Was Nazi Evil Unique?

Hitler as Antichrist 1942

 

‘The God of Israel said, to the Rock of Israel [David]; I rule man; who rules Me? It is the righteous: for I make a decree and he may annul it’.

Babylonian Talmud 16b

A few weeks back I was sitting in a laundromat watching my clothes spin round and reading a book on the Holocaust. Not quite sure why such a situation would lend itself to commentary from strangers, but I was approached by a 50ish or so middle class looking guy who felt it his duty to point out to me that Stalin and Mao had killed a lot more people than Hitler. I responded that “I knew” and I sighed in the recognition that the moral meaning of history is ultimately undone precisely by such “facts”.

Recently there have been whispers that we might be nearing a tipping point towards the historical normalization of the Nazi regime. This is not so much an issue of pop culture where any attempt to adopt Nazi iconography becomes instantly ridiculous, and where the use of National Socialism as focus for our political fears continues despite the fact  that the Second World War is rapidly sliding from living memory as the greatest generation passes out of history.

Arguments for historical normalization are instead coming from the academic sphere where there have been attempts to grapple with the least disturbing aspects of some of that system’s innovations in areas such as public health where the Nazi’s, though for reasons most of us now find repulsive, proved to be ahead of their time, as in their attitude towards smoking and cancer.

At least some of this stance towards normalization isn’t just a matter of those still trapped in what remains the very dangerous atavism of racism, or even those merely in pursuit of historical clarity, but by figures seeking a way out of the ideological cul de sac of left vs right in which the West has been stuck since the French Revolution. Here we have thinkers such as Steve Fuller who argues not merely that eugenics should be rehabilitated, but that positions on the question of enhancement should become the new defining political axis. For Fuller this would entail no longer seeing the Nazis as the sort of personification of evil they have become in popular imagination, but as a kind of political forerunner to a 21st century transhumanist politics. As he wrote in Humanity 2.0:

Put bluntly, we must envisage the prospect of a transformation in the normative image of Nazi Germany comparable to what Barrington Moore described for the French Revolution. This is not easy… there have been only the barest hints of Nazi rehabilitation. But hints there are, helped along by the deaths of those with first-hand experience of Nazism. (244)

Such merely academic pleas for a reassessment of the Nazi legacy are not, however, what should worry us most, nor should we be worried that Nazism will be resurrected in anything resembling its 20th century form- swastikas and all. Rather, what is troubling is that many of the political narratives National Socialists created remain very much in play and may be given added rather than diminished vigour in the 21st century. This is already the case for the kinds of anti-semitic conspiracy theories that pass for political analysis in the Middle East, and can be found in the underlying racial and cultural anxieties sweeping both Europe and the United States as a world dominated by white Christians gives way to a much more diverse order at the same time social decay results in a revival of dystopian nightmares about “devolution”. By concentrating too much upon blatantly Nazi or racist iconography while some academics sow the seeds of historical normalization, we may be missing the areas where “Nazi like” thinking creeps into political judgments- including our very own.

On that account, I was struck that the book I was reading that night as I waited for the drier to do its job not only managed to secure my understanding of the peculiar and extreme immoralism of National Socialism, but also made a compelling case that the kinds of nihilism found in Nazi ideology wasn’t just a matter of racial and Western insecurity regarding the future, but might characterize the most dangerous forms of 21st century politics globally, and for much different reasons than in the 20th century.

The name of the book was Black Earth: The Holocaust As History And Warning by Timothy Snyder. One of the book’s great strength is that it takes Hitler’s Mein Kampf seriously not only as a sort of political plan (which it certainly turned out to be), but also as a work of political philosophy. Hitler may have been an extremely vulgar and simplistic political theorist, but he also certainly had a clearly definable worldview that had (and continues to have) resonance with the darker corners of the human psyche.

What this taking of Hitler’s philosophy seriously allows one to do is to see that Nazism is indeed distinct from perhaps every other totalitarian ideology before or since. Whether one looks at the idea of a utopian end of history that inspired communists, or the kinds of millenarian aspirations driving radical religious groups such as ISIS or Al Qaeda, what one finds is the promise of an ultimate end to human savagery and the initiation of an era of universal human community after some “necessary” period of horrendous human suffering.

In distinction, Hitler saw any such promise of universalism or a utopian/millennial end to history and the elimination of suffering as itself the enemy. The idea that human beings were any better than animals and could ever escape, even with the help of God, the war of all against all that was the fate of animals, Hitler thought, was a lie brought into the world by the Jews who had used it to achieve dominance over more naturally powerful peoples. As Snyder put it:

For Hitler the bringer of the knowledge of good and evil on the earth, the destroyer of Eden, was the Jew. It was the Jew who told humans they were above other animals and had the capacity to decide their future for themselves. It was the Jew who introduced the false distinction between paradise and nature, between humanity and struggle. (p. 4)

What Hitler sought was the undoing of what he considered to be the distortions found in every humanistic, progressive or millenialist way of thinking. For him, the only true freedom was the freedom to submit to the eternal dictates of nature, dictates which had been discovered by science, especially in the form of Darwinism, but which neither technology, nor human made law would ever permit us to escape. Hitler thus subsumed politics under his limited understanding of nature as an eternal, and necessarily pitiless evolutionary struggle.

Hitler’s philosophy was the penultimate form of Malthusianism and the opposite of techno-progressivism in the sense that he believed scarcity to be unsolvable by technical means and resource security- especially in terms of food- something that could only be obtained through conquest.

Reading Snyder’s take on Mein Kampf gave me nightmares of Hitler as nothing but a gaping mouth and bottomless stomach. Hitler seems to have been terrified of starvation, a fear that, perhaps, grew out of his experiences of the British blockade during the First World War. Yet rather than this give rise to any humanitarian instinct it left Hitler seeing famine as a legitimate weapon of conquest and war, so that, long before the Nazi invasion of Eastern Europe, the Nazi’s were planning to starve to death millions of the non-Germans who lived there. In this Hitler was following what he believed to be the way US had killed the “Red Indians” in its own interior and there created the world’s “breadbasket”.

Before the so-called Green Revolution, in the decades after World War II, fears of widespread starvation were indeed legitimate, and mass starvation to Germany’s east was already a reality due to the catastrophe of Stalin’s collectivization of agriculture. Yet Hitler was not merely arguing that the humanitarian needs of Germans would be secured by whatever means necessary, but with his re-conceptualization of Lebensraum as both living space and “lifestyle” essentially claimed a right to starve rival peoples if that was the only way German consumers could enjoy the same standard of living as their American counterparts.

Hitler’s political logic formed a circular cage meant to explain every event. In this view it was the Jews who with their universalism tried to weaken the only truly natural ties, which were those between members of a race. Liberated from these moral fetters the Germans would be free to carve out their own empire in Europe along the lines of the continental state built by the Americans or the overseas empire then held by the British.

What is apparent is that this Nazi demonology which saw the Jews as the source of cultural degeneration was no mere rhetorical ploy but the very soul of the movement, and, in a very real sense superseded the rational goals, of traditional state policy during the period in which the Nazis ran Germany. As Snyder shows, German allies, many of whom had adopted anti-semitic policies in order to curry favor with the Nazis, abandoned those policies once they knew the war was lost, whereas Germany, despite its cost in resources accelerated their murder of Jews in the face of defeat.

Hitler was not a German nationalist, sure of German victory, aiming for an enlarged German state: He was a zoological anarchist who believed that there was a true state of nature to be restored. (231)

It is this kind of metaphysical racism which made Hitler’s policy against the Jews distinct from other forms of state sponsored killing whatever the relative number of deaths.

The Holocaust was different from other episodes of mass killing or ethnic cleansing because German policy aimed for the murder of every Jewish child, woman and man. This was only thinkable because the Jews were understood as the makers and enforcers of a corrupt planetary order. (327)

There was a religious element to Hitler’s thinking as well though the creator he imagines is morally unrecognizable:

…. this ancient earth of races and extermination was the creation of God. [Hitler wrote] “Therefore I believe myself to be acting according to the wishes of the creator. Insofar as I restrain the Jew, I am defending the work of the lord.” (4)

Were I ever to teach a course on the Holocaust I would assign Snyder’s book in conjunction with The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt, for Snyder manages to clarify, and bolster, many of Arendt’s more philosophical observations regarding Nazism and the state, and what Arendt called “stateless peoples” and both thinkers see statelessness as a condition that makes genocide politically possible.

An historical fact of which I was unaware before I had read Snyder’s earlier book Bloodlands, was that it was actually safer to be a Jew in German than to be one in any of the states destroyed by the Nazis. Contrary to Ben Carson, who thinks that Germans were able to kill Jews because of the latter’s lack of guns, or a common libertarian misconception, which I myself once shared, that genocide was brought about because of an overly powerful, machine-like state, Snyder shows how Jews were saved by bureaucracy. Where state rules and institutions remained intact, even in Germany itself, deliberate genocide proved difficult and lumbering, whereas in states destroyed by German (and Soviet) occupation, such as Poland the Nazis took advantage of this institutional vacuum to pursue deliberate genocide.

Ultimately, what Snyder wants us to reflect upon is whether or not such a conflation of nature and politics such as that imagined by Hitler is possible in our century, and whether or not we are vulnerable to the types of conspiracy theories, scapegoating and inhumanity, especially towards the stateless, that characterized the Nazi treatment of Jews, among others. Sadly, Snyder’s answer is yes:

The Planet is changing in ways that might make Hitlerian descriptions of life, space and time more plausible…

As Hitler demonstrated during the Great Depression, humans are able to portray a looming crisis in such a way as to justify drastic measures in the present. Under enough stress, or with enough skill, politicians can effect the conflations Hitler pioneered between nature and politics, household, between ecosystem and household, between need and desire. A global problem that seems insoluble can be blamed on a specific group of human beings. (326)

Jews can again be seen as a universal threat, as indeed they already are by increasingly important political formations in Europe, Russia and the Middle East. So might Muslims, gays, or other groups that can be associated with changes on a worldwide scale. (327)

Such a vision certainly sounds dystopian, but then again 2015 was the year when a Middle Eastern war, at least partially brought about by an ecological crisis, led to state failure and the rise of a vicious millenarian cult and a flood of now stateless refugees into Europe larger than any since the Second War War. In an atmosphere of terrorist attacks and a culture of fear we saw the rise of populist demagogues on both sides of the Atlantic who distorted the nature of the crisis into a clash of civilizations and religions in which all Muslims were suspect. It is not hard to imagine scenarios that would push us much further along this dark path.

I began this post with a quote from the Babylonian Talmud. It is a rabbinical interpretation of what I think is one of the most important stories in the Hebrew scriptures when Abraham tries to bargain with God to spare the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Though his pleas didn’t ultimately work, what I find intriguing is that Abraham tries to gently show God that the city should not be destroyed if it contains even a small number of innocent people. It’s a moment where human beings, through the figure of Abraham, discover moral maturity in a way almost the exact opposite of when Abraham almost sacrificed his son Isaac at the command of God in a story that was so beloved by Søren Kirkegaard.  In the 21st century West we don’t understand fear and trembling unless it comes in the form of a video game. Though perhaps a video game where one plays the role of the vulnerable child is the best way to see how deeply disturbing the binding of Isaac is as a foundation legend- which means we’ve begun to finally reading the story correctly.

In any case, Abraham’s other story, the story of his bargaining with God over the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah, gives us a much better founding myth. One in which human distinction lies in following our moral conscience even when our moral perception went against the dictates of nature, society, or even God himself. It was a conceptual leap made perhaps first by the Jewish people and from it would come almost everything that promotes human flourishing in our world. It is a thin ledge of hope, which Hitler tried to push us off of. Upon it we place our aspirations for a future better and more compassionate than the past or present. We need to forever remind ourselves just how close we were to falling off of it and into the abyss.

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God’s a Hedge fund Manager, and I’m a Lab Rat

God_judging_adam_blake_1795

Of all the books and essays of Steve Fuller I have read his latest The Proactionary Imperative: A Foundation for Transhumanism is by far the most articulate and morally anchored. From me that’s saying a lot given how critical I have been on more than one occasion regarding what I’ve understood as some troubling undercurrents justifying political violence and advocating a kind of amoral reading of history found in his work.

Therefore, I was surprised when I found The Proactionary Imperative which Fuller co-authored with Veronica Lipińska not only filled with intellectual gems, but informed by a more nuanced ethics than I had seen in Fuller’s prior writing or speeches.

In The Proactionary Imperative Fuller and Lipińska aim to re-calibrate the ideological division between left/right that has existed since the French Revolution’s unfortunate seating arrangement. The authors set out to redefine this division that they see as antiquated with a new split between the adherents of the precautionary principle and those who embrace a version of what Max More was the first to call the proactionary principle. The former urges caution towards technological and especially biological interventions in nature whereas the latter adopts the position that the road to progress is paved with calculated risks.

Fuller and Lipińska locate those who espouse some version of the precautionary  principle as tracing their modern origins back to Darwin himself and his humbling of the human status and overall pessimism that we could ever transcend our lowly nature as animals. They lump philosophers such as Peter Singer (whom I think David Roden more accurately characterizes as a Critical Posthumanist) within this precautionary sect whom they argue are united by their desire for the rebalancing of the moral scale away from humans and towards our fellow animals. Opposed to this, Fuller and Lipińska argue that we should cling to the pre-Darwinian notion that humans on a metaphysical and ontological level are superior and distinct from other animals on account of the fact that we are the only animal that seeks to transcend its’ own nature and become “gods”.

Fuller himself is a Christian (this was news to me) of a very peculiar sort- a variant of the faith whose origins the authors fascinatingly trace to changes in our understanding of God first articulated in the philosophy of the 12th century theologian Duns Scotus.

Before Scotus the consensus among Christian theologians was to stress the supernatural characteristic of God, that is, God was unlike anything we had experienced in the material world and therefore any of our mental categories were incapable of describing him. To use examples from my own memory an extreme Scotian position would be the materialism of Thomas Hobbes who held God to possess an actual body, whereas the unbridgeable gap between ourselves and our ideas and God, or indeed the world itself, is a theme explored with unparalleled brilliance in Milton’s Paradise Lost and brought to its’ philosophical climax in the work of Kant.

Fuller and Lipińska think that Scotus’ narrowing of the gap between human and godly characteristics was a seminal turning point in modernity. Indeed, a whole new type of theology known as Radical Orthodoxy and associated with the philosopher Slavoj Žižek has hinged its’ critique of modernity around this Scotian turn, and Fuller takes the other side of this Christian split adopting the perspective that because God is of this world we can become him.

Problems with using religious language as a justification for transhumanism or science I’ve discussed ad nauseum such as here, here and here, so I won’t bore you with them again. Instead, to Fuller and Lipińska’s political prescriptions.

The authors want us to embrace our “God-like” nature and throw ourselves into the project of transcending our animal biology. What they seem to think is holding us back from seizing the full technological opportunities in front of us is not merely our fossilized political divisions whose re-calibration they wish to spur, but the fact that the proactionary principle has been understood up until this point on primarily libertarian terms.

Transhumanism if understood as merely the morphological freedom of individuals over their own bodies for Fuller and Lipińska fails to promote either rapid modernization or the kinds of popular mobilization that can be found during most other eras of transformative change. We need other models. Unfortunately, they are also from the 19th century for the authors argue for a reassessment of the progressive and liberal aspects of late 19th and early 20th century eugenics as a template for a new politics, and it’s right about there that I knew I was in for a let down.

Fuller and Lipińska conceptualize a new variant of eugenic politics they call “hegentics”. From what I can gather it’s meant to be a left- of- center alternative to both the libertarian view of transhumanism as mere morphological freedom and the kinds of abuses and corporate capture of genetic information seen in novels like Michael Crichton’s Next or Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl. This alternative sees genetic inheritance being reconceptualized as the collective property of groups who can then benefit from their genes being studied or shared.

The authors also want to encourage individual genetic and medical experimentation and encourage/celebrate individual “sacrifice” in the cause of transhumanist innovation in something akin to the way we celebrate the sacrifice of individual soldiers in war.

As in the past, I think Fuller fails to grapple with the immoral aspects and legacy of medical experimentation and eugenics even outside of the hellish world concocted by the Nazis. He seems to assume that the lack of constraints on human medical experiments will lead to more rapid medical innovation in the same way fans of Dick Cheney think torture will lead to actionable intelligence, that is, without assuming that this is a case that needs to be proved. If it were indeed true that weak rules on human experimentation lead to more rapid medical innovation then the Soviet Union or China should have been among the most medically advanced nations on earth. There’s a very real danger that should we succeed in building the type of society Fuller and Lipińska envision we’ll have exchanged our role as citizens only to have become a very sophisticated form of lab rat.

Another issue is that the authors seem informed by a version of genetic determinism that bears little resemblance to scientific reality. As Ramez Naam, no opponent of human enhancement indeed, has pointed out even in cases where genes are responsible for a large percentage of a trait such as IQ or personality, literally thousands of genes seem to be responsible for those traits none of which has been found to be so predominant that intervention is easy or without the risk of causing other unwanted conditions, so that, for example, enhancing the genes for intelligence seems to increase the risk for schizophrenia.

Naam points out that it’s unlikely parents will take such genetic risks with children except to protect against debilitating diseases- a case where genetic changes appear much easier in any case. Fuller and Lipińska never really discuss parental rights or more importantly protections for children, which is odd because eugenics has historically been aimed at reproduction. Perhaps they were thinking of the kinds of gene therapies for adults promised by new techniques like Crispr, but even there the kinds of limitations imposed by complexity identified by Naam continue to apply.

Nor do Fuller and Lipińska really address how bio-electronic prosthetics and enhancements fit into their idea of hegenetics. Here the idea of biology as individual or ethnic property would seem to break down as does the idea of state subsidized experimentation and enhancement unless we were to create a system of periodic and free “upgrades” for all. It’s a nice dream, but then again I can’t even get the state to pay to fix a broken tooth. Welcome to godhood.

Is Pope Francis the World’s Most Powerful Transhumanist?

Francis-with-book-

I remember once while on a trip to Arizona asking a long-time resident of Phoenix why anyone would want to live in such a godforsaken place. I wasn’t at all fooled by the green lawns and the swimming pools and knew that we were standing in the middle of a desert over the bones of the Hohokam Indians whose civilization had shriveled up under the brutality of the Sonora sun. The person I was speaking to had a quick retort to my east coast skepticism. Where I lived, he observed, was no more natural than where he did, for the constant need for air conditioning during much of the year in a place like Phoenix was but the flip side of the need for heat in the cold months in the backwoods of my native Pennsylvania. Everywhere humankind lives is in some sense “unnatural”, every place we have successfully settled it was because we had been able to wrestle nature’s arm behind her back and make her cry “uncle”.

Sometime around then, back in 2006, James Lovelock published what was probably the most frightening book I have ever read- The Revenge of Gaia. There he predicted the death of billions of human beings and the retreat of global civilization to the poles as the climate as we had known it throughout the 100,000 or so years of of species history collapsed under the weight of anthropogenic climate change. It was not a work of dystopian fiction.

Lovelock has since backed off from this particular version of apocalyptic nightmare, but not because we have changed our course or discovered some fundamental error in the models that lead to his dark predictions. Instead, it is because he thinks the pace of warming is somewhat slower than predicted due to sulfuric pollution and its reflection of sunlight that act like the sunshields people put on their car windows. Lovelock is also less frightened out of the realization that air conditioning allows large scale societies- he is particularly fond of Singapore, but he also could have cited the Arabian Gulf or American Southwest- to seemingly thrive in conditions much hotter than those which any large human population could have survived in the past. We are not the poor Hohokam.

The problem with this more sanguine view of things is in thinking Singapore like levels of adaptation are either already here or even remotely on the horizon. This is the reality brought home over the last several weeks as the death toll from an historic heat wave sweeping over India and Pakistan has risen into the thousands. Most societies, or at least those with the most people, lack the ability to effectively respond to the current and predicted impacts of climate change, and are unlikely to develop it soon. The societal effects and death toll of a biblical scale deluge are much different if one is in Texas or Bangladesh. Major droughts can cause collapse and civil war in the fragile states of the Middle East that do not happen under similar environmental pressures between Arizona or Nevada- though Paolo Bacigalupi’s recent novel The Water Knife helps us imagine this were so. Nor has something like the drought in California sparked or fed the refugee flows or ethnic religious tensions it has elsewhere and which are but a prelude of what will likely happen should we continue down this path.

It is this fact that the negative impacts of the Anthropocene now fall on the world’s poor, and given the scale of the future impacts of climate change will be devastating for the poor and their societies because they lack the resources to adjust and respond to these changes, that is the moral insight behind Pope Francis’ recent encyclical Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home . It could not have been more timely.

I have to say that much of the document has a beauty that is striking. Parts such as this:

The Psalms frequently exhort us to praise God the Creator, “who spread out the earth on the waters, for his steadfast love endures for ever” (Ps 136:6). They also invite other creatures to join us in this praise: “Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars! Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens! Let them praise the name of the Lord, for he commanded and they were created” (Ps 148:3-5). We do not only exist by God’s mighty power; we also live with him and beside him. This is why we adore him.

Lines like these reminded me of the poetry of Walt Whitman, or perhaps better even that most eloquent atheist Lucretius. And there are points in the letter where the relationship of God to non-human animals is portrayed in almost post-humanist terms, which makes a lot of sense given the pope’s namesake. But the purpose of Laudato Si isn’t to serve as poetry or even as a reminder to Christians that care for the natural world is not only not incompatible with their faith but a logical extension of it. Rather, the purpose of the pope’s letter is to serve as a moral indictment and a call to action. Pope Francis has, rightly and justly, connected our obligations to the global environment with our obligations to the world’s poor.

The problem with religious documents, even beautiful and uplifting documents such as the Laudato Si is that as a type they do not grapple with historical or moral ambiguity. Such documents by their nature try to establish continuity with the past, as in claiming the church contained whatever teaching is being communicated all along. They also by their very nature try to establish firm moral lines not only for the present and future but also in the past rather than grapple with the fact that we are more often confronted with much more ambiguous moral trade-offs -and always have been.

What  Laudato Si lacks is ironically the same acknowledgement that New Atheists so critical of Christianity often lack, namely the recognition that the history of our understanding of nature or the universe through science is part and parcel of the history of Christianity itself. It was Christians, after all, who having won over the Roman elites in the 3rd century AD managed to do what all the natural philosophers since Thales had never managed to, namely, to rid nature of “gods” as an explanation for everyday occurrences thus opening up a space for our understanding of nature as something free of intention. Only such a dis-enchanted nature could be considered predictable and machine-like by thinkers such as Newton, or made a subject for “interrogation” as it was by the philosopher Francis Bacon in the 17th century. And it’s with Bacon that we see how morally complicated the whole conquest of nature narrative Pope Francis grapples with in Laudato Si actually is.

It was Christianity that inspired Bacon’s quest for scientific knowledge – his search for what he believes to be the lost true knowledge of Adam that will give us mastery over nature. The very purpose of this mastery for him was a Christian and charitable one “the relief of man’s estate”. And yet such mastery and relief cannot be won without treating nature as an object to be tamed or forced into the constraints of a machine. The universe as clock.

Tragically, it wouldn’t only be the natural world that the West would subjugate in its quest to escape the pain and privation often inflicted by nature, it would be other human beings as well. The conquest and exploitation of non-Western societies that began, not coincidentally, at the same time as the Scientific Revolution would be justified on the grounds that civilization itself and human progress found such conquest necessary as a means of escaping the trap of nature.

For a long time indeed the argument that the “civilized” had a right to exploit and take from “savages” was a biblical one. When responding to his own rhetorical question of how it could be that English settlers in the New World had the right to seize the lands of the Indians who also were “sons of Adam” the Puritan John Winthrop answered:

That which is common to all is proper to none… Why may not Christians have liberty to dwell among them in their wastelands and woods (leaving such places as they have manured for their corne) as lawfully as Abraham did among the Sodomites? (117)  

The point Winthrop was making was drawn from God’s command of Adam to a life of labor, which was considered the birth of society by John Locke and made the basis of property- that anything not developed and claimed was without value or ownership and there for the taking.

This was not just a matter of Protestant reinterpretations of the Bible. Before Winthrop the Catholic Columbus and Spanish understood their mission and the distinction between them and Native American along millenarian lines. In 1493 Pope Alexander IV gave the New World to Spain and Portugal (as if he owned them). During the opening phase of the modern world Christianity and any globalizing scientific and capitalist project were essentially indistinguishable.

Centuries later when the relationship between Christianity and science was severed by Charles Darwin and the deep time being uncovered by geology in the 19th century neither abandoned the idea of remaking what for the first time in history was truly “one world” in their own image. Yet whereas Christianity pursued its mission among the poor (in which it was soon joined by a global socialist movement) science (for a brief time) became associated with a capitalist globalization through imperialism that was based upon the biological chimera of race- the so-called “white man’s burden”. This new “scientific” racism freed itself from the need to grapple, as even a brutally racist regime like the Confederate States needed to do, with the biblical claim that all of humankind shared in the legacy of Adam and possessed souls worthy of dignity and salvation.  It was a purely imaginary speciation that ended in death camps.

The moral fate of science and society would have been dark indeed had the Nazis racial state managed to win the Second World War, and been allowed to construct a society in which individuals reduced to the status of mere animals without personhood. Society proved only a little less dark when totalitarian systems in the USSR and China seized the reigns of the narrative of socialist liberation and reduced the individual to an equally expendable cog in the machine not of nature but of history. Luckily, communism was like a fever that swept over the world through the 20th century and then, just as quickly as it came, it broke and was gone.

Instead of the nightmare of a global racist regime or its communist twin or something else we find ourselves in a very mixed situation with one state predominant -the United States- yet increasingly unable to impose its will on the wider world. During the period of US hegemony some form of capitalism and the quest for modernity has become the norm. This has not all been bad, for during this period conditions have indeed undeniably improved for vast numbers of humanity. Still the foundation of such a world in the millenarian narrative of the United States, that it was a country with a “divine mission” to bring freedom to the world was just another variant of the Christian, Eurocentric, Nazi, Communist narrative that has defined the West since Joachim de Fiore if not before. And like all those others it has resulted in a great amount of unnecessary pain and will not be sustained indefinitely.

We are entering an unprecedented period where the states with the largest economies (along with comes the prospect of the most powerful militaries) China and at some point India- continue to be the home of 10s of millions of the extremely poor. Because of this they are unlikely to accept and cannot be compelled to accept restraints on their growth whose scale dwarfs that of the already unsustainable environmental course we are already on. These great and ancient civilization/states are joined by states much weaker some of which were merely conjured up by Western imperialist at the height of their power. They are states that are extremely vulnerable to crisis and collapse. Many of these vulnerable states are in Africa (many of those in the Middle East have collapsed) where by the end of this century a much greater portion of humanity will be found and which by then will have long replaced Europe as the seat of the Christianity and the church. We are having a great deal of difficulty figuring out how we are going to extend the benefits of progress to them without wrecking the earth.

Pope Francis wants us to see this dilemma sharply. He is attempting to focus our attention on the moral impact of the environmental, consumer and political choices we have made and will make especially as we approach the end of the year and the climate summit in Paris. Let us pray that we begin to change course, for if he doesn’t, those of us still alive to see it and our children and descendants are doomed.

Though I am no great fan of the idea that this century is somehow the most important one in terms of human survival, we really do appear to be entering a clear danger zone between now and into the early years of the 22nd century. It is by sometime between now and then that human population growth will have hopefully peaked, and alternatives to the carbon economy perfected and fully deployed. Though the effects of climate change will likely last millennia with the halting of new carbon emissions the climate should at least stabilize into a new state. We will either have established effective methods of response and adaptation or be faced with the after effect of natural disasters- immense human suffering, societal collapse, refugee flows and conflicts.  We will also either have figured out a more equitable economic system and created sustainable prosperity for all or tragically have failed to do so.

What the failure to adapt to climate change and limit its impact and/ or the failure to further extend the advances of modernity into the developing world would mean was the failure of the scientific project as the “relief of man’s estate” begun by figures like Francis Bacon. Science after a long period of hope will have resulted in something quite the opposite of paradise.

However, even before these issues are decided there is the danger that we will revive something resembling the artificial religious and racial division of humanity into groups where a minority lays claim to the long legacy of human technological and cultural advancement as purely its own. This, at least, is how I read the argument of the sociologist Steve Fuller who wants us to reframe our current political disputes from left vs right to what he “up- wingers” vs “down wingers” where up wingers are those pursuing human enhancement and evolution through technology (like himself) and down wingers those arguing in some sense against technology and for the preservation of human nature – as he characterizes Pope Francis.

The problem with such a reframing is that it forces us to once again divide the world into the savage and the civilized, the retrograde and the advancing.  At its most ethical this means forgetting about the suffering or fate of those who stand on the “savage” side of this ledger and taking care of oneself and one’s own. At its least ethical it means treating other human beings as sub-human, or perhaps “sub-post human”, and is merely a revival of the Christian justification for crimes against “infidels” or white’s rationale for crimes against everyone else. It is the claim in effect that you are not as full a creature as us, and therefore do not possess equivalent rights.  Ultimately the idea that we can or should split humanity up in such a way is based on a chronological fantasy.

The belief that there is an escape hatch from our shared global fate for any significant segment of humanity during the short time frame of a century is a dangerous illusion. Everywhere else in the solar system including empty space itself is a worse place to live than the earth even when she is in deep crisis. We might re-engineer some human beings to live beyond earth, but for the foreseeable future, it won’t be many. As Ken Stanley Robison never tires of reminding us,the stars are too far away- there won’t be a real life version of Interstellar. The potential escape hatch of uploading or human merger with artificial intelligence is a long, long ways off. Regardless of how much we learn about delaying the aging clock for likely well past this century we will remain biological beings whose fate will depend on the survival of our earthly home which we evolved to live in.

In light of this Fuller is a mental time traveler who has confused a future he has visited in his head with the real world. What this “up-winger” has forgotten and the “down-winger” Pope Francis has not is that without our efforts to preserve our world and make it more just there will either be no place to build our imagined futures upon or there will be no right to claim it represents the latest chapter in the long story of our progress.

In this sense, and even in spite of his suspicion of technology, this popular and influential pope might just prove to be one of the most important figures for the fate of any form of post-humanity. For it is likely that it will only be through our care for humanity as a whole, right now, that whatever comes after us will have the space and security to actually appear in our tomorrow.

Towards a Transhumanist Techno-progressive Divorce

Janus

 How is this for a bold statement: the ultimate morality or immorality of transhumanism rests with the position it will take on the question of human rights and more specifically its adoption or denial of the principles of one document little discussed outside of the circle of international lawyers and human rights activists: The Universal Declaration of Right of 1948.

It was by a circuitous route that I came to this conclusion, which at first glance may seem nonsensical, for, after all, isn’t transhumanism precisely about the post- human rather than us current human beings for which the idea of human rights and The Universal Declaration were created?

As briefly mentioned in a prior post, my first indication that human rights and The Universal Declaration might need to be brought into the center of transhumanists’ view was suggested to me by a person who isn’t a transhumanist at all, and indeed is deeply uncomfortable with much of transhumanist rhetoric and underlying assumptions. No one would call the science-fiction author, Kim Stanley Robinson, a neo-luddite. Rather, he sees science, at least in its beneficent manifestations, as the ultimate utopian project. And, as anyone who has ever read one of Robinson’s novels knows, he views utopianism as a very good thing indeed.

It was in a panel discussion  “Utopia- Science Fiction and Fact” that Robinson brought up The Universal Declaration of Rights. As a reminder the Universal Declaration was the first global statement of rights to which, according to the consent of every nation on earth, all human beings are entitled and consists of 30 articles  spelling out these rights. They include not only basic so-called negative rights such as the freedom from arbitrary arrest and torture, but positive rights such as the right to marry and found a family, the right to “social security”, the right to work, the right to rest and leisure, the right to food, shelter, clothing and medical care, the right to “the full development of the human personality”, the right to a stable domestic and international political order, the right to education and to “enjoy the arts and share in scientific achievements and its benefits”.

My interpretation of Robinson bringing up the Universal Declaration in a transhumanist forum was that we already had a utopian project for the future “the project of justice” as he called it; therefore, we should be leery about getting ahead of ourselves. He seemed to be saying that we should focus our scientific and technological efforts on achieving these still far-off 20th century goals before we run full-steam towards the 21st or perhaps 22nd century goals of transhumanism.

It was only when I came across an interview by another future oriented thinker who also brought up the Universal Declaration that I started to think there might be something more to the relationship of transhumanism and the Universal Declaration than my superficial grasp of Robinson’s view had led me to believe.

In an interview with Adam Ford, avowed transhumanist, Steve Fuller, characterized the Universal Declaration as a perfect summation of 20th century progressive politics. This view of what he called “humanity 1.0” found in the Universal Declaration he believes will be likely find itself in conflict with the transhumanism of “humanity 2.0” in the years to come.

Fuller believes that the goals of humanity 1.0, of a progressive, egalitarian society, could only be “paid for” by “holding back” the superior members of society who tried to push the abilities of humanity evolutionarily forward. As time moves onward, more and more of ranks of these visionaries, Fuller thinks, will be filled by transhumanists. Thus his predicted tension between those who hold to the goals humanity 1.0 and those seeking to expand the limits of the possible and achieve the goals of humanity 2.0.

This prediction of probable conflict between the adherents of humanity 1.0 and those seeking to move to a transhumanist notion of humanity 2.0 grows out of Fuller’s libertarian “great man” theory of progress. For him, progress is pushed forward by “superior” individuals who break the bonds of the possible through risk, experimentation, innovation and revolution pulling the rest of society along.

The kind of antagonistic picture of how the world works found in Fuller is on full display in the movie Jobs where innovation and society is pulled forward by visionaries whose disdain for the rest of us non-visionaries types makes them, in common parlance, assholes.

The question that should naturally arise whenever justifications for inequality, such as Fuller’s based upon of the pull of “great men” are made is whether or not such lone visionaries are really acting “alone”? Someone like Steve Jobs was dependent on a society and history around and before him to obtain his visions, and we can never be quite sure if his breakthroughs would have occurred without him. It is just as likely that instead of being driven by “great men” progress in science and technology or human thought in general is really a matter of seizing opportunities that are lying there for anyone to pick up, and which can only be supported if a large enough pool of individuals have come to the point in their own thinking to find the new idea, or invention or whathaveyou compelling.

This libertarian myth that egalitarian policies are the enemy of innovation and upward mobility to which Fuller subscribes and which he conflates with the transhumanist project needs to be vocally challenged, and with hard data. It is, after all, in the Scandinavian countries where egalitarianism runs deepest that rates of innovation are highest and ranked consistently higher than in the in-egalitarian US. Despite libertarian mythology, it is in egalitarian countries where upward mobility is highest as well; suggesting, that egalitarian policies, contra Fuller, are much less about holding the “superior” back as maximize those able to create breakthroughs and in giving everyone a fair shot at success.

There is also the too often unspoken question of power. In another panel discussion, this one for the RSA, only the fiction author and political activist China Mieville had the guts or the comprehension to challenge Fuller’s underlying assumptions regarding power and inequality. If inequality has deep roots in the differential distribution of power and political influence, then Fuller’s version of transhumanism becomes  just one more way in which the already wealthy and powerful will be able to make their advantage permanent.

As another figure worried about exploding levels of inequality, Chrystia Freeland, points out in her book Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else this is already happening at an ever increasing rate as the rich use their wealth to gain educational advantages for their children and distort market influence through their leverage over the political process. Of course, the rich have always done this. What is unprecedented today is the scale and extent to which the super-wealthy have been able to rig the game, so to speak, in their and their childrens’ favor.

A transhumanism lacking an egalitarian anchor, of which the Universal Declaration is just one example, threatens to become just one more way in which the already wealthy and powerful (including many of us lucky enough to be born in the developed world) will be able to make their advantage permanent by, for instance, genetically enhancing themselves or their children when this option is not available to all, purchasing the most advanced form of bioelectrical enhancements whose expense prices out the bulk of the middle class and the poor, replacing middle class and working class jobs with AIs and robots- further shifting the balance of economic distribution away from labor and towards capital without at the same time adopting policies to offset this decline of opportunities for human work with policies such as guaranteed basic income.

Yet, if I thought the extent of Fuller’s critique of the progressive worldview that underlie the Universal Declaration was based on a simplistic view of the reality of social equality reminiscent of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged or the Kurt Vonnegut short-story “Harrison Bergeron”, I was in for a rude awakening when I actually read Fuller’s book- Humanity 2.0.  It was in reading this book that I became convinced not just of the need for an egalitarian orientation for transhumanism but for the full embrace and incorporation of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights into its project if transhumanism was to free itself from the potential to unleash social evil.

It was in Humanity 2.0  that Fuller showed just how far he was willing to go in his rejection of the Universal Declaration, as far in fact as to call for the rehabilitation of the inhuman Nazi regime that had given rise to the Universal Declaration in the first place. The kinds of ethical obscenities that can be found in Humanity 2.0 are indicative of the dangers inherent when one unmoors the idea of post-humanity, of the transhuman, from the project to obtain the requisites of the human condition- of humanity 1.0- for all, and when one sees progress being driven by “superior” individuals or groups.

Part of the moral dilemma any transhumanists has to face is the sheer, and often unacknowledged gap, between transhumanist goals and the actual conditions of the large numbers of humanity. Transhumanists in large measure have objectives such as the obtainment of biological immortality when the average life expectancy in a country like Sierra Leone is 46. Talk of a technologically supercharged humanity rings hollow when 2.6 billion human beings lack toilets. If these disparities are not addressed and our global environmental, and political problems are not solved, we will likely have more explosions like the recent one in Egypt which is as much a crisis of population density, energy, food and water scarcity as it is a secular vs. religious conflict.

The immoral potential implicit in this gap confronts us directly, even if on simplistic terms, in the film Elysium where in the year 2154 the majority of humanity lives on a planet of want, social breakdown and violence when a minority lives in a transhumanist paradise in space where there is no disease, poverty or war. Here, transhumanism becomes a sort of sinister version of The Rapture of the Nerds that is the dream of singularitarians.  It is a possibility that emerges from the race for the rights of the future when we have yet to secure the rights of the past.

One of the main ways techno-progressivism- a relatively recent branch of transhumanism- might best distinguish itself, or even if necessary, divorce itself, from both the kinds of anti-progressive transhumanism seen in Fuller, dramatically presented in Elysium and found in the millenarian fantasies of singularitarianism would be to openly embrace as its primary mission the obtainment of the goals set forth in the Universal Declaration. The priority of science as a utopian project would then be aimed at the achievement of a sustainable human condition for all. To these goals could then be added core transhumanists hopes such as the radical extension of the human lifespan (which would fall under the Universal Declaration’s right to life) and the right to explore and build upon the transcendence of current human capabilities, including by the use of technological means (which would fall under the Universal Declaration’s right to the full development of the human personality).

Still, a little historical and philosophical background and context might prove helpful in making the reasons for such a linkage between the projects of humanity 1.0 as represented by the Universal Declaration and  tehno- progressivism a little clearer and might lay bare some of the risks in tying progressivism to science and technology alone without addressing underlying dynamics of wealth and power.

For, it should not be surprising that human rights, singularitarianism and transhumanism emerged almost simultaneously and might someday soon prove real rivals for defining the human future. All three emerged from the loss of faith that utopia could be created through political action and as responses to the recognition of a common human identity and our likely fate. To that I will turn next time…

The above painting of Janus is by South African artist Christo Coetzee (1929-2001), oil on board.   It can be found in the Sanlam Collection. Copyright Christo Coetzee, all rights reserved.

The Terrifying Banality of Humanity 2.0

William Blake Urizen in Fetters Tears streaming from His Eyes

Something I think we are prone to forget in this age of chattering heads and two-bit pundits is that ideas have consequences. Anyone engaged in public discourse has some responsibility to wrestle with the ethical implications of their thought, and this is as much the case for the Rush Limbaugh’s of the world as it is for that disappearing class of thinkers who once proudly went by the name intellectuals.

In a way, artists have always had an easier time than those engaged in more discursive lines of thought. We hold Plato morally accountable for the ideas he put forward in a work like The Republic in a way we don’t hold his contemporary Aeschylus for a play full of human violence like The Oresteia. The reason for this is that philosophers rather than artists it is assumed, not doubt in part falsely, are not just giving us a view into the world as it is, but as they believe it should be.

If ideas are indeed serious things, and we need to hold intellectuals responsible for their moral implications in a way artists need not be, then the pushing open, perhaps better tearing up, of the envelope of our moral horizons found in Steve Fuller’s recent Humanity 2.0: What it means to Be Human: Past, Present and Future needs to be confronted in a way a work of art like the song Vicarious by the band Tool does not, even if both start from a kind of Archimedean point outside or above the normal human perspective to look down upon the world as whole to end up with a sort of metaphysical justification for evil and violence.

Upon picking up Humanity 2.0 I did not expect this. What I anticipated is a recent version of run of the mill transhumanism with an epistemological slant (Fuller is a social epistemologist). Instead, what I got was a rather disturbing set of conclusions embedded within an otherwise banal alternative history of sociology.

There were far too many points throughout Humanity 2.0 where I found myself stopping to exclaim “Did he really just say that?” to discuss them all. So, in what follows I will focus on what I found the most relevant. For starters, Fuller thinks that for transhumanism, or better transhumanism as he understands it, to succeed it has to adopt what can only be understood as a form of  politics as deception. The first step in this deception is merely the discussions surrounding transhumanists’ concerns, where, for Fuller:

Intentionally or not, this serves to acclimatize citizens, in the company of their peers, to whatever nano-driven changes might be on the horizon, thereby updating the concept of self-fulfilling prophecy. (147)

In social psychology, this strategy is often dubbed ‘inoculation’, the suggestion being that by allowing people to spend time thinking about extreme or pure cases of some potential threat, you have laid the groundwork for the acceptance of a less virulent version.  (148)

Fuller compares this indirect method to be used in the achievement of transhumanist ends to be akin to the victory of socialism which emerged as a way to stave off the communist threat. (150)

Let’s pause and think about what he is saying for a moment. For Fuller, discussions and debates surrounding the issues of the application of science and technology to transform the current human condition are not so much a way to think through the profound challenges and questions transhumanist concerns pose to our understanding of what it means to be human or even post-human as they are a sort of public relations campaign which will win over the public to transhumanist positions the more extreme the proposals it appears to make for the human future.

That Fuller would adopt a perspective more reminiscent of the television show Mad Men that anything we might recognize from the tradition of moral philosophy or democratic politics shouldn’t be all that surprising given that he thinks the bizarre way in which we afford corporations with the rights of individuals to be a primary vector by which his post- human version of utopia will come into being. He muses:

Once the modes of legitimate succession started to be forged along artificial rather than natural lines with the advent of the corporation… the path to the noosphere had been set. (205)

If indeed Fuller means us to associate our modern corporations- our Walmart’s and McDonald’s- with the telos of the world, Teilhard de Chardin will not be the only one rolling in his grave.

Fuller’s love of corporations and his view of them as vectors for what he conceives to be the “real” ends of transhumanism is just one shade of his unabashed collectivism. One of his primary aims is to rehabilitate 19th and early 20th century eugenics. Many of the contemporary proponents of eugenics tend to approach the issue from the standpoint of reproductive rights. The problem with antique forms of eugenics, in their view, wasn’t just that it was based upon bad, meaning pre-genetic and racial science, but that it was focused on empowering the group in complete disdain of the rights and life of individuals.

Fuller will have none of such individualism or talk of “rights”.  We should rehabilitate 19th and 20th century eugenics because:

The history of eugenics is relevant to the project of human enhancement because it establishes the point-of-view from which one is to regard human-beings: namely, not as ends in themselves but as a means for the production of benefits… (emphasis added/142)

Lest we think that Fuller is out merely to rehabilitate the image of now forgotten  eugenicists like Francis Galton and couldn’t possibly be talking about “rehabilitating” our understanding of National Socialism we have this:

Put bluntly, we must envisage the prospect of a transformation in the normative image of Nazi Germany comparable to what Barrington Moore described for the French Revolution. This is not easy… there have been only the barest hints of Nazi rehabilitation. But hints there are, helped along by the deaths of those with first-hand experience of Nazism. (244)

Does the death of those with first-hand experience of Nazi atrocities make us wiser in Fuller’ eyes? This is not the kind of “PR” transhumanism needs.

Fuller’s commitment to collectivism takes him very far from traditional transhumanism indeed. In his hands the universal commitment to the increase in human longevity becomes nonsensical because the individual herself, from Fuller’s perspective, is a non-entity, a bridge to a kind of reborn primordial soup of cells and silicon which from his pantheist perch appears to be the ideal evolutionary future of a disembodied human intelligence or logos.

From his perspective the satirical world of “Utilitaria” imagined by the moral philosopher, Steven Lukes, where the characters are fully cared for from birth until old age only to be literally deconstructed both mentally and physically to serve as “parts” for the young becomes not a searing critique of a purely utilitarian world devoid of human rights, but a prescription for his version of our post-human future.

… with nature-inspired technologies we might think more imaginatively (aka divinely) about the terms on which ‘the greatest good’ can be secured for ‘the greatest number’, especially how parts of individuals might be subsumed under this rubric.” (228)

This zooming out to an amoral height in which the individual no longer has real value aside from whatever benefits they can bring not so much to society as to the process of history leading us to Fuller’s post-human age leads him to embrace a whole host of troubling concepts.  He gives gives his proposal to disassemble the panoply of protections we have built up around the use of human beings in scientific research vanilla,  soft-nietzschean labels such as “suffering smart”. Where his proposals amount to a kind of martyrology in which individuals sacrifice their own lives and health for the “honors” of propelling scientific research at a faster pace.

Fuller’s version of “heaven” is a return to the Eden of the primordial soup where the distinctions between species, machines, and even individuals has collapsed. In this he is riding the wave of the transformation of biology into an information science where individuals of a species become mere pattern of genes and the boundary between species become permeable. Here, Fuller takes the extremely irresponsible glorification of our new found ability to swap and combine genes between species who have not occupied the same place in lineage since the dawn of life on earth coming from figures like Freeman Dyson to an even greater extreme. Being able to incorporate the genes from other species is less for Fuller a means of human enhancement as it is the road the disappearance of the human into some sort of divine stew.

Fuller takes this transformation of biology into an information science to the degree that he has become one of the most vocal proponents of teaching intelligent design in schools. What? The logic behind his advocation of the pseudoscience of intelligent is that the actual history of life on earth has become irrelevant now that we have reduced it to information.

… nothing much hangs on the fact of whether animals and plants evolved naturally or were specially created, let alone whether it happened over 5000 or 5 billion years… (64)

For Fuller, intelligent design is a sort of noble lie meant to teach its students how to be “God-like” designers of nature.

As far as things to raise critical awareness I will stop there, and am left to wonder how it is possible that Fuller has come up with such a regressive version of transhumanism where debate and discourse is replaced by manipulation, where corporations and collectives have replaced individuals, where not just 19th and early 20th century racists, but Nazis mass murderers are seen as premonitions of transhumanism and that is not be taken as a negative thing, a warning, where individuals become sacrificial animals for a research endeavor whose success would ultimately spell the end of individuals, where intelligent design is touted as a serious version of biological science?

The extent that Fuller flirts with the shibboleths of early 20th century fascism, indeed, he appears to see them as the true harbingers of transhumanist politics, suggested that the most recent offshoot of transhumanist thought, so called techno-progressivism will need to divorce and divest itself from its transhumanist roots if it is to remain ethically viable. Special efforts need to be made to disentangle techno-progressivism from underlying religious aspiration,s for it is these which serve as the launch point from which Fuller would undo much of the moral progress that emerged as a delayed response to the abuses and cognitive distortions of fascism and European imperialism.

As I have warned elsewhere religious rhetoric or the historically unconscious adoption of ideas whose origins are ultimately religious is dangerous to the transhumanist project both because it puts transhumanists and traditional religious persons in an artificial state of conflict, but also because it leads to the very kinds of moral and intellectual hubris found in a work like Humanity 2.0.

Fuller taps into what Susan Neiman in her Evil in Modern Thought declared to be the moral problem that would define the modern age- why is there evil in the world? A problem answered by thinkers such as Gottfried Leibniz with his concept of theodicy. The problem of evil is one of our own limited human perspective. Get up “high” enough and you will see that we live in the “best of all possible worlds”.

It shouldn’t be surprising that theodicy emerged at the same time as modern science and biblical literalism. Before the scientific revolution it was assumed that the everyday world that surrounds us is the worst of all possible worlds only in comparison to the Hell thought to be literally below us both a consequence of ours and the rebellious angels’ fall from grace.

Newton was just the most prominent of the early moderns to have destroyed the gap between the perfect world of the heavens and that of earth; what guided a thrown object here was the same thing that ruled heavenly objects above. Here emerges the idea of God as a celestial engineer.

Many of the early scientists such as Newton or Francis Bacon were proponents of the new biblical literalism. For them the project of freeing our understanding of the world from the hold of ancient and inaccurate science and finding the true meaning of the Bible by clearing it of the distortions caused by Catholicism were a set piece- a dual project. In her The Case for God, Karen Armstrong points out how these early moderns created the literalists idea of God replacing more mystical and metaphorical understandings. What drives debates between vocal New Atheists and fundamentalist is that the two are in fact theological brothers who share their conception of God and are merely arguing over whether this God exists or not.

Fuller places himself within this camp although his argument might be described as a leap from New Atheism to fundamentalism: the literalists creator God of the early moderns (and today’s fundamentalists) does not exist, so we should ourselves become this God. All of history then becomes excused as the mere birthpangs of us a newborn “god”.

The problem is we are not “gods” and are nowhere near “becoming gods”, or are very strange gods indeed. Not the omnipotent creator/designer that is a common power fantasy, but a god trapped within his own creation that needs to create and act anew merely to survive and can never be sure that the next creative act will not spell his end.

Theodicy of the type Fuller promotes denies the very reality that the Copernican Revolution and all subsequent great leaps in our scientific understanding has brought us: We are not at the center of events- we are not the story.

Theodicy implies that we can judge the universe by the moral qualities characteristic of human individuals- good and evil. But we do not exist on the same moral plane of the universe because the universe does not have a moral plane. It creates and destroys with absolute indifference.

When doing science we have to approach the world from above, from an Archimedean point, but morality does not and can not work like this. Justifying the whole of life or the entirety of the universe on moral grounds means a justification which a more theological age called evil, death, pain and destruction, for there is no need to justify the good. Fuller wants to justify historical and natural evil, but instead ends up at the same place as the viewpoint of the character in that Tool song I mentioned earlier who justifies his own voyeuristic bloodlust because the universe itself is a place of pain:

Credulous at best, your desire to believe in angels in the hearts of men.

                Pull your head on out your hippy haze and give a listen.

   Shouldn’t have to say it all again.

              The universe is hostile. so Impersonal. devour to survive.

So it is. So it’s always been.

  We all feed on tragedy

 It’s like blood to a vampire

Vicariously I, live while the whole world dies

   Much better you than I

The banality of evil is that it comes not so much from this sort of willful malice as a mistaken notion of the good and an obliviousness to our own limits. Fuller’s Humanity 2.0 has both in spades.