Refocusing the Debate on Transhumanism
Part II: The Promise and Perils of Human Enhancement
207 What is Race?: Transhumanism and the Evolutionary Sciences Brian Gratton “Pardon him. … He is a barbarian, and thinks that the customs of his tribe … are the laws of nature!” – G. B. Shaw, Caesar and Cleopatra The intellectual and technical advances of evolutionary science in our time have inspired transhumanism. Upon that scientific foundation, transhumanists build their vision of how to create a better being. Hava Tirosh-Samuelson’s essay in this volume (chapter 1) shows that transhumanism has links as well to the eugenics campaign of the early twentieth century, a movement built on the first flowering of evolutionary thinking. For most eugenicists, race mattered (Kevles 1985; Barkan 1992). Drawing from early evolutionary theory, they concluded that race and ethnicity had strong and differential effects on the characteristics of human beings, profoundly reinforcing a nonscientific belief in racial differences common among Western Europeans. Despite a similar reliance on the new evolutionary science, transhumanists exhibit no tendency toward racist or ethnocentric positions. Indeed, transhumanists draw the conclusion that we are all the same, driven by the same genetic forces, and trapped, body and mind, by the same selection history. But like their predecessors, the eugenicists, transhumanists have no truck with nurture as the source of difference. They reject the social constructivist claim that race and ethnicity are ephemeral inventions, independent of genetics, and built by dominant groups for their advantage (Barkan 1992). Though cultures may adumbrate racial characteristics, ethnocentrism and racism are natural to human beings. Indeed, racism and ethnic conflict are...
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