While the disconnection thesis makes no detailed claims about posthuman lives, it has implications for the complexity and power of posthumans and thus the significance of the differences they could generate. Posthuman entities would need to be powerful relative to WH to become existentially independent of it.1
In his final chapter David Roden takes up the ethical or normative dimensions of his disconnection thesis. He will opt for a posthuman accounting that will allow us to anticipate the posthuman through participation in its ongoing eventuality. Yet, he recognizes there are both moral, political, and other factors that argue for both its necessary constraint and limits through control pressure from normative and political domains. (previous post) As we approach David Roden’s final offering we should remember a cautionary note by Edward O. Wilson from his The Social Conquest of the Earth would caution:
We have created a Star Wars civilization, with Stone Age emotions, medieval institutions, and godlike technology. We thrash about. We are terribly confused by the mere fact of our existence, and a danger to ourselves and to the rest of life.2
In the first section Roden will face objections to his disconnection thesis from both phenomenological anthropocentrism and naturalist versions of species integrity, and find both wanting. Instead of going through the litany of examples I’ll move toward his summation which gives us his base stance and philosophical/scientific appraisal. As he states it:
…the phenomenological species integrity argument for policing disconnection-potent technologies presupposes an unwarrantable transcendental privilege for Kantian personhood. Since the privilege is unwarrantable this side of disconnection, the phenomenological argument for an anthropocentric attitude towards disconnection fails along with naturalistic versions of the species integrity argument such as Agar’s. Thus even if we accept that our relationships to fellow humans compose an ethical pull, as Meacham puts it, its force cannot be decisive as long we do not know enough about the contents of PPS (posthuman possibility space) to support the anthropocentrist’s position. What appears to be a moral danger on our side of a disconnection could be an opportunity to explore morally considerable states of being of which we are currently unaware.*(see notes below)
Reading the arguments of both Agar and Meacham against the disconnection thesis it brings to mind the sense of how many thinkers, scientists and philosophers fear the unknown element, the X factor in the posthuman equation. What’s difficult and for me almost nonsensical in both arguments is their sense of Universalism, as if we could control what is viable a nominalistic universe of particulars through either a universal and normative set of theory and practices (let’s say a Sellarsian/Brandomonian normativity of “give” and “take” in a space of reasons; creating a navigational mapping of the pros/cons of the posthuman X factor and develop a series of reasoning’s for or against its emergence, etc.) as if we have a real say in the matter. Do we? Roden has gone through the pros/cons of technological determinism and found it lacking in any sense of foundation.
Yet, his basic philosophy seems grounded in the surmises of phenomenological theory and practice rather than in the sciences per se. So from within his own perspective in philosophical theory all seems viable for or against the posthuman. But do we live in a phenomenological world. Do we accept the philosophical strictures of the Kantian divide in philosophy that have led to the current world of speculation, both Analytical and Continental?
As Roden will suggest against the threat of phenomenological species integrity is one that attacks the actual foundations of the whole ethical and political enterprise rather than an specific or putatively “human” norms, values or practices (Roden, KL 4130). I think its safe to say that most of the species that have ever existed (99%) are now extinct according to evolutionists. So humans are part of the natural universe, we are not exceptional, and do not sit outside the realm of the animal kingdom. When it comes down to it do we go with those who fear extinction at the hands of some unknown X factor, some unknown posthuman break and disconnect that might or might not be the end point for the human? Or, do we opt for the challenge to participate in its emergence and realize that it might offer the next stage in – if not biological evolution (although transhumans opt for this), but technological innovation and evolution? Roden will try to answer this in his final section.
Vital posthumanism: a speculative-critical convergence
In this section (8.2) Roden will opt for a post-anthropocentric ethics of becoming posthuman, one that does not require posthumans to exhibit human intersubjectivity or moral autonomy. Such an ethics would need to be articulated in terms of ethical attributes that we could reasonably expect to be shared with posthuman WHDs (wide human descendants) whose phenomenologies or psychologies might diverge significantly from those of current humans (Roden, 4164).
One prerequisite as he showed in earlier sections of the book was the need for functional autonomy:
A functionally autonomous system (FAS) can enlist values for and accrue functions ( § 6.4 ). Functional autonomy is related to power. A being’s power is its capacity to enlist other things and be reciprocally enlisted (Patton 2000: 74). With great power comes great articulation ( § 6.5 ). (Roden, 4168)
To build or construct such an assemblage he will opt for a neo-vitalist normativity, one that is qualified materialism following Levi R. Bryant against any form of metaphysical vitalism. Instead he will broker an ontological materialism that denies that the basic constituents of reality have an irreducibly mental character (Roden, KL 4180). Second, he will redefine the conceptual notions underpinning vitalism by offering a minimal definition of the posthuman as living because they must exhibit functional autonomy. This is a sufficient functional condition of life at best (Roden, KL 4187). This does not imply any form or essentialism either, there is not implied set of properties etc. to which one could reduce the core set of principles.
He will work within the framework of an assemblage ontology first developed by Gilles Deleuze. It assumes that posthumans would have network-independent components like the human fusiform gyrus, allowing flexible and adaptive couplings with other assemblages. Posthumans would need a flexibility in their use of environmental resources and in their “aleatory” affiliations with other human or nonhuman systems sufficient to break with the purposes bestowed on entities within the Wide Human.(Roden, 4202) I’m tempted to think of Levi R. Bryant’s Machine Ontology which is an outgrowth of both Deleuze and certain trends in speculative realism, too. Yet, this is not the time or place to go into that (i.e., read here, here, here).
He affirms an accord between his own project and that of Rosi Braidotti’s The Posthuman. Yet, there are differences as well. As he states it:
“…she is impatient with a disabling political neutrality that can follow from junking human moral subjectivity as the arbiter of the right and the good. She argues that a critical posthumanist ethics should retain the posit of political subjectivity capable of ethical experimentation with new modes of community and being, while rejecting the Kantian model of an agent subject to universal norms. (Roden, KL 4224)”
His point is that Braidotti is mired in certain political and normative theories and practices that bely the fact that the posthuman disconnection might diverge beyond any such commitments. As he will suggest the ethics of vital posthumanism is thus not prescriptive but a tool for problem defining (Roden, KL 4271). The point being that one cannot bind oneself to a democratic accounting, because – as disconnection suggests an accounting would not evaluate posthuman states according to human values but according to values generated in the process of constructing and encountering them. (Roden, KL 4278)
In the feral worlds of the posthuman future our wide-human descendants may diverge so significantly from us, and acquire new values and functional affiliations that it might be disastrous for those who opt to remain human through either normative inaction or policing the perimeters of territorial and political divisions, etc., to the point that the very skills and practices that had sustained them prior to disconnection might be inadequate in the new dispensation. (Roden, KL 4372) Therefore as he suggests:
It follows that any functionally autonomous being confronted with the prospect of disconnection will have an interest in maximizing its power, and thus structural flexibility, to the fullest possible extent. The possibility of disconnection implies that an ontological hypermodernity is an ecological value for humans and any prospective posthumans. … To exploit Braidotti’s useful coinage, ramping up their functional autonomy would help to sustain agents – allowing them to endure change without falling apart (Roden, KL 4376- 4385)
He will summarize his disconnection hypothesis this way:
I will end by proposing a hypothesis that can be put to the test by others working in science and technology, the arts, and in what we presumptively call “humanities” subjects. This is that interdisciplinary practices that combine technoscientific expertise with ethical and aesthetic experimentation will be better placed to sculpt disconnections than narrow coalitions of experts. There may be existing models for networks or associations that could aid their members in navigating untimely lines of flight from pre- to post-disconnected states (Roden 2010a). “Body hackers” who self-administer extreme new technologies like the IA technique discussed above might be one archetype for creative posthuman accounting. Others might be descendants of current bio- and cyber-artists who are no longer concerned with representing bodies but, as Monika Bakke notes, work “on the level of actual intervention into living systems”. (Roden, KL 438)
So in the end David Roden is opting for intervention and experimentation, a direct participation in the ongoing posthuman emergence through both ethical and technological modes. Instead of it being tied to any political or corporate pressure it should become an almost Open Source effort that is open and interdisciplinary among both academic and outsiders from scientists, technologists, artists, and bodyhackers willing to intervene in their own lives and bodies to bring it into realization. He will quote Stelarc, a body hacker, saying,
Perhaps Stelarc defines the problem of a post-anthropocentric posthuman politics best when describing the role of technical expertise in his art works: “This is not about utopian blueprints for perfect bodies but rather speculations on operational systems with alternate functions and forms” (in Smith 2005: 228– 9). I think this spirit of speculative engineering best exemplifies an ethical posthuman becoming – not the comic or dreadful arrest in the face of something that cannot be grasped. (Roden, KL 4397)
One might term this speculative engineering the science fictionalization of our posthuman future(s) or becoming other(s). Open your eyes folks the posthuman could already be among you. In the Bionic Horizon I had quoted Nick Land’s essay Meltdown, which in some ways seems a fitting way to end this excursion:
The story goes like this: Earth is captured by a technocapital singularity as renaissance rationalitization and oceanic navigation lock into commoditization take-off. Logistically accelerating techno-economic interactivity crumbles social order in auto-sophisticating machine runaway. As markets learn to manufacture intelligence, politics modernizes, upgrades paranoia, and tries to get a grip.
—Nick Land, Meltdown
One aspect of Roden’s program strikes me as pertinent, we need better tools to diagnose the technological infiltration of human agency as the future collapses upon the present. Yet, he also points toward a posthuman movement as he sees opportunity in an almost agreement with the tendencies of accelerationism. We might actually see late capitalism as an even more radical form of technological accelerationism which goes beyond any political concerns, and whose goal is reinventing human relations in light of new technology. So that instead of the current mutations of some phenomenological effort we may be experiencing the strangeness of techno-capital as a speculative opportunity to rethink basic notions of humanity as such. Ultimately, as we’ve seen through time technology and humanity have always already been in symbiotic relationship to emerging technologies from the time of the early implementation of domestication of animals and seed baring agricultural emergence to the world of Industrial Civilization and its narrowing of the horizon of planetary civilization. What next? Roden offers an alliance with the ongoing process, optimistic and open toward the future, hopeful that the alliance with the interventions of technology may hold nothing more than our posthuman future as the next stage of strangeness in the universe. We’ll we become paranoid and fearful, withdraw into combative and religious reformation against such a world; or, will we call it down into our own lives and participate in its emergence as co-symbiotic partners?
Agar: In Humanity’s End, Agar is mainly concerned with the first type of threat from radical technical alteration. His argument against radical alteration rests on a position he calls species relativism (SR). SR states that only certain values are compatible with membership of a given biological species: According to species-relativism, certain experiences and ways of existing properly valued by members of one species may lack value for the members of another species.(Roden, 3869)
Meachem (from a dialogue): Thus a disconnection could be a “phenomenological speciation event” which weakens the bonds that tie sentient creatures together on this world:
This refers us back to a weakened version of Roden’s description of posthuman disconnection: differently altered groups, especially when those alterations concern our vulnerability to injury and disease, might have experiences sufficiently different from ours that we cannot envisage what significant aspects of their lives would be like. This inability to empathize will at the very least dampen the possibility for the type of empathic species solidarity that I have argued is the ground of ethics. (Ibid.)
Meacham’s position suggests that human species recognition has an “ethical pull” that should be taken seriously by any posthuman ethics.
1. Roden, David (2014-10-10). Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human (Kindle Locations 3832-3834). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.
2. Wilson, Edward O. (2012-04-02). The Social Conquest of Earth (Kindle Locations 179-181). Norton. Kindle Edition.