Marketing Transhumanism: A New Retail-friendly Face

Posted by Doug Pet July 7, 2010
Biopolitical Times
Transhumanist efforts to build a movement devoted to designing "improved" humans have not exactly attracted a mass following. When the World Transhumanist Association (WTA) was contemplating changing its "trade" title to Humanity Plus, the deciding pool was a meager 108 voters.

Such difficulties may explain the repeated repackaging and rebranding of transhumanism over the past decades, from its early Extropian days in the 1990s, to WTA starting in 1998, to present-day Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies and Humanity Plus (H+). At the recent H+ Summit, another kind of dramatic reworking was proposed by self-help guru and techno-ideologue Robert Tercek.

In his plenary presentation, Tercek draws on his years of changing minds for hire to make a case for bundling transhumanism into a "friendly-faced" and easy-to-consume package. He entreats transhumanists to win public support by "harnessing the emotional energy" of the masses and getting beneath their rational and precautionary sensibilities. According to Tercek, justifying transhumanism in stark moral terms is the only way to reach people on what he calls the "reptilian" level. This, he says, will render them less concerned with the "weird" details.

Tercek counsels his audience to discredit the many pop culture "memes" that allegedly stoke public fear about transhumanism. Some of his examples include the "violent mutant meme" (threat of evil untrustworthy X-Men types), the "genetic determinism meme" (GATTACA-like scenarios), and the "rich Methuselah meme" (the rise of an ultra wealthy and bio/genetically superior elite). While Tercek seems to assume that these fears are completely irrational, many of the examples he uses to dismiss them - including animal-human chimeras and genetically bar-coded newborns - are currently taking shape in the real world.

In the few instances where Tercek gives a clue about exactly what product he wishes to sell and why, he takes on an eerily evangelical tone:
We need to start to talk about human destiny. We need to talk about a moral imperative. Seize the moral high ground, because this is our birthright as human beings…we've been privileged with an intelligence and a consciousness that is going to allow us to engineer our destiny.
It is unclear whether Terceck's respective "we" and "our" refer to a 'destined birthright' for all humankind or just for the 'intelligent' and 'conscious' few sitting in the lecture hall.

Like many others who promote engineering superior human beings, Tercek wants to frame transhumanism as a prescribed and inevitable future. His contribution to this dubious effort is a transhumanist sales plan that strategically avoids concerns about social justice or human rights, and that combines the emotional appeals used by modern marketing with the sense of divine entitlement invoked by pernicious political propaganda.

Previously on Biopolitical Times: