Jacques Testart: Resist transhumanism “because human beings are worth more than what they often seem” (1/3)

Publié le 12 Jun, 2017

“Resist transhumanism” is the inauguration lecture given at the symposium “criticism of transhumanist reason”, which took place at the Collège des Bernardins in France, last May 19th and 20th. It came as a conclusion of the symposium “Humanism, transhumanism, posthumanism” launched in 2015.


It was Jacques Testart, the procreation biologist, “father” of Amandine, the first French test-tube baby (1982), and honorary director at the Inserm, who gave the inaugural lecture: “Resist transhumanism”.


Let’s be reminded that transhumanism is an international cultural and intellectual movement which preaches in favour of enhancing human beings both physically and mentally, using science and technique, and freeing them from disability, suffering, disease, ageing, and why not, death itself.


Throughout the whole of his Lecture Professor Testart raised the alarm. Because “transhumanism techniques are quietly developing in our laboratories and are starting to invade our daily lives”. Transhumanists, these “comfort and illusion makers “find industrial interests and are met with receptive minds, especially in the youth”. It is therefore urgent that we resist, make them appear for what they really are, and “claim that human beings are better than what they often seem”.


Technical progress against natural evolution


Jacques Testart does not deny the comfort provided by technical progress, but strongly resents the fact that “the effects produced by innovation become irreversible”. And it “now that everything is accelerating that the institutions are putting caution aside:  the very demanding reference to the principle of responsibility has been made obsolete in less than one generation in favour of a benefit-risk balance using the principle of precaution and finally the decision that it is best to act, whatever the risk may be, following the recent principle of innovation.” But what he finds particularly worrying is that, beside the very slow natural evolution of living beings, we are attending a “continuous acceleration of the production of new inventions, and therefore new risks”. They could affect a large amount of the population, and even future generations.


Who will repair the damage caused to our species by the god of progress?”, he asked, before giving out a list: the huge mass of radioactive waste that needs to be handled over 100 000 years, industrial farming which is killing all diversity of the living by the use of biocides and the multiplication of agronomic clones, earth and water pollution, chemicals which have invaded our food and everyday objects, industrial residues which have contaminated all bodies and environments for generations causing diseases sometimes hereditary…”A late caution” would suggest we might get out of it, but “more than anything else, wisdom should make us stop this absurd economic growth which, in only two centuries, has ruined nature and disrupted the climate”.


We are “incapable of handling the consequences of our recent mistakes”, but we are ready to try new ideas, although they seem as risky: the global diffusion of nanoparticles which threaten people’s vital organs, procreation using the generalised sequencing of babies’ DNA, the promotion of investigations on people’s biological intimacy in the name of “personalised medicine”, as well as the invasion of digital technology which comes with considerable psycho-social future effects… Our ancestors’ innovations (fire, wheel, printing, hygiene,…) was always “susceptible to improve the lives of everyone without ever preventing anyone’s wellbeing”. But this “technological development is no prolongation of the biological process. And “all these technological developments are valued without nuance, mostly because they are new and because they come with considerable changes”.


« Making indispensable something that is not.” Thus is indeed the strategy used by transhumanists. Because “technophiles rejoice over the fact that prosthesis and arrangements rid us from having to calculate, plan, orientate, memorise, seduce, fecundate… As if simplifying everything for the body and mind wasn’t a form of disability. As if it was obvious we would never again need these qualities, soon to be lost!” On the contrary, we risk disrupting the fragile balance between our bodies, and human beings in general, and our environment, “in the name of a hypothetical enhancement”.


Of course, Jacques Testart is not saying man and nature are sacred, and doesn’t see projects and norms as within a natural order. But if, according to him, nature is the result of hazardous evolutions, he does recognise that it has reached “a balance that one could call the natural order of things” (…) We believe that this balance is not the result of a pattern, is not unchangeable…”. But that harmony between human beings and the “outdoors” requires us to advance slowly and to be patient.


Transhumanism, on the other hand, “answers an old promethean impulse by recuperating new weapons and powers that technologies from the last half century has to offer” (…) “It is because of its devotion to these technologies that transhumanism is becoming an ideology (…) and “through the opportunity it offers of expanding capitalism that it is becoming a universal religion”. It is a first in history: the birth of a “transversal and consensual religion because come from science”!


The relations between the living, human beings and machines


Jacques Testart insists on the transhumanist “augmented man, presented as a duty, as the condition for freedom and dignity”. He underlines the deceit “when machines said to be ‘intelligent’, i.e., calculation experts, are given” the same freedom and dignity as a human being. Has the European Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee not already suggested to give “future robots a status of electronic persons”? According to the philosopher Dominique Folscheid, this is the “imposture of the century”.


Machines to replace the brain (artificial intelligence) and replace the uterus (artificial uterus). Uterus transplants have already proven effective, and that is what transhumanists from Technoprog (the French transhumanist association) find particularly attractive. However, “despite transhumanist proclamations, the fundamental difference between men and machines still stands”. Contrary to machines, men are conscious of their finitude, of their own death. And more than anything else, “all living being, human or not, is irreplaceable since, after it disappears, there will never again be an individual absolutely identical”. Leaders from Technoprog have dared to claim a “human dignity” for serial production robots, though all machines are replaceable… “Because, according to them, “technique enables one to overcome all limitations of the body in its human condition”. The transhumanist Laurent Alexandre goes as far as claiming “there is no difference between making love to a robot and a human being”!? This is a true source of concern for the psychologist Serge Tisseron: “The day we start believing our robot is capable of living, we are in danger. It won’t love us, but we will start loving it”. Thus, says Jacques Testart, “Robots bear the hopes of an autonomy we are little by little giving up, and hybridization with machines raises the hopes of a promotion of defective men”. In fact, “if you think of cyborgs (cybernetic organism), it is not quite clear if it is men that are being robotized or if it is robots that are beings humanized.”


He reminds of the great classic references to “augmented men” used by transhumanists: a Golem of the Talmudic tradition, physically powerful, but rather stupid; Frankenstein’s monster, created by Mary Sheley, made from a variety of corpses put together, but intellectually superior… From these myths, one could conclude that “matter is incapable of creating human intelligence. It finds its substance in the living, even in a state of death”.


He also speaks of a characteristic unique to mankind: language, “which modernity has reduced to communication”. Transhumanism wants to deprive it from its emotional, poetic, and metaphoric functions and smooth it out to take away its richness and nuances, “to pollute it with (…) “words of technocratic effectiveness”. However, impoverishing a language leads to an impoverishment of the mind and the beginning of “dehumanization”.


To read the rest of Jacques Testart’s lecture:

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