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Future Imperative

What if technology were being developed that could enhance your mind or body to extraordinary or even superhuman levels -- and some of these tools were already here? Wouldn't you be curious?

Actually, some are here. But human enhancement is an incredibly broad and compartmentalized field. We’re often unaware of what’s right next door. This site reviews resources and ideas from across the field and makes it easy for readers to find exactly the information they're most interested in.

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The future is coming fast, and it's no longer possible to ignore how rapidly the world is changing. As the old order changes -- or more frequently crumbles altogether -- I offer a perspective on how we can transform ourselves in turn... for the better. Nothing on this site is intended as legal, financial or medical advice. Indeed, much of what I discuss amounts to possibilities rather than certainties, in an ever-changing present and an ever-uncertain future.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

A Materialistic Argument for Gender Equality

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In another twist in the ongoing story of technology's impact on society, at least one feminist has found inspiration in cybernetics. This excerpt from Donna Haraway's "A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century," in Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature describes her ideas for . You have to admit, the following is an interesting version of feminism: "At the centre of my ironic faith, my blasphemy, is the image of the cyborg."

Haraway begins this piece by saying:

This chapter is an effort to build an ironic political myth faithful to feminism, socialism, and materialism. Perhaps more faithful as blasphemy is faithful, than as reverent worship and identification. Blasphemy has always seemed to require taking things very seriously. I know no better stance to adopt from within the secular-religious, evangelical traditions of United States politics, including the politics of socialist feminism. Blasphemy protects one from the moral majority within, while still insisting on the need for community. Blasphemy is not apostasy. Irony is about contradictions that do not resolve into larger wholes, even dialectically, about the tension of holding incompatible things together because both or all are necessary and true. Irony is about humour and serious play. It is also a rhetorical strategy and a
political method, one I would like to see more honoured within socialist-feminism. At the centre of my ironic faith, my blasphemy, is the image of the cyborg.

A cyborg is a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction. Social reality is lived social relations, our most important political construction, a world-changing fiction. The international women's movements have constructed 'women's experience', as well as uncovered or discovered this crucial collective object. This experience is a fiction and fact of the most crucial, political kind. Liberation rests on the construction of the consciousness, the imaginative apprehension, of oppression, and so of possibility. The cyborg is a matter of fiction and lived experience that changes what counts as women's experience in the late twentieth century. This is a struggle over life and death, but the boundary between science fiction and social reality is an optical illusion.
What's intriguing here (among other things) is this idea of a woman's reality as a social construction just as a cyborg's body is partially a social construction. That concept is fascinating because a classic cyborg is someone has crossed the threshold of deciding to alter or replace body parts in order to enhance them... assuming they have the techology to do. If a woman views her life as a social construction, she may decide she can alter or replace critical parts of her life as she sees fit -- a sense that nothing is sacred, or at least immutable.

I can see where this sense of social liberation parallels the hypothetical biological liberation of the cyborg. Ironically, I suspect an even more powerful viewpoint might be to see the function of your mind as an optional, modifiable construct. With the right cognitive resources -- accelerated learning techniques, creativity and intelligence enhancements, even non-invasive mindtech and/or nootropic nutrients and drugs -- you could, theoretically, take apart the structure of your mind and put it back together in ways far more potent.

Of course, many cybernetic enthusiasts want to do the same to the brain in purely physical terms.

But Donna Haraway's ideas are also interesting in another sense. By discussing a form of social and personal liberation, she is actually talking about another form of human enhancement. Subtle? Small scale? Perhaps. Though a woman who chooses to go to college and become a professional instead of accepting "her place," or who overcomes her hesitations to start a small business, etc may actually experience this small change in ultimately dramatic ways.

But even if the impact of such "social augmentation" is relatively muted, it has the potential to combine synergistically with many, many forms of human augmentation. Why? Because if we state Haraway's ideas and run with them, we might actually look at every aspect of our lives in terms of how we could realistically "enhance" them, and ourselves, by changing our fundamental viewpoints about who we are, what we're doing and what elements of ourselves and our environment we really have to accept.

How is your world and your mind shaped simply by what you read, what you watch, what you think about and what emotions you allow yourself to feel? How do you plan for the future, how much passion do you feel in life?

I could go on in a vein that might sound like the dust jacket of a self-help book, but the point is that there's a ton of things in our lives that could be optimized or exalted, not just our reading skills or neurochemistry. So why not give looking at those elements a shot?

Cyber, Soc
Future Imperative

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