Transhumanism is a solipsistic social movement that sometimes borders on the narcissistic. Adherents think they are so important that they should live forever. They want license to genetically enhance their offspring and to redesign the human race into a “post-human” species made in their own image.
Transhumanism isn’t fringe. To the contrary, it has become quite the elite phenomenon. Hundreds of millions go into transhumanist technological research. Some of the biggest names in the tech world are devotees, such as Google’s Ray Kurzweil and Tesla CEO Elon Musk. The movement is furthered at elite universities, with — as just one example — bioethicists seriously discoursing about whether AI robots or cyborgs should be granted human-type rights. For some, it is a substitute for religion, offering hope in the wasteland of materialist existential futility.
That is why I was not surprised to learn that the convicted sex-offender and accused human trafficker, Jeffrey Epstein, is also a transhumanist. From the New York Times story:
Mr. Epstein’s vision reflected his longstanding fascination with what has become known as transhumanism: the science of improving the human population through technologies like genetic engineering and artificial intelligence. Critics have likened transhumanism to a modern-day version of eugenics, the discredited field of improving the human race through controlled breeding.
It is a new eugenics movement, and in some hands, could even become a neo-superman philosophy.
Apparently, Epstein was as good at insinuating himself into the elite community of scientists — such as Steven Hawking, and top researchers and science advocates — as he was politicians and cultural leaders:
Mr. Epstein attracted a glittering array of prominent scientists. They included the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Murray Gell-Mann, who discovered the quark; the theoretical physicist and best-selling author Stephen Hawking; the paleontologist and evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould; Oliver Sacks, the neurologist and best-selling author; George M. Church, a molecular engineer who has worked to identify genes that could be altered to create superior humans; and the M.I.T. theoretical physicist Frank Wilczek, a Nobel laureate. . .
Scientists gathered at dinner parties at Mr. Epstein’s Manhattan mansion where Dom Pérignon and expensive wines flowed freely, even though Mr. Epstein did not drink. He hosted buffet lunches at Harvard’s Program for Evolutionary Dynamics, which he had helped start with a $6.5 million donation.
Others flew to conferences sponsored by Mr. Epstein in the United States Virgin Islands and were feted on his private island there. Once, the scientists — including Mr. Hawking — crowded on board a submarine that Mr. Epstein had chartered.
And good grief, he wanted to “seed his DNA” throughout the world population — definitely not the usual transhumanist dream:
On multiple occasions starting in the early 2000s, Mr. Epstein told scientists and businessmen about his ambitions to use his New Mexico ranch as a base where women would be inseminated with his sperm and would give birth to his babies, according to two award-winning scientists and an adviser to large companies and wealthy individuals, all of whom Mr. Epstein told about it.
It was not a secret. The adviser, for example, said he was told about the plans not only by Mr. Epstein, at a gathering at his Manhattan townhouse, but also by at least one prominent member of the business community. One of the scientists said Mr. Epstein divulged his idea in 2001 at a dinner at the same townhouse; the other recalled Mr. Epstein discussing it with him at a 2006 conference that he hosted in St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands.
And yet many of these most solid scientists and researchers eagerly accepted his friendship and largess.
Dreams of immortality can be very seductive and, for some, excuses many sins. So too, apparently, does the prospect of reaping a pot of gold in research funding and hanging out with society’s movers and shakers.