This article is the second part of a three-part article series. Read part one of Post-Humanity: Transhumanism, Libertarianism, and the End of History by Obscvrvs.
Regulation and prohibition fail as solutions
“No person shall place in a woman … an embryo other than a permitted embryo.
An embryo is a permitted embryo if … no nuclear or mitochondrial DNA of any cell of the embryo has been altered.”—Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008
In the United Kingdom, the use of preimplantation genetic diagnosis to select a child’s sex is illegal. Every year, tens of British parents—including prominent politicians—travel abroad to the United States and elsewhere to circumvent the legal restrictions against PGD in their home country. The lesson: legal prohibitions placed upon access to technology are ultimately irrelevant. Provided that the procedure in question is not prohibitively expensive, a market will exist for it. And if that market cannot exist legally, then—whether it forms underground in black clinics or abroad under less restrictive regimes—a market will be created by individuals with the knowledge required to perform the procedure.
If anything, prohibitions will exacerbate the existing monetary barriers associated with technology, first by removing the technology from the public sphere in which its price might be regulated and second by compounding the price of the technology itself with the additional cost required to access it. British parents pay not only the fee for PGD but also the price of trans-Atlantic travel; insurance certainly cannot subsidise an illegal procedure. Furthermore, prohibitions lend credence to one of the central theses of the libertarian transhumanists—that the market is a better guarantor of access to technology than is the public sector. In wielding the powers of law to block access to technology, we are unwittingly reinforcing the pillars of an ideology whose most fundamental tenet is tantamount to an endorsement of intergenerational immobility.
At risk of oversimplification, libertarian transhumanists can be separated into two cardinal psychographic categories. (Analytical classification of individuals ought in reality to be dimensional rather than categorical.) The crucial difference between these categories is not in ideological outcome, but in the mental processes that create this outcome.
The first category, “libertarian transhumanists”, consists of transhumanists who perceive economic “libertarianism” as the most direct pathway to a future in which technological progress is maximised. Individuals in this category might be perfectly reasonable people who observe government agencies’ lack of specialised knowledge with regard to technological investment, the majoritarian technophobia, and the vulnerability of the democratic process to widespread misinformation and scaremongering. They compare this failure in the democratic political sphere with the hierarchical economic sphere, which in a laissez-faire paradigm is immune to the commands of a misled majority. The “rational” conclusion, then, is that the private sector is better poised to provide the platform for technological growth than is the public sector. The motivation of this group, then, is not some ideological misanthropy but either (a) scepticism regarding alternative sociopolitical paradigms or less significantly (b) a paucity of sociopolitical imagination.
It could be argued that the psychology of this first category of libertarian transhumanists is entirely compatible with the meritocratic ethos provided that the aforementioned scepticism is effectively challenged; these individuals are not ideological libertarians but logical libertarians motivated ultimately by their transhumanism. For one, the dichotomy of private and public sectors does not necessarily persist in a decentralised and technocratic meritocracy. At this time, we propose responding to this second group via (a) spreading awareness of meritocratic alternatives to both libertarianism and central planning and (b) empirical demonstrations of the limitations of their logic—starting with an end to prohibitions on access to technology.
The second category, “transhumanist libertarians”, consists of economic libertarians who recognise and embrace the transhumanist implications of their ideology. It is this second group which is particularly pernicious—individuals in this category are ideological libertarians. If individuals should be capable of buying, selling, and using today’s products on themselves and on their children, why should biotechnological modifications be any different? There can be no conciliation between meritocracy and ideological libertarianism.
Nor should it be the place of the government to restrict access to technological procedures and discoveries to begin with. Any responsible institution—whether government or corporation—ought to enable its subjects with positive liberties and create an environment in which its subjects might move without inhibition toward self-fulfilment, toward the actualisation of their maximum potential. Implicit in this imperative is the liberty to access biotechnological resources.
Of paramount note is the potential of human enhancement technology to undermine the political centre. Most Western societies today are dominated and stabilised by a silent majority of individuals holding “moderate” political views; indeed, political radicalism is widely stigmatised as lunacy. These “moderate” perspectives are defined by a relatively permissive attitude toward technological advancement, provided that such advancement is subject to a set of ethical or moral constraints. While the majority of individuals might acclaim PGD’s ability to avert genetic diseases, many of those individuals would condemn the same technology were it used to improve a child’s diathesis for analytical reasoning skills.
But because restrictions placed upon use of technology are ineffective, technological advances will displace this moderate position in one of three directions: (1) toward acceptance of the technological exacerbation of inequity, (2) toward institutionalised technophobia manifesting in sanctions against enhanced humans, or (3) toward eradication of the socio-economic paradigm that fetters technological enhancement to inequity and immobility. The first and second directions are incompatible with the meritocratic ethos because they clash with equality of opportunity and social entelecheia, respectively. If we anticipate that political moderates will persist as the largest force in Western society, it is our imperative as proponents of meritocracy to inspire them toward the lattermost direction.
The End of History
“What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.”—Francis Fukuyama, “The End of History?”
Is this society the best we can do? Professor Francis Fukuyama famously presented the argument that capitalist representative democracy in the Western style represented the final evolution of human society. Across the world, Fukuyama’s prophecy appears to realise itself—the storm of passions and ideologies that swept across the world of late has dissipated in favour of convergence upon a single monolithic paradigm. There has not been a true revolution for years—perhaps for decades. When the dust of popular uprisings clears, the result is almost inevitably a desire to emulate the globally predominant socio-economic architecture.
And perhaps the age of progressive revolutions must come to a close in a highly interdependent global society. The autarky that once might have nurtured a novel idea has become a magnet for poverty, oppression, and foreign intervention. In the context of a world that has embraced capitalism, an anti-capitalist state without sufficient natural resources of its own effectively spurns foreign investment and experiences relative economic stagnation. (Not that the advent of globalism is entirely to be lamented.) Hedonic libertarianism—a right to the pursuit of the right kinds of happiness—is perhaps the most potent anti-revolutionary buffer that any society in history has ever effected, and it is utilised superbly by Western states today. Production and influx of essential resources has distantly exceeded post-scarcity levels in many of the same states. Small wonder, then, that these states are under no threat of revolution today.
But there is a particular internal strain on this “ultimate” society—the unholy alliance of democracy and capitalism. Let us take a moment to reflect upon the absurdity of this conjunction—on the one hand, an ostensibly egalitarian political system; on the other, a blatantly hierarchical economic system. How can a system that is fundamentally at odds with itself represent the culmination of humanity’s social evolution? Certainly egalitarian democracy and rigid hierarchy should not be able to coexist in the same system? Alongside dated ideologies of negative liberty and market accountability, it is not inconceivable that among the primary linchpins responsible for the cohesion of this unlikely construct are the twin myths of social mobility and equal opportunity. Coupled with the inculcated belief that it is possible to effect progress from within the system, these fabrications render exploitation palatable to democrats, presenting the illusion of a hierarchy more fluid than the one that is in fact observed—while obscuring from the population the intergenerational Niagara of wealth, educational and occupational accomplishment, ideological inclination, internalised values, and social capital.
Fukuyama, for his part, was forced to make a critical concession—to none other than technological human enhancement. There is reason, Fukuyama and other anti-transhumanists argue, to believe that the power of technology to biologically alter humanity imperils the fundamental pillars of democratic society—for instance, equality before the law and equality of opportunity. As supporters of meritocracy, we recognise that the latter claim requires a prior complicity in the construction and perpetuation of the myth that democracy provides equality of opportunity. And as rational individuals, we recognise that there is no valid a priori reason to believe that human enhancement in and of itself would bear such consequences. He who preaches against technology is delusional, but far more reprehensible to Fukuyama is the blasphemer against the dogma of negative liberty, Western society’s sanctum sanctorum. Predictably enough, Fukuyama directs his criticism against transhumanism, arguing that it threatens some “human essence” that apparently forms the basis for legal rights. Perhaps the light of transhumanism has merely illuminated the ethical vapidity of the “ultimate” form of human government.
If we assume that human enhancement technologies become available in a Western-style society, the economic accessibility of these technologies is a valid concern, as is the extent to which parental sovereignty will dictate their accessibility to children. But many of the insidious sorceries of the anti-enhancement camp are anchored in a failure to acknowledge the multiconditional nature of the inequity of access; impediment of social mobility as a consequence of human enhancement requires both (a) that human enhancement be possible and (b) that individuals do not have equal access to human enhancement technologies. As previously discussed, attempting to legally impede technological progress or access to technology is at best an endorsement of libertarian ideology among pro-enhancement individuals (who might otherwise gravitate toward meritocracy) and at worst thoroughly ineffective. Among the strongest thrusts of both, the anti-enhancement argument and the libertarian transhumanist argument are nullified by restructuring the system to guarantee access to technological advancements to all individuals. Moreover, current affairs do not suggest that the market is the best guarantor of this type of access. Rather, the strongest support for every child to enjoy equal opportunity of enhancement technologies is offered by the public sector via the pillars of meritocracy.