Transhumanism, or biohacking, is an international philosophical movement that suggests that a potential evolution of the human condition is integrating ever more sophisticated technologies into the body. This includes everything from magnets, LED lights, credit card chips, and electronic door keys. At its core, transhumanism is a philosophy that seeks change. It wants to add to the human experience; to change how we view ourselves and our relationship with our environment, and ultimately, to change our bodies so that we can live an enriched version of life.
Initially, transhumanism may exert a knee jerk reaction. People may rightfully question the safety, legality, or ethicality of transhumanism. However, rather than ponder this question, I want instead to take transhumanism at its best and to be charitable with my interpretation. I want to ask, if done by a fully qualified professional to a consenting patient, is transhumanism now the way forward for society as a whole or just a niche futurist interest for a select few?
I walk down Ashton Lane with a friend of mine who has put transhumanism into practice to gain more insight into the matter. They have a magnet in their index finger. Whilst not as dramatic as a robot arm or small fusion reactor for a heart, nonetheless it was my first experience with transhumanism. My friend looked no different nor had their demeanour changed, but they were perceiving the environment around us differently. We both had the same amount of natural senses, but where we should have both stopped at five, my friend stopped at six. My friend could manipulate and detect magnetic fields, could feel electrical currents, and much more. At first, I asked, “Why?” I was told that my friend thinks that if you can add and improve your experience of life then you should. Secondly, I asked, “Would you ever consider removing it?” The answer I received was insightful: I was told that someone wouldn’t remove their sense of smell or sight. This led me to the quite obvious revelation that once you integrate something into your body it is part of you. To my friend, the removal of this small magnet from their finger would be akin to losing a sense. Through this lens, transhumanism is less intrusive and more empowering. It can be a statement of bodily autonomy and an expression of personality. Once you are of legal age you can pierce, tattoo, and largely do whatever you want with your own body. Why should we not be allowed to extend this principle to transhumanism?
Transhumanism can also bring massive health benefits and innovations. From 3D printed knee caps, to potential replacement organs, transhumanism can help tackle a wide array of medical issues. This argument has an innate persuasive element within it and it is very difficult, if not impossible, to argue against this claim. When have medical advancements and wider accesses to them not benefited people? Having wider access to surgery or, in some cases, replacement bones, can immediately benefit people and change their lives for the better.
Furthermore, transhumanism is in its infancy. The technology that we possess today will not be the technology we possess in the future. The appeal of transhumanism with this argument is rather clear: it can bring prudential benefits to your life. With transhumanism, medical issues can be mitigated or fixed, and this is just the start. For a philosophical movement about change, there are still vast amounts of uncharted territory for transhumanism to grow and evolve. Transhumanism may just be a small movement at the moment, but if it can offer workable solutions to serious medical problems and it may find itself thrust into the spotlight.
However, transhumanism does face its challenges. Chiefly, that if a society adopts transhumanism, a new and far more dangerous type of inequality will be introduced. Currently, Britain is a western capitalist democracy. Our society is structured around wealth inequality. We allow individuals to create and hoard wealth as they please. It’s through our capitalist worldview that transhumanism struggles. Technology is a commodity; it can be bought and sold and it is influenced by market forces and competition, meaning that in a theoretical world where transhumanism is fully embraced, or even encouraged, it is the poorest in society who will be uniquely harmed. No longer will the poorest be unable to fiscally survive, but now they are at a functional disadvantage. They would be unable to afford the latest upgrade to their bodies; unable to afford the latest enhancement to human abilities. Yet, the affluent in society would have no problem affording and pushing their limits, to enhance themselves to a point where they are potentially unrecognisable when compared to the poor. If we lived in a utopia where every person had an equal and large share of wealth and resources, then transhumanism could be perfected: everyone advances with the technology, no one is left behind and everyone changes themselves as much or as little as they want. Yet, that is just wishful thinking. We inhabit a world of “haves” and “have nots” and this is the burden that transhumanism must bear. When it’s proclaimed that transhumanism will benefit everyone, that may not be the case.
Ultimately, I believe that, as a concept, transhumanism has huge potential for good. However, the main reservation I have is that the implantation of transhumanism into society will exacerbate inequality. Unless political systems are overhauled and cultures altered, transhumanism for all of its potential to improve the human experience and enrich lives may prove to do the opposite. It’s typical of cycles of change that the destruction of an entity precipitates a change and in the case of transhumanism, that entity is people.