Last updated on January 1st, 2021 at 05:01 am
Entrepreneur and lawyer Martine Rothblatt, an articulate advocate for both transgenderism and transhumanism, shows how the latter movement is the former’s logical development. He argues that the transhumanist movement follows in a long line of liberation forces that include racial desegregation, women’s suffrage, and the most recent transgender political victories. He contends that the time has finally arrived for a more radical freedom from the forms that enclose our being. The 21st century has brought possibilities of liberation previously unimagined, namely, the capacity to finally separate our minds from the biological bodies we long assumed gave us definitive form. We will soon be able to download the contents and patterns of our neural connections to other superior, non-fleshy substrates.
For Rothblatt, the self is a visualization of the world and a pattern of responses to such a world. Since these visualizations and patterns are fundamentally information, we ourselves are basically a complex of information that may be transferred to other servers. Our previous conception of man as homo sapiens was too rooted in DNA and must now give way to the persona creatus. The now wide-spread in vitro fertilization technology has already demonstrated our ability to control gene transfer. Transgenderism has overcome the gender dimorphism that constrains biological species and opened the way to a more creative manner of self-definition and expression that leads logically to the more radical victory over biological constraints through mind transfer. Rothblatt argues that just as the absence of a vagina did not hinder him and other transgender activists from becoming a woman, likewise, the lack of a flesh-form biological body does not impede joining the human race. Transgenderism has shown us that sexual identity is in the mind, while its ideological development into transhumanism will confirm that humanity itself is also a mental construct. While various forms of assisted reproduction have demonstrated our capacity to manipulate our genetics, transhumanism will teach us how to reproduce without any genetics whatsoever through digital clones of our minds. Transgenderism has already broken through the limits of sexual anatomy and paved the way for a complete liberation from all biological anatomy. As Rothblatt declares with intellectual consistency, “humanness is in the mind, just as is sexual identity.”
The transgender movement reveals how the tools of modern technology and medicine have been employed to reinforce a subjectivist outlook of self-definition and re-creation. The LGBT movement has become a particularly influential expression of the radical individualism that deflects man from embracing the inbuilt purposes of a human nature ordered to authentic human flourishing. Transhumanism builds upon transgenderism’s application of the technological revolution to the human body to achieve an even more radical form of self-definition and self-invention. As philosopher Ted Peters notes, “transhumanism seeks more than merely new technological gadgets. It seeks to construct a philosophy of life, a total worldview, a grand metanarrative.” The same transhumanist movement is arguably at the center of contemporary bioethical discourse. Thus, while many of its proposals seem sensational science fiction, its philosophical vision of technology’s use to fulfill man’s perennial yearnings for perfection merits serious attention.
Transhumanism deserves praise for its laudable embrace of technological progress and its genuine concern with improving man’s lot. However, it suffers from a lamentable technocratic paradigm that has its philosophical origins in the this-worldly techno-utopia of the Baconian New Atlantis. In the contemporary secularized version of the technocratic vision, mastery of the body’s raw materials is prized, while the spiritual soul’s cultivation is ignored. Adherents of the movement frequently place their hopes in the capacities of medicine and technology to prolong and improve physical life while neglecting the more profound and lasting human fulfillment that comes through the formation of virtues. Such secular transhumanism is problematic not because it seeks too much for man but rather because it seeks too little.
The transhumanists’ misguided pursuit of mind-uploading and other forms of earthly immortality reflects a laudable quest to overcome mediocrity and the limits of man’s vulnerable existence. However, their limited anthropology dooms their ambitions and well-funded projects to failure. Nonetheless, their efforts should awaken them to the insights of a Thomistic tradition regarding man’s origin, nature, and destiny to deified perfection begun in this life through the practice of virtue and brought to fulfillment in the heavenly vision of God. For the Thomistic tradition, creation is not only a theological dogma but is also a naturally accessible philosophical truth that points toward the creature’s ontological dependence upon the Creator. Sound metaphysics reveals a natural order that is structured and intelligible and in which each member is ordered to fulfillment through achieving the ends proper to its nature. Man is distinguished from other animals in the created order by the dynamism of a nature that permits him to transcend the limits of determining instincts to choose freely that will fulfill him in various psychosomatic dimensions. Proper understanding of human creatureliness will alone point man beyond the boundaries of the “immanent frame” towards his authentic vocation to transcendent happiness. This tradition insists that man should ceaselessly pursue perfection and settle for nothing less. Man’s striving will, however, inevitably flounder if he only busies himself with technological means and neglects the practice of those virtues that bring him the most authentic enhancement.
Fr. Michael Baggot, LC is Assistant Professor of Bioethics at the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum and Adjunct Professor of Theology at Christendom College
 Martine Rothblatt, “Mind Is Deeper Than Matter: Transgenderism, Transhumanism, and the Freedom of Form,” in The Transhumanist Reader: Classical and Contemporary Essays on the Science, Technology, and Philosophy of the Human Future, ed. Max More and Natasha Vita-More (Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013), 317–26.
 Rothblatt, “Mind is Deeper Than Matter,” 318.
 Ted Peters, “Progress and Provolution: Will Transhumanism Leave Sin Behind?,” in Transhumanism and Transcendence: Christian Hope in an Age of Technological Enhancement, ed. Ronald Cole-Turner (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2011), 66.
 Bioethicist Leon Kass concludes that the transhumanist quest to “use of biotechnical powers to pursue ‘perfection,’ both of body and of mind—is perhaps the most neglected topic in public and professional bioethics. Yet it is, I believe, the deepest source of public anxiety about biotechnology, represented in the concern about ‘man playing God,’ or about the Brave New World, or a ‘posthuman future.’ It raises the weightiest questions of bioethics, touching on the ends and goals of the biomedical enterprise, the nature and meaning of human flourishing, and the intrinsic threat of dehumanization (or the promise of superhumanization). It compels attention to what it means to be a human being and to be active as a human being. And it gets us beyond our often singular focus on the ‘life issues’ of abortion or embryo destruction, important though they are, to deal with what is genuinely novel and worrisome in the biotechnical revolution: not the old crude power to kill the creature made in God’s image, but the new science-based power to remake him after our own fantasies.” Leon R. Kass, “Ageless Bodies, Happy Souls: Biotechnology and the Pursuit of Perfection,” The New Atlantis 1, no. 1 (2003): 10.
 For an extended reflection upon the implications of the Baconian project on contemporary bioethics, see Gerald P. McKenny, To Relieve the Human Condition: Bioethics, Technology, and the Body (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1997), 25–38.
 For a detailed genealogy and study of the meaning of a contemporary mindset slow to accept the transcendent, see Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 2007), 539–93.