What Is Transhumanism and Why Do People Associate It With Eugenics?
A primer on the philosophy, popularized by Jeffrey Epstein, which encompasses immortal cyborgs, baby ranches and parenting licenses.
The New York Times recently reported that financier and recently-arrested sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein apparently believes in a philosophical strain called transhumanism, “the science of improving the human population through technologies like genetic engineering and artificial intelligence.” This is unrelated to medical innovation and technology that help people with disabilities function better. Transhumanism intends to use sophisticated technology to engineer and upgrade the human population’s intellect and physiology to superhuman levels.
The question is: who would supervise and participate in this improvement of the population? Some of transhumanism’s most vocal adherents are making it clear it’s a limited few. In doing so, they’re pushing the philosophy closer and closer to the effects of eugenics.
Eugenics is the science of improving the human species by selectively mating people with specific, ‘desirable’ hereditary traits to breed out disease, disabilities, and other ‘undesirable’ human traits. It was super popular with the Nazis. While even transhumanism does not explicitly encourage breeding for the superiority of one specific group, the methods endorsed by some prominent transhumanists aim for the same end.
Take, for example, Epstein himself, who conceptualized a New Mexico ranch, where he planned to trap and impregnate multiple women at a time to seed the human race with his (presumably ‘superior’) DNA. The idea for this farm was based on an older sperm bank, named the Repository for Germinal Choice, which was to be stocked with the seed of Nobel Laureates. The repository was eventually discontinued in 1999, after having received a sperm donation from only one Nobel Laureate physicist, William Shockley.
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Noted transhumanist Zoltan Istvan also buys into the idea that some people are more worthy of informing the future of humanity than others, writing for Wired in 2014 that, “in an attempt to solve this problem and give hundreds of millions of future kids a better life, I cautiously endorse the idea of licensing parents, a process that would be little different than getting a driver’s license. Parents who pass a series of basic tests qualify and get the green light to get pregnant and raise children … Those applicants who are deemed unworthy — perhaps because they are homeless, or have drug problems, or are violent criminals, or have no resources to raise a child properly and keep it from going hungry — would not be allowed until they could demonstrate they were suitable parents.”
Both Epstein’s baby farm and Istvan’s parenting licenses aim at trying to engineer significant changes into the human population due to the belief that they had something ‘better’ to offer. Coincidentally, both situations would have also involved things happening to other people without their consent. Transhumanist beliefsrest on the assumption that certain people are superior enough to influence the future of humanity, which by default implies others are inferior and less deserving, which considerably reduces the already thin line between transhumanism and eugenics.
It raises the possibility that those with money, power, and an obsession with elite progeny (somehow, always rich, white and dubious men) might someday enact terrible things like sterilization and genocide in the name of contributing to the future of humanity. While the first victims will always be the underprivileged and marginalized, nobody is truly ‘safe’ from being declared ‘unsuitable’ for an elite human race. Once some people are declared superior, they could change the definition of inferiority to include anyone they please. If that sounds like fearmongering, here’s a reminder that the Nazis were so fascinated with creating a master race that they sterilized 400,000 Germans and committed mass genocide.
While the idea of the human population merging with technology to become an immortal, evolved half-cyborg species sounds tempting, the ugly side of transhumanism presents itself via people like Epstein, who genuinely believe themselves superior enough to ‘spread their seed,’ or like Istvan, who genuinely believes others are so inferior they shouldn’t be allowed to reproduce. Who are those inferior people? Homeless. Who are the deserving? Rich pedophiles! Yes. This is optimization at its peak, folks.
Of course, Elon Musk is a fan.
Aditi Murti is a culture writer at The Swaddle. Previously, she worked as a freelance journalist focused on gender and cities. Find her on social media @aditimurti.