- @ClubOfINFO — TransEvolution: The Coming Age of Human Deconstruction (2014) is an alarmist book by Daniel Estulin, a commentator on the secretive Bilderberg Group who is well-liked by many – in particular on conspiracy theorist forums. Essentially, this should be regarded as conspiracy theory material. My refutations of it are too many to cram into this review, so I will mainly focus on what the book itself says.
Daniel Estulin connects disparate events and sources to depict an elaborate conspiracy. The main starting claim of the book is a link between the 2005 Bilderberg Conference and the 2006 document Strategic Trends 2007–2036 prepared by the British government (p. 1–12). Estulin claims that the latter report’s predictions betray “Promethean” plans that represent “designs by the Bilderberg Group”.
The book makes the allegation that the economic pressure on the world today “is being done on purpose, absolutely on purpose. The reason is because our current corporate empire knows that “progress of humanity” means their imminent demise”. The “powers-that-be” destroy nation-states to maintain power, and “this is by design” (p. 13). Estulin decries international money flows and globalization, and promotes “physical economy” instead. To make a long story short, he describes the apparatus of globalization, integration, etc. as a clash between the nation-state and global oligarchy and frames this as a classic battle between good and evil respectively (p. 13–35). “The ideas of a nation-state republic and progress” are intrinsically connected (p. 34), Estulin argues, putting forward his preference for the old Jacobin ideological script of the Nineteenth Century rather than modern discourses on integration and communication.
In his preference for the nation-state, Estulin attacks the WTO’s record on free trade, and makes criticisms that are provisionally valid. However, he confuses the tendency for weaker nations to be exploited through free trade with a conspiracy against the nation-state. The WTO’s commitment to what it calls free trade, a commitment to “One World, One Market”, reflects “anti-nation-state intent”, Estulin argues (p. 37–38).
Although they attach too much agency to global “elites”, Estulin’s description of the way international trade on agriculture has been manipulated to disadvantage poor nations and advantage rich nations (p. 38–49) agrees with already powerful sociology theories of “free trade imperialism” and the larger humanitarian message of the alter-globalization movement. Estulin quotes William Engdahl’s The Seeds of Destruction at length to argue against the destructive local impacts of global agribusiness (p. 47–53).
Estulin interprets the spread of the pharmaceuticals industry as evidence of the elite seeking a docile and controlled population, “massive drugging of the population”, “controlled chaos”, and even goes as far as to say that GMOs will be poisoning everyone on the planet and finally kill 3 billion people indiscriminately (p. 63–68). More puzzlingly than what has already been specified, Estulin blames the Club of Rome thesis itself (which predicted the depletion of resources leading to economic collapse) for making an enemy of humanity and submitting a plan for no less than the deliberate depopulation of the Earth (p. 17–20).
Synthetic biology is not spared from criticism by Estulin. He immediately labels it as “founded on the ambition that one day it will be possible to design and manufacture a human being” (p. 69). For the record, nowhere in the field of synthetic biology has anyone actually advocated manufacturing human beings, and nor does such an ambition coincide with the conspiracy theory about depopulating the Earth. Estulin further confuses science with pseudoscience, stating “genetics, as defined by the Rockefeller Foundation, would constitute the new face of eugenics” (p. 71). “Ultimately,” Estulin writes, “this is about taking control of nature, redesigning it and rebuilding it to serve the whims of the controlling elite” (p. 72).
In further arguments against the perceived “elite”, Estulin demonizes space exploration, saying “the elite are planning, at least, a limited exodus from the Planet Earth. Why? What do they know that we don’t? Nuclear wars? Nanowars? Bacteriological wars?” (p. 123) Chapter 4, although titled “space exploration”, is dedicated to explaining the deadly potential of future security and defense technologies when used by regimes against their own people (p. 115–156).
Then, we get to transhumanism (only in the last chapter.) The chapter alleges that the US government thought up a transhumanist agenda in 2001 as a strategic military contingency – in particular the Russian 2045 Movement. According to Estulin, the transhumanist conspiracy in its present form comes from a conference, “The Age of Transitions” (p. 159–161). Using little more than the few links between political or business figures and transhumanism as evidence, he alleges that transhumanism is “steered by the elite” and that “we, the people, have not been invited” (p. 161–162).
The movie Avatar (2010) by James Cameron (mistakenly named as David Cameron in Estulin’s book), is connected by Estulin with the 2045 movement’s enthusiasm for humans becoming “avatars” by means of being uploaded as digital beings (p. 162–164). Further, the movie Prometheus (2012) by Ridley Scott reflects the “future plans of the elite” according to Estulin (p. 165–170). However, he does not analyze either movie, and fails to note that Peter Weyland (the “elite”) in the movie is actually a vile character and his search for life-extension is a product of his greed and vanity (this is not exactly a glamorization of the search for life extension). If anything, Prometheus joins a long tradition of literature and film that encourages people not to trust transhumanism and life extension and to fear where such movements could lead.
Exaggerated connections and resemblances between disparate conferences, such as the US government and Russian longevity enthusiasts, are put forward as evidence of a conspiracy (p. 170). Then, we get to Estulin’s real complaint against transhumanism:
“Many people have trouble understanding what the true transhumanism movement is about, and why it’s so evil. After all, it’s just about improving our quality of life, right? Or is transhumanism about social control on a gigantic scale?” (p. 172–173)
Estulin also asserts:
“Transhumanism fills people’s hopes and minds with dreams of becoming superhuman, but the fact of the matter is that the true goal is the removal of that pesky, human free will itself.” (p. 186)
Estulin (and Engdahl’s) belief in a eugenic “depopulation” agenda (p. 57), as hideous as the crimes of Nazism, in Monsanto’s work is an example of a conspiracy theory appealing to irrational fears. Both of these writers are confusing corporate greed and monopolistic priorities with actual wicked and genocidal intent, and assigning motives that do not exist. They are confusing structural evils in the world system with actions by evil men gathered in dark rooms. Estulin also conveniently misses out the fact that the indiscriminate poisoning of all life by changing the DNA of every living thing would also threaten the conspirators and their own families. I guess we must assume that the conspirators are also a suicide cult, of the same breed as Jim Jones’ “People’s Temple”.
At the end of the book’s tirade about synthetic biology being a ticket for the elite to control all life, Estulin reverts back to a question very prominent in mainstream fora: “can we trust the major corporations with the right thing?” (p. 74). The answer from almost everyone would be No – but not for any of the reasons Estulin has put forward. We can’t trust the major corporations, because their only interest is endless profit in the near term, and such profit is maximized by their ability to monopolize and detain real progress. Monsanto and other agri-giants are only vainly forestalling and trying to contain the real technium for their own greed – there is nothing radical about them.
One thing I find ever entertaining about conspiracy theories is the tendency to get their ideas from Hollywood movies, while at the same time refuting the movies as an example of brainwashing and propaganda. Apparently, despite all their warnings to people not to be influenced by media, conspiracy theorists are incapable of noticing how impressionable and easily pressured they themselves are.
The book even attacks Darwinian evolution and natural selection, seeing a sinister agenda in them (p. 179–180), which adds to the book’s already deep anti-science message. He connects the theory of evolution with the destructive idea of social Darwinism, and with transhumanism in turn (p. 190–191). The elite plan to “bring society down to the level of beast” by encouraging such social Darwinism, Estulin alleges (p. 211–219).
Bizarre speculated connections between Malthusian theories, Darwin, the British Empire, eugenics and ultimately transhumanism (p. 174–178) do not take note of the fact that transhumanists and technoprogressives are the one camp in the world most opposed to Malthusianism. Technoprogressives are the camp with the most faith in the idea that the entire world can be fed and sustained. No-one has more faith in the infinite resources of humanity and the ability to meet everyone’s needs than the technoprogressives.
Perhaps reflecting the book’s confusion, Chapter 1 is dedicated to asserting that the “elite” will reduce everyone to a primitive and chaotic setting, whereas Chapter 2 onwards alleges that the plan is a high-tech dystopia. These two polar opposite conspiracies do not coincide in any way, as do the paradoxical claims that transhuman technologies are never going to be seen by the world’s poor, yet are also going to be forced on the whole of humanity.
The coverage of transhumanism and understanding of it in this book is not positive (to put it politely). It fails to take account of transhumanism’s real basis as a movement exploring emerging trends to change humanity for the better. Instead, it simply exaggerates marginal influences by futurism, popular science and technology enthusiasm on governments and business elites as representing a global conspiracy.
A more informative theory about the relationship of the “elite” towards transhumanism would instead explore the habit of ignorant opposition by Neoconservatives, warmongers, and the mainstream media towards international peace, development, science, education, web freedom, and ultimately transhumanism.
One of the most common anti-Transhumanist tropes one finds recurring throughout Transhumanist rhetoric is our supposedly rampant hubris. Hubris is an ancient Greek concept meaning excess of pride that carries connotations of reckless vanity and heedless self-absorbment, often to the point of carelessly endangering the welfare of others in the process. It paints us in a selfish and dangerous light, as though we were striving for the technological betterment of ourselves alone and the improvement of the human condition solely as it pertains to ourselves, so as to be enhanced relative to the majority of humanity.
In no way is this correct or even salient. I, and the majority of Transhumanists, Techno-Progressives and emerging-tech-enthusiasts I would claim, work toward promoting beneficial outcomes and deliberating the repercussions and most desirable embodiments of radically-transformative technologies for the betterment of all mankind first and foremost, and only secondly for ourselves if at all.
The ired irony of this situation is that the very group who most often hails the charge of Hubris against the Transhumanist community is, according to the logic of hubris, more hubristic than those they rail their charge against. Bio-Luddites, and more generally Neo-Luddites, can be clearly seen to be more self-absorbed and recklessly-selfish than the Transhumanists they are so quick to raise qualms against.
The logic of this conclusion is simple: Transhumanists seek merely to better determine the controlling circumstances and determining conditions of our own selves, whereas Neo-Luddites seek to determine such circumstances and conditions (even if using a negative definition, i.e., the absence of something) not only for everyone besides themselves alive at the moment, but even for the unquantable multitudes of minds and lives still fetal in the future.
We do not seek to radically transform Humanity against their will; indeed, this is so off the mark as to be antithetical to the true Transhumanist impetus — for we seek to liberate their wills, not leash or lash them. We seek to offer every human alive the possibility of transforming themselves more effectively according to their own subjective projected objectives; of actualizing and realizing themselves; ultimately of determining themselves for themselves. We seek to offer every member of Humanity the choice to better choose and the option for more optimal options: the self not as final-subject but as project-at-last.
Neo-Luddites, on the other hand, wish to deny the whole of humanity that choice. They actively seek the determent, relinquishment or prohibition of technological self-transformation, and believe in the heat of their idiot-certainty that they have either the intelligence or the right to force their own preference upon everyone else, present and future. Such lumbering, oafish paternalism patronizes the very essence of Man, whose only right is to write his own and whose only will is to will his own – or at least to vow that he will will his own one fateful yet fate-free day.
We seek solely to choose ourselves, and to give everyone alive and yet-to-live the same opportunity: of choice. Neo-Luddites seek not only to choose for themselves but to force this choice upon everyone else as well.
If any of the original Luddites were alive today, perhaps they would loom large to denounce the contemporary caricature of their own movement and rail their tightly-spooled rage against the modern Neo-Luddites that use Ludd’s name in so reckless a threadbare fashion. At the heart of it they were trying to free their working-class fellowship. There would not have been any predominant connotations of extending the distinguishing features of the Luddite revolt into the entire future, no hint of the possibility that they would set a precedent which would effectively forestall or encumber the continuing advancement of technology at the cost of the continuing betterment of humanity.
Who were they to intimate that continuing technological and methodological growth and progress would continually liberate humanity in fits and bounds of expanding freedom to open up the parameters of their possible actions — would free choice from chance and make the general conditions of being continually better and better? If this sentiment were predominant during 1811–1817, perhaps they would have lain their hammers down. They were seeking the liberation of their people after all; if they knew that their own actions might spawn a future movement seeking to dampen and deter the continual technological liberation of Mankind, perhaps they would have remarked that such future Neo-Luddites missed their point completely.
Perhaps the salient heart of their efforts was not the relinquishment of technology but rather the liberation of their fellow man. Perhaps they would have remarked that while in this particular case technological relinquishment coincided with the liberation of their fellow man, that this shouldn’t be heralded as a hard rule. Perhaps they would have been ashamed of the way in which their name was to be used as the nametag and figurehead for the contemporary fight against liberty and Man’s autonomy. Perhaps Ludd is spinning like a loom in his grave right now.
Does the original Luddites’ enthusiasm for choice and the liberation of his fellow man supersede his revolt against technology? I think it does. The historical continuum of which Transhumanism is but the contemporary leading-tip encompasses not only the technological betterment of self and society but the non-technological as well. Historical Utopian ventures and visions are valid antecedents of the Transhumanist impetus just as Techno-Utopian historical antecedents are. While the emphasis on technology predominant in Transhumanist rhetoric isn’t exactly misplaced (simply because technology is our best means of affecting and changing self and society, whorl and world, and thus our best means of improving it according to subjective projected objectives as well) it isn’t a necessary precondition, and its predominance does not preclude the inclusion of non-technological attempts to improve the human condition as well.
The dichotomy between knowledge and device, between technology and methodology, doesn’t have a stable ontological ground in the first place. What is technology but embodied methodology, and methodology but internalized technology? Language is just as unnatural as quantum computers in geological scales of time. To make technology a necessary prerequisite is to miss the end for the means and the mark for a lark. The point is that we are trying to consciously improve the state of self, society and world; technology has simply superseded methodology as the most optimal means of accomplishing that, and now constitutes our best means of effecting our affectation.
The original Luddite movement was less against advancing technology and more about the particular repercussions that specific advancements in technology (i.e. semi-automated looms) had on their lives and circumstances. To claim that Neo-Luddism has any real continuity-of-impetus with the original Luddite movement that occurred throughout 1811–1817 may actually be antithetical to the real motivation underlying the original Luddite movement – namely the liberation of the working class. Indeed, Neo-Luddism itself, as a movement, may be antithetical to the real impetus of the initial Luddite movement both for the fact that they are trying to impose their ideological beliefs upon others (i.e. prohibition is necessarily exclusive, whereas availability of the option to use a given technology is non-exclusive and forces a decision on no one) and because they are trying to prohibit the best mediator of Man’s ever-increasing self-liberation – namely technological growth.
Support for these claims can be found in the secondary literature. For instance, in Luddites and Luddism Kevin Binfield sees the Luddite movement as an expression of worker-class discontent during the Napoleonic Wars than having rather than as an expression of antipathy toward technology in general or toward advancing technology as general trend (Binfield, 2004).
And in terms of base-premises, it is not as though Luddites are categorically against technology in general; rather they are simply against either a specific technology, a specific embodiment of a general class of technology, or a specific degree of technological sophistication. After all, most every Luddite alive wears clothes, takes antibiotics, and uses telephones. Legendary Ludd himself still wanted the return of his manual looms, a technology, when he struck his first blow. I know many Transhumanists and Technoprogressives who still label themselves as such despite being weary of the increasing trend of automation.
This was the Luddites’ own concern: that automation would displace manual work in their industry and thereby severely limit their possible choices and freedoms, such as having enough discretionary income to purchase necessities. If their government were handing out guaranteed basic income garnered from taxes to corporations based on the degree with which they replace previously-manual labor with automated labor, I’m sure they would have happily lain their hammers down and laughed all the way home. Even the Amish only prohibit specific levels of technological sophistication, rather than all of technology in general.
In other words no one is against technology in general, only particular technological embodiments, particular classes of technology or particular gradations of technological sophistication. If you’d like to contest me on this, try communicating your rebuttal without using the advanced technology of cerebral semiotics (i.e. language).
Binfield, K. (2004). Luddites and Luddism. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press.