On Becoming Machine: Our Cyborg Future and its Destiny

“Today the city melted in a heat wave. The crystal skyscrapers glittered like knives (this is a city of knives), steel-and-glass blades inlaid with the reflections of other knives, mirrors within mirrors within mirrors, knives that thrust up at the scorched clouds, presaging that evening’s little death… As always, beneath the vaulted brilliance the infernal shadows of the streets were filled with the phantoms of murdered girls.”
― Richard Calder, Dead Girls, Dead Boys, Dead Things

Earnest Becker in Escape from Evil speaks of necrophilia as our fascination with dead things and of our fascination with machines and machinic existence as one in the same. Long before we have the notion of merging with machinic life or becoming android cyborgs he spoke of our “identification with the powers of machines, rather than a simple lover of death.” He goes on:

“Mass destruction committed under the reign of God the machine is a tribute to the expansion of an implacable, efficient force with which modem men can identify-it would not be an attraction to the stillness of death itself. This attraction seems to me more of a Buddhistic sentiment-that is, the achievement of a certain kind of maturity and transcendence. The mechanical man may scorn and fear living things, but I think it is precisely because he feels that they do not have the power over life and death that machines have; his eternity symbol is then the machine which transcends both life and death.”
(Escape from Evil: 141).

This was said long before Transhuman dreams of machinic convergence or mind uploading into virtual reality etc. was a thing. The capitalist mode of the posthuman is Transhumanism which is a new social immortality project, but one once again that is targeted only to the rich through both bio-pharm big tech and the whole gamut of singularity enhancement theoretic spun by Kurzweil and company.

I’m no longer against such immortality causa sui projects, since they seem inevitable in our future, what I’m against is the engine of inequality that it sustains as capitalism hooks it to its monopolistic system of power, governance, and technocapitalist agendas. It’s this driver of inequality underpinning the whole gamut of propaganda about such a future that pervades our capitalist societies.

Another issue is affect, our emotional lives as humans. Will these machinic beings become affective, or will they like most psychopathic sociopaths become mimics and mimes of affective relations? All these entrepreneurs of immortality, the transhumanist vision of character, ego, and personalism as a transcendence of the human condition as some optimistic utopia of biopolitical and biocentric machinism seem to think we are our consciousness. What’s strange is that most of the cutting-edge study of consciousness and neurosciences agree that conscious if not an illusion is at best a fictional construct built out of memory and desire. This is an old story. At the heart of most religious thought is this notion within monotheism of the redemption and salvation of the soul. What is the soul? Another mask for this thing within us that is the essence of our being-in-the-world? Of course, most postmodern thought would undermine the whole history of essentialism, foundationalism, and transcendence as a meta-narrative that has supported some very strange and terrifying dreams of Reason.  I could spend ours reciting aspects from this line of thought, but what it all comes down to the secular atheistic notion that religion is a mythology of transcendence built on a tissue of lies, illusions, and deception. Our need to affirm our self-importance, our self-esteem, is at heart our need to master life, to gain the upper hand over evil – and evil is for us the terror of fate, death, and guilt at being animals. We despise the very notion that we are in any way the same as all other animals on the planet. Instead, we seek ways of escaping this conclusion by invention of immortality which is the driver of all religious ideology whether of Christian salvation and redemption, or of Buddhistic nirvana and the bliss of the Void (Sunyata).

There Is No Answer

What’s always interesting for me at least is people who think they have the answer to all our problems, if we will just do this or that or the other thing, we can change things around. Not sure about you but I’ve read tons of such literature and usually the answer is not an answer but a new question. There is not answer to why we are what we are, why we’ve turned the world upside down and created a hell-on-earth rather than a heaven. Even as much as I admire thinkers like Becker whose merger of Marx and Freud took us down a dark path indeed, we come to end to realize humans are truly their own worst enemies and no one is going to change this thing we are any time soon. If it were possible to do so, then why haven’t we after 10,000 years of agricultural civilization done so? Why are we generation after generation always repeating the same idiotic game of war, death, power, and mayhem on each other? Why?

The Immortality Complex

Against the libidinal materialism of thinkers like Lorenz, Darwin, Freud, Rank, and Brown who all see irrationality as a fundamental part of man, Earnest Becker added the phenomenological thought of his time from anthropologist like Hocart, Dunham, and others who suggested that at the core of the human condition was the pleasure-pain within humans toward organismic self-expansion and their need to feel powerful and to banish death: his so-called ‘immortality complex’ theoretic. I, of course, would add Bataille and Land to the mix of the libidinal materialist throng with their energetic cosmos theoretic. Land pushed this line of thought to its most extreme form in our time. His ephebes like Brassier, Negarestani and others would follow him during their formidable years only to take the opposite route against the libidinal materialist world of positive desire and toward the neorationalism of Prometheanism and Inhumanism.

“The “talents” that men use to amass wealth and social privilege may be due to some real differences in. quality of mind and body; but the talent to mystify others is the queen of tyranny, and it is not all natural and neutral, but partly man-made-made by ignorance, thirst for illusion, and fear.”

—Earnest Becker, Escape from Evil

In other words, inequality is not totally State based oppression as Rousseau and Marx once believed, but it is not as conservatives of every stripe believe either – the so-called guilt, sin, and evil of human nature. No. There is no human nature, no essence hiding in the shadows, nor is there some dark tyranny at the heart of the State either. We’re a mix of illusion, delusion, and delirium. As animals we entered that strange world in which we began to notice ourselves, remember ourselves, and become aware of ourselves as creatures who die. Our fear of death, our early religions were based on propitiation and memory of our dead – our ancestors who haunted our world like apparitions of madness and delusion. We built mental walls against the dead and sought to alleviate our animality with delusions of immortality and escape from this thing we are: animals. Of course, that’s one story… there are others.

One thing I do know is that as long as humans live, they will follow such dreams and those that offer and sustain such illusions. The pessimists among us are few and far between, and for the most part remain unread, forming only a small body of work in philosophy, horror, weird tales, and various forms of music, painting, and other arts. So, no matter how delusionary I see the dreams of reason underpinning such exists from the human into machinic life I doubt my voice will carry much weight. I’m preaching to the choir. I know this. Most will pass over such thoughts in silence, even if they allow themselves to think them.

Our Posthuman Dilemma

I think a lot about this notion of the posthuman over the past decade. There’s the critical posthuman(ists) who are more concerned with the humanism of the past Enlightenment era that put humans at the center and circumference of the universe. Then the immortality gang of human enhancement or transhumanism that seeks by means of capitalist science to work through a combination of biotech and technocapitalist projects of robotics, AI, and other technologies to bring about a mutation or transformation either genetically or by some technotranscendence of our character-ego person into higher forms (i.e., either as bio-genetically superior organic creatures, or cyborgization of merger of machine and human, or as mind-uploading to a fully technosapien externalization). Then you have the more philosophical posthumanism that speculates about what might breakaway from our current human sapience into a wider humanity as in David Roden’s Posthuman Life. There are other takes too, but this sets the basic course. As I’ve been rereading Becker, Brown, and other thinkers on the notion of transcending the human condition, the so-called immortality project or causa sui project of becoming immortal I’ve been collecting a great deal of books over the past decade dealing with this. It’s strange how a lot of this plays out against the backdrop of politics, literature, horror, sci-fi, philosophy, film, music, etc. It’s no longer a sub-theme in our culture but is part of the mainstream drift of both left and right thought on the matter, taking it different directions with different agendas.

We all swim in our own ideological vats, unknowing of the fabric of this mesh. Only later, sometimes decades, do others discover just how immersed we are in the nets of our own illusions. Reading Earnest Becker is a case in point. He was so immersed in the anthropological milieu, the progressive ideology that thought of sociology as a computer program that could reprogram human society as a social engineering project. Read this statement below:

“If men kill out of heroic joy, in what direction do we program for improvements in human nature? What are we going to improve if men work evil out of the impulse to righteousness and goodness? What kind of child-rearing programs are we going to promote-with Fromm, Horney, et al.-in order to bring in the humanistic millenium, if men are aggressive in order to expand life, if aggression in the service of life is man’s highest creative act? If we were to be logical, these childhood programs would have to be something that eliminates joy and heroic self-expansion in order to be effective for peace. And how could we ever get controlled child-rearing programs without the most oppressive social regulation?”
—Ernest Becker, Escape from Evil

In that era, they were so immersed in humanistic concerns and social engineering projects that they couldn’t see the forest for the trees. The whole notion that we might “program for improvements in human nature” seems quaint to us in our own era when all essentialism, humanisms, and anthropomorphic speculations are passe, derivative, and part of the problem that posthuman thought seeks to alleviate rather than extend. How could you ‘program’ for improvements in ‘human nature’ when there is none – human nature as something essential at the core of the human is a dead notion that ever since postmodern critiques by post-structuralists among others been demolished and erased from the philosophical mind-set. Even the notion of ‘improvement’ is a progressive notion, one that would need some extraneous idea, concept, or notion of The Good – a moral imperative, a Kantian notion of what would be best for this thing we term and define as the ‘human condition’ an existential notion that falls flat in our age of mutant thought…

Books on Transhumanism, Capitalism, and Immortality (Biopolitics)

1. Livingstone, David. Transhumanism: The History of a Dangerous Idea .
2. Vaj, Stefano. Biopolitics: A Transhumanist Paradigm . La Carmelina Edizioni.
3. Istvan, Zoltan. The Transhumanist Wager (p. 7). Futurity Imagine Media LLC.
4. Nicholas Agar. Humanity’s End: Why We Should Reject Radical Enhancement
5. Calvin Mercer; Tracy J. Trothen. Religion and the Technological Future: An Introduction to Biohacking, Artificial Intelligence, and Transhumanism Springer International Publishing.
6. Bialecki, Jon. Machines for Making Gods: Mormonism, Transhumanism, and Worlds Without End
7. Bernstein, Anya. The Future of Immortality Remaking Life and Death in Contemporary Russia
8. Herbert, David. Becoming God: Transhumanism and the Quest for Cybernetic Immortality  Joshua Press.
9. Oliver Krüger. Virtual Immortality – God, Evolution, and the Singularity in Post- and Transhumanism
10. O’Connell, Mark. To Be a Machine: Adventures Among Cyborgs, Utopians, Hackers, and the Futurists Solving the Modest Problem of Death . Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.
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Just a few of the various popular works out there…