Human Exceptionalism

Transhumanism TV: “The 4400”

The USA Network has a great science fiction series called The 4400, which could just as easily be named Transhumanism TV. The plot is about “the 4400,” people who were abducted by aliens or future human time travelers, and who are “returned” possessed of super-human “abilities.” These are both good and evil, such as the ability to heal and to kill with one’s mind–and everything in between.

The series initially dealt with society’s reaction to these returnees. I like sci-fi, and enjoyed the show but didn’t think of it as anything special. But a very clever and interesting plot turn has transformed the series into something that is not only fun, but deals in some of the deepest issues involving the human condition.

It turns out that the abilities that the returnees possess is caused by a substance in their blood called Promicin. And this is where the transhumanism comes in. (Here is one of the columns I wrote about transhumanism.) The head villain and strongest returnee allowed her blood to be filtered to create thousands of viles of Promicin, which the head rebel has now distributed free to the world in the hope of creating a new post-human era of history. However, there’s a catch: Those who take Promicin have a 50/50 chance of dying. But if they live, they will have a super human ability. Meanwhile, the government is striving to quell the use of the drug, prevent the 4400 from using their abilities, and chase down the rebels.

Question: Do you take the drug? The characters who risk their lives in the series and take the drug do so because they are sad and unhappy. Just like transhumanists, they believe that if only they can grasp onto something special that is more than merely human, their lives will suddenly attain meaning. It is transcendence and purpose in a syringe–just like the transhumanists yearn to find it in uploading and genetic alterations. Indeed, the Promicin movement has become a new quasi religion–again just like transhumanism. Yet, even opponents of the 4400, those who think that it is all too dangerous and profoundly unwise, will quickly cast principle aside and make use the 4400’s talents to benefit themselves–such as in the last episode in which the head of the law enforcement task force assigned to bringing all of this under control takes her father to a 4400 to be healed of Huntington’s disease.

All very interesting and like the best science fiction, a reflective mirror on our times. Check it out.

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