On getting hysterical about the future

David Bentley Hart contemplates what happens when humans become a mere technology.



David Bentley Hart contemplates what happens when humans become a mere technology.


Well, if one asks what we’re in danger of losing in embracing secularism, or at least losing our sense of the supernatural, the answers are so numerous – and sometimes one can get hysterical about these things, at least I try to. But for one thing – obviously, in my guise as someone who writes philosophy, not history, I just regard it as a logically incoherent picture of reality and I’ll leave my argument at that. But you look at the social consequences though. To believe that there’s a dimension of the human that’s the inviolable domain of the divine – it’s not reducible to any sort of narrative that’s purely materialist, purely mechanistic, purely technological or economical or nationalist, but that actually there’s a dimension of the transcendent – is the surest safeguard and the surest hope for a culture that actually regards persons in their mystery as persons, as the object of moral concern.

And living in the academic world, to some degree, where all the worst ideas seem the most plausible and the most implausible ideas sort of they work their way into the society at large … it is amazing the sort of things one encounters now in bioethics or other fields that would be horrifying to most normal human beings, but that over the course of time, might very well become plausible. We have books being written by ethicists arguing for – based on really bad science – but arguing for a kind of genetic profile of individuals that could determine in advance whether or not they’re likely to be criminal. I mean serious proposals for pre-emptive detention and sterilisation get floated in the academic world. People who are considered serious bioethicists talk – and are applauded for talking – about judicious infanticide, genetic profiling, marking genetic inferiors with indelible stamps on the brow. I’m not making any of this up. Even among transhumanists, breeding a somewhat subhuman – but more than merely primate – slave race. 

Now obviously, these are the deranged fantasies at the moment, that most of us can laugh at or just find repellent. And yet – and yet, that they enjoy a serious hearing in the academic world and in bioethical councils and by persons who sit on councils that affect government policy is worrying. Because why is that imaginable now? Why is the unimaginable imaginable for us now? It’s because we look at the human being as a technology and any technology can be improved upon whether we view it as a genetic technology or economic or political, whatever.