What is Anarcho-Transhumanism?
Anarcho-Transhumanism is the recognition that social liberty is inherently bound up with material liberty, and that freedom is ultimately a matter of expanding our capacity and opportunities to engage with the world around us. It is the realization that our resistance against those social forces that would subjugate and limit us is but part of a spectrum of efforts to expand human agency—to facilitate our inquiry and creativity.
This means not just being free from the arbitrary limitations our bodies might impose, but free to shape the world around us and deepen the potential of our connections to one another through it.
It means the tools we use should be openly knowable and infinitely customizable; it means bodies that are not locked into processes in which we have no say. It knows that the hunger for choice behind birth control, regrown limbs and sexual reassignment is the same hunger that organizes workers and sets fire to prisons. It is struggle to live free… and do so for one more year, one more decade, one more century. It means not just transcending the strictures of gender, but of genetics and all previous human experience. It means fighting to be allowed the fullest actualization of who and what we want to be, whenever we want to be it.
It means challenging and altering the conditions that might otherwise govern us. It means when the tools exist to better our lives they should be used; that no one should starve when such scarcity can be eliminated. It means vigilantly engaging with nature rather than bullying or surrendering to it. It is the knowledge that victory for the working class will only truly arrive when every worker individually owns the means of production—capable of fabricating anything and everything for themselves. It is proactive engagement with the environmental conditions that force hierarchy and inescapable collectivism. It means freeing our society from the hierarchies of two dimensional landscapes, to move our destructive infrastructures outside the biosphere and to eventually shake off sedentary civilization and take our place as hunter-gatherers between the stars.
It means cryptography—unbreakable channels of private communication added up into an unbreakable hive of ideas and knowledge. It also means the abolition of public privacy—the creation of a world where the actions we take with one another are sharable and verifiable in an instant. And ultimately it will be the freedom to surpass the limited bandwidth of language and connect more and more directly to one another—to merge minds and transcend individual subjectivities as desired.
Anarcho-Transhumanism is all of these things and any one of them.
The Floating Metal Sphere Trump Card
Radicals! Are you sick of being spontaneously overcome by blistering rage and horrified vertigo on a daily basis? Do you find yourself foolishly opening comment threads on gender issues thinking yourself desensitized to the mind-warping misogyny that invariably pops into existence like a quantum foam of entitlement underpinning the internet? Are you sick of wasting precious minutes standing slackjawed in front of some new twisting complex of deep psychological issues couched as grandiose social analysis? Do you find yourself humbled into quiet bitter despair while pondering just how long it would take to fight their misrepresentation of reality?
Are you sick, in short, of time-burglaring gender-essentialists?
Then Anarcho-Transhumanism might be right for you!
In all seriousness folks I’m actually kind of amazed at how much time gets wasted in the radical feminist milieu on citation wars with people spouting gender-essentialism. I mean, I’ve fallen for it too. But one of the nicest things about being a transhumanist is the ease by which I can chuck that shit out the door while also utterly confounding and further raising the hackles of my interlocuter.
I know there’s a number of rhetorical trenches we’re instinctively wedded to and what I’m about to propose may sound treasonous, but bear with me because I think you’ll come to appreciate just how delicious this is:
Who the fuck cares?
Imagine the situation. Bro-dude #1,459,005,410 has constructed some meticulous and elaborate set of bullshit anecdotes, his own evolutionary psychology fanfic and dozens of “social science” references. All to prove some ridiculously totalizing and conceptually hazy statement about women or men that they cling to as their own personal patriarchy-justification-wand.
They’re expecting you to get bogged down in a fruitless quagmire contending all the things in order to avoid what is ultimately a really laughable appeal to the naturalistic fallacy. “Look, babe, this is just how the world works.” But whether or not something’s genetic or inherent to our bodies or “built-in” really shouldn’t matter. And giving that assumption fuel by fighting it on its own terms is actually kind of reckless.
Transhumanists obviously don’t have to put up with that shit. In fact we can slide directly into terms of “abolishing gender” from the get-go to directly negate MRA-era contortions around “equality” without even having to slog through a lengthy education process about distinctions between gender and sex. When they confuse the two we can be all, “yeah, that too.” (And then feast on their googely-eyes of horror.)
In short it’s well past time to reverse the feeling of vertigo. Basic notions of common humanity and equality are mainstream and they know it. Reactionary patriarchy-defenders have gone on the defensive with a whiney legalistic search for loop-holes and equivocations. Rejecting the entire notion of human nature or compromise with biology drops the ground out from underneath them.
Fuck you, I’m a robot. I’m a whatever. They’re whatevers. You don’t get a say in it and there’s no reason whatsoever for you to assume. I’m a mind with agency and that should obviously include agency in my self-construction. Even if your ridiculous totally unsuported claims about the best form of relations between two specific ‘types’ of people, those types of people don’t exist anymore and it’s insanely unethical to try and impose such assumptions. This is the future. We’re all becoming cyborgs and queers and entirely new ways and forms of existing. We’re self-altering, self-determining. There is no “women” just as there is no “men”. What there are are douchebags and fucked up social systems doing very real damage that happens to be based on the assumption that such genders exist or should exist. Patriarchy is the enemy and I don’t give a shit what it takes to bring the fucker down.
If gender actually conflicts with ethics, then we should chuck gender. If human biology actually conflicts with ethics, then we should move to chuck human biology. Those folks who argue that some bit of shitty social behavior is built in should be treated like someone admitting an unethical addiction, not someone on the verge of scoring an actual ethical point. You don’t have to be a douche! There are ways out! Here, there are tools becoming available to help you can transcend your failing!
If our demands are currently less than fully actualizable then that’s all the more reason to demand them, to pressure society into developing and accepting the tools to realize them.
Of course our demands are entirely actualizable right now. There isn’t any ethically relevant substance to distinctions between sexes. Well besides the fact that one can have a factory inside it to make more people. People are statistically all over the place and growing more diverse as knowledge and technology empower them to make changes to their minds and bodies. But who knows maybe there’s some utterly marginal way the bro-dude’s thing really reflects a minor stastical bent in some fashion between the sexes or whatever. (Or maybe things are bent in a direction that would make the bro-dude horrified.) There’s every reason to stay harshly skeptical of “scientific” evidence for such, but there’s no reason to be terrified of eventually accepting proof of such. My feminism is stronger than that.
So the next time someone starts rattling on about their crackpot gender essentialist theory may I reccomend countering with an Even if that were remotely plausible, why would it matter in the slightest to the basic ethics of how minds should treat one another? Fuck you, I’m a floating metal sphere. And then just pummel them with future-shock and uncompromising radicalism until they’re in a fetal position.
My friends have come to swear by it.
“All Anarchists Should Be Scientists”
All anarchists should be scientists, at least to some extent. We should never allow ourselves to become so rigid as to forget what makes us anarchists in the first place: childlike curiosity, incessant inquiry, and a radical love for taking things to their roots to further our understanding. We seek to dismantle the world around us, knowing that it does not function as well as it could. We want to understand ourselves, our environment, and each other. We want the blueprints for the social machine, so we can sledgehammer the fuck out of it, and build it back up from scratch.
You know what that sounds like? That sounds like science. And that sounds like hacking.
Anarchists are radicals, and I shouldn’t need to point out for the zillionth time that radicalism means taking things down to the roots.
So, anarchists are scientists, even if some resign to mere social science. Anarchists are hackers, even if in some cases that only goes as far as hacking up an herbal tincture for a sick friend. Their walls cannot stop us; there are infinite possible paths around and under and even through.
Scientists as a Revolutionary Class
Scientists are driven to inquire, to engage with the world around them and reshape their own minds in doing so. Regardless of whether they recognize it this places them fundamentally and diametrically at odds with power relations.
Consequently those power dynamics that have survived have found ways to hold back and rigorously control science, but this control rarely takes the form of direct oppression. Yes scientists do occasionally get shot, threatened, censored, fired and shipped off to gulags to starve, but as these things go they’re not a particularly oppressed class. Indeed if we accept for a moment the perception of “scientist” as a mere job description rather than intellectual orientation, then scientists have done extraodinarily well for themselves in the modern era. A pampered and privileged pet class whose fortunes have slowly been wrapped around that of the establishment. In terms of material security scientists have been made a beneficiary of global capitalism and it would be insane to ignore the cultural allegiances this has spurred. But so too would it be folly to overstate them as inherent or even characteristic.
I would argue that scientists constitute a very important class in the context of social struggle — a class not created by paycheck but defined in terms their desires the same way that queer folk constitute a class. Those driven by inquiry who act to expand collective understanding of the material world. In this sense scientists are without a doubt a class with immense revolutionary potential. Perhaps even the most potential.
To reiterate just to be absolutely clear: Scientists are not a profoundly oppressed class. Sure, IP law impedes their livelihoods and empowers parasitic academic hierarchies. Corporate and political powers stomp on results they don’t like. Huge numbers of would-be scientists around the world are refused access and opportunities. And of course for thousands of years scientists have faced systemic and constant threats of murder from the religious wings of social power. Even in this extrodinary modern political shift to subversion rather than suppression, scientists are still significantly impeded by power relations. Yet no one would compare the travails of scientists as a whole to those faced specifically by women, people of color, the poor, etc.
But revolutionary potential does not follow a 1:1 relationship with the degree of oppression faced. A starving person is not inherently aligned against power relations wholesale, all they can at face value be relied on opposing is the context that keeps them in starvation. Along many if not most class lines the motivating grievance is not inherent but contextual. This can of course be quite potent just as it can develop into an enlightened empathic rejection of power relations but such development is in no way assured. Once those defined solely by their dispossession cease being dispossessed they cease having any fundamental tension with power.
True scientists on the other hand can never cease being scientists. Their defining desire is both contingent upon liberty and insatiable. As such they will never stop being in conflict with power. That the tension of this conflict has been minimized in the modern era is actually the whole point.
While flagrantly oppressed classes like the working poor once held a tactical advantage through proximity to things like the means of production, the ruling class has long since rectified that mistake. Former points of criticality have been dispersed or made redundant and those few folks left in contact with critical components or potent tools have almost all been bought. It’s hard to build working class consciousness in an ostensibly “blue collar” worker who has a summer home and a boat from their snug 60k union contract. And perhaps harder still to do anything with all those disenfranchised and angry but safely positioned out of reach from anything critical save their own support systems.
We no longer live in an era in which mass mobilization (simply fielding the most soldiers/voters) is relevant unto itself. Technological progress — always favoring the attacker — continues to seep out to the margins and empower disruption, but not in proportion to the number of users and still in limited directions/degrees. That seepage has so far been the result of short time preferences on the part of competing power structures. But obviously as the instabilities increase a point will be reached when they recognize the competative advantage technological development can provide between power structures is outweighed by the existential threat it poses to power relations as a whole. A resumption of full blown hostilities between scientists and the champions of power relations is inevitable.
Because of calculational limits and the rigid nature of their composition, power structures have always responded sluggishly to technological development. The faster the development the slower the response and the longer window for that technology’s capacity to bleed to the periphery enabling autonomy through abundance and resistance through weaponry. In short, scientists, whether employed as pure researchers or in engineering fields, are perfectly equipped and situated.
Slow Doesn’t Mean Not Happening
These days space engineering projects are dismissed as silly futurism and totally extraneous to our lives, yet satellites are constantly being launched all over the world and their influence is critical in every sphere of our society. A decade or two from now that dismissive sentiment will remain exactly the same, but in addition to satellites there will be dozens of not hundreds of cheap automated asteroid mining projects.
Just as with satellites the benefits are huge and the technology is already well known and relatively easy. The Chinese have already casually begun a number of projects to redirect, control and capture asteroids.
I want fucking space elevators and L5 habitats and mass drivers on the moon and colonies on mars and spun up hollowed out asteroids with ecosystems, I want them yesterday and that’s just to start. But the reality is our society doesn’t have its act anywhere near together enough, those tiny government projects that have been allowed to exist are (surprise!) inefficient and we really have no way of knowing when or how materials scientists will finally get their act together on the shear strength of whatever nanotube concoction they end up with.
Monsanto And The Corporate Appropriation Of Science As A Brand
I can’t stand Monsanto, but I also can’t stand the way the term “GMO” gets thrown around. Tons of stuff is “genetically engineered”, let’s not get all woo-woo-y about conceptual demarcations when humans have been crossbreeding for centuries. Little pisses me off more than corporations giving a bad name to the potential of a technology because they want to wrap themselves in that potential to sell shit without actually allowing scientists to fulfill it. The problem isn’t that something is genetically engineered. The problem is when it was engineered in a slapdash, irresponsible, non-scientific fashion to serve a very particular goal (as with suicide genes) that sucks.
A lot of the “engineering” going on right now is more blind experiment than it is actual designing. This is because we’re not at the level of understanding yet where we can directly program in DNA. Rather corporate research teams are pushed to more or less just fiddle with stuff to see what works in terms of macroscopic aggregates while relatively ignoring or skipping past the complexity of the underlying mechanisms. This is not real science. Genetic engineers are basically still just script kiddies. Of course there are interesting things to be learned through such play that can help further science and our understanding, just as there’s a lot that will be possible, but the corporate bosses are entirely disinterested in understanding, they’re pushing for “useful” results.
By which I mean they’re interested in things that increase profit (within an extremely short sighted capitalist economy with no real capacity to internalize externalities). So they work to achieve greater yield crops (which can be great) but are inclined to ignore the interplay of the crops with the ecosystem so then you get crops that are unsustainable in some way. Or because they don’t understand all the mechanisms of what’s going on they introduce genes that have unforseen negative consequences and (because they’re not not subject to social/market oversight) don’t even bother to adequately test them. Lastly there’s actions they take to directly fuck over the farmer, as with suicide-genes that force farmers to become dependents of Monsanto who, thanks to IP law, can charge whatever they like.
As with anything there’s a give and take between the inclinations of the scientists and those of their bosses. A lot of positive developments slip by and contribute to abundance (and freedom from material subjugation as with gene therapy to overcome our bodies) which in the long term is obviously detrimental to power structures like Monsanto. This sort of short-term preference on the part of power structures is fairly constant across history when power structures attempt to control the creative/inquisitive process. Positive breakthroughs seep out into general use whereas negative ones are eventually repulsed.
Every Scientist Should Be An Anarchist
The first time I encountered the claim that an anarchistic society would impede scientific^ progress I was too shocked — and later busy chortling — to sketch out a thorough response.
It’s a surprising sentiment to me for a lot of reasons, not the least for the well known correspondence between scientific progress and social and material freedom in mass societies. I suppose liberals might be inclined to write this relation off as a low value-correspondence – like solely whether free speech is allowed or if folks even have time for anything besides the struggle to stay alive – but to me the connection seems quite obviously fundamental. Power relations of any kind are ultimately more constrictive of inquiry than they can ever be of benefit to it. The logic is simple: Control can only be achieved through disengagement and rigidity. And so any successful power structure must involve mechanisms to punish and suppress habits of inquiry.
Parents, teachers, bosses and cops… they all achieve control by mimicking the binary system of threats (absolute law and punishment) that the state uses. Rather than an organic system of constant, decentralized give and take that rewards wider attention, the archist approach seeks to ideally shrink the subject’s attention down to a single, controllable input. This creates an artificial environment that rewards habits of rigidity and punishes persistent inquiry. And of course these habits are replicated in the communities and structures they create with their peers. Little has broken my heart more than going from teaching third graders who delightedly took to advanced algebra and calculus to jaded and broken middle schoolers whose priorities were social survival and escape from misery. Suffice to say, people would place far more value in science if they weren’t constantly beaten down for having an open mind. Granted, it might end up taking a few generations for literally everyone to become a scientist, but even a moderate improvement would do wonders.
That’s the reasoning for my general inclination that anarchistic societies would be far more facilitative of scientific inquiry. But the specifics paint exactly the same picture.
The centralized means of research and development characteristic of state involvement is hugely inefficient. (One can’t help but suspect that might even be intentional.) Capital intensive undertakings like the LHC and NASA are widely known to be riddled with bureaucratic inefficiencies, in some cases raising costs by a full order of magnitude. The LHC would work better as a cooperative that elected its own, took donations and acted autonomously in its own interest rather than allowing every decision to be the result of totally unrelated diplomatic jockeying. NASA would work better broken up: some major projects acting like said cooperatives, others competing.
The corporate research model is one of incremental data collection bent severely by patent and military concerns. Aside from being hugely psychologically scarring to scientists and actively suppressing the sort of deep-thinking paradigmatic leaps that keep theoretical clutter from accumulating, the focus of investigation is largely determined from the top down in order to maximize short term benefits to those in power. Obviously this has led to all kinds of terrible consequences and has helped reinforce the notion of scientists as irresponsible lapdogs of authority, but more importantly it has had a retarding effect on scientific development as a whole. Logical follow-ups on discoveries or theoretical developments aren’t just pursued unequally, whole trains of investigation are artificially accelerated or decelerated relative one another creating situations where realizations that speak to core issues with another train aren’t discovered until well into its development.
Science works best in a state of informational anarchy. Paywall enclosed journals are now widely recognized as a stain on our field and a detriment to scientific progress. But so too does the severity of non-disclosure agreements (shaped both by market standards distorted towards capital and the availability of state coercion rather than polycentric arbitration systems predicated solely on reputation) not to mention the very enforceability of intellectual property openly suppress competition and innovation.
None of these issues of relative efficiency should be that surprising. Ultimately any collective pursuit is a processing problem and the more decentralized and richly connected a system is the better it’s capable of processing.
But what of funding itself?
On the one hand there’s a tendency to say well, so what if scientists end up pushing mops part-time? Plenty of scientists currently waste a lot of time on work irrelevant to their investigations (teaching, etc) and some of the best developments have come from people who preferred to earn their bread from less demanding side-jobs.
But the trick is that the efficiencies of anarchistic social arrangements extend to the social support infrastructure for science as well. A more efficient society provides greater background abundance, freeing inquiring minds that might otherwise be economically trapped and providing greater real wealth across the board. Even ignoring its ridiculous misallocation and inefficiency, government funding for research is both a fraction of that available through private grants and a ridiculously tiny percentage of the taxdollars currently collected even in a world leader like the US. It wouldn’t take much to expand the voluntary private/charitable sector (through investment groups or enthusiast donations as currently present in a lot of extremely expensive space exploration development) to at least cover existing costs. Further the interplay between researchers/designers, their supporters and the rest of the population would be more nuanced, transparent and accountable on all ends. And this is likely to stoke even more investment. Hierarchical, centralized and edict-based power structures like the state and corporations act as information bottlenecks on every level and are prone to totalizing swings in policy with no capacity for graduated pressures.
Simply put, it seems obvious to me that there would be more scientists and a higher drive for science in an anarchistic society, plus a higher degree of efficiency that would benefit science directly as well as indirectly.
“If the State had been abolished a century ago, we’d all have robots and summer homes in the Asteroid belt.”
^ I should note that I’m using the definition of science that involves seeking direct roots-up explanations (ie physics, mathematics, chemistry and a bit of biology) rather than merely anything that dabbles in empiricism.
A Declaration of The Independence of Cyberspace
This is a little half-sheet booklet I put together for the SF Anarchist Bookfair on a lark. We ended up passing out over 200 copies and being fairly well received.
Cribbing a tad from Cee Lo, I got the idea when John Perry Barlow’s powerful preamble to the 1996 Declaration recently wandered into my head.
Yesterday, that great invertebrate in the White House signed into the law the Telecom “Reform” Act of 1996, while Tipper Gore took digital photographs of the proceedings to be included in a book called “24 Hours in Cyberspace.”
I had also been asked to participate in the creation of this book by writing something appropriate to the moment. Given the atrocity that this legislation would seek to inflict on the Net, I decided it was as good a time as any to dump some tea in the virtual harbor.
After all, the Telecom “Reform” Act, passed in the Senate with only 5 dissenting votes, makes it unlawful, and punishable by a $250,000 to say “shit” online. Or, for that matter, to say any of the other 7 dirty words prohibited in broadcast media. Or to discuss abortion openly. Or to talk about any bodily function in any but the most clinical terms.
It attempts to place more restrictive constraints on the conversation in Cyberspace than presently exist in the Senate cafeteria, where I have dined and heard colorful indecencies spoken by United States senators on every occasion I did.
This bill was enacted upon us by people who haven’t the slightest idea who we are or where our conversation is being conducted. It is, as my good friend and Wired Editor Louis Rossetto put it, as though “the illiterate could tell you what to read.”
Well, fuck them.
Indeed. Would that those words haven’t continued ringing true with every new attempt they’ve made since.
As the internet’s boundaries have expanded a lot of the militant geek culture that was so noticeable at its inception has gotten drowned out by more aspirational conformity and haughty moderatism. It can be painful reading the flurry of liberal technocrats monopolizing sites like reddit these days that claim to be geeks, yet recoil in horror at things as basic as the struggle to abolish all intellectual property. But a few more bourgeois idiots shouldn’t drive us to the mistake of despair. We are anything but in remission.
Let us never forget that this is a long fight, with deep roots and aspirations, not a disparate set of struggles and flashpoints.
What Hath Science Wrought?
What hath science wrought? Only ever good things.
You may not have been prepared for the order or relative speed in which they were discovered. But that’s your failing.
You call our desire to actually live arrogance! You would rather we cower, to be perpetually terrorized into submission at the thought of what your brethren might do with our discoveries. Fuck you.
Which is more unethical? To confine humanity to the meaningless, useless, shallow, worthless gruel you pretend comprises an existence. Or to act as we would have others act: To strive, to seek and not to yield. To embody, ever so slightly, the world we want to see some day. The explosion of ingenuity, imagination and exploration that your kind — the preachers, the politicians, cops, fratboys & corporate goons — is working so hard to hold us all back from today.
When you euphemistically say that scientists ‘should think before they act‘ what you mean is that they should not think at all. That we should remain the battered wives of your twisted society. Ever terrified that anything we do might set off another round of beatings. How will you use it against me this time? If we split the atom, will you use it to roast children? If we hack genes will you use it to impoverish the third world?
Well I’ve got news for you. All science, all thought, all exploration increases our capacity to act. It increases what you are capable of. There is no neutral science. All science, however marginally, however eventually, increases your capacity for psychopathy. Your capacity for psychopathy. Because it increases our capacity in general. Sure in certain social contexts certain developments might appear to weigh more directly in the favor of the armies of control or the armies of resistance. But those contexts are always changing, always capable of drastically reversing. The liberator’s tool today the imperialist’s tomorrow. The Empire’s prized invention its critical undoing in the hands of the resistance. Each new avenue of contact we develop with the universe will lead to others, will almost certainly morph in ways still unknown, without regard for the precarity of your psychoses and social structures.
The more we dare to live the greater the stakes will be.
There was never going to be a rematch. The war between power and humanity is coming to a head. Our future is already on the table. And while it may surprise you, those of us on the side of the human spirit are actually playing to win. We will not assist your mad bid to buy time by forsaking our souls. We will not ditch our best weapon. We will not cower from your abusive threats. Go fuck yourself.
The Imperialism Of Daring To Outstretch Your Hand
You live and breath. You strive. You love. Everything that you do is in the pursuit of truth.
With each of our investigations, with our drive for understanding we reach out into the universe and pump our living veins of thought and action deeper into it. Extending the touch of thought to new avenues. We are bringing a dead world to life. This is the entirety of science. This is what it is. Reaching out. Deeper and deeper contact.
Science is all that you do that might actually be called living.
It is a struggle. A project. An undertaking. A dance. A caress. A howl. Not a god.
And the universe is not a victim. Because it isn’t really anything. Not yet.