Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The World Of Dr. Moreau


On a projection screen at Stanford Law School, an auditorium full of nerds stared at a picture of a guy who'd done himself up like a cat—not with makeup, but with tattoos and surgery. The guy's whiskers were implanted. His nose had been converted to a cat nose. His teeth had been filed into the shape of cat teeth. His head has been flattened, and he was looking for a doctor to implant a tail. And that's just the tip of the freakberg.

Our guide to the self-mutilators, professor Robert Schwartz of the University of New Mexico, wasn't trying to gross us out. He was trying to show us the irrationality of regulating body modification based on grossness. Why do we shrug at botox, liposuction, and circumcision? Why do we think it's no big deal if models, actors, and athletes have themselves cut open for professional advancement? Why did tattoos remain illegal in parts of the United States until three weeks ago? Why did we have "ugly laws" that ordered maimed people off the streets?

Speakers and attendees called themselves visionaries, futurists, or revolutionaries. They invoked Marcuse, Sartre, and Heidegger. They preached struggle and solidarity. They spoke of speciesism, morphological diversity, techno-progressive transhumanism, somatic-epistemic technology, nonanthropocentric personhood ethics, and the "illusory distinction between self and cosmos."

Another panel addressed "the self-demand amputation community." You've heard of a woman trapped in a man's body? Imagine being a one-legged person trapped in a two-legged body, said the speakers.

Maybe the cockeyed thinking of transhumanists is what allows them to see the illogic of the way we dope kids with caffeine while banning other stimulants. Maybe that's why they find it odd that we denounce steroids as cheating but ignore athletes who get Lasik or muscle-enhancing surgery. Maybe that's why they look back at the doubling of human life expectancy in the last century and wonder why we shouldn't try to double it again. To our hunter-gatherer ancestors, they figure, we already look posthuman.

Life truly does imitate science fiction. We're living in a time of man-made miracles and monsters, and I'm grateful to have a front row seat at the carnival. See the amazing Cat Man! Witness the Awesome Power of the deaf Cyborg! Marvel at the Immortalists!

Fascinating stuff. These people are deeply, deeply weird. Yet, isn't it always the weird ones that end up changing the world? The questions these people pose are good, meaty philosophical ones - ones that should be discussed in depth as our world continues its march toward further diversity. What is the difference between Pam Anderson and Cat Man? Is it that she attempted to adhere to society's notion of the sexual? Is it because the Cat Man isn't already a super-model?

Is this simply the inevitable progression of individualism, aided by technology? And if the Immortalists' obsession with life-extension yields results, does that negate their weirdness?

Are we not men? That's a question that H.G. Wells asks through his animal/human hybrids in the Island of Dr. Moreau, and the answer is as ambiguous as you'd expect: We're both animal and human. The indulgence of one to the exclusion of the other leads inevitably to disaster. In this Brave New World of ours, what makes us "human?"

How do we define ourselves, when we have the ability to totally redefine ourselves?


At 8:49 AM, Anonymous Pickles said...


At 9:07 AM, Blogger codemorse said...

And a hearty Mooow to you, too, Pickles!

In other news: Booooof, Gern, and Slizit.

At 9:13 PM, Blogger FutureQ said...

Right now, without any changes, we already share a large amount of our DNA with mice. So, are we mice or are we men? We share 98 to 99 percent, depending on whom you ask, of our DNA with chimpanzees, but we consider ourselves very much not chimps and very much apart from the animal world.

We ARE ANIMALS and we are HUMANS. Regardless of how much we change ourselves collectively or individually, we will still FEEL inside that we are humans.

The concept of "Humanity" is a social construct. Therefore our defining ourselves as human beings is cultural rather than biological.

We share DNA with yeast! This is why our immune systems have such a hard time killing yeast infections because the critters are seen by our immune systems as belonging onboard!

It is an ego trip to think we are so far above the animals as to make us arbitrarily special. Some animals are actually quite HUMANE compared to some of our historical actions.

We are animal and human and even though I consider myself a "Transhumanist", because I hold certain goals and ideals in common with others also identifying themselves with this emerging group, though I may one day have a largely machine body -- already partially there -- I will still consider myself a human being for the larger part of the future.



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