Chapter 12. Visions and Challenges – Priorities for Professionals

Postmodernist Futurist

Another problematic type, increasingly common today, are postmodernist futurists. Postmodernists prize subjectivity, freedom, mental fluidity, and creativity. Unfortunately, they prize these things so highly that they reject science as an apparently universal and constraining way of knowing. They use the term “scientism” to imply that science is just another belief system, on par with all the other human-constructed “isms”. But that is a grave error, as science has been the primary process that has lifted us out of ignorance of our deeper reality. As humans, we each bring bias, limitations, and diversity to our scientific knowledge and methods. But science itself seeks to weed out unhelpful diversity, via models, experiment, and evidence that unearth persistent, universal truths.

Several postmodernists claim science is entirely a social construct (it is always partially so in its evolutionary sense, but never fundamentally so, in a developmental sense). Others misinterpret chaos theory or quantum physics to imagine that science tells us the future is unpredictable (it doesn’t, and it isn’t). Given this worldview, they often also see little to no meaningful predictability and probability in human social systems. We believe the postmodernist view must be gently but firmly challenged wherever we find it, as actively rejects the idea of universal development.

Postmodernists are occasionally found in the business world, but are more often in government and academia—places where their perspective is all too often seen as a harmless cognitive diversity. Unfortunately, this worldview isn’t harmless, as it can easily spread, and it blocks groups of us from seeing how the world truly is. Postmodernism rejects the idea that there is objective truth to be discovered and places subjectivity at the center of reality. For that matter, postmodernism as a term can constitute almost anything to anyone—the reason the phrase “postmodernist academic” is an oxymoron, and why it is so easy for hoax submissions to be accepted to postmodernist academic journals.

Today, postmodern cultural relativists have become one of the more problematic classes of academic futurists, while Marxists are in decline. Like Marxists before them, postmodernists live off of the exponentiating leisure, wealth, and productivity of science and technology harnessed primarily via a capitalist social democratic world system, yet refuse to recognize that science, even as practiced by flawed and limited humans, is very likely to be a uniquely privileged and potentially universal way of constructing knowledge and improving adaptation.

Some postmodernists occasionally use the curious term “posthumanist“ to self-describe. “Posthumanism” has no less than seven conflicting definitions, making the word essentially meaningless, in our view. Such vagueness and logical contradiction is common in postmodernist jargon. We may strain to understand it, when, in truth, there is no clear definition to posthumanist philosophy itself. Many posthumanist philosophers, like Rosi Braidotti, and literary critics, like Katherine Hayles have written important works in social theory, gender and feminist theory, ethnicity studies, cognition studies, cybernetics, and other domains. But in our view, posthumanists muddled language, definitions, and subjectivity-biased worldview keeps them ambivalent and confused on many key issues of global futures.

Humanism—the need to determine values for ourselves, via theory, practice, and empiricism, rather than interpret them solely from our authorities or religious scripture—has been the defining advance of modern civilization since the Enlightenment. Modern science is increasingly discovering that our “higher” human qualities are common to all intelligent species on Earth, in greater and lesser degrees. In other words, higher intelligence in collective complex networks appears to possess many universal developmental qualities, as we’ll discuss later in the Guide.

In short, we believe we are all advancing toward a more universally humanist world, not a posthumanist world. It seems unreasonable we could today define any truly posthuman qualities, if any in fact do exist. Instead, it seems likely that we will progressively use science, technology, and culture to empower and distribute our higher human qualities to all other sentiences that want our abilities, present and future, in the centuries ahead. If future AIs, based intimately on our own evo-devo nature, can greatly increase our empathy with animals in the future, we expect we will increasingly intervene in their ecosystems to lessen their suffering. At some point, we believe we also find it ethical to “uplift” less-sentient species (beginning with our pets, primates, cetaceans, etc.) into our uniquely privileged (not randomly different) human sphere. The IES goals, in our view, tell us that greater sentience, ability, and security, not just suffering abatement, are truly universal desires. We shall see.

Some posthumanist philosophers acknowledge these apparently universal trends, but others do not. Some consider it anthropocentric and arrogant to imagine that many less-sentient species might want to be more sentient, or that future humans will be compelled, when we can do so with future science and technology, to give other species the ethical choice to further develop their sentience, as a reversible experiment, if they so choose. Few would admit that once such choices are made available, we can expect a one-way migration, for almost all sentiences, to persistently more evidence-based insights, complexity, and consciousness. These are apparent developmental processes. We think posthumanists are ignoring the very nature of humanity, which has always been to continually us technology, cooperation, and competition to grow and advance, to make both ourselves and our environment into something different, and more adapted than what we and it presently are.