Warum der Zombie den Cyborg verfolgt 
- Transhumanismus, Rassismus und Sylvia Wynter @re:publica 2018 #rp18

Mein erster Versuch meine Englischen Vorträge auch mal ins Deutsche zu übersetzen...

Ich war wieder auf der re:publica um dieses Jahr einen Vortrag über Transhumanismus, die Singularität und die öffentliche Wahrnehmung von Künstlicher Inteligenz zu halten. Selbstverständlich habe ich auch dieses Mal mein Thema aus einer kritischen, utopischen Perspektive beleuchtet und das übersetzte Transkript, die Slides, Fußnoten sowie weiterführendes Lesematerial findet ihr unter dem Video.
(English Transcript)

Was wenn der Cyborg und der Zombie, zwei Seiten eines gewaltigen Problems verkörpern, vor dem die Menschheit gerade steht?

Ein Problem, das so groß ist, dass wir als Weltgemeinschaft es versuchen zu verdrängen, genauso wie die Klimakatastrophe oder all die anderen Katastrophen, die uns bevorstehen. Denn dieses Problem ist so groß und so überwältigend, dass wir es vorziehen, uns diesem Problem nicht zu stellen, obwohl wir wissen, dass Verdrängen unser Verhängnis sein wird .

In Sylvia Wynter's 1.  Worten ist das Problem, die Anwort auf die Frage wer wir sind. 
Denn die Antwort, die wir uns selber geben macht uns hilflos.

Mit dieser Präsentation, erhoffe ich mir, die Wurzeln dieses Problems erkennbar zu machen, damit wir gemeinsam einen Weg finden unsere Zukunft zurückzugewinnen. 

Aber am Besten fangen wir mit einer einfachen Frage an: 
Wenn ihr morgen wählen müsstet ein Cyborg oder ein Zombie zu werden, für wen von beiden würdet ihr euch entscheiden? 

Für einige von uns verkörpert der Cyborg einen hoffnungsvollen Weg, sich menschliches Handeln in einer scheinbar unausweichlichen, immer technologischeren Zukunft vorzustellen, in der früher oder später Menschen mit Maschinen verschmelzen werden. Für andere wie Elon Musk, der wohl berühmteste Transhumanist unserer Zeit, ist ein Cyborg zu werden und den Mars zu kolonisieren, die einzige Hoffnung auf menschliches Überleben. Er glaubt an eine Zukunft, in der Künstliche Intelligenz die Singularität auslösen wird. Und diese Intelligenz-Explosion, wie die Singularität manchmal auch genannt wird, droht seiner Meinung nach, uns alle in Haustiere von Maschinen und die Welt in Büroklammern zu verwandeln. 

Wenn ihr mich fragt, klingt das ein bisschen verrückt. Aber auch einer der berühmtesten Köpfe der Wissenschaft, Stephen Hawking, machte sich Sorgen um die Singularität. Und wenn dem so ist, dann könnte eins sicherlich sagen, dass der Cyborg, der unter seiner glänzenden Rüstung, menschliches Bewusstsein mit Informationstechnologie verbindet, zumindest eine Art von hoffnungsvoller Zukunft für die Menschheit darstellt. Wohingegen wir den Zombie gedanklich, meist entweder mit einer rassistischen, kolonialen Vergangenheit, einer hoffnungslosen, kapitalistischen Gegenwart oder einer apokalyptischen Zukunft in Verbindung bringen. Einer Zukunft, in der Biotech uns in Monster verwandeln wird und in der menschliches Überleben eher die Ausnahme erscheint.

Wer also würde sich bei klarem Verstand dazu entscheiden lieber ein Zombie als ein Cyborg zu sein?

Ich zum Beispiel.

Und in der nächsten halben Stunde werde ich erklären, warum ich denke, dass der Cyborg nicht nur von dunklen Mächten vereinnahmt wurde, sondern auch, warum sein oft missverstandener und "umgekehrter", aber trotzdem nahezu identischer Zwilling, der Zombie, eine verlockendere Antwort auf unsere Fragen über uns selbst, unsere Zukunft, unsere Hoffnungen und Ängste darstellt. Denn diese dunklen Mächte träumen von einer Zukunft, die auf white supremacy, "Rassenwissenschaft", Eugenetik und sozialem Darwinismus aufbaut. 

Ich bin mir ziemlich sicher, dass ihr alle mit verschiedenen Erscheinungsformen unserer Zwillinge in der Popkultur vertraut seid. Deshalb werde ich nur kurz die Philosophien vorstellen, die hinter beiden stehen, um danach über die Ideologie zu sprechen, die beide miteinander verbindet. Im zweiten Teil werde ich dann, mit Hilfe von Sylvia Wynter, die Wurzeln und die Geschichte dieser Ideologie beleuchten, die wir alle unter dem Namen das "Gesetz der Natur" kennen. Und abschließend hoffe ich euch davon zu überzeugen, euch mit dem Zombie statt dem Cyborg zu identifizieren. Denn dieser Zombie wird uns helfen, uns endlich eine hoffnungsvolle, solidarische Zukunft vorzustellen. Eine erstrebenswerte Zukunft, nicht nur für einige sondern für alle Menschen.

Fangen wir mit dem Zombie an. 2.

Die vielleicht älteste Variation des Zombie-Mythos, mit der wir hier, in der westlichen Welt vertraut sind, ist der Ausdruck der Schrecken der kolonialen Sklaverei. Koloniale Grausamkeiten, die so furchtbar und unmenschlich waren, dass versklavte Afrikaner fürchteten, dass selbst der Tod sie nicht von ihnen befreien könnte und sie bis in alle Ewigkeit verdammt wären zu arbeiten und zu leiden.

Heute jedoch sind Zombies, oder die Untoten, weniger für ihre ausbeutbare Arbeitskraft bekannt (obwohl sie es vielleicht sein sollten), als dafür, dass sie 'unbewusste Automaten' sind, geistlose biologische Maschinen, ausgestattet mit einem einzigen, tierischen und unstillbaren Instinkt: 
lebendiges, menschliches Fleisch zu verschlingen.

Wir alle kennen sie aus verschiedenen Filmen und Fernsehserien, in denen sie als eine ansteckende und tödliche Bedrohung dargestellt werden. Eine Bedrohung entmenschlichter Wesen, die ihren ehemaligen Familienmitgliedern im Kampf ums Überleben keine Wahl lassen .
Zombies muss man töten, ohne Gnade, ohne moralische Überlegung. 

Und deshalb mag es manche vielleicht überraschen, dass der Zombie eine lange philosophische Geschichte hat, in der er nicht nach frischen, menschlichen Innereien und Gehirnen lechzt und auch sonst überraschend anders aussieht.

Zum Beispiel so:

Oder so:

Ja, in der Philosophie sehen die Lebenden Toten nicht nur genauso aus wie wir, sie handeln und benehmen sich auch so.

Angefangen hat alles mit René Descartes, der im 17. Jahrhundert lebte und dessen berühmtes Zitat "Ich denke, also bin ich" wahrscheinlich sehr viele von euch kennen. Er lebte während der so genannten wissenschaftlichen Revolution und glaubte, dass nicht menschliche Tiere lediglich Maschinen sind. Automaten, deren Verhalten vollständig durch physikalische Mechanismen erklärt werden können. Doch menschliches Verhalten ließ sich für ihn nicht auf diese Weise erklären. Dafür brauchte es etwas Besonderes, etwas jenseits des Physischen, einen immateriellen Verstand. 

Descartes glaubte, dass, wenn wir alle plötzlich unseren Verstand verlieren, unsere Körper trotzdem weiter funktionieren würden, genauso, wie unsere Herzen weiter schlagen, wir weiter atmen und unsere Nahrung verdauen, während wir schlafen. Dass wir sogar in der Lage sein würden, auf eine gedanken- und verstandslose Art umherzugehen. Aber dass wir, ohne unseren Verstand, nicht das hätten was uns menschlich macht. Descartes war also, ohne Zombies zu meinen, ziemlich nah daran sie zu beschreiben. Er tat es, weil er beweisen wollte, dass Menschen keine einfachen Maschinen sind. 

Doch 200 hundert Jahre später, im 19. Jahrhundert hatte die Aufklärung ihre Spuren hinterlassen und Wissenschaftler begannen davon überzeugt zu sein, dass die Physik alles erklärbar macht. Sie glaubten an eine Welt, die unter Kausalität geschlossen ist, was bedeutet, dass alle physischen Ereignisse auch eine physische Ursache haben. Und so kam es, dass die Neuro-Physiologie mit dem Versuch begann auch menschliches Verhalten zu erklären. Doch es gab ein schwerwiegendes Problem, eines das die Forschung bis heute nicht gelöst, geschweige denn genau definiert hat : Bewusstsein.

Bewusstseinsphänomene sind in physischer Hinsicht nicht nur schwer zu erklären, sondern auch zu messen. Da jedoch der Physikalismus (oder Materialismus) vorgab, dass Bewusstsein nur physische Prozesse beinhalten konnte, sahen sich diese Wissenschaftler gezwungen eine sehr kontraintuitive Schlussfolgerung zu ziehen. Nämlich, dass Bewusstsein, da es nicht physikalisch messbar ist, keinen Einfluss auf die physische Welt haben kann. Der Mensch wurde also zu einer "bewussten Maschine" und sein Bewusstsein zu einem kausal inaktiven Nebenprodukt reduziert. Das Bewusstsein spielte keine Rolle mehr. In anderen Worten, diese für den Physikalismus notwendige Schlussfolgerung nahm dem Menschen seine geistige Macht zur freien Handlungsfähigkeit.

Aber das Ausradieren dieser geistigen Fähigkeit und die damit verbundene Schwierigkeit einen Sinn im Leben zu sehen war nicht die verblüffendste Konsequenz dieser Schlussfolgerung. Sie zog außerdem nach sich, dass es zumindest theoretisch möglich sein sollte, dass physische Organismen existieren könnten, Menschen, genau wie wir, aber eben ohne Bewusstsein.
Diese Schlussfolgerung machte also eine Zombie-Welt möglich! 4. Eine Welt, deren physikalische Prozesse unter Kausalität geschlossen sind und die genau unsere reale Welt kopieren, in der es aber keine bewussten Erfahrungen gibt. Eine Welt, die jeglicher Vernunft und gesundem Menschenverstand widerspricht, in der menschliche Körper, ohne Bewusstsein und subjektives Erleben, trotzdem Regierungen gebildet, Städte gegründet, Brücken gebaut, sowie Flugzeuge und Internet erfunden hätten....kurz gesagt, all die Dinge, die wir auch tun.

Es ist nicht einfach sich so eine Welt vorzustellen.

Aber da diese Zombie Welt 5. ein so kraftvolles Gegenbeispiel ist, das den Physikalismus angreifbar macht, wurden viele Argumente formuliert, um diese Idee zu rechtfertigen. Denn wenn Zombies nicht möglich sind oder zumindest denkbar, dann müssten wir viele wissenschaftliche Erklärungen des menschlichen Verhaltens neu hinterfragen.

Falls euch trotzdem, genau wie mir, eine solche Zombie-Welt immer noch eher absurd als vorstellbar vorkommt, ist es wichtig sich daran zu erinnern, dass auch heute noch die vorherrschende Theorie des menschlichen Bewusstseins auf Physikalismus basiert.

Womit wir beim Cyborg 6. angekommen wären, und der in letzter Zeit so sehr gehypten Angst vor einer drohenden Singularität.

Wenn der Zombie eine menschliche Maschine ohne Bewusstsein ist, dann ist der Cyborg die Idee, dass das menschliche Bewusstsein mit einer Maschine vereint werden kann. Ich hoffe es wird nun klarer, warum ich die beiden als umgekehrte Zwillinge sehe. Beide werden als Maschine verstanden, eine verlor das Bewusstsein und die andere würde es gerne haben. 

05.jpg

Als nächstes werde ich skizzieren wie aus dem Verlust von geistiger Macht ein religiös anmutender Fundamentalismus wurde, mit dem Transhumanisten die Technologie als unseren einzigen Retter feiern. Aber erst einmal sollten wir uns ansehen, wovor die Menschheit scheinbar gerettet werden muss: die Singularität. 7.

Die Singularität ist eine Art übernatürliches Wesen, eine Maschine ausgestattet mit einer der menschlichen überlegenen Intelligenz und deren Wahrscheinlichkeit auf der Frage beruht, ob eins glaubt, dass das menschliche Gehirn eine Maschine ist oder nicht. Falls es eine Maschine ist, werden Wissenschaftler früher oder später herausfinden wie sie funktioniert und mit diesem Wissen könnte es möglich werden, tote Materie lebendig werden zu lassen. 

Doch damit die Singularität Wirklichkeit werden kann, müsste sich die Künstliche Intelligenz erst einmal ihrer Selbst bewusst werden. Menschen, die Angst vor der Singularität verbreiten, glauben also, dass die Neurowissenschaft sehr bald nicht nur in der Lage sein wird das Gehirn, sondern auch unser Bewusstsein zu erklären. Sie sind sich sicher, dass wir nur genau verstehen müssen wie unsere neuronalen Prozesse Informationen transportieren und übertragen, um endlich das Geheimnis unseres Bewusstseins zu lüften. Oder in anderen Worten, indem man die rechnerischen an Computer Modelle angelehnten neuronalen Fakten und Funktionen unseres Gehirns betrachtet und misst. Gelingt dies der Wissenschaft, dann könnte das menschliche Gehirn auch mit Hilfe von Computern modelliert werden und sollte ein eigenständiges künstliches Bewusstsein hervorbringen, dass sich daraufhin rasant selbst verbessert und zur Singularität wird.

Aber obwohl die Neurowissenschaften beeindruckende Fortschritte in der kartographischen Darstellung der Vorgänge unseres Gehirns gemacht haben, wird oft dabei etwas übersehen: nämlich, dass unser Gehirn circa 85 Milliarden Neuronen enthält. 8.  Das entspricht fast der geschätzten Sternenzahl der Milchstraße und erscheint zumindest mir, unendlich viel. Vor allem, wenn eins bedenkt, dass Wissenschaftler nicht nur herausfinden müssen, was jedes einzelne dieser Neuronen tut, sondern wie sie alle zusammenwirken. Wir reden von mindestens hundert Billionen Synapsen. Erschwerend kommt hinzu, dass die Interaktion dieser Neuronen in jedem von uns variieren. 

Selbst wenn wir also kurz davor wären all dieses Wissen zu besitzen, würde das wirklich, ein für alle Mal, erklären, wie aus diesen unfassbar vielen Wechselwirkungen unsere subjektive Erfahrung wird? 

Die Neuro-Wissenschaftlerin Joy Hirsch veranschaulicht das Problem anhand eines Beispiels: 
"Wir verstehen nicht einmal wie das Gehirn Farben erzeugt. Ich weiß nicht, ob deine Wahrnehmung von Blau mit meiner Wahrnehmung von Blau übereinstimmt. Oder nehmt Gerüche, ich weiß nicht, ob eure Wahrnehmung des Geruchs einer Orange mit der meinen übereinstimmt. Das sind die schwierigen Probleme der Neurowissenschaften und der Philosophie, bei denen wir immer noch keine großen Fortschritte gemacht haben."

Worauf das Alles hinausläuft ist, dass wir trotz aller Fortschritte immer noch nicht die leiseste Ahnung haben, wie im Gehirn Bewusstsein entsteht und was genau Qualia ist, oder wie es sich anfühlt ich Selbst zu sein und die Welt gerade jetzt in diesem Moment wahrzunehmen. Qualia ist die Fähigkeit, Sinneseindrücke und ausgelöste Emotionen in Gefühle und Reflexionen umzuwandeln. Ein essentieller Bestandteil des Bewusstseins und doch haben wir immer noch keine Vorstellung davon wie Qualia entsteht. 

Wie ist es also möglich, dass die Singularität als eine solch unmittelbare und tödliche Bedrohung wahrgenommen wird, wenn die Wissenschaft noch immer vor diesem uralten Problem steht? 

Was mich daran persönlich am Meisten irritiert ist, dass die Wissenschaft es scheinbar, wenn ich an die Medienpräsenz der Singularität denke, interessanter findet, aus toter Materie Leben zu erschaffen, als zu versuchen die Klimakatastrophe und die einhergehenden Millionen von menschlichen Todesopfern zu stoppen. 

06.jpg

Deshalb wird es Zeit über Transhumanismus zu sprechen. 10. 

Viele Menschen, Transhumanisten inklusive, verstehen unter Transhumanismus den Glauben daran, dass das menschliche Selbst und der menschliche Körper durch die Verschmelzung mit Technologie soweit optimierbar ist, dass die Menschlichkeit selbst transzendiert und die Unsterblichkeit erreicht werden kann. Transhumnisten sind davon überzeugt, dass sollte die Singularität real werden bevor wir uns transhumanistischen Zielen ausreichend angenähert haben, die Menschheit völlig unvorbereitet darauf wäre mit ihrer eigenen Schöpfung zu konkurrieren. 

Und um diese Angst, die sie verbreiten wirklich zu verstehen, ist es wichtig ein kleines Wort in diesem letzten Satz besonders hervorzuheben: "konkurrieren".

Denn die Aufklärung brachte uns nicht nur die wissenschaftliche Methode und den Physikalismus, der dem menschlichen Bewußtsein seine freie Wirkungskraft absprach, sondern sie brachte auch Darwins Evolutionstheorie und Malthus-Konzept der natürlichen Ressourcenknappheit hervor. Vereinfacht gesagt, individuelles und kollektives menschliches Leben wurde zum Konkurrenzkampf im berühmtem "Kampf ums Dasein."

Und wenn dieser "Kampf ums Überleben" zu einer Ideologie erhoben wird, was erhält eins dann? Genau, Libertäre. Und die fand ich auch hinter all dem Glanz des transhumanistischen Cyborg-Traums.

Zum Beispiel Max More, der sich selbst als Begründer des modernen Transhumanismus bezeichnet und "das proaktionäre Prinzip" erschuf. Ein Grundsatz, der Verbraucher zu Laborratten macht. Innovation und Unsterblichkeit werden als so wichtig erachtet, dass es keine Regulierungen geben darf, um egal was für ein Produkt sofort auf den Markt zu bringen. Und für den Fall, dass eine Innovation oder zum Beispiel eine unerprobte Medizin, jemanden verletzt oder gar tötet, dann bezahlt man einfach mit dem schon erwirtschafteten Gewinn für diese menschlichen "Schädensfälle."

Ein anderes Beispiel ist Milliardär Peter Thiel, der um alten, reichen Menschen (Männern) zu helfen länger zu leben, angeblich Experimente zur Gewinnung und Transfusion von jungem Blut finanziert . Oder Professor Steve Fuller, der behauptet, dass Menschen, die es ablehnen öffentliche Ressourcen für die Entwicklung von lebensverlängernder Technologie zu verwenden, als Zombies angesehen werden sollten. Und dann provokant anmerkt, dass die attraktivste Art mit Zombies fertig zu werden, schon immer das Töten war. Da aber Völkermord immer noch zumindest politisch umstritten ist und die Demokratie noch nicht ganz abgeschafft, müssten nun Transhumanisten eben irgendwie diese "unterentwickelten" und weniger wertvollen Menschen davon überzeugen "vollkommen lebendig " zu werden.

Es ist nicht nur ein verabscheuungswürdiger sozialer Darwinismus der er sich hier offenbart, sondern die bemerkenswerte Tatsache, dass Transhumanisten, obwohl sie eigentlich absolute Darwinisten sind, trotzdem an einen Sinn des Lebens zu glauben scheinen. Für Fuller scheint "lebendig zu werden" zu bedeuten, sich des Zwecks und Sinns der Menschheit, ihrer Aufgabe und ihres vermeintlichen Endziels bewusst zu werden: das Ziel der Unsterblichkeit.

Und das ist erstaunlich, denn um die Perspektive des Darwinismus einzunehmen sollte die Idee eines Sinns oder eines vorherbestimmten Ziels möglichst vermieden werden. Das ist die Grundidee des darwinistischen Denkens. Der Sinn wurde sozusagen entdeckt, während sich die Dinge entwickelten und die Evolution bestimmte Arten von Routineverhalten auserwählte, weil sie "gut" waren oder anders ausgedrückt einen Vorteil boten im "Kampf ums Dasein". 11.

Diese wissenschaftliche Weltanschauung, die uns auf biologische Maschinen reduziert, hat meiner Meinung nach, in uns allen ein klaffendes Loch zurück gelassen, Transhumanisten inklusive. Denn den Meisten von uns fällt es schwer einen Sinn im Leben zu erkennen, so sehr, dass nun sogar Menschen beginnen, welche den Wettkampf ums Überleben zu ihrem einzigen Sinn erheben, ein übernatürliches Wesen zu erfinden. Etwas um es zu fürchten und anzubeten, damit es endlich das Loch stopft und Sinn schafft.

Ich denke es macht sich hier sichtbar, dass sich die Menschheit schon immer ihre eigene Bedeutung durch eine selbst erzählte Geschichte zugewiesen hat. Es ist eine Geschichte die seit Urzeiten und in unzähliger Variation von übernatürlicher Ordnung handelt, verantwortlich für die Gesetze und Machtstrukturen in unserer Welt.

Das Bedürfnis der Transhumanisten zu beweisen, dass Bewusstsein rein physisch mess- und reproduzierbar ist, erscheint wie der verzweifelte Versuch ein für alle Mal zu beweisen, dass die "bewusste biologische Maschine" des Physikalismus wirklich alles ist, was wir Menschen sind. 
Auch das Tabu des Darwinismus, die Frage warum und wofür sich unser Bewusstsein entwickelte, ein Bewusstsein das uns zu Geschichtenerzählern macht, die ständig nach einem Sinn suchen, offenbart sich hier als der Widerspruch, der er schon immer war. Und die Wissenschaft wird als ein weiteres Glaubenssystem sichtbar, eines mit Kirchen, die einen neuen Gott anbeten, ebenso unaufhaltsam und allmächtig wie all die Anderen, die wir vorher kannten. Nur ist dieser Gott eben dieses Mal ganz ohne falsche Schüchternheit vom Menschen selbst gemacht . 12.

Dennoch, diese Vermischung von Wissenschaft und Religion zeigt sich nicht nur im krassen technologischen Determinismus des Transhumanismus,  sondern auch in uns Allen selbst. Sie zeigt sich in unserer Hilflosigkeit mit der wir zusehen, wie Technologie unsere Rechte, unser Wohlergehen und unsere Privatsphäre auffrisst und auch in unserem Zynismus und unserer Weigerung, uns etwas anderes als eine dystopische Zukunft vorzustellen. 

Denn wenn wir, wirklich nichts Anderes als biologische Maschinen sind die um Ressourcen kämpfen, dann werden wir es nicht schaffen mit den Problemen fertig zu werden, die nicht nur in der Zukunft ungeduldig auf uns warten.

Was bedeutet es also, wenn die hoffnungsvollste Zukunftsvision im öffentlichen Mainstream darin besteht, die Erde zu verlassen um den Mars zu kolonisieren oder unsterblich zu werden und unser Bewusstsein in Maschinen hochzuladen? Wie viele von uns und wer wird diese Träume leben? 13.

Vor ein paar Wochen hörte ich mir ein podcast Interview mit Jordan Peterson an, in dem er behauptet, die Menschen würden ihren Lebenssinn verlieren, würde "wahre" Egalität wirklich durchgesetzt und dass dann alles, was übrig bliebe, Leid und Schmerz wäre.

Leiden. Das ist eine bemerkenswerte Aussage und ich glaube nicht, dass er sich hier auf körperliche Schmerzen bezieht, sondern auf das, was in religiösem Zusammenhang als Leiden der menschlichen Seele bezeichnet wird. Er scheint davon überzeugt zu sein, dass es keinen anderen Sinn und Zweck im Leben geben kann, als den "natürlichen" eigennützigen darwinistischen Kampf.

Diesen Schmerz zu verstehen ist meiner Meinung nach sehr wichtig. Denn was die Menschheit braucht, ist nicht mehr Kampf, sondern eine überzeugendere, bessere Geschichte.

Eine Geschichte von einer Welt, die jeglicher Vernunft und gesundem Menschenverstand widerspricht, in der menschliche Körper ohne sich bewusst zu sein was sie da tun, trotzdem Regierungen gebildet, Städte gegründet, Brücken gebaut, sowie Flugzeuge und das Internet erfunden haben .... 

Eine Geschichte über eine Zombie-Welt, die endlich aufwacht. 

sylvia_Wynter.jpg

Für Sylvia Wynter ist das große Problem vor dem die Menschheit steht, die Herausforderung sich eine neue Wissenschaft vorzustellen, eine "Wissenschaft des Wortes". 14. Eine Herausforderung, die mit der von Kopernikus vergleichbar ist, als er entgegen der hegemonialen christlichen Weltanschauung erklärte, dass sich die Erde bewegt. Denn mit dieser Erkenntnis wurde der gesamte Erlösungsplan der allmächtigen Kirche untergraben. Und die vergleichbare Herausforderung besteht heute darin die Bedeutsamkeit und Macht unserer Geschichten zu erkennen. Denn das wirklich geniale am darwinistischen Denken ist nicht nur, dass es ein mächtiges Werkzeug ist um die Welt zu verstehen, sondern, vielleicht noch wichtiger, dass es die Bedeutung von "gut" gleich mit definiert.  

Wynter erinnert uns daran, dass "gut" und auch "Sinn" einst Worte waren, deren Bedeutung und Wertigkeit von der Kirche festgelegt wurden, unsere Gesellschaften also schon immer von Gesetzen einer halb wissenschaftlichen, halb imaginären, übernatürlichen Ordnung geprägt waren. Und, dass das Verhältnis von Religion und Säkularisierung (und damit auch der Wissenschaft) historisch gesehen und als Geschichte verstanden werden muss. 

Denn wenn wir eine Zukunft wollen, in der die Antwort auf die Frage wer wir sind, alle Menschen mit einschliesst, müssen wir begreifen wie der westliche 'Mann' zum ersten Mal zu einer Überrepräsentation dessen wurde, was es bedeutet Mensch zu sein.

Wir müssen verstehen, wie im mittelalterlichen christlichen Europa Gelehrte den Begriff "Mensch" theologisch definierten und damit die Menschheit zum ersten Mal in "Wahre Christen" und ihr nötiges Gegenüber die "unwahren Anderen," aufteilten. 

Diese Geschichte, wer wir sind, wurde in einem Kampf um Macht bereits zweimal neu erfunden. Das erste Mal fand in der Renaissance statt, als der Humanismus das Licht der Welt erblickte und die Christen aufbrachen, um die Welt zu erforschen und zu kolonisieren. Damals wurde die Kluft zwischen Menschen als Rassenhierarchie, die auf einer angeblichen natürlichen Differenz von Rationalität beruht, neu erfunden. 200 Jahre später machte die Aufklärung mit ihrem Reduktionismus, Darwin und Malthus, dann die zweite Neuerfindung nötig, denn die Kombination von Darwins Evolutionstheorie mit dem Konzept von Malthus' "Natürlicher Ressourcenknappheit," naturalisierte nicht nur die Rassenhierarchie, sondern vergrößerte auch erheblich die Anzahl derer, die als "Andere" angesehen werden konnten, jene, die sich damit auf der weniger wertvolle Seite der Kluft zwischen Menschen befanden. Von da an gehörte zu den Anderen jeder, der nicht dieses Naturgesetz beherrschte. Jeder Mensch, der, egal wie sehr er sich auch bemüht, niemals ein westlicher "Mann" sein würde. Nicht nur alle Menschen mit anderer Hautfarbe, sondern auch weibliche, arme, kranke, behinderte, lesbische, schwule, transsexuelle Menschen. Kurz, alle Nicht-Auserwählten und Andersartigen. 16.

Doch wir Menschen werden weder einzig durch unsere Gene bestimmt, noch sind wir bloße Maschinen. Wir sind, was Wynter "Homo Narrans" nennt, Geschichten erzählende, hybride Wesen.  

Und diese Geschichten, die wir erzählen, bedingen nicht nur unser Verhalten, sondern auch, wie wir Wissenschaft ausüben und die Natur studieren. Es wird Zeit diese Zweideutigkeit unserer gegenwärtigen Situation, die weder religiös noch säkular ist, endlich anzuerkennen. Denn wenn das gegenwärtige Verhältnis zwischen Religion und Säkularität, statt einer historischen Notwendigkeit, eher eine kontingente, historische Entwicklung ist, dann ist sie änderbar.

Eine Zombie-Welt ist also möglich.
Aber genauso wie solch eine Geschichte, wie ein magischer Zauberspruch uns Menschen in Zombies verwandeln kann, kann eine andere Geschichte uns zum Leben erwecken. Zombies, die macht- und hoffnungslos einem übernatürlichen Skript folgen, können aus solch einem Alptraum erwachen und den Zauber eigenmächtig brechen. Alles was sie tun müssen, alles was wir tun müssen,  ist erkennen, dass wer solch einen Zauberspruch zur Wirklichkeit werden lässt, wir selber sind. 

Und wenn wir uns dann endlich als Magier verstehen und die Verantwortung für diese unglaubliche Macht unserer Worte und Geschichten auf uns nehmen, dann bin ich mir sicher, werden auch die Fesseln unserer Phantasie gelöst werden. Wir werden neue Wege finden unsere Probleme zu lösen, zum Beispiel in dem wir lernen zu zuhören, um uns endlich gemeinsam und immer wieder neu vorzustellen, was es wohl bedeutet ein Mensch zu sein.
Ein Mensch so wie wir alle. 

Wir könnten menschlich werden statt transhuman, würden keine neue Kluft erfinden, sondern gemeinsam eine postsäkulare Welt. Ex-Zombies die erforschen was uns alle formt und verbindet.

Denn was uns wirklich so besonders macht und anders als alle anderen Wesen, ist, dass wir Geschichtenerzähler sind, Wort-Magier, die gemeinsam auf dem Fundament ihrer Geschichten die Zukunft erbauen. Der Alptraum wird ein Ende nehmen, wenn wir lernen Menschsein als Praxis zu verstehen.

Wacht auf und seid lebendig!

Danke.

08.jpg

1. Essential reading list by Sylvia Wynter:

The Re-Enchantment of Humanism: An Interview with Svlvia Wvnter

PROUD FLESH Inter/Views: Sylvia Wynter

Unsettling the Coloniality of Being/Power/Truth/Freedom: Towards the Human, After Man, Its Overrepresentation--An Argument

On How We Mistook the MaE for the Territory, and Re-Ir~prisoned Ourselves in Our Unbearable Wrongness of Being, of Desetre - Black Studies Toward the Human Project

Towards the Sociogenic Principle: Fanon, The Puzzle of Conscious Experience, of “Identity” and What it’s Like to be “Black”

Sylvia Wynter: On Being Human as Praxis edited by Katherine McKittrick

2. Recommend checking out Zombie Theory

by Sarah Juliet Lauro I absolutely loved this book.

3. On the problem of consciousness:
Why can’t the world’s greatest minds solve the mystery of consciousness?

4. Fantastic essay on David Chalmers:
Zombies Must Be Dualists What the existence of zombies would do to our philosophy of mind.

5. Highly recommend the article on Zombies at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:
Zombies

6. Examining the symbiosis of the human body and the machine-the cyborg body- in contemporary marketing communications.:
Cyborg Consciousness: A Visual Culture Approach to the Technologised Body


"I can’t believe the blissed-out techno-idiocy of people who talk about downloading human consciousness onto a chip." #posthumanism
When We Have Never Been Human, What Is To Be Done? Interview with Donna Haraway


Donna Haraway, "A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century," in Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (New York; Routledge, 1991), pp.149-181.


Blog-Post for Cyborgs - On Donna Haraway - McKenzie Wark

7. Recommend reading these four articles together:

The Singularity: A Philosophical Analysis - David J. Chalmers


Intelligent Machines - Moore’s Law Is Dead. Now What?


“The Lebowski Theorem”: No superintelligent AI is going to bother with a task that is harder than hacking its reward function.


The empty brain - Your brain does not process information, retrieve knowledge or store memories. In short: your brain is not a computer

8. An underlying motivation for this paper is to counter the view that artificial evolution will facili- tate the technological singularity, by arguing that the energy costs are likely to be prohibitively high.
"The most complex robot controllers evolved to date have perhaps 100 artificial neurons, somewhat less but of the same order as C. elegans (nematode roundworm), with 302 neurons and ∼ 5000 synapses." To get a sense where we are: human brain around 85 billion neurons.
Estimating the Energy Cost of (Artificial) Evolution - Alan F.T. Winfield

9. Must reads on AI / Singularity fearmongering
Silicon Valley Is Turning Into Its Own Worst Fear - Ted Chiang


The existential paranoia fueling Elon Musk’s fear of AI


An Open Letter To Everyone Tricked Into Fearing Artificial Intelligence - Don't believe the hype about artificial intelligence, or the horror


Blame the Computer - The fake science that keeps threatening to kill us - Corey Pein

10. On Transhumanism:
WHAT IS TRANSHUMANISM? - Nick Bostrom

11. Very interesting interview with Antonio Damasio about his latest book 'The Strange Order of Things: Life, Feeling, and the Making of Cultures' where he talks quite a bit about Darwinism
Antonio Damasio podcast

12. Transhumanism and Religion
God in the machine: my strange journey into transhumanism


Thinking Outside the Old Religious Box - Transhumanism is complicating the sometimes antagonistic relationship between faith and science.

13. Transhumanism and Libertariansim
THE LIBERTARIAN LOGIC OF PETER THIEL


The first men to conquer death will create a new social order – a terrifying one


The strange and conflicting world views of Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel


The Moldbug Variations - Feudalism is the new conservatism - Corey Pein


A couple terrifying articles by Zoltan Ishtvan:
The Growing World of Libertarian Transhumanism - Freedom from the government will allow radical science to go on undisturbed.


QUANTUM ARCHAEOLOGY: THE QUEST TO 3D-BIOPRINT EVERY DEAD PERSON BACK TO LIFE

14.More on Sylvia Wynter and Cesaire "Science of the Word”
Real Human Being - SERYNADA

15.
The Moral of the Story ‘The Storytelling Animal,’ by Jonathan Gottschall

16. A must read on the recent comeback of "race science"
The unwelcome revival of ‘race science’- Its defenders claim to be standing up for uncomfortable truths, but race science is still as bogus as ever. By Gavin Evans

17. Recommend reading Ola Sigurdson on Postsecularity - especially this paper, which is included in 'Zombie Theory - A Reader'
Slavoj Žižek, the Death Drive, and Zombies: A Theological Account

Why The Zombie Haunts The Cyborg - Unveiling The Inherent Racism of Transhumanism @re:publica 2018 #rp18

Once more I was selected to give a talk at re:publica 2018 this time about Transhumanism, public perception of AI and the singularity, which I investigated using a critical utopian perspective.
As always I am sharing the transcript (I am working on a German translation to be shared in a couple days), slides and footnotes as well as further reading materials. Since it was the last day of another inspiring and important 3 day conference, the stage management was a bit tired and somehow made me hurry though I still had a lot of time, and sadly they didn't capture some of the important slides, but you will find all of them below. Hope you'll enjoy and will find it helpful for your own further investigations and thinking about this important topic framing our futures.
(Deutsche Übersetzung)

What if,  the cyborg and the zombie represent flip sides of a giant problem humanity is facing right now?

A problem so huge that we, as a global community, just like the climate catastrophe or any other of the looming disasters, try to repress it. Because it’s so overwhelming, that despite knowing that doing so will seal our doom, we still, rather not deal with it.

The huge problem I am talking about here, is, as Sylvia Wynter 1. calls it, that,
the “answer to the question of who we are,” we give ourselves, leaves us helpless.

And today with this presentation, I hope to help identify the root of this problem, so that we collectively can work a way out of it and reclaim our future. 

But let’s start with a simple question: If you were faced with the choice of becoming a cyborg or a zombie tomorrow, what would you choose? 

01.jpg

For some of us, the cyborg, embodies an empowering way to imagine human agency in a seemingly inevitable, more and more technological future, where sooner or later humans will merge with machines. For some like Elon Musk, the probably most famous Transhumanist of our times, becoming a cyborg and fleeing the earth to colonise Mars, represents the only hope for human survival. He believes, in a future where AI will give rise to the singularity, or as it sometimes called, the Intelligence Explosion, which according to him, despite it’s rather inspiring name, threatens to turn us all into pets of machines and the world into paperclips. If you asked me, that sounds a bit crazy, but anyway even Stephen Hawking, one of Science greatest minds, was worried about the Singularity. And if that’s so, it is maybe safe to say, that the cyborg, fusing human consciousness with information technology under a shiny armour, at least represents some kind of hope for the future of humanity.
Whereas the zombie most of us associate with a racist colonial past, a hopeless capitalist present or an apocalyptical future, where biotech will turn us into monsters and that quite probably no human will ever survive. 

So, who in their right mind, would ever chose to be a zombie?

Well, I would.
And in the next half an hour, I will argue, not only that the cyborg has been hijacked by dark forces, that, behind its shiny armour, promote a future build on white supremacy, “race science”, eugenics and social darwinism. But that its often misunderstood and up side down, yet almost identical twin, the zombie, offers a more appealing answer to our questions about ourselves, our future, our fears and hopes and dreams.

Since, I am fairly certain, that you are all familiar with various pop culture appearances of our two unlikely twins, I will start by introducing quickly, the philosophies that stand behind each of them, and talk about the ideology that links them both together. In the second part I will, with the help of Sylvia Wynter, explore the roots and history of this ideology, we are all familiar with, under the name of “the law of nature”. 

And finally I will show you how by embracing the zombie, we might become able again, to imagine a bright and collaborative future that includes all human beings.

Let’s start with the zombie. 2.

The maybe oldest conception of the zombie myth, we in the Western world are familiar with, is the idea that it expressed the horrors of colonial slavery. Horrors which were so dreadful and inhuman, that it caused enslaved Africans to fear, that even dead might not free them from their burdens, and that they could be forced to work and suffer for infinity.
But today, zombies, or the Undead, are less known for their exploitable work power (although they maybe should be) than for being ‘unconscious automatons’ with an insatiable urge to consume human flesh. We all know them from various movies and tv shows, where they are portrayed as an infectious, deadly threat, that their former kin and even family members, are supposed to kill to survive, without any mercy or moral considerations. So, it may come as a surprise to some, that the zombie has a long philosophical history, where it doesn’t eat brains and looks rather different.

Like this,

Or this.

04.jpg

Yes, in Philosophy, the Living Dead look and act exactly like us. 

It all started with Rene Descartes, who lived in the 17th. Century and you may know for his famous quote: “I think, therefore I am.” He lived during, what is called the Scientific Revolution and believed that non-human animals were mere machines. Automata, whose behaviour could be wholly explained in terms of physical mechanisms.
But for him, distinctively human behaviour could not be explained that way. It required something extra, something beyond the physical, an immaterial mind. 

Descartes believed, that if we all suddenly lost our minds, our bodies might continue to function for a while, the same way as our hearts keep beating, and we keep breathing and digesting food while we are asleep, and that we might, even be able to walk around in mindless sort of way. But that without our minds we wouldn’t have what makes us human. Yes, Descartes did everything short of spelling out the idea of zombies.
And he did so, because he wanted to show that humans are more than machines. 

But 200 hundred years later, in the 19th. Century, the Enlightenment had left its mark and scientists began to be convinced that science, as in physics, should be able to explain everything. They believed in a world closed under causation, meaning that all physical events had a physical cause. And so, Neuro Physiology set out to explain even human behaviour. But there was one, quite big problem, one science, even today, still grapples with: Consciousness.3.
Phenomena of consciousness are hard to account for in physical terms, and when Physicalism (or Materialism), claimed that consciousness involves only physical processes, these scientists had to conclude something very counterintuitive. Namely, that consciousness, since it can’t be measured in physical terms, had to have no effect on the physical world. 

What this means is, that human beings were reduced to being ‘conscious machines’, and consciousness to a causally inert byproduct, meaning it didn’t matter.
Human beings were stripped of their agency.
But erasing human agency, and with it making finding a purpose in life quite difficult, wasn’t the most baffling consequence of this conclusion. It also entailed that at least in theory, it should be possible for physical organisms to exist, people, just like us, but lacking consciousness. It made a zombie world possible! 4.

A world whose physical processes are closed under causation and exactly duplicate those in our actual world, but where there are no conscious experiences.

A world against all common sense, in which human bodies, without consciousness and ever experiencing anything, would still have gone through the motions of building cities, making and using bridges, telephones and telegraphs, the internet, the web…in short, all of the things that we do. Hard to swallow, isn’t it? 

But since, zombies 5. are such a powerful counterexample to contest physicalism in general, a lot of arguments were made to back up this intuition, that they should be possible, or at least conceivable. Because if they are not, we would have to question a lot about how science explains human behaviour.

So, if such a zombie world still sounds more absurd than conceivable to you, remember that today’s dominant theory of the human mind, is still founded on physicalism.

Which brings us to the cyborg 6., and the lately so hyped fear of a looming singularity.

If the zombie is a human machine stripped of consciousness, the cyborg is the idea that human consciousness could be merged with a physical machine. I hope it becomes clear now, why I see these two as inverted twins. Both are seen as machines, one lacks consciousness and the other wants to have it.  

05.jpg

What I will outline next, is how loosing agency and a sense of purpose laid the foundation for, what could be called a religious fundamentalism, by which Transhumanists propose technology as our only saviour. But first let’s look at what humanity, apparently needs saving from, the singularity. 7.

The singularity, is a kind of supernatural being, a machine that surpasses human level intelligence and whose possibility rests on the question weather one believes that the human brain is a machine or not. If it is, scientists will sooner or later figure out how it works and equipped with that knowledge might become able to turn dead matter into life. 

But for the singularity to happen Artificial Intelligence will have to become conscious of itself. People who spread fear about the singularity, believe that neuroscience will very soon be able to explain not only the brain but consciousness by figuring out how neural processes carry and transfer information. Or one could say, by simply looking and measuring the computational and neural facts and functionality of our brain. If they succeed, the brain could be modelled by computers and should give rise to an independent artificial consciousness, the singularity. 

But despite that Neuroscience has made impressive advances in mapping what goes on in our brains, one should remember that the brain contains about 85 billion neurons. 8. Which is close to the number of stars in the Milky Way, and seems quite a lot. Especially if you think about, that not only will scientists have to figure out what each of these neurons does, but how they all interact together. We are talking about at least hundred trillion synapses and to make it even harder, how these neurons interact and are connected, is slightly different in each and any of us. 

But even if we were anywhere close to having all of this figured out, it still wouldn’t explain how all these interactions give rise to a subjective experience. As Neuroscientist Joy Hirsch explains: “We don’t even understand how the brain creates colors. I don’t know that your perception of blue is like my perception of blue. Or take smells, I don’t know that your perception of the smell of an orange is like mine. These are the hard problems of neuroscience and philosophy that we haven’t made a great deal of progress on.”

What this all comes down to, is, that despite all the progress, we still don’t have the slightest idea how the brain creates consciousness and what is called Qualia, or “how it feels like” to be you and perceive the world right now in this moment. Qualia or the ability to turn sensory input or triggered emotions into feelings and reflection is an essential part of consciousness, and yet we still have no idea how it happens. 

So if this is where Science stands, how could it be that the singularity is perceived as such an immediate and deadly threat? Personally, what I find the most puzzling about this, is, that if you take the singularity’s media presence as an indicator, it seems, more scientists are interested in solving the problem of how to create life from dead matter than for example stopping the climate catastrophe and the millions of human deaths that will accompany it. 

This bothered me quite a lot and so I began investigating the philosophy that informs the alarmist claims of such prominent figures like Elon Musk and Peter Thiel 9., who believe that the only way to deal with this menace of a looming singularity, is either enhancing our cognitive abilities by implanting technology into our brains, becoming cyborgs, or directly uploading our minds into machines, becoming immortal.

06.jpg

So, let’s talk about Transhumanism. 10

Most people, Transhumanists included, would probably say, Transhumanism is the belief that the human self and body can be improved by merging it with technology and through it, ultimately, transcend its mere humanity, becoming immortal. Transhumnists believe that if the singularity becomes real before we are anywhere close to this goal, that humans would be utterly unprepared to compete with their own creation. And to understand the fear they are spreading, it’s important to highlight one little word in this last sentence: compete. Because the Enlightenment not only gave rise to the scientific method, that brought us physicalism and stripped human consciousness of any agency, it also gave rise to Darwin’s theory of evolution and Malthus concept of natural scarcity. In short, it reduced individual and collective human life to competition in Darwin’s famous “struggle for existence.” 

And when you elevate this “struggle for life” to an ideology, what you get is libertarians. So, behind the shiny surface of the transhumanist cyborg dream, that’s exactly what I found . For example, Max More, who calls himself the founder of modern Transhumanism and who created “the proactionary principle.” A principle that turns consumers into lab rats, by claiming that innovation and becoming immortal is so important, that there should be no regulation on putting whatever product, you may come up with, immediately on the market. And in case, an innovation or untested medicine, ends up hurting anyone, you just pay with profits gained for those human “damages”. 

Or take billionaire Peter Thiel, who allegedly funds experiments of harvesting and transfusing young people’s blood to help old, rich people live longer. Or Professor Steve Fuller, who claims that people, who oppose diverting public resources to developing life extension technologies, should be seen as zombies. And that the most attractive option to deal with Zombies, has always been killing. But, since genocide is still politically controversial, to say the least, Transhumanists are therefore stuck with having to convince these “underdeveloped,” less valuable humans to become “fully alive.”

It’s not only a despicable social darwinism, that it reveals it self here, but the surprising fact that despite Transhumanists being stark Darwinists, they seem to believe in a purpose of life. For Fuller, becoming alive, becoming conscious, is to recognise humanities purpose or end goal, to overcome death and become immortal.
And this is surprising, because if you take the perspective of Darwinism, you would try to avoid talking about a human goal or purpose. Because the fundamental idea in Darwinian thinking is, that the purposes were sort of discovered, as things evolved. Selecting certain kinds of routine behaviour, because they were “good,” or providing an advantage for winning the “struggle for life”. 11.

So, what I tried to show so far, is, that this, our dominant scientific world view, reducing us to biological machines, has left us with a gaping hole inside. 

Transhumanists included. Most of us, have a hard time finding a meaning in life, so much so, that now, even people who elevate the essence of this reduction, as their sole purpose, start inventing a supernatural being, to worship or be afraid of, just to find a meaning.

And I think, what makes itself visible here, is, that humanity has always relied on telling itself a story. A story of a supernatural order, responsible for the laws that govern our world and its power structures. The Transhumanist’s need to prove that consciousness is physical, is like trying to prove, once and for all, that physicalism’s ‘conscious biological machines’ is, really all we are. And Darwinism’s tabu of thinking about, why and what for, we have evolved to have consciousness, a consciousness, that makes us storytellers that constantly seek for a meaning, reveals itself as the contradiction that it is.

And Science becomes visible as yet another belief system, one with churches that worship a new god, created by humans, but as unstoppable, and almighty as all the ones we known before.12.

But this blurring of science with religion, not only becomes visible in Transhumanism’s fierce technological determinism. It also shows itself in all of us. How we helplessly watch how technology eats our rights, welfare and privacy. And in our cynicism and refusal to imagine anything different. 

If we are merely biological machines, fighting over resources and who gets to procreate, we won’t make it, we all know that. So, what does it mean, when the most hopeful future in the public mainstream, is abandoning earth to colonise Mars, or becoming immortal uploading our minds into machines? How many of us and who, will get to live that dream? 13.

A couple weeks ago I listened an interview with Jordan Peterson, where he claims, that if one enforced “true” equality, what would follow, is, that people would loose their reason for living. And that all, there would be left, is suffering.

Suffering. It’s such a remarkable statement, and I don’t think he is referring to physical pain here, but what in religious terms might be called, a suffering of the human soul. He seems to be convinced that there cannot be any other meaning or purpose in life, except the “natural” self-interested Darwinian fight.
I think, understanding this pain, is important, because what humanity needs, isn’t any more fighting, but persuasion and a better story. 

A story against all common sense, of a world in which human bodies, built cities, made and used bridges, telephones and telegraphs, the internet, the web…all without ever being conscious of what they are doing. A zombie world, but a zombie world that finally wakes up. 

07.jpg

Sylvia Wynter holds that the huge problem humanity is facing right now, is the challenge to envision a new science, a “science of the word.” 14. A challenge comparable to the one made by Copernicus when, against the hegemonic Christian worldview, he declared that the earth moves. And with this realisation, undermined the church’s entire plan for salvation. This is a challenge where we will have to come to realise, the importance of our stories. 15.

For, the beauty of Darwinian thinking, is, not only, that one gets a tool for understanding the world, but, also, maybe even more importantly, a way of how to define “good.”  

And Wynter reminds us, that “good” as well as “purpose,” were once words, which meaning and value were defined by the church. She shows, that our societies were always defined by mirroring the laws of an half scientific, half imagined supernatural order, and that the relationship between religion and the secularisation (and with it science), needs to be understood historically, as a story. 

If we want a future, where the answer to the question of who we are, includes everyone, we need to understand how for the first time the Western ‘Man’ became an overrepresentation for what it means to be human.
We need to understand, how in medieval Christian Europe a scholastic order dictated the concept of ‘Man’ in theological terms. Dividing humanity for the first time, into “True Christian Selves” and their ‘untrue Others’. And how this story of who we are, in a struggle for power, got already reinvented twice. The first time during the Renaissance, when Humanism was born, and Christians set sail to explore and colonise the world.  Establishing the first racial hierarchy, this time by reinventing the divide based on a by-nature-difference of rationality. 

And how 200 years later, the Enlightenment, with its reductionism, Darwin and Malthus, then, demanded the second reinvention. Because the combination of Darwin’s theory of evolution, with Malthus concept of “Natural Scarcity,” not only cemented and naturalised a racial hierarchy but amplified who would be othered, and pushed on the less valued side of the human divide.  Because from then on, it included anyone, unable to master this law of nature. Anyone who, no matter how hard they tried, would never be a Western ”Man”, the dys- selected, the poor, women, anyone different. 16.

But, we humans are not only regulated by our genes, neither are we mere machines. 

We are what Wynter calls “Homo Narrans,” storytelling, hybrid beings.  

And the stories we tell condition not only our behaviour, but how we do science and study nature. We need to recognise the ambiguity of our current situation, that is neither religious, nor secular. Because if the current configuration of the relationship between religion and secularity, is a contingent, historical development, rather than a lawlike historical necessity. Then as all contigent, historical developments, it can change. 17.

So, yes, the zombie world is possible.
But just like a story, like a magic spell, could turn us humans into zombies. Zombies, who feel hope and powerless, not knowing why they are doing what they are doing, but following a supernatural script. 

Those zombies can awaken, and throw away this script. Because they come to realise, that who makes a script reality, is us. 

And finally, we can re-imagine what it means to be human.

Not by becoming transhuman, reinventing another divide, but by becoming human.
By re-enchanting humanism and creating a new, post secular world. 

A Humanism without divisions and degrees, that includes everybody, and ushers a new world where science supports our meaning. Because what really makes us so special and different from other beings, is that we are storytellers. Storytellers who always have been, collectively, creating the future. 

So, if we want this zombie world to finally awaken, to get out of this nightmare, all we have to do, is realise, that being human is a praxis.

Come alive!

Thank you.

08.jpg

1. Essential reading list by Sylvia Wynter:

The Re-Enchantment of Humanism: An Interview with Svlvia Wvnter

PROUD FLESH Inter/Views: Sylvia Wynter

Unsettling the Coloniality of Being/Power/Truth/Freedom: Towards the Human, After Man, Its Overrepresentation--An Argument

On How We Mistook the MaE for the Territory, and Re-Ir~prisoned Ourselves in Our Unbearable Wrongness of Being, of Desetre - Black Studies Toward the Human Project

Towards the Sociogenic Principle: Fanon, The Puzzle of Conscious Experience, of “Identity” and What it’s Like to be “Black”

Sylvia Wynter: On Being Human as Praxis edited by Katherine McKittrick

2. Recommend checking out Zombie Theory

by Sarah Juliet Lauro I absolutely loved this book.

3. On the problem of consciousness:
Why can’t the world’s greatest minds solve the mystery of consciousness?

4. Fantastic essay on David Chalmers:
Zombies Must Be Dualists What the existence of zombies would do to our philosophy of mind.

5. Highly recommend the article on Zombies at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:
Zombies

6. Examining the symbiosis of the human body and the machine-the cyborg body- in contemporary marketing communications.:
Cyborg Consciousness: A Visual Culture Approach to the Technologised Body


"I can’t believe the blissed-out techno-idiocy of people who talk about downloading human consciousness onto a chip." #posthumanism
When We Have Never Been Human, What Is To Be Done? Interview with Donna Haraway


Donna Haraway, "A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century," in Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (New York; Routledge, 1991), pp.149-181.


Blog-Post for Cyborgs - On Donna Haraway - McKenzie Wark

7. Recommend reading these four articles together:

The Singularity: A Philosophical Analysis - David J. Chalmers


Intelligent Machines - Moore’s Law Is Dead. Now What?


“The Lebowski Theorem”: No superintelligent AI is going to bother with a task that is harder than hacking its reward function.


The empty brain - Your brain does not process information, retrieve knowledge or store memories. In short: your brain is not a computer

8. An underlying motivation for this paper is to counter the view that artificial evolution will facili- tate the technological singularity, by arguing that the energy costs are likely to be prohibitively high.
"The most complex robot controllers evolved to date have perhaps 100 artificial neurons, somewhat less but of the same order as C. elegans (nematode roundworm), with 302 neurons and ∼ 5000 synapses." To get a sense where we are: human brain around 85 billion neurons.
Estimating the Energy Cost of (Artificial) Evolution - Alan F.T. Winfield

9. Must reads on AI / Singularity fearmongering
Silicon Valley Is Turning Into Its Own Worst Fear - Ted Chiang


The existential paranoia fueling Elon Musk’s fear of AI


An Open Letter To Everyone Tricked Into Fearing Artificial Intelligence - Don't believe the hype about artificial intelligence, or the horror


Blame the Computer - The fake science that keeps threatening to kill us - Corey Pein

10. On Transhumanism:
WHAT IS TRANSHUMANISM? - Nick Bostrom

11. Very interesting interview with Antonio Damasio about his latest book 'The Strange Order of Things: Life, Feeling, and the Making of Cultures' where he talks quite a bit about Darwinism
Antonio Damasio podcast

12. Transhumanism and Religion
God in the machine: my strange journey into transhumanism


Thinking Outside the Old Religious Box - Transhumanism is complicating the sometimes antagonistic relationship between faith and science.

13. Transhumanism and Libertariansim
THE LIBERTARIAN LOGIC OF PETER THIEL


The first men to conquer death will create a new social order – a terrifying one


The strange and conflicting world views of Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel


The Moldbug Variations - Feudalism is the new conservatism - Corey Pein


A couple terrifying articles by Zoltan Ishtvan:
The Growing World of Libertarian Transhumanism - Freedom from the government will allow radical science to go on undisturbed.


QUANTUM ARCHAEOLOGY: THE QUEST TO 3D-BIOPRINT EVERY DEAD PERSON BACK TO LIFE

14.More on Sylvia Wynter and Cesaire "Science of the Word”
Real Human Being - SERYNADA

15.
The Moral of the Story ‘The Storytelling Animal,’ by Jonathan Gottschall

16. A must read on the recent comeback of "race science"
The unwelcome revival of ‘race science’- Its defenders claim to be standing up for uncomfortable truths, but race science is still as bogus as ever. By Gavin Evans

17. Recommend reading Ola Sigurdson on Postsecularity - especially this paper, which is included in 'Zombie Theory - A Reader'
Slavoj Žižek, the Death Drive, and Zombies: A Theological Account

Utopia, Now! (audio recordings)

UtopiaNowSmall.jpg

Utopia, Now! The sixth symposium of the Imaginaries of the Future Leverhulme International Research Network, Chelsea College of Arts, 29th- 31st August 2017

It was fantastic to present at Utopia, Now! and meet fellow Utopians. All the presentations were thought provoking and I wish I had set up my little recorder as soon as I realized nobody was taping. But I had no real equipment and wasn't sure it's going to work, so, I sadly missed a couple presentations. Sorry, Adam Stock, Miranda Iossifidis, Camilla Brueton and Ada Cable. 
The audio quality isn't great, but with headphones it's acceptable. The content is worth it. Hope you enjoy.

Full program with abstracts here:
https://imaginariesofthefuture.files.wordpress.com/2017/08/utopia-now-final-programme1.pdf
 

Playlist on Archive.org    -  Fotos (if you have more pics of slides, please add)


Day 01:

Looking Backwards/Looking Forwards:
Imagining the Future and the Utopian Impulse


Imagining utopia, imagining ruins:
reflections on Imaginaries of the future - Adam Stock

Further Reflections on Being a Utopian in These Times - Tom Moylan

Challenges to Power, Knowledge and Futurity Seeing like a State in a Society of States:

Epistemic authority and the ecological outer limits in the northwards expansion of international society - Justiina Dahl

Limits of the Horizon: Epistemological Paths of Utopia - Noa Cykman

Response: Antonis Balasopoulos
 

Films and Performance:

Title tbc [film] - Miranda Iossifidis
YOU ARE HERE: now, not then [performance lecture] - Camilla Brueton
Refugia [film] - Ada Cable  


Day 02:


Utopian Struggle and Organization Unions as Utopian Spaces:

Narratives of Potentiality in the fight against Marketised Education - Heather McKnight

Plurality in Pursuit of Utopia: tensions in tackling Section 377 in the Commonwealth of Nations - Ibtisam Ahmed

‘Getting On’ and ‘Giving Up’: Dialectics of Subaltern Utopias Patrick Gnanapragasam


Architectural Utopianism Modernism Now:

An Education of Desire - Amy Butt

In Praise of a Utopian Survival for the City that Never Was - Giorgia Aquilar


Utopian Openings, Utopian Methods:

Silly Dreams to Fight the Absurd - Céline Keller

Bad Utopias: the “Dialectical Images” of the Situationist International - Dan Barrow

The 'Same Old' Against a Better Backdrop - Utopia Shouldn't Be Boring - Sam Bunn


How Soon is Now? Utopian Temporalities:

The World is Yours’: Utopian Time as Social Dreaming in Nas’s Illmatic (1994) - Dara Waldron

Let’s pull the breaks and visit Walter Benjamin at Faubourg St. Honoré - A utopian time for the utopian now! - Mikkel Jørgensen
 

Response: Ruth Levitas - Antonis Balasopoulos
 

Musical Performance:

Utopia Dub - Natalie Hyactinth
(This was so great, wish my recorder wouldn't have run out of capacity, and that there had been someone recording the soundboard and the microphones...)


Day 03:


Utopian Gaming: 

Utopoly as Utopian practice - Neil Farnan

Utopia in Tandem: Ludo-Narrative Synchronicity - Eoin Murray


Contemporary Literary Utopianism: 

More than this: utopian anticipation and generic discontinuity in the YA fiction of Patrick Ness - Caroline Edwards

Lines of Flight: The Utopian Escape in Contemporary Speculative Literature - Raphael Kabo


Closing Discussion: Ruth Levitas, Antonis Balasopoulos

Silly Dreams to Fight the Absurd

My talk for Utopia, Now! The sixth symposium of the Imaginaries of the Future Leverhulme International Research Network, Chelsea College of Arts, 29th- 31st August 2017

01.jpg

'The liar and the truth-teller, both play on opposite sides of the same game'. But 'The Bullshitter doesn't care about the truth. He makes up his own reality'. 

Trump's dream of a wall along the Mexican border was and is a ridiculous idea. But there is no denying that this dream did help him (as he would probably call it: bigly) to get elected. 

Many have laid out in detail all the reasons that proof that his wall is not only ridiculous but also an impossible project. So, why couldn't all these people be convinced or even be bothered by facts? And how could Trump's display of naked disregard for reality and his unbound faith in fantasy' did not make him appear insane and unelectable? Are the people who voted for him really stupid?

Progressives believe that facts are more powerful than fantasies. 
We believe in reason and rationality, because Empiricism freed us from the Church's interpretation of the world. And the Enlightenment did the same for us with divine right and feudalism. 

Yet, today as we live in an age of Bullshit, we might have unparalleled access to information and even instant fact checking is possible, but facts don't seem to matter much. Revealing lies and outing the truth seems to have lost much of its power.

The game has changed. 

02.jpg

I want to talk to you about Stephen Duncombe and Steve Lambert, founders of the Center for Artistic Activism. They argue that in an age of bullshit, if we want to win, we need to learn to create ethical spectacles to compete with all those bullshit dreams.
And the best tool they found to use and to accomplish that, is Utopia.

The Steves started their journey together a decade ago. Duncombe was frustrated with the standard march, chant, repeat model of most activism. While Lambert was frustrated with political art, which never seemed to reach outside a small, already politically aligned art scene, trapped in commercial galleries. Could both be merged to make activism more creative and art more effective?

They wanted to find out and their first task was researching artistic activism around the world, and they soon realized that people already had been merging arts and activism creatively and effectively for millennia. And during the next years, teaching their findings and learning from artists and activists trying to implement these ideas, they saw proof that approaching activism creatively was indeed a very powerful idea.

03.jpg

'Imagining Winning' is the exercise they start all of their workshops with. The idea is, that you think of the problem you've been struggling with, and then imagine winning. What would you do if you have unlimited funding and all the help you need? How does the best case scenario look like? What is winning? What do you want?
And after that they make it even harder, telling you: Great, that's done. What's next? What else do you want? What does total success look like? They force the participants of their workshops to really dig deep and actually imagine their Utopia. No restraints.

And what they encounter is tremendous resistance. 'Over and over, participants find themselves struggling to imagine a world where they have succeeded. It is as if they are afraid to allow these thoughts , because acknowledging them might make it too hard and too painful to return to reality.'

But helping these activists and artists to push beyond their resistance and sometimes for the first time, to illustrate the ideal world they are fighting for, they discovered, that from Kenya to Connecticut, regardless of group or issue, these ideal worlds are remarkably similar. They found out that we share common dreams. 
But the way to uncover them may lie in freeing those personal fantasies.

In their forth coming book, 'How To Win: The Art of Activism ' they propose 5 'Lessons from Utopia'. Number one:

04.jpg

'Thatcher understood that the job of the powers to be is not only, or even primarily, to keep people down. Instead, it is to deny us the possibility of looking up.' So, why do so many people on the left demand with urgency that only the hard realities shall be discussed?Is the biggest problem really getting people to understand that there is something wrong with this world? Don't we all know that?
 

05.jpg

'Spectacle is our way of making sense in the world. Truth and power belong to those who tell the better story.' (dream p.8) As long as we are unable to imagine alternatives there will be none. And getting rid of a problem won't guarantee a better outcome. Imagine waking up tomorrow and Trump is finally history. Would the bullshit end? Would the spectacle be over?

06.jpg

There is, of course, a reason we are scared to embrace spectacle as a means for social change. 'Theories of the politics of spectacle and fantasy have steered people to extremely dark places'. What Hitler, Goebbles and even public relations pioneer Edward Bernays did, was going beyond rationality and applying, with horrific effects, what Gustav LeBon had found out about the irrational behavior of crowds. But 'the fact that progressives worry about abusing power before we have any is maybe less a sign of our concern for the responsibility of power than it is a symptom of our reluctance to pursue it.' 

What's necessary then is to create a new dream politics. But a dream politics that is honest. And we can.

07.jpg

But in times when reason doesn't have the power anymore to bring about social change, we need to do more than only imagine and tell people about the world we want. We need to demonstrate it. Make it seen and felt, maybe even tasted, smelled, touched and heard.
Instead of alternatives to be rationally considered, successful Creative Utopian projects create affect. They can be experienced.

08.jpg

But that doesn't mean we have to give up our progressive ideals of egalitarianism and politics that values the input of everyone. This is not about media savvy experts of the left handing down dreams to watch, consume and believe.

Instead these ethical spectacles will be participatory:
Dreams that people can mold and shape themselves.

They will be active:
spectacles that only work if people help create them.

They have to be open ended:
setting stages to ask questions and leaving silences to formulate answers.

And they have to be transparent:
dreams that one knows are dreams but which still attract and inspire.

Ethical spectacles will not cover over or replace reality and truth, but perform and amplify it.

10.jpg

My favorite example of such a demonstration is the 'Future Republic of the Former Republic of Macedonia.' In spring 2014 the C4AA traveled to Skopje to work with activists advocating for the rights of LGTB and Roma people. Facing violence and being actively discriminated against, these people felt themselves pushed out of their own country and they wanted to push back. But with a right wing government selling the fantasy that Roma and Queers were threatening Macedonian society, actions that involved confrontational provocation seemed a rather bad idea. Instead the Steves helped them to come up with a lot of wonderfully silly ideas.

One of them was a response to this young country's search for a historical identity. The nationalist government was trying to accomplish that by spending its resources on countless statues and immense monuments to mythologize the heroes of the Macedonian people. Their newest addition was a 30 meter high gold plated statue of Alexander the Great.

Yet, Alexander is famous for having had male lovers.
Wouldn't it be great then, to stage a queer Alexander the Great talk show on local tv?

Sadly they only had 21 hours to plan, prepare and stage the action, so they had to reject this wonderful idea.  But it didn't matter, through these silly ideas, they reached the kernel of a good one: why not create the country we want Macedonia to be? And so they did.

They created the country of love they wanted to see. They printed passports, and instead of a binary choice for gender, there was a spectrum and pencils with erasers so people could change their minds. And since Macedonia was so full of statues, they build an empty statue podium, on which people could climb and declare themselves everyday heroes and heroines of their country. There was music and food, tables to draw on for the kids, a place for conversation, which was hugely popular. And at the entrance, there were border guards, who would welcome the newcomers with cheers. And the other people would join in.

It was a friendly LGTB advocacy event, but it so wasn't overtly.
You just walked in, experienced love and then maybe happened to see two women holding hands, or guys kissing. And people probably just thought, oh, that must be what happens in a country based on love. It just became normal. And a better normal than the outside reality.

What they achieved is to create for a couple hours a place that people wanted to go with them. And it was not because the activists had demonstrated what they are against but what they are for.

11.jpg

It's impossible to travel to other places and cultures and not come back with a shifted perspective. Home suddenly looks different. And what used to be normal can now be questioned.

So, 'If one reason to stage Utopia is to urge people to ask the question: What if? Another function is to ask the question: Why not?'

In the 90s Duncombe together with other artists and activists transformed New York City subways in to rolling parties. They met at certain stations at a certain time, and then entered a train en masse. Setting up a boom box or bringing a band, covering advertisements with decorations, passing out drinks, they danced. And for an hour or so the subway car ceased to be merely a means of transportation.

Part of the purpose of these parties was pure fun, but there was also a political objective:
Changing people's perspective about their everyday urban experience.

What mattered most was not what these common New Yorkers experienced during those nights on the party trains, but what happened to them the next day on their morning commute.

'What once seemed normal: being surrounded by advertisements, harsh neon light, and people who refuse to acknowledge on another, would now seem cold, inhumane and absurd compared to the experience of riding the Utopia train.'

12.jpg

Another of their Art Action Academy projects, was creating an impromptu beach, along one of the unfriendly canals of St. Petersburg .

13.jpg

They had researched what could be a common dream that people in this gentrified neighborhood were sharing, and it was access to the canals. And they proceeded to make this dream come true, but just for a little while. They made sure Utopia was no place. The goal was not a solution delivered by outsiders but to inspire the people to organize and make their own dreams come true. They used Utopia to stimulate the resident's own imagination about what might be possible to do – and then they turned off their music, rolled up their towels and left.

14.jpg

Another tactic to stimulate public imagination is to conjure up Utopias so outlandish and silly, that they can never be realized at all.

Steve Lambert and his collaborator Packard Jennings once asked architects, city planners, and transportation engineers, “what would you do if you didn’t have to worry about budgets, bureaucracy, politics, or even physics?” And then they pushed the ideas, resulting from these conversations, to extremes. Designing big posters that were displayed on kiosks on San Francisco's main commercial street.

From transforming the whole city into a wildlife refuge; public bars, libraries and martial arts studios on BART trains; public transit by elephant back, to commuting over the bay by zip line. Each of these proposals was clearly impossible.

But that was the point. These were dreams that people were aware to be just dreams. The fantasy fooled no one.

But standing in front of one of these posters smiling at the silly idea, maybe talking to someone about it, one might start wondering: why doesn't the public transport system cater to any other public desires? Maybe there is something, maybe not so silly, but still awesome, we should have on trains? What could great public transportation look like? And why does the government so often control instead of facilitate our dreams and desires?

15.jpg

There is a beautiful quote from Eduardo Galeano about Utopia. It goes like this:

16.jpg

“La Utopía está en el horizonte.
Me acerco dos pasos, ella se aleja dos pasos.
Camino diez pasos y el horizonte
se desplaza diez pasos más allá.
¿Entonces, para qué sirve la utopía?
Para eso: sirve para caminar”


We all know, we will never reach Utopia.
But with Utopia on the horizon, at least we have a reference if we are still heading in the right direction.

17.jpg


My emotional state in these times of bullshit might maybe be best described as oscillating between hopelessness and anger. I get lost in the abyss of reading the news and find it often hard to actually do something. I am not an activist, I just happened to have found the Steves somewhere online and loved every bit of it. But I can't really imagine how these times must feel for activists involved in the important task of actually changing things. Their frustration of getting things done, trying to change for example legislation. All these little steps they have to fight for, to get a big one done.

But when one feels like giving up, for them as well as people like me, Utopia can be a way to remind us why to get out of bed in the morning.

18.jpg

Because yes, there is Dystopia. It seems in times of Bullshit, it's more popular than ever. Why then, not use Dystopia for artistic activism? Seems like people are already tuned into that.

Personally, I'd say, because of that getting out of the bed part in the morning.

But it is true, critical Dystopias are very powerful in making visible, looming but still largely invisible horrors. A good example is climate change. But there is a problem to keep in mind.

Dystopias always create a profoundly conservative response. They tell us to move back, back to the present to stop what we were doing. Because if not, it will lead us to that horrible place.
Which in the case of climate change is good thing. We should conserve the environment.
The problem is, Dystopia just tells us to stop, it doesn't tell us where to go instead.

And do people really need to know that there is something wrong with this world? Don't we all know that yet?

I think most people do. We are all drowning in bad news. And many are scared and feeling hopeless. Maybe especially the ones who believe this myth that there is no alternative.

When Martin Luther King Jr. wrote his famous 'I have a dream' speech, he knew that as important as it was to chronicle the horrors Black people faced every day in the United States, what was crucial for winning, winning converts and mobilizing allies, was also creating a vision.
A vision of an alternative, a dream.

And we in our Bullshit age?
Do we still know how dream?

If the answer is no, I hope work on it. Together.

Thank you.

Thinking about Cory Doctorow's Walkaway

This is just off the top of my head. There is so much more to write about, but I thought, I better quickly write down what bugged me about it. Because, let's be honest, I want to but chances are I might not write that long and polished review:

I finished reading Doctorow's Utopia Walkaway two days ago and liked it but it keeps me thinking. True, that's maybe one of the best things a book can do for you, but in this case, it's also because I struggle with a couple things. There's loads of great stuff. I loved Cory's idea that the difference between Utopia and Dystopia is what happens when things go wrong. That the default state of mind or “beliefs/morals” really matter. There is a lot about that, which is great. And I like how he explores this walkaway philosophy in the first part of the book, as well as the many diverse and female characters. There are, as very often in his books, many explanations of important and interesting concepts webbed into the story as dialog. Which does make Walkaway feel a bit like a young adult novel. But don't get me wrong, I love that. There is something wonderful about this certain kind of seriousness, discovery and passion that seems to be lacking in an adult world filled with cynicism and irony. I find the tech jargon and the loads of action (I am not such a huge fan of) also gives it that feeling. The only two reasons, why it maybe could not be a great YA novel, is sex (though it shouldn't) and thoughts about aging (the same). But those two topics are also the ones that I keep chewing on.

Let's start with sex. Yes, there is lots of sex. I admire Cory for his ability to write very sweet and sincere about feelings, sex and love, but I have to say I still couldn't help consciously noticing that I was reading through a lot of lesbian love scenes written by a man. No, not bad but as a lesbian that is kind of is an interesting topic, because I am sure everybody knows, lesbian themed sex for hetero male porn consumers is quite a thing. Hard to blend that completely out while reading, especially because the lesbian love story, which holds the whole mid part together, kind of fades into the background after, one might say, the lesbian love scenes peaked. The mother theme didn't really help either, but it only got me really uncomfortable at that moment where Gretyl is described as (if I remember well) “She looked old, fat and unloved.” That is, if you haven't read the book yet, Iceweasel's or Natalie's “motherly” lover. Gretyl is at a moment where Natalie has been captured and tortured by her father for months and on top of that she's in the middle of an exploding war on her people, the walkaways, "Mama" doesn't look too hot under stress. Meanwhile Natalie after months of solitary confinement gets rescued by Nadie (young, slim, muscular), who is her former captor and brutally killed some of her friends. But Natalie, finally kind of safe, gets really horny and then those two end up having sex. Maybe Stockholm Syndrome or just understandable after such a long time of suffering and deprivation of human contact. But what I mean is, one of Natalie's (kind of the main character through out the whole book) love stories is framed as having to do with her mother and the other is with someone who is first brutally overpowering her physically and then turns sexy after rescuing her? Hm... I don't know, that seems a bit odd.

Then there's the cut and next time we hear about Natalie and Gretyl, it's years later and they have two sons. We are not as close to them emotionally as we have been before, and it makes it seem a little bit like that love story was a lead up to the sexy stuff. Especially when in the last battle Gretyl is described as (she calls it that way in her own head) having an affair with being part of something important (she's a math genius), while Natalie gets rescued again by Nadie. No, nothing sexy happens but then we are already at the end. The walkaway utopia. Which I won't lie, gave me a bit of the creeps. Natalie (after dying years ago of cancer and her mind having been uploaded as a Sim) wakes up in the real world again. Her mind in a new body. But not without, before opening her eyes, having a sexy dream about making out with Nadie in front of Gretyl. Gretyl we are told, has died years after Natalie (as an old, sad woman if I recall well) , and she is informed that they hope to be able to bring back Gretyl in a year. But at this point it doesn't really seem anymore (like it has been through out the book) that she can't wait to see her lover/wife Gretyl. She's definitely distracted by having that awesome new body and endless time.
There is also a hint of sexyness between her and her old male friend Etcetera. An attraction with which the story started out. But he is Limpopo's lover, whom she used to be also smitten with (there is a lot of crushing and smittenness in the book, which I like, cause well, life and love seems to be that way).  Which I think additionally sign posts the beginning of an utopia of love, where everybody has so much time (and a healthy young body) that jealousy becomes irrelevant. Not that the no jealousy part wouldn't be fantastic, but immortality as the ultimate abundance solving everything? 

I get it, makes sense, but I am not sure I like it. And that feeling was reinforced by aging being the main topic in the last part till the end. There was one male character, who had body problems with aging (Seth), but all that talk about Limpopo's wrinkles?  Somehow for me, that had a different ring (more like the age talk about Gretyl). He was described as feeling young and that his self perception didn't fit his aging body, which his lover, trans Tam, links to her own dysphoria. But with Limpopo it is the terrible life she had which made her look that way. Felt a bit like outside pity. Or maybe I am just allergic against all this already super abundant tajk in our times, that (not only) women's wrinkles and signs of aging are something that you surely should get rid of if you got the money?  But maybe it doesn't really matter, because either way looking old and being old was unmistakably a turn down. And right at that point (not because of the sex) I kind of wouldn't want it to be a YA novel (which I know it's not, but I am such a fan good ones, they do shape the future), because that feels so escapist and shallow. Like this is the one glorious solution to achieve ultimate freedom and happiness: immortality for all.

Doesn't that erase a lot of what seems, at least to me, to make us human? A non-perfect body, an age and with it, experience of change and all kinds of feelings and sensations. It made me sad. Not that I'm a fan of suffering and death at all, but I am pretty sure that would also turn out to be one of those frighteningly boring utopias, if you would have to live it. I mean, I can imagine a couple years of pure play, hedonism and sex might be fun. And sure I imagine that if you wanted to, you could eventually choose bodies, and who wouldn't want to experiment with that for a while? But then? Okay, eating up all the world's knowledge and solving math problems and such, which should be quick with those artificial brains, and then?
But most of all, no matter how hard I try, I just can't imagine that we could ever manage to invent something that is capable of giving us feelings as amazing as skin on skin sometimes does (or a summer wind or anything else for that matter).

So in the end what I liked most about the book (kind of in hindsight), is Dis. The first Sim or uploaded mind and her thoughts on what it means to be "living" like that. And I especially liked her suicidal tendencies. In the mid part, she figures out that killing her rebootable, non human self can make her feel again (albeit for a short momentum), which turns out to be quite addictive. I guess, by the end of the story her new body is supposed to take care of that problem too. But I am not convinced, because, really, this uploaded, immortal mind in artificial body utopia for me sadly flatlined the whole story in the end. I liked the beginning of the book about what walking away means so much better.

And is immortality really the ultimate walkaway?  Or is it maybe just getting trapped? Sure, it's being trapped in endless abundance but I can't help but think that would become pretty quickly a boring loop of feeling stuck. And how do you walk away from being software? What does walking away even mean if it doesn't take courage because you'll never die and therefore have nothing to lose? And what happens to that important state of mind and the walkaway version of a "Christian guilt trip"? Would and could that still be there? Even after a couple loops? 
But most important of all, how do you feel without being vulnerable? 
I think that it might be impossible, and if that's so, I'd much rather be vulnerable than immortal.

So, yes, go read the book, it's good and in it there is so much to think about and needs discussion. This is just what frustrated me the most about it, especially because I was so curious and waiting to read it for quite a while. I was very excited because it is a different (and these days so rare attempt) at writing an utopia. But disappointingly I am not happy with this utopia. There are other things that bug me too, and about which Julia Powels writes in Walking away from hard problems. I just want to add that in times when Burning man principles like 'radical self-reliance' inspire the super rich to prepare for apocalypse (read DOOMSDAY PREP FOR THE SUPER-RICH if you haven't yet), and a double faced Elon Mask (heavens, that's the scary guy! so much more than the kind of men that model Natalie's father -though I liked the exploration of their relation through explaining human weaknesses in the beginning) claims that it's already possible to kind of upload brains and says that this is necessary so humans have the slightest chance to COMPETE with AI and robots taking over. Something a lot of people in the tech world are scaremongering about, while they never seem to talk about what's already happening to our data selfs in an online world. And by that I mean, being almost right less and reduced to and exploited solely on our monetary value. No, I don't believe we are anywhere near for AI taking over, but I am pretty sure we are close (without even really noticing) to selling out on some of our most valuable human rights like for example: privacy. Which again, giving these rights up, right now often gets hailed as utopian solutions especially in education (so scary) by tech billionaires. Where are these people in this book? I think Julia Powels in her essay hits a very valid point in asking that.

It's true, walkaways maintain their own infrastructure but still, even if maybe possible and something we definitely need, right now that seems like a very far away utopia, while the real dystopia is rather pressing. The thought experiment of abundance is extremely important in our world of waste, where we since a long while are at a stage, where nobody would have to starve. And yet, still, so many children keep dying. But I am not sure humanity can win this speed race for turning our future in the already sense able direction of either dys- or utopia by thinking only about distributing abundance, meanwhile our digital identities (which are influencing ever more who we are in life) are seemingly enslaved by technology. The same technology that in this book's vision might free us, if we walk away and take over the task. I just don't why, the reason why we have to do it, is then not more of a topic and explored (apart from maybe in the passage about the problem with back ups). And I think the reason, should not only be about how to protect yourself because you must or are an unjustly declared criminal needing to hide from being caught, but about what rights we would need in a society that lives in the net. Which reminds me of Mark Fisher, when he writes about cynicism, self optimization and therapy, and that the burden of responsibility is now put on each of us us individually, even though we know we don't make a difference in the big game individually. Even if the walkaways solve the network problem by community, how do they deal with privacy? I think that would have been a great thing to explore, especially in contrast to the walkaway onsen culture. (I am such a fan of sauna, and as a German, often amazed that nakedness is such a big deal in for example American culture - there is this great essay about why Europeans and Americans have trouble understanding each other in the discussion about global privacy and data protection laws, because of different cultural values about exactly this...can't find it, anybody remember?).

This way, only talking all the time about encryption and other technical stuff (I don't quite understand) it seems, at least to me, a bit like a phantasy of maybe (sorry if I say so, but it jumps my mind) young male all mightiness? If we just get the encryption right, and are and act smarter than the others, all of this won't be a problem? Also, there don't seem to be any people (apart from Natalie's dad, who doesn't need to because he has money to pay for it) who aren't tech savvy geniuses. I for example, wish I was, but I am not. I read quite a lot about all this technical stuff, I find it interesting and know about it. But yes, I am still one of those people, who don't encrypt and fights with passwords and all this never ending security stuff. I hate it, and am quite happy if I can just work with my machine and I get it to do what I want. I seem to never have the time for the extra effort that would be needed to keep security all up. Maybe I also don't want to have to constantly fight for my privacy? I don't find that at all exciting and adventurous. It's maybe stubbornly simple as that.

So, these are my thoughts, all unpolished and just blurted out. If you want to read more and what other's thought about it, there are 10 essays about it on Crooked Timber.