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Eclipse of Man

Human Extinction and the Meaning of Progress

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Publication Details

Hardcover / 240 pages
ISBN: 9781594037368
PUBLISHED: 09/02/2014

Eclipse of Man
Human Extinction and the Meaning of Progress

Tomorrow has never looked better. Breakthroughs in fields like genetic engineering and nanotechnology promise to give us unprecedented power to redesign our bodies and our world. Futurists and activists tell us that we are drawing ever closer to a day when we will be as smart as computers, will be able to link our minds telepathically, and will live for centuries—or maybe forever. The perfection of a “posthuman” future awaits us.

Or so the story goes. In reality, the rush toward a posthuman destiny amounts to an ideology of human extinction, an ideology that sees little of value in humanity except the raw material for producing whatever might come next.

In Eclipse of Man, Charles T. Rubin traces the intellectual origins of the movement to perfect and replace the human race. He shows how today’s advocates of radical enhancement are—like their forebears—deeply dissatisfied with given human nature and fixated on grand visions of a future shaped by technological progress.

Moreover, Rubin argues that this myopic vision of the future is not confined to charlatans and cheerleaders promoting this or that technology: it also runs through much of modern science and contemporary progressivism. By exploring and criticizing the dreams of post humanity, Rubin defends a more modest vision of the future, one that takes seriously both the limitations and the inherent dignity of our given nature.

About the Author

Charles T. Rubin is an associate professor of political science at Duquesne University, where he teaches courses in political philosophy and about the normative aspects of policy making.

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“Mankind will surely destroy itself.”

Whether predicted in a thunderous denunciation of our flaws or with mild worldly regret, an apocalyptic future has become a cliché. Will it be global warming or global cooling? Radiation poisoning or nuclear winter? Famine due to overpopulation, or pollution-induced sterility? These, at any rate, are some of the possibilities I grew up with. But today, it is becoming increasingly common to hear of another route to the demise of humanity: we will destroy what we are now in the process of making something better of ourselves. We have this opportunity because science and technology are giving us the power to control human evolution, turning it from a natural process based on chance to one guided by our own intelligence and will.

The primary sources for thinking like this today are people who call themselves variously transhumanists, posthumanists, extropianians, advocates of H+, or singularitarians. The essential insight that defines transhumanism was expressed in an entirely different context by Stewart Brand, when he chose as the epigraph for the Whole Earth Catalog the phrase, “We are as gods and might as well get good at it.” Transhumanists argue not only that modern science and technology are giving human beings the power to take evolution into our own hands to improve the human species, and then to create some new species entirely, but also the ability to improve on all of the naturally given. Thus, its vision of the end is not so different from the older apocalyptic visions. Man as we know him and nature as we know it are on their way out in both instances; but for transhumanists, that is the deliberate goal sought, not a consequence of our hubris to be avoided. To put it another way, if the mere destruction of the more common apocalyptic visions is to be avoided (as opposed to transhumanism’s creative destruction), it will be by redesigning humanity so that the very flaws that might otherwise lead us to it can be eliminated.

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