So many people sent me versions of this important and significant development that it was simply a kind of moral imperative that I alert readers here to it, and say something about it. In this case, there are four different articles, each of which reveals, almost immediately, what the new concern is:
When Dr. de Hart and I were writing Transhumanism: A Grimoire of Alchemical Agendas, one of the questions we were impelled to raise, one which the transhumanist movement itself raises repeatedly, is what does it mean to be "human"? And this, we implied, was not simply a philosophical question. Nor was it a question of biological or chemical "scientism" with its convenient, and largely useless, materialist reductionisms. It was a question of culture, society, jurisprudence, and morality.
Within the transhumanist "vision" there is a common underlying theme, regardless of whether or not one accepts the "heaven scenarios" of such advocates like Ray Kurzweil, or the more sobering assessments of transhumanist researchers like Joel Garreau and their "hell scenarios", for in both cases, the favored transhumanist "GRIN" technologies - genetics, robotics, information processing, and nano-technologies - open both favorable and horrific vistas of the future.
In this case, we are concerned with the horrific ones, for as the articles suggest, what if such technologies made life extension possible as a matter of judicial punishment? This unpleasant prospect, as the articles aver, is actually being not only entertained but its advocacy is even being implied in some circles. What if, in addition to this, other technologies are super-added to life extension, technologies of the "androgynous and alchemical fusion" of man and machine, to implant criminals with chips, to subject them to forms of "virtual torture" and suffering? Some transhumanists have envisioned the downloading and uploading of individual's personal memories as a technique of virtual life extension. But what if such technologies could recover the memories of victims of crimes? Would criminals then be punished by making them relive in some sort of "virtual reality" the horrors of the crimes they committed on their victims? Could criminals of the future be sentenced to "life extension and 'hard reliving' of their crimes from the victim's point of view" for "x" number of years, without hope of parole or reprieve? While such questions sound like science fiction, as the above articles point out, they are already being entertained, and they are being entertained, because the technologies impelling them are already under development.
Indeed, one can envision a state of development where such technologies were so advanced that a sentence of life in prison with "at hard virtual labor" would be so horrific, that the death penalty, far from being a thing to be avoided by defendants, might become a thing sought.
But there are yet other possibilities as well, possibilities that were, in fact, explored in the television science fiction series Babylon Five in the 1990s: the "death of personality." In that series, convicted murderers are subjected to a kind of "death of the ego": the erasure of the personality, memories, and emotions of the perpetrator.
While some may view all of this favorably, and argue that it is "ethical," I incline to the other opinion, and hold that it is barbaric, and a measure of the dehumanizing that such philosophies and technologies are inevitably bringing with them. I submit that such punishments are indeed "cruel and unusual" and little other than a form of torture.
But whatever one's opinion may be, the cultural transformation of culture and society that the transhumanists are championing or, in a few cases, decrying, are indeed hurtling down the tracks toward us and will force each of us to deal with the types of questions these articles are pointing out.
See you on the flip side.