Ideologues against humanity
Antihumanism and transhumanism will lead us into dark places
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In late January, scientists moved the infamous Doomsday Clock to “90 seconds to midnight.” Although fears of nuclear war dominated the media’s discussion of the move, the scientists also cited global climate change as a primary threat. “The Doomsday Clock is sounding an alarm for the whole of humanity,” a former U.N. official said. “We are on the brink of a precipice. But our leaders are not acting at sufficient speed or scale to secure a peaceful and livable planet.”
The culture of fear cultivated by the Doomsday Clock and similar stunts is the subject of Adam Kirsch’s short new book, The Revolt Against Humanity: Imagining A Future Without Us. Kirsch, a widely respected poet, critic, and editor at the Wall Street Journal, shows readers the bleeding edge of philosophic and literary speculation about what comes next for mankind. The picture he paints is not pretty.
Kirsch identifies two primary strains of thought about what could come after humanity. The first, “antihumanism,” holds that we are doomed due to our self-destructive treatment of the environment, and that we should welcome that doom. According to the second strain, “Transhumanism,” humanity is not so much doomed for destruction but rather destined to “create new forms of intelligent life” and “escape human limitations like mortality and embodiment.”
Though antihumanists and transhumanists differ with regards to visions of the future, they concur that humanity will disappear from the world—and that the world will be better for it. The question Kirsch asks readers is, would we actually like either vision of a post-human future to prevail?
Antihumanists believe mankind’s arrogance is ruining the planet. The work of these extreme activists, such as Greta Thunberg, and radical writers, such as David Benatar, is meant to, as Kirsch puts it, “chasten the human ego.” The logical endpoint of their case against human arrogance is the belief that human beings should simply stop procreating. If humanity is the problem, then the solution is to put a stop to humanity altogether. To that end, antihumanists promote an intense cultural pessimism and an “antinatalist” environmental policy.
Transhumanists, on the other hand, insist that humanity’s coming disappearance is a wonder to be celebrated. Beginning in the 1980s, Kirsch traces the emergence of a school of thought that insists we should put our absolute faith in technological progress. Led by philosophers like Nick Bostrom and computer scientists like Ray Kurzweil, the transhumanists believe that we can push technology so far it creates a new—and better—form of life. Scientific ingenuity will abolish death and suffering. AI and other innovations will make the entire concept of humanity outdated and meaningless.
Christians ought to be on the frontlines of the fight against both these post-human futures. Antihumanists and transhumanists alike reject the notion that we were created in the image of God. Whether they intend it or not, the futures they envision are dark places where the divine spark in every human soul has been snuffed out.
Kirsch’s keen analysis of these secular ideologies makes his book important reading for Christians who want to understand the intellectual roots of many modern challenges to church teaching. In contrast to the extreme pessimism or radical optimism Kirsch warns about, Christians should confidently proclaim the hope of the gospel. As John 1:14 says, “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” God became man so that there will never be a post-human future.
Considering these post-human ideologues, and their doubts about whether human life is worth living, I could not help but think of Frank Capra’s Christmas classic, It’s A Wonderful Life. In one memorable scene, nasty banker Mr. Potter (played by Lionel Barrymore) insults the father of protagonist George Bailey (played by Jimmy Stewart). “People were human beings to him, but to you, a warped frustrated old man, they’re cattle,” George exclaims in response. “Well, in my book he died a much richer man than you'll ever be!”
In the film, an act of divine intervention gives George a glimpse of a world where he was never born. He returns to his life with a profound appreciation for the beauty of humanity and love for his neighbors. Many modern intellectuals seem to think of their fellow human beings like cattle. Adam Kirsch gives us a severe warning of what that will mean for human dignity.
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