As Covid 19 has swept the globe, leaving over a million causalities in its wake, it has generated a profound crisis of confidence. Citizens throughout the world question their governments’ abilities to protect them. Everyday life has become akin to a game of Russian roulette, where we leave our homes knowing that we exist only a cough away from contracting a virus that can ravage our bodies within days. Intimate gatherings with family and friends, once a source of nourishment and vitality, are now regarded as threatening. Indeed, it might be argued that one of the biggest traumas of Covid 19 is that it has exposed, on a global scale, our inherent fragility as a species.
What then, might this devastating pandemic mean to transhumanists; a group of people who profess an unwavering faith in the power of science and technology to ameliorate human suffering, disease and even death itself? And, what might it mean to their critics, who variously deride transhumanists for their seemingly unrealistic visions of a techno-utopic future, or their “blasphemous” attempts “to play God? Has the global pandemic sparked a crisis of confidence among transhumaninsts? Or, has it led them to reaffirm their conviction that science and technology can be used to transcend our biological limitations and ultimately create an enhanced posthuman species that is impervious to ageing, illness and death? If vaccines for the virus are successfully produced and distributed at “warp speed,” might this generate new credibility for transhumanists, thereby exacerbating the fears and ire of their critics?
So far, it appears that transhumanists in the United States have not been visibly rattled by this biological disruption. Indeed, despite subsequently testing positive for the virus himself, in March of 2020, transhumanist icon Elon Musk downplayed the significance of the virus. He claimed the reported death rates were exaggerated, he refused to comply with government orders to suspend production at his Tesla plant, and Musk predicted that by the end of April 2020, new cases in the United States would be “close to zero.” While Musk has lived in denial, or rather defiance of the devastating impacts of the virus, other transhumanists have embraced it as an opportunity to actively promote transhumanist ideas and agendas. For instance, Zoltan Istvan, who ran for president of the United States as the representative of the Transhumanist Party, tweeted: “Coronavirus is helping the world to understand why the growing belief in transhumanism is necessary & just. Transhumanists want to eliminate all disease with science and technology. This should be a fundamental goal for humanity and all governments. #Covid19#Upgrading the Earth.”
And yet, while the corona virus has provided transhumanists with an opportunity to make their case for technological transcendence with even greater urgency and conviction, it has also exacerbated long standing tensions between transhumanists and their critics. In a recent article published in Foreign Policy News, ecologist Robert J Burrowes cautioned his readers to “beware the transhumanists” who are using the Covid pandemic as an opportunity “to achieve a profound transformation in the nature of the human individual and human society.” Similarly, in a Facebook livestream conversation posted in June 2020, biochemist and self-proclaimed “Christian apologist,” Dr. Fazale Rana also warns that the Covid 19 pandemic has the potential to “accelerate and add credibility to the transhumanist movement.” While Rana is a firm believer in the promise of science and technology, he also admonishes transhumanists for denying the “existence of God and reality of Scripture” and thereby propagating a “false gospel.” Rana cautions his listeners to guard against their “naïve” belief that a secular deployment of science and technology can usher in a utopic society.
Thus, while the pandemic has been a profoundly disruptive and destructive force in the lives of millions and has caused a crisis of confidence on a truly global scale, it has also provided transhumanists and their critics with an opportunity to reassert their most powerful convictions.
Indeed, one might propose that this rebirth of conviction can be read as an attempt to defend against the insecurity and deroutinization the pandemic has engendered. Moreover, these responses to the Covid pandemic serve as a vivid reminder that in the United States, at least, the ideological battle between science and religion, the power of technology and the power of God, is far from settled. The Covid 19 pandemic is dividing us in many news, but it is also amplifying ideological tensions and schisms that remain firmly rooted in the warp and woof of contemporary American Society and that have the potential to play a significant role in shaping the future we will (hopefully) inhabit. Paying attention to these schisms may prove instructive if we want to take a more active role in determining how the future gets made.