I am a Transhumanist, and I am opposed to racism. I am an Anti-Racist. This statement has been prompted by recent conversations in the Zero State facebook group, and isn’t as simple as it might at first appear – it needs a little unpacking.
First things first, “racism” isn’t as simple a phenomenon as some might imagine. What I am specifically opposed to is any ideology of hatred, and Suprematism of any type. Racist hate tends to stem from judgments of some people being inherently and systematically better than others thanks to their biology, in combination with fear of some perceived threat from biologically different others. These are things I oppose, even though I understand that their causes are deep-rooted.
There are things that sometimes get called “racism”, however, which I am not opposed to. Pride in one’s own ethnic identity or background is fine by me, as long as it doesn’t come packaged with negative judgments of others because their own backgrounds are considered “inferior”. Much racism is unfortunately bolstered by PC hypocrisy when people from minority backgrounds are encouraged to take pride in their own cultural traditions, but members of the majority may not do the same without being considered racists. If we encouraged positive expressions of pride, and spread the idea that they go hand-in-hand with tolerance of other people doing the same, then Supremacists and other racists would have a lot less support for their hate. They would be marginalised. This is sometimes referred to as “celebrating difference”, but it only works when everyone is allowed to do it and positivity is the rule.
Transhumanism enters the picture in two ways. On the one hand, Transhumanism has occasionally and unfortunately been known to attract people with what we might call Supremacist attitudes – either racist Supremacism, or sometimes a more general “Post-Human Supremacism”… a kind of apparent tendency to look down on the entirety of humanity from an (entirely imagined, or eagerly expected) Post-Human vantage point. On the other hand, most Transhumanists understand that the technologies and initiatives we’re talking about would almost certainly render biological differences a quaint historical topic. That realisation is generally understood to make biological racism utterly redundant and pointless – worse than stupid, not even worthy of being called “evil” – but at the same time it may be used to justify a more general sense of Posthuman or Postbiological Supremacism.
There are of course a thousand places we might take this conversation, and most of them aren’t particularly enlightening or helpful. The key thing for me, as always, is to identify the important aspects of the issue that Zero State need concern itself with, in order to better understand the road ahead. I can see two issues buried in here that have the potential to be important in future, and which therefore deserve to be addressed now, however briefly:
1) The question of identity and autonomous enclaves
In a world where people have control over their own morphology, any pro-freedom / anti-suffering worldview must attempt to optimise the degree to which people can do what they like without hurting others. The whole idea of ZS is that we try to create a sphere of influence for a community… a zone of autonomy, even sovereignty, where we get to live as we see fit. The basic idea is that anyone may join as a matter of principle, and anyone may leave unmolested at any time for any reason, to the extent that respecting these principles doesn’t threaten our very existence. (That last caveat is just there to say that people can’t keep leaving and re-joining if their activities are intended to undo ZS; People may be ejected or banned for anti-Principle actions). I believe that ZS should be something like a fractal, roughly self-similar at every level of magnification… so there should be room to create groups within the whole that assert their own identity as they see fit, in exactly the same way. Allowing that freedom is the only way to ensure freedom of diversity. As long as the ZS Principles are being observed at every level (not a trivial demand!), then enclaves intended to support the continued existence of specific identities – e.g. sets of values, beliefs, or physical forms – should be not only allowed, but protected.
2) Opposition to other people’s “universalist” ethics
ZS is defined by its Principles. We are not moral absolutists – we do not claim that these Principles are “objectively good”, but simply that they are the ones we adhere to, the ones that define our community of choice. Others are free to develop their own moral systems insofar as they don’t threaten us – that’s their business, not ours. Although some might reasonably argue that our Abolitionist stance (anti-involuntary-suffering), for example, is “universalist”, I do not believe that to be true – for the simple reason that we only consider it to apply within our sphere of influence.
From this perspective, hopefully it is easy enough to see why ZS cannot accept anyone telling us that their chosen ethical or moral stances must apply to us. Others’ views and our own may coincide as a matter of shared history or coincidence, but within ZS we are not obliged to any perspective other than those offered by the Principles. I mention this because a high proportion of current ZSers (circa 2012) are also Transhumanists, and multiple understandings of Transhumanism exist in the world. Some would say that being a Transhumanist requires agreement with the Transhumanist Declaration, for example. As much as many ZSers probably do agree with that document, it makes assertions that are simply not required of ZSers. As I have stated before, ZS is defined at minimum by the Central Meme of Zero State (CMZS), and Citizenship requires only explicit agreement to behaviour compatible with the Zero State Principles. Within those very broad parameters, we choose to celebrate difference.
What’s the conclusion, the bottom line?
Racism is a bad thing, and what’s more it’s a shortsighted thing. It is also against ZS Principle, in that it often advocates and invariably causes involuntary suffering to others. Humanity isn’t what it was, and that’s only going to become more and more true in the coming decades of this Century. But at the same time, don’t fall for the idea that in order to combat racism you must give up all sense of freedom or pride in whatever identity you may choose for yourself. Your choice, your freedom, and your pride are things to celebrate in a positive way, and you should support others who also choose to celebrate their own choices and identity in the same spirit.
In a spirit of positive diversity, we are one.