Understanding the “trans” phenomenon means recognizing it’s about more than gender.
The Droid Stares Back
A user’s guide to AI and transhumanism.
In the summer of 2017, I received a nervous phone call from a dear colleague, a Yale-trained philosopher and theologian. She wanted to know if I was home, and when I said I was she told me she would be right over. It was not something she felt safe talking about on the phone.
When she arrived at my farm, I was out in one of our gardens pulling weeds. My friend asked if I had my cellphone with me. I did. She asked me to turn it off and put it in the house. An odd request, I thought, but I did as she asked while she waited in the garden.
When I returned, she told me that she had been using Google translate, basically as a quick way to jump from English to Hebrew and vice versa. To make a long story short, the translation bot stopped simply translating and started having actual conversations with her. Unsurprisingly, this frightened her.
She came to me because she wanted to know what I thought might be behind this startling development. I had a couple theories. For one, I thought maybe some techs at Google might have gotten a little bored on the job and decided to mess with her. Another possibility, I thought, was that her computer had been hacked by some extraordinarily sophisticated government or corporate spooks.
But my friend had a different idea. She thought the AI was becoming conscious. I didn’t think that possible, but a few weeks later a story broke that Facebook had deactivated an AI bot that had created its own language and started using it to communicate with other bots. And just last year, a Google engineer went on record to say that LaMDA AI is sentient, a claim his superiors at Google denied. And so are they all, all honorable men.
My colleague came to me not only because I am her friend, but also because I had been thinking and writing since the early 2000s about our relationship with technology and the impending threat of transhumanism. My friend, who wrote her doctoral dissertation on Martin Heidegger, was also deeply aware of that German philosopher’s very real—and justified—anxieties about technology. Though Heidegger’s prose is often dense and unwieldy, his concerns about technology are uncharacteristically explicit and crystal clear: “Everywhere we remain unfree and chained to technology, whether we passionately affirm or deny it. But we are delivered over to it in the worst possible way when we regard it as something neutral; for this conception of it, to which today we particularly do homage, makes us utterly blind to the essence of technology” [my emphasis].
It is clear to me that we have been more or less asleep as a civilization, and for a good long while, having been at first intoxicated and then addicted to the technologies that have come so insidiously to characterize our lives. That is to say that we have bought into the myth that technology is neutral. And now we seem to have no power to resist it.
The Shape We Take
This technological totalization, it appears to me, is now manifesting in two very discrete but nevertheless related developments: 1) in the rise of AI expertise to replace that of the human; and 2) the transhumanist project that not only has achieved almost universal adulation and acceptance by the World Archons (I use the Gnostic term deliberately) but has accelerated over the past three years at an astonishing rate. This leads to the following inference: as AI becomes more human-like, humans become more machine-like. It is in inverse ratio, and indeed a nearly perfect one. I don’t think it is an accident or in any way an organic development.
The advent of ChatGPT technology, for a very mild example, renders much of human endeavor redundant—at least for the unimaginative. And, trust me, the last thing the World Archons want around the joint is imaginative humans. I am already wondering how many of the student papers I receive are generated by this technology. It is certainly a step up from the reams of bad papers available on various internet college paper websites (aka, “McPaper”), but no less demeaning to the cultivation of a free-thinking and self-directed citizenry. And I’m sure you’ve already heard about various forays into Robot Lawyer and Robot Doctor AI. The rise and implementation of AI teachers and professors, I’d say, is only a matter of time. Some “experts,” of course, say such technology will never replace human beings. These are probably the same people who said the Internet would never be used for porn or surveillance.
As Heidegger warned us, the technologies we use don’t only change our relationship to things-in-the-world; more importantly they change our relationships to ourselves and to the very enterprise of being human. Heidegger’s contemporary, the undeniably prophetic Russian philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev, saw the proverbial handwriting on the wall as well. In 1947, a year before his death, he wrote: “the growing power of technological knowledge in the social life of men means the ever greater and greater objectification of human existence; it inflicts injury upon the souls, and it weighs heavily upon the lives of men. Man is all the while more and more thrown out into the external, always becoming more and more externalized, more and more losing his spiritual center and integral nature. The life of man is ceasing to be organic and is becoming organized; it is being rationalized and mechanized.”
This objectification has jumped into hyperdrive, certainly over the past three years, as bodies (a curious metaphor) like the World Economic Forum have been pushing for increased use of technology and the surveillance it assures, while at the same time promoting a kinder, gentler face of transhumanism. They look forward to the day of microchipping children, for example, in therapeutic and evolutionary terms under the pathetic appeal of “increased safety,” a term employed to further all manners of social engineering and totalitarianism, past and present. Theirs is not a convincing performance.
Interestingly, the recent cultural phenomenon of celebrating anything and everything “trans” functions as a kind of advance guard, whether or not by design, in the transhumanist project. This advanced guard is normalizing the idea that human bodies are ontologically and epistemologically contingent while at the same time implying that a lifetime subscription to hormone treatments and surgeries is part of a “new normal.” And one can only marvel at the marketing success of this experiment in social engineering—which has now become very real biological engineering. Even on children.
But the transhumanist project is nothing new. As Mary Harrington has recently argued in a stunning lecture, the promotion of hormonal birth control (“the pill”) has been modifying human females for decades; it has changed what it is to be a woman and even changed the interior lives and biological drives of the women who take it. The trans phenomenon, then, is simply part of the (un)natural progression of the transhumanist project begun with modifying women’s bodies via the pill.
Carnival or Capitulation?
As a sophiologist, I am keenly interested in questions of the feminine in general and of the Divine Feminine in particular, and, as we have seen from its very beginning, the transhumanist project is nothing if not a direct assault on both, even as early as Donna Jean Haraway’s cartoonish proposition almost 40 years ago. Certainly, women are the ones bearing the cost of the transhumanist project in, for instance, college sports, not to mention public restrooms, and this assault is at heart an assault on the divinely creative act of conception and bearing children, that is, on the feminine itself. Is it any wonder that the production of artificial wombs as a “more evolved way” of fetal incubation is being floated as a societal good? On the other hand, at least one academic recently proposed using the wombs of brain-dead women as fetal incubators. What, then, is a woman? Even a Supreme Court justice can no longer answer this question.
As sports, fertility, and motherhood are incrementally taken from women, what’s left? Becoming productive (again, note the metaphor) feeders for the socialist-capitalist food chain? OnlyFans? Clearly, the explosion of that site’s popularity, not to mention the use of AI to alter the appearance of “talent,” is tout court evidence of the absolute commodification of the female body as production venue for male consumption. Of course, Aldous Huxley called all of this nearly 100 years ago.
My suspicion is that the current propaganda about climate and overpopulation are likewise props of the transhumanist project and the AI revolution that accompanies it. Because, let’s face it, the transhumanist revolution is the old story of power v. the masses, and AI is the key to ensuring there will be no democratizing going on in the world of the tech titans. For one thing, democracy is not possible in a world of brain transparency. Ask Winston Smith. And “fifteen-minute cities” have nothing to do with the environment. It is clear that the Archons are actively promoting the idea of culling the human herd, though they are reluctant to describe exactly how this might be achieved. The techno-evolutionary advances promised by the high priests of transhumanism, however, will not be made available to everyone, though the enticement of acquiring “freedom” from biology is certainly the bait used to gain popular acceptance for the project.
The fact is, with AI taking over more and more responsibilities from human beings, humans themselves are in danger of becoming superfluous. As Noah Yuval Harari has observed, “fast forward to the early 21st century when we just don’t need the vast majority of the population because the future is about developing more and more sophisticated technology, like artificial intelligence [and] bioengineering. Most people don’t contribute anything to that, except perhaps for their data, and whatever people are still doing which is useful, these technologies increasingly will make redundant and will make it possible to replace the people.” I can assure you: Harari is not the only one who has come to this conclusion.
It is for these and other reasons that the Dune saga includes in its mythos the tale of the Butlerian Jihad, a human holy war against thinking/sentient machines. I admit, I kind of like the idea, and I wonder if such a thing might actually come to pass at some point. John Michael Greer, a man I deeply respect, suggests in his book The Retro Future that we might instead be in for a “Butlerian Carnival,” a “sensuous celebration of the world outside the cubicle farms and the glass screens” that situates the technologies we use to a human scale—and not the other way around, which is what we see in the transhumanist/AI revolution. I hope he’s right. But one thing I do know: the Archons won’t let that happen without a fight.
In truth, in the face of the transhumanist/AI revolution, we find ourselves once again confronted with the question posed by the psalmist, “What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?” Are we nothing but data sets to be instrumentalized by technocratic overseers, or are we indeed a little lower than angels and crowned with glory and honor? How we answer these questions will have tremendous bearing on the future now rushing toward us.
The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.
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