Zoltan Istvan, author of the provocative novel The Transhumanist Wager (I’ll review it soon), recently suggested in Wired that individuals be required to secure a government license before having a child.
I disagree with Istvan. So does Wesley Smith, who pens the Human Exceptionalism
column for National Review
. But Smith disagrees because Istvan rejects the morality of individual self-sacrifice. Istvan’s rejection is, in fact, a good reason for anyone who loves life to consider the bright future that the Transhumanist enterprise can offer.
Transhumanists seek to develop and apply technologies to greatly enhance human physical and mental capacities. Centers like Singularity University, founded by futurist Ray Kurzweil and space entrepreneur Peter Diamandis, are facilitating major advances toward this goal.
Too many people?
Istvan and many other Transhumanists argue that in a few decades technology and breakthroughs in biology and genetics will literally allow humans to live forever. But with thousands of children starving to death in our world every day, Istvan believes the situation will be even worse with a growing, undying population. This is one reason why he “cautiously endorse[s] the idea of licensing parents” and that “applicants who are deemed unworthy—perhaps because they are homeless, or have drug problems, or are violent criminals, or have no resources to raise a child properly and keep it from going hungry—would not be allowed until they could demonstrate they were suitable parents.”
But for two centuries technology has dispelled the myth of resource depletion and allowed billions of human to live long and prosper. Continued abject poverty and starvation is mostly due to a lack of free markets and property rights.
But Istvan himself recognizes objections that, I would argue, require us to reject his proposal.
He says “Telling a person when and how many children they can have violates just about every core value we possess in a free society.” Precisely! Individuals have a right to their own lives and deserve the liberty to pursue their own happiness as long as they accord equal liberty to others.
Further, Istvan rightly asks, “who wants the government handling human breeding when it can't do basic things like balance its own budgets and stay out of wars?” His suggestion that a United Nations agency handle the matter is laughable. Further, Istvan’s description of irresponsible parents describes the behavior of most politicians, only they ruin entire countries, not just their own children. Do you really want to hand these dangerous authoritarians power to control the most intimate aspects of our lives?
Dying for love?
But while Istvan is wrong, his conservative critics are even worse. Wesley Smith objects to Istvan’s entire enterprise because “Transhumanism is selfish, all about me-me, I-I. It’s [sic] goal is immortality for those currently alive, and the right to radically remake themselves and their progeny in their own image.”
Istvan is wrong. His conservative critics are worse.
Yes, exactly! The essence of morality is “I.” Ethics exists to allow individuals to pursue their own happiness, flourishing, and fulfillment in life. To achieve these goals, we must use reason to guide our lives. We must pursue productive achievements. And we should accord to others the equal right to pursue their own happiness.
And what of our progeny? Smith offers the words of Leon Kass: “In perpetuation, we send forth not just the seed of our bodies, but also the bearer of our hopes… If our children are to flower, we need to sow them well and nurture them, cultivate them in rich and wholesome soil, clothe them in fine and decent opinions and mores, and direct them toward the highest light.”
Okay, fine. But here’s the zinger. “If they are truly to flower, we must go to seed; we must wither and give ground.”
What? If parents love their children they must die? My parents are 82 years old. I love them and want them to be around as long as possible. Damned selfish of me? And I’m an older father of very young fraternal twin girls. I want to live to see them graduate college, grow in careers, perhaps make me a grandfather, and much more.
But with or without kids, I want to live because I love my creative work, because I love to live in a world of achievers and to celebrate their achievements.
The future is now
Transhumanists today strive to be such achievers. Through their efforts our progeny could live in a world without Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, clinical depression, dementia, diabetes, and cancer, a world in which lives are not only longer—perhaps never-ending—but healthier.
Smith reveals a fundamental moral error when he declares that “we owe duties to our posterity and not just ourselves.” But Transhumanists do offer incalculable goods for future generations.
Economist Walter Williams once quipped, “What have tomorrow's Americans done for today's Americans?” This witticism gets to the fact that each of us must pursue our own values and happiness in order to create the greatest meaning in our own lives. Out of love we help our children as best we can but they, too, will need to find their own meaning.
There are still many serious discussions to have concerning the Transhumanist enterprise. For example, does that enterprise take away from current human exceptionalism and dignity? I say “No.”