The Mechanization of Man

One of the most common critiques of human enhancement is that it would lead to viewing human beings as machines or creatures (in Francis Fukuyama's words) rather than as people; that the mechanization implied by enhancement is a threat to viewing others as individuals, and therefore human rights and freedoms. As in the case of cyborg theory, I believe that Fukyama's concern is at least fifty years too late. In many cases, we are already treated as components, and in the significant power relationships of our life, human enhancement cannot further mechanize us.

There are two basic ways to view the universe, the aesthetic and the scientific. A scientific viewpoint sees the universe as a system to be understood. There are elements and relationships between them. It is objective and universal, in that any two entities using a scientific methodology should arrive at the same conclusion. The aesthetic is subjective and personal, the universe is composed of experiences, each one different for every time and every person. This is not to imply any kind of value judgment, the aesthetic and the scientific have their place.

The relevance to the enhancement debate is that for every significant power relationship in your life, between yourself and your workplace, school, the government, you are treated scientifically. Organizations have no subjectivity, no locus of "I" with which to experience the universe. They are a collection of rules, applied with varying degrees of fairness. Organizations deal with you not as a person, but as test scores, resumes, dossiers. A human being is not an individual, it is a component to be processed, improved, reformed.

The illusion that we have rights or freedoms vis a vis these organization originates in the aesthetic interactions that we have with their representatives, bosses, teachers, police, and our personal relationships. As the former are illusory, a social artifact, we can dismisses their value, and therefore the claimed threat to institutional human rights. That leaves our personal relationships, and will those change with enhancement? Clearly not, we address each other, not our belongings, or our education, or any other kind of non-technological "enhancement" that we already possess.

The mechanistic view is inherent in the system. All that human enhancement could do is make us better machines. The human essence, if such a thing exists (I enjoy Chris Beck's formulation of the soul as something non-algorithmic), remains what it is.

1 comment:

  1. What about requiring a certain invasive modification to qualify for a job ? This would certainly lead to unprecedented physical specialization that would, in some cases, be irreversible.

    In searching for parallel in present day society, three things come to mind.

    Humans are already mentally and phychologically specialized. In the case of combat training and experience, some of that psychological training could be maladaptive for other careers, and might also be irreversible. This is a non-physical modification with similar social effects to a mechanical enhancement. Perhaps overt mechanical enhancement would make discrimination more common though.

    Existing forms of mild mechanization. E.g. : requiring implanted ID devices, or requiring that a person working near strong EM fields not have any electronic or metallic medical implants. I'm not sure how this relates.

    For the career "gold digger" and "trophy wife" artificial breast enhancement and other plastic surgeries are often a pre-requisite. I guess this would be an example of degrading a human to a "creature" in the eyes of the "employer". I can't really see how this relates.

    so, lets see... inferences ?

    Some modifications are physically limiting ( can't let the machine turn off ). It would be interesting to see someone specialize their enhancements to a specific career and then have that market go under. In some ways this is analogous to any technical training going obsolete, but enhancement modification may be more permanent than training in the computer language Cobol.

    But, I think discriminating based on mechanical modification in pretty culturally unacceptable. We already have pretty strict anti-discrimination laws for people with disabilities.

    // thought break //

    culturally, we are well adapted to providing enhancement to fix what we perceive to be a disability or disadvantage.

    what is lacking is any semblance of philosophy for applying the exact same technology to improve upon normal human functioning.

    // end break //

    I'm going run away, but end with a quote from Alpha Centauri :

    A handsome young Cyborg named Ace,
    Wooed women at every base,
    But once ladies glanced at
    His special enhancement
    They vanished with nary a trace.