January 3, 2007

"Worse than Islam..."

Late last night I was reading in Rand Simberg's blog some comments on a post about Mark Steyn's book America Alone. I ended up staying up late answering a question. The answer seemed obvious to me, but also difficult to explain---paradoxical. I'll expand it into a blogpost, since I've already squandered so much time. The commenter wrote:

"The one flaw in Steyn's analysis is that it does not account for the possibility of radical life extension that is likely to be available by 2050. Such technologies include SENS (Strategically Engineered Negligible Senescence) and bio-nanotechnology (synthetic biology).

Mark Steyn hints at the coming transhumanist future with his comments about the future of Japan. However, for whatever reasons, he implies that transhumanism would be even worse than islam (why anyone would think this is completely incomprehensible to me). [My emphasis]

So, facing a problem like demographic implosion, why would something like "radical life extension" not be a good thing?

Mark Steyn is writing about TWO problems that are combining explosively. One is pressure from an expanding Islam. The other is a vacuum in the West, (especially Europe), a deep spiritual malaise, an emptiness that Islam is simply being pulled into. It is both a literal emptiness--the demographic collapse; and a crisis of civilizational morale that leaves many in the West unable to defend our civilization or faith or ideas. Or even to just fight back against killers.

He believes (and I am in complete agreement) that the second problem is by far the worse. If the West still had a tenth of the confidence and élan of centuries past, we would have slapped down Islamic terrorists decades ago, when they first began to surface, and they would not now be a big problem. The same with unruly Islamic immigrants. And without the civilizational malaise there would not have been the lack of children that is drawing in the problematic immigrants.

Islam is just an opportunistic infection. It is a serious problem only because we in the West have a compromised immune system...

The West has lost faith (America alone perhaps retaining it), and our other problems are but outward symptoms of this. (Steyn doesn't quite connect the last dot, but I would say that the West has lost its Christian faith.)

"Transhumanism" is just another symptom of the problem. Think of your typical Frenchman, who can't be bothered to have children, or to fight to correct the blatant problems facing his nation, or to dream of space colonization, or go to church, or fight back against terrorists or criminals, or just to hurry home from vacation because old people (including his grandma) are dying in a heat-wave. He is denying, he is evading, human nature. His own (his ancestors would have said "God-given") human nature. He is avoiding pain. The pain that comes with living life. And it is an iron law that you cannot have the deep joys that make life worth living if you won't accept the pain and risk that go along with them.

And corollaries of this law are that you can't have freedom unless people are willing to fight, politically or sometimes literally. And you can't have prosperity unless people are willing to take risks, to risk losing what they have.

Transhumanism is just another evasion. An evasion of human nature, and that iron law. You don't have to believe in God to "get" this, though it helps. To look at this from another angle, it is a bedrock part of conservatism that there are not going to be any man-made utopias, and that humans and human institutions are always flawed. Our constitution is based on this idea. Transhumanism is a utopian project, and any conservative should be reacting like we reacted to the philosophes before another little project called the French Revolution. Those guys were all decent chaps, who wouldn't hurt a fly. But they loosed upon the world an idea, a mere thought, about revolution being able to change and improve humans, without hindrance from what we would call human nature. We now use tens-of-millions as a convenient unit of measurement for the deaths that have resulted from this "transhuman" idea.

The problem Steyn is writing about is, in large part, that we have nothing we believe in enough to fight and suffer and die for. You are proposing a project based on extreme avoidance of death, and of the pain of living. I'd call that worse than Islam.

Posted by John Weidner at January 3, 2007 8:02 AM
Weblog by John Weidner