Thursday, May 11, 2017

Trampling Death by Death: Transhumanism and Cruciform Anthropology

This post is responding to an essay on Mockingbird about Transhumanism: here

The above article deals with the growing fantasy of immortality among tech gurus and Silicon Valley CEOs. Having watched my fair share of Robocop, Terminator, and the Matrix, I always shake my head and wonder how anyone could even fathom this sort of thing anymore. Don't we know that there will always be some crucial flaw? Of course not. But it did get me thinking about Christian eschatology, anthropology, and even the notion of life.

At the present, I'm in a kind of dialectical limbo over what constitutes that greatest doom to Mankind that Christ set us free from. For you see I was once a bright-eyed Evangelical who clearly saw Humanity as doomed by sin, which was simplistically understood as law-breaking and set in moral categories. I grew into this, allowing my existential temperament to think this out in all the deep forms of evil that we do. However, as those who have a similar character know, existentialism and self-reflection can be a very strange form of hedonism and masturbatory self-indulgence. It doesn't actually explain anything, but is mere vain imaginings. Then, I saw that perhaps the greatest problem is nothing less than death itself. I was caught with that "Eastern" wind that sees the victory of Christ in the conquest of death and ushering in life everlasting. But this too has its deficiencies.

A major problem is that this approach can cover-up the fact that Christ's death was victorious in someways. Clearly, this cannot be detached from the resurrection, and the two must be held together. But, and this is important, it was in the moment of death that the Centurion cried out: "This was truly [the] Son of God", the import being kerygmatic and not merely a strange slip from an amazed Gentile. What exactly was it that this Roman saw? Why didn't the Jewish crowd see it?

It is perhaps safest to agree with the Apostolic injunction that Christ defeated sin, death, and the devil, ruler of This World, and not attempt to ascribe one or the other as being more key than the other. The triad rises and falls together, and hence Christ's death undoes all three: by dying He defeats Death, by becoming sin He wipes it out, and, perhaps strikingly, by becoming the clearest form of Satan's dominion He breaks Satan's power once-and-for-all. The last point is perhaps a link between the former two. Christ, battered and humiliated, is victim of all the dark powers of This World, and yet they become the mechanisms that undermine and break them all. The Victim conquers.

What does this have to do with Transhumanism? Because immortality can only be good in the guise Christ reveals it in. The triad of sin, death, and devil can only be broken in one move. Immortality without the cross, without the becoming like sin and bringing out all the dark powers of This World, is not only terrible, it is Death. The Transhumanist fallacy of conquering Human finitude and mortality does not actually Death, but seemingly forestall it indefinitely. But the accent is on the 'seemingly', because this does not defeat Death but enthrone it permanently. It is the dream of Death's final stroke on the covenant between it and Humanity. Sin becomes the Law and Satan becomes God when Adam lives forevermore. This arrangement would permanently seal the First Adam who is bound to murder like Cain and blaspheme like Saul.

An additional note is to consider the birth of the Modern on slavery and our current obsession with technology. The modern world could only tout liberal social philosophy on the backs of a slave class. As Hegel pointed out, the Master Subject found freedom by seeing the Slave Object-Other. This never went away in the 19th century, it was merely transmuted into colonialism and wage-slavery. Technology has helped abolish slavery by footing the weight of labor. In other words, the machine becomes the new slave. This is not a condemnation of technology, per se, but the philosophy of technology. It is one thing for the machine to be the tool, the physical extension of the Human agent. It's another thing for the tool to be an Other, a self-contained, self-functioning, different entity. The Hegelian dream has always been fusion, synthesis, where the Subject fully dominates the Other. This is not about picking up a hammer, because the hammer is never a possible I, a potential Other to be assimilated into the I. The slave who does the will of the master now has become a functional double. Humanity always seems to never be satisfied with the first philosophy of the tool, and always lurches towards the second. This same impulse is manifest in the possible idolatry of familes and prodigy. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 makes this latter point pretty clear, though it has its own problematic philosophy as well.

This sub-conscious recognition of the machine-as-slave has manifested through Sci-Fi works which see uprisings of AI against Human masters (whether I-Robot or The Matrix)*. Liberalism's unique form of mass chattel slavery still remains, and it should disturb us when we then consider the machine to be the mechanism of immortality. To put it in really ugly terms, go watch Get Out, which puts this impulse on display in the traditional guise of the negro instead of the machine. It is the same social technology of Liberal slavery. In this, Transhumanism immortality truly depends upon a kind of slavery and domination.

But none of this is new. Transhumanism, like Marxism, is a Christian heresy, a secularized set of doctrine. But the problem is not merely that it is a heresy because it is secular, rather it is a secularizing of a pre-existing heresy. This is nothing less than Luther's tirade against a theology of glory, one that imagines salvation consists in riding on a bed of roses. Now, nowhere does this imply that such a theology is not hard. Luther was a monk like others, he knew the rigors. But it was secure and stable. The walls of the monastery were sealed from the cruel, putrid, and horrifying life outside of its walls, a life that was perpetuated by so-called Christian princes and prelates. Salvation was possible for those who could commit, the feeble Human hand reaching up to a Divine abyss. It was an attempt for Humanity to leave its Humanity behind to reach the Divine.

Luther uncovered the theological signature of the Heresy which took its first fighting form in the Gnostic. The problem is not Gnosticism, but the claim buried beneath the maze of doctrines, myths, and practices of this ancient movement. There are no modern Gnostics, but the Heresy has continued on through the ages, mutated, translated, transformed, and adapted.

Now granted, there's something respectable about the Transhumanist, bearer of this Signature, though its respect one has for the enemy one faces. There are too many who've buried the weight of sin, death, and the devil's reign beneath silly cares, hardened hearts, and stopped ears. Per Dostoevksy's Inquisitor, it seems the Devil can either enslave or recruit; he has peons and apprentices.  The latter reach out to rectify Humanity's problems, making do with the Age in which we live in.

However, in faith, we see Christ on the cross as no failure, but victory. It was there where the King ruled and passed His verdict: mercy, life, and the end of the Devil. The Resurrection was, if nothing else, when King got to work enforcing His declaration. Like the Lord, the Christian must too pass his/her judgement on the evil triad. Our deaths become a sweet fragrance of victory. And as Transhumanists, and whoever else bears the Signature, toil to build their Babel, the Christian has the Lord's Promise that His work was indeed finished.

* I got this idea from Adam Kotsko's post on modernity and machine fantasies: here


  1. I've been debating at this point whether I even want to break down all the ways the Ghost in the Shell remake was a ghastly joke of transhumanist utopianism compared to Oshii's original film but that would mean having to slog through a film I thought was terribly over-hyped twenty years ago. :) It's not even Oshii's most enjoyable/successful film. A remake of Oshii's Ghost in the Shell in which the Major has no doubt about the existence of her own soul is like making a film of Moby Dick where Ahab gets to kill the whale at the end or a film version of The Trial where Josef K doesn't end up dead. In all the furor over the whitewashing nobody seemed to pay the least bit attention to more foundational conceptual problems with the way the studio chose to approach the material. On the one hand I was disappointed at what a shallow level critics engaged with Oshii's filmography even in panning the Ghost in the Shell remake, on the other hand, the odds that people have enough biblical literacy to understand where Oshii's distinctly subversive appropriations of biblical literature in his films in mainstream American film criticism seems too remote these days. :(

    1. I never saw the anime, nor did I go see the movie. But I wonder if the firmness of her 'ensouledness' is representative of a general bad consciousness over ambiguity of the Human character, with centuries of degrading and demoting the negro to the look-alike. And then it's that all too common American optimistic sense that we know the good from the bad, the real from the illusion, because we'll see it. Combined, it gives overconfidence and fearfulness, brutal and politically correct, that toxic combination that marks our liberal empire.