Against Posthumanism

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* Article: Arran Gare. Against Posthumanismm: Posthumanism as the World Vision of House-Slaves. Borderless Philosophy 4 (2021): 1-56.



Posthumanism as directed against humanism

Arran Gare:

"While Haraway and Hayles were trying to find some residual place for humanism within information science (and it appears that Hayles has since come under the influence of the biosemioticians), those who embraced the notion of the posthumanism evinced a deep hostility to humanism.

For instance, Primod Nayar in Posthumanism (2014, p.22) referring to “Critical Posthumanism,”, wrote:

- Critical posthumanism shifts away from the moral transhumanist position in one very significant way. Moral transhumanism believes we can accentuate and enhance specific human qualities (such as compassion) for the greater good of life on earth – but with this it retains a very clear idea of the desirable qualities of the human. The human is still the centre of all things desirable, necessary and aspirational. In the case of critical posthumanism, it treats the “essential” attributes of the human as always already imbricated with other life forms, where the supposedly “core” human features, whether physiology, anatomy or consciousness, have co-evolved with other life forms. Where moral transhumanism seeks enhancement of supposedly innate human features and qualities, critical posthumanism rejects the very idea of anything innate to the human, arguing instead for a messy congeries of qualities developed over centuries through the human's interactions with the environment (which includes non-organic tools and organic life).

Similarly, Rosi Braidotti wrote in The Posthuman (2013, p.1) that

- the concept of the human has exploded under the double pressure of contemporary scientific advances and global economic concerns. After the postmodern, the postcolonial, the post-industrial, the post-communist and even the much-contested postfeminist conditions, we seem to have entered the post-human predicament.

She then set out to defend a posthuman subject based on the notion of autopoiesis, that is, second order cybernetics.

Embracing Foucault’s proclamation of the “death of man” appears to be central to the thinking of these posthumanists, with the advance of information science providing justification for their allegiance to Foucault and providing direction for their militant attack on humanism. Their world vision is a complete negation not only of the humanism that emerged with the New Left in their reaction to Stalinism and domination of the West by the military-industrial complex, but also to the whole history of humanism with its struggle for autonomy, democracy and social justice from the pre-Socratics and defenders of the Republic in Rome to the Renaissance and then the Radical Enlightenment. As noted, Foucault’s critique of humanism was technical, directed principally against Kant, and his “death of man” proclamation appears as something of a rhetorical flourish. However, humanism had been criticised by a number of philosophers, including Heidegger, who had reacted to Sartre’s affirmation of humanism in his Letter on Humanism, as well as by the structuralists and poststructuralists. The posthumanists have interpreted Foucault as being aligned with a broader tradition of posthumanism. To support this anti-humanism, they have embraced information science and the technologies advanced through it in order to question the boundaries that defined human beings in the past, associated with embodiment, claiming along with the transhumanists that we can extend ourselves beyond embodiment through new technologies. There is now no clear division between what people are and what their technology is, or for that matter, what other forms of life are or what is not alive. We are largely made up of non-human microorganisms moving in and out of what had previously been regarded as the boundaries of the body.

As information processors, what had been taken to be humans are now seen as continuous with the physical processes around them. From this reductionist perspective, there is nothing but energy, information, and matter (Gare, 2020). Since information technology emerged during World War II and has been driven by the drive to augment military and industrial power, posthumanism amounts to accepting our complete absorption into the military-industrial complex.

Posthumanism is claimed to be anti-elitist and aligned with ecological thinking, but offers a debased view of life and provides no place for people taking responsibility for ecological destruction. Those who call for the development of such responsibility are in the long tradition of humanism and therefore politically incorrect. As became clear from New Left thinking, it was the elimination from orthodox Marxism of a conception of humans as subjects whose humanity could be cultivated, but who could also be dehumanized, that paved the way for the brutality of Stalinism. Slavery amounted to a failure to acknowledge the humanity of people and their potential; and depriving people of access to the means of production and treating their creative potential as a commodity, as labour-power, dependent upon others who could destroy their livelihoods, had also been shown by Marx to be a form of slavery. A conception of the world and people as machines, and identifying reason with instrumental rationality, produces a one-dimensional culture that eliminates the basis for even criticising this dehumanization. Orthodox Marxism as developed in the Soviet Union had simply reproduced such thinking in a slightly different form. The development of philosophical anthropology, characterizing humans and their potential, and showing which potentialities should be realized, provided the basis for challenging and overcoming such thinking both theoretically and in practice. This conception of humans, while differentiating humans from other kinds of living beings, was the basis for reconceiving the nature and life. Showing that even plants have Umwelten, surrounding worlds that have meaning for them and that semiosis, the production and interpretation of signs, is central to all life, including ecosystems, has provided the basis for defending the intrinsic significance of all life. To conceive life as nothing but information processing cyborgs is a rejection of this work, without even acknowledging it, and undermines the basis for any appreciation of this intrinsic significance and eliminates completely any possibility of challenging domination by instrumental rationality (Gare, 2020).

Beyond this, it is difficult to gain a clear picture of what the posthumanists stand for. Continuing deconstructive postmodernists scepticism about reason and anti-elitism, they simultaneously uphold being non-judgemental as a virtue while engaging in enforcing political correctness and upholding the new “cancel culture,” defending this on supposedly scientific grounds."