To Be, Or Not To Be (Human) | Jerry Salyer | CWR
Charles Rubin's Eclipse of Man demonstrates the right way for scholars to grapple with the multi-faceted questions raised by advances in biotechnology, robotics, and computing
The only reason we are still alive is our inconsistency in not having actually silenced all tradition.” – Gerhard Kruger (1902-72)
In Sir Arthur C. Clarke's classic science fiction novel Childhood's End (1953), a mysterious alien race known as the Overlords land on Earth. Swiftly establishing a benevolent dictatorship, the Overlords put an end to war and want and transform the world into a tranquil, rationalist utopia.
They do this not for the sake of mankind per se, however, but to pave the way for the next leap in human evolution—a leap which occurs years later, when human parents mysteriously beget superhuman children. With the watchful Overlords as their guardians, these children eventually abandon human form and merge into a disembodied collective supermind which roves the galaxy at the speed of thought. Meanwhile and for reasons not entirely clear, the human race loses its will to live, which is just as well since the transformation of the mutant children into a new collective life form unleashes terrible cosmic forces. Said forces destroy the Earth.
As Charles Rubin suggests in Eclipse of Man: Human Extinction and the Meaning of Progress, Clarke's Childhood's End possesses virtues that should not be casually dismissed, however objectionable the novel might be in many ways. C. S. Lewis, of all people, regarded the novel with admiration. Whatever else Clarke got wrong, felt Lewis, his story was at least motivated by a sense of man's ultimate aim being grander and more marvelous than a cozy world of well-manicured lawns and secure pensions. That said, the story also reflects a regrettably fideistic attitude toward Progress. Such fideism remains strong to this day, even after all the ecological, social, and political catastrophes of the 20th century. Concerns about nuclear war, the greenhouse effect, and bioterrorism have even led some to “double down” on progressive ideology by calling for the transformation of man into an alien being.
The growing number who call for such a transformation are known as transhumanists. As Rubin explains,
Transhumanists argue not only that modern science and technology are giving human beings the power to take evolution into our own hands to improve the human species, and then to create some new species entirely, but also the ability to improve on all of nature. Much like the older apocalyptic visions [of the environmentalist movement], the transhumanists believe that mankind as we know it and nature as we know it are on their way out; but for most transhumanists, that is the deliberate goal sought, not a consequence of our hubris to be avoided. Indeed, the transhumanists believe that if we are to prevent some of the more common apocalyptic visions from becoming reality, we must redesign humanity so that our ruinous flaws can be eliminated. To avoid mere destruction, we must embrace creative destruction.
As with any movement, the sub-ideologies found within transhumanism are legion.