The Right Coast

August 04, 2005
In the future, we will all . . .
By Tom Smith

Here is more on future biotech, post-humanity and so forth.

This is one of those areas where the mass of people seem more sensible than many of the ethical experts. Everyone with any sense is in favor of technology that ameliorates the human condition. Looking for something to read the other night, I pulled down Keith Thomas's Religion and the Decline of Magic from the shelf, and was reminded of the unbelievable misery of living in early modern England. One third of all children died before age 5. One fifth of the remainder died before age 20. Life expectancy was 30 something. Everybody suffered from some sort of chronic pain. The rich had gout, stone and terrible constipation (they ate too much meat and not enough vegetables); the poor from various maladies of malnutrition. The plague worked on everybody. Don't even ask about tooth decay. It's a wonder anybody could stand to reproduce. They probably got drunk first.

All this garbage from the anti-technology crowd, Fukiyama et al., makes me ill. Everybody's on Prozac, everybody's kid is on Ritalin, yada yada. It's the end of the University of Chicago as we know it. If these people had their way, we'd still be picking lice off of ourselves and drinking ourselves senseless to escape toothache. At least now we can drink ourselves senseless by choice. Similarly, prejudice about mental illness is one of the last things to go. I say, let's develop the drugs so we can treat it like high blood pressure or scabies. I say, go Ely Lilly go. If you have son of son of son of Prozac, bring it on.

Human nature is to live miserably and die young. To hell with that. In that world, Stephen Hawking would be sitting beside the muddy track, selling cow pies and trying to get somebody to listen to his nutty ideas. I think it's swell that in America you can make a great living posing as a defender of the Moral Order, but the rest of us should not be so stupid as to listen to them. It's not the 17th century, and we don't have to. I hope that annoys them as much as it pleases me.

On the other hand, these post-human sorts are so nutty that it will be a while before we have the drugs to fix them. Modems planted in brains, human-machine fusions, trans-human intelligences. O yeah, right. Why don't we calm down and cure a few more diseases before we worry about getting wireless in our sleep. We still don't have a good therapy for migrane headaches; maybe we should before we start planting chips in the squash.

So this is a plea for good old fashioned progress. Making things better. Making us less miserable. Cure stuff. Make cars safer. Make air cleaner. Improve schools. Calm down. We don't need post-human and we don't need pre-modern.

Disclaimer: Ron Bailey once took me to some journalist's dive in DC where they made scotchs by filling a highball glass three-quarters full and dropping in an ice cube, and I'm not sure I ever fully recovered. Maybe we should develop legs that really are hollow . . .