecologists, relinquishers, the technology-as-badwicked-power-relation and technology-as-waste crews). This is useful and interesting, as are quite a few (but not all) of his specific proposals; most notably the move to "personhood-based" - what I call "sophoncy-based" - citizenship instead of the human-racist (or carbon chauvinist, even) view of humanity-based citizenship, something I feel should be given considerably more weight than it is in the general eye.

Where this book falls down, in my opinion, is in its attempted synthesis of transhumanism with social democracy, as perceived by the "progressive[1]" movement, something which I thought felt a little strained to sustain even in the book itself. (I would also note that in quite a few places, the writing per se is flawed by some of the usual tedious progressive tics; non-Kool-Aid-drinking readers be warned. It's worth getting past them for the actual information content.) By attempting this synthesis, and binding his thought quite so closely to socialist/progressive ideology, Mr. Hughes places himself squarely in the "technocratic stasism" box - albeit not as deep in stasism as the groups he criticizes - as defined in the excellent The Future and Its Enemies (Postrel, 1998). I fear the future he would propose is just the death of progress by regulation, rather than by outright ban.

1. I'm sorry, but with the best will in the world, I can't leave off these sneer quotes any more than I could leave them off "conservatives" who want to introduce a radically new program. If your policy and your name diverge, such will be life.
( http://weblog.siliconcerebrate.com/cerebrate/2008/03/citizen-cyborg-james-hughes... ) ( )
1 vote libraryofus | Mar 25, 2008 |
New technologies are coming in the near future that have the potential to radically change what it means to be human. This book looks at why democratic societies must respond to things like cloning, genetic engineering and nanotechnology, instead of pretending that they don’t exist.

What the author calls "bio-Luddites" are opposed to such new technologies, because they feel that mankind should be happy with its 70 (or so) years of life, characterized by increasing bodily disfunction in its later stages. Another reason for opposition is the vague, but always there, possibility of a disaster unleashing some new plague on the world. Some people say that taboos and gut feelings are the path to wisdom. If a new technology feels spooky, ban it immediately. The Catholic Church opposes such things because they are supposedly offensive to God.

On the other hand, if a person is found to be a carrier for, or genetically susceptible to, Disease X, don’t they have the right to fix their DNA (assuming a safe and reliable method can be found to do so)? Those who call themselves transhumanists (based on humanism) believe that people should have the right to modify their bodies, whether the quest is for greater intelligence, longevity or a happier outlook on life. They are the first to assert that there must be adequate discussion beforehand, and adequate safeguards after the introduction of a new technology. Such things must also be available to all people, through some sort of universal health insurance, not just to the rich. Transhumanists have no desire to take over the world, but one of the subjects for social consideration has to be how to extinguish potential schisms between humans and posthumans. To those who think that some new regulatory agency is needed, the author does not agree. Agencies like the FDA and EPA will be able to do the job, if they ever get the funding and authority needed. Don’t forget that 25 years ago, in vitro fertilization was considered an abomination; now it is practically mainstream.

This is a pretty specialized book, but it shouldn’t be. Like it or not, the new technologies described in this book are coming in the near future. It is better to start discussing, now, how to deal with them, instead of just saying No. The reader may not agree with everything in this book, but it is an excellent place to begin that discussion. ( )
1 vote plappen | Oct 8, 2007 |
This one greatly clarified for me the different varieties of transhumanists and the different varieties of our opponents, the bioLuddites. The latter hail from both the right and the left and, in many cases, are "human racists" who would deny personhood and citizenship to clones, GM people, cyborgs, chimeras, robots, uploads, etc. To nitpick a little, I think Hughes could have put less emphasis on the alleged wonders of democracy (shown by the 2004 US presidential election to be capable of going terribly wrong) and more on the elimination of religion as a possible benefit of transhumanism (he says he's a Buddhist). http://cyborgdemocracy.net, www.betterhumans.com
  fpagan | Jan 23, 2007 |
The end of this book basically goes against everything I stand for. He's a eugenicist who believes he as an able-bodied white man can decide what exactly "positive" eugenics is!
1 vote robotheart | Sep 11, 2006 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0813341981, Paperback)

A provocative work by medical ethicist James Hughes, Citizen Cyborg argues that technologies pushing the boundaries of humanness can radically improve our quality of life if they are controlled democratically. Hughes challenges both the technophobia of Leon Kass and Francis Fukuyama and the unchecked enthusiasm of others for limitless human enhancement. He argues instead for a third way, "democratic transhumanism," by asking the question destined to become a fundamental issue of the twenty-first century: How can we use new cybernetic and biomedical technologies to make life better for everyone? These technologies hold great promise, but they also pose profound challenges to our health, our culture, and our liberal democratic political system. By allowing humans to become more than human - "posthuman" or "transhuman" - the new technologies will require new answers for the enduring issues of liberty and the common good. What limits should we place on the freedom of people to control their own bodies? Who should own genes and other living things? Which technologies should be mandatory, which voluntary, and which forbidden? For answers to these challenges, Citizen Cyborg proposes a radical return to a faith in the resilience of our democratic institutions.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:24 -0400)

"A loose coalition of groups - including religious conservatives, disability rights advocates, and environmental activists - has emerged to oppose the use of genetics to enhance human beings. And with the appointment of conservative philosopher Leon Kass (an opponent of invitro fertilization, stem cell research, and life extension) to head the President's Council on Bioethics, and with the recent high-profile writings by authors like Francis Fukuyama and Bill McKibben, this stance has become more visible - and more infamous - than ever before." "In the opposite corner, a loose transhumanist coalition is mobilizing in defense of human enhancement, embracing the ideological diversity of their intellectual forebears in the democratic and humanist movements. Transhumanists argue that human beings should be guaranteed freedom to control their own bodies and brains, and to use technology to transcend human limitations." "Identifying the groups, thinkers, and arguments in each corner of this debate, bioethicist and futurist James Hughes argues for a third way, which he calls democratic transhumanism. This approach argues that we will achieve the best possible posthuman future when we ensure tech nologies are safe, make them available to everyone, and respect the right of individuals to control their own bodies." "Hughes offers fresh and controversial answers for many other pressing biopolitical issues including cloning, genetic patents, human genetic engineering, sex selection, drugs, and assisted suicide - and concludes with a concrete political agenda for protechnology progressives, including expanding and deepening human rights, reforming genetic patent laws, and providing everyone with healthcare and a basic guaranteed income."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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