Dr. Laurent Alexander’s book ‘’La guerre des Intelligences’’ should be known by every sensible person. Its subject is indisputable: we are experiencing a true anthropological revolution, perhaps the most important of our entire history, but nobody or hardly anybody in Europe, is really paying attention. Is this another sign of the almost pathological wish of the Europeans to completely break with History, and therefore, with the game of power between nations? Unfortunately, this may well be the case, but this is not the subject of this article.
I would like to reflect especially on the thesis of Laurent Alexandre – which to me seems almost impossible to question – and how to react to it in a political and philosophical sense. When I say ‘’’we’’ I indeed speak of the French, and more generally of the Europeans, but everybody will understand that I will focus even more on the reactions of right-winged thinkers, conservatives and/or traditionalists -to who I consider myself to belong-, because this revolution which is now taking place invites us to also revolutionize our ideas.
Let us briefly summarize dr. Alexandre’s thesis: artificial intelligence and our dependence on it will continue to grow incessantly. Artificial intelligence already surpasses our human capacities in many fields and could destroy most professions which were formerly thought to be the exclusive domain of mankind and of mankind alone (for example medicine). In order to compete with AI, and, most of all, to keep a grasp on it, mankind will need to improve its cognitive capacities. If not, mankind risks to be completely outclassed. Therefore, any progress in the field of AI demands equal progress in the field of what is called ‘’transhumanism’’, one cannot go without the other. Thus, other than to stop all research on AI and to destroy all of the smartphones we have in our hands, there is not much that will stop the studies and practices on the genome, the brain and our body that will soon upset our human experience. Needless to say, no one will destroy their smartphones, and if a country decided to stop research unilaterally, China and the United States, that (unlike us) do still see themself as powers, are definitely not willing to stop.
All those who doubt the aforementioned thesis I recommend to read Laurent Alexandre’s book before continuing to read this article. I believe it to be very convincing and therefore the rest of this article will build on the assumption that his thesis is true.
Bio-conservatism and the fear of transhumanism
The first reaction of « people like us » to transhumanism and progress of AI is fear, even disgust. Transhumanism and AI bring us into an unknown world of which we naturally have many fantasies. We imagine a cold and dehumanized world, ruled by technology, filled with genetic manipulations carried out by sinister German-accented scientists. Moreover, our holistic and communal conceptions rebel against the idea of a God-man demiurge of himself, a sort of acme of Western liberal individualism, ready to abolish the rules of Creation to satisfy his Ego and his thirst for power. The ‘’instinctive’’ reaction of a human being is to squint as a sign of concern and distrust. If this ‘’human being’’ is right-winged, that is to say, more averse than others to what we call ‘’progress’’, he will squint all the more as a sign of aggression, wishing to lock himself in a ‘’bio-conservative’’ ideology whose sole purpose can only be a status quo, not wanting to revisit the progress of medicine and the supercomputers that it already uses.
Personally, I had this initial instinct as well, which I think is normal and rather healthy. At first I shared the ‘’bio-conservative’’ ideas. But now, I believe them to be vain. Transhumanism will pass as all the other technical and human revolutions have passed, leaving conservatives in their tears by the side of the road. For at least two centuries, conservatives have been losing, because ultimately all they can do is lose, since life and history are essentially moving rivers that no one can stop. Conservatives never stop anything, they add only bitterness to the earthquakes that periodically wave humanity. One must understand: to not accept an ongoing revolution, be it for moral and ethical reasons, will not prevent it from taking its course.
I believe, therefore, that we should not approach this matter from a conservative but rather a traditionalist position. The difference is immense. Conservatism is a distrust and caution that may escalate into sclerosis. Mistrust and caution must be maintained, but sclerosis must be avoided. This is why traditionalist views are useful.
Objectives of traditionalist philosophy
Traditionalism is not, contrary to what one can believe, « reactionary ». Traditionalistic thinkers are more interested in the meaning given to humanity and to the specific demands that come with it. From the very beginning the traditionalist conception has been characterized by two elements: the will of mankind to improve and the harmony with the Universe which it must reach. Let us see if these two ambitions can reconcile with « transhumanism ».
Contrary to Rousseau’s concept of the ‘’noble savage’’, the traditional conception has never ceased to value education and selection. Man is not, by nature, something that has ‘’value within itself’’, but rather something that can, potentially, become of value through his actions and thoughts, reflections and achievements. From a young Hindu at the school of his Brahmin master, to the current Polytechnics, we know that a human being needs to be formed, informed, educated, and sometimes even ‘’trained’’ to achieve the true status of a ‘’man’’, and only this status, will make him honourable. It is by perpetual work on one’s body and soul that a man can differentiate himself from animals, that he can produce art and philosophy, that he can expand his influence in the world, that he can protect himself from perils, and that he can ameliorate his capacities at the same time. Education, as long as we validate its principle, has always had the aim to increase the cognitive and physical abilities of a human being.
This education and its corollary, selection, fundamentally aim to improve the species, which is therefore able to explore the universe, to unravel the mysteries of the Spirit, to better understand the world’s nature through philosophy and spirituality, and to produce art, i.e., precisely, what spikes imagination and creation that will serve beauty and wonder. Since the dawn of time, it is through these objectives that humanity has found its meaning, a meaning that is unique to it, that differentiates it from other mammal species and only this, makes humanity honourable.
What is the ultimate aim of this education, of this desire to improve and upgrade mankind? At the roots of traditionalist thinking, the Brahmans of the Vedic period, that of the unparalleled Upanishads, directed men to integrate and understand ‘’the Atman’’, i.e., ‘’the soul of the world’’, in order to be truly in touch with the Creation, with the Universe. This ability to reach the atman, the ultimate stage, called for high-pitched cognitive abilities, and the whole Brahman society was focused on this supreme goal. Medieval Christianity was not far removed from sharing a similar goal, inviting the ‘’best’’, i.e. the saints, to ‘’connect’’ with God through spiritual, philosophical and metaphysical exercises that were certainly within everyone’s reach. In Sufi Islam, the most spiritual branch of Islam, the goal is no different: one must be able to penetrate the ‘’One’’, a sort of rehash of the Vedic Atman. Thus, all the great movements of spiritual thought, have always called for more intelligence, more capabilities and more strength.
Man’s nature and dignity
In sum, when we summarize the traditionalist philosophy, the objectives it demands of humanity and the different means to reach those objectives, we see that everything was done to improve humanity (and especially its intelligence) in order to better understand the universe. This is the meaning of the ‘’dignitas’’ of man, once theorized in classical humanism. In the possibilities offered by transhumanism, notably the improvement of IQ and the strength of the body,there are no differences of kind to be found with the « sense » of man that Tradition once gave to it, there is merely a difference of degree. The moment we agree with the idea that Man finds his dignity in self-improvement through education and excellence in order to better understand and conquer the Universe, and (find his dignity) in its capacity to create, there is no reason to incriminate new means to achieve it. That would be to consider it reasonable to go from point A to point B on horseback, but unreasonable to drive there. To consider it reasonable to kill a man with a club, but not with a shotgun. Which would be absurd. The principle remains the same, merely the means change. Therefore, if a conservative‘’validates’’ the principle, he must open his mind to the means available that serve the same principle, or he will run the risk to be illogical and to become bitter.
One could argue that the various means formerly used to achieve these human goals still belonged to nature, whereas transhumanistic methods are completely technical. A reflection for those reasoning this way: at the end of the 18th century, the German philosopher Schelling introduced the ‘’philosophy of nature’’ into Western thinking, a kind of premise of the German romanticism that would arise in the following century, which after two centuries of rationalistic and abstract thinking, would somewhat reconnect with Traditionalism and its carnal connection with nature. Now, what does Schelling tell us? That the achievements of mankind are to be interpreted as achievements of Nature itself, since mankind is part of Nature. Technology/Technique, art and human constructions are not attempts to escape Creation, but are phenomenons originations from Creation itself. Transhumanism and artificial intelligence are therefore also creations of Nature, because it is the very nature of man to create.
The challenge: the meaning given to transhumanism
The real challenge of transhumanism becomes apparent with the question of how humanity must use it, rather than the question of whether it should be abolished or not. To clarify, here are some concrete examples: transhumanism, should it be used for a mediocre man who wants nothing in life but to enjoy himself, to have three vagina’s and two anusses implanted in order to have more pleasure, like in a Houellebecq novel? Or should it serve a man who would increase his intellectual and physical capabilities in order to, more successfully, achieve the goals that Tradition has prescribed for him, namely: to create, to conquer and to understand? Should AI enable mediocre people to quit working, with robots replacing all jobs, and consequently allow them to indulge in idle inactivity under curatorship of a universal income? Or on the contrary, shoud it push mankind to seek new scenes of expansion, whether it be physical (the universe, ecology) or intellectual (art, spirituality)? Even more prosaic: should AI and transhumanism only serve the power of our competitors, the US and China, or should it also allow Europe to remain a world power?
All these questions show that the right is wrong to have a fixed opposition regarding this technical progress, because in truth it absolutely demands a determination of its ‘’meaning’’ in order to use it. If the Traditionalist though wishes to escape the debate by closing its eyes, this ‘’meaning’’ will then be provided by individuals who are in fact unsavoury, self-obsessed sorcerer’s apprentices with mediocre instincts. I repeat: the question of the meaning given to transhumanism must be the sole issue, the sole debate, not transhumanisme in itself, which is already here.
There are still many things to be said. For today, I will stop here, but the opportunities offered by these new technologies, if they can turn our heads, require a solid backbone. This is why Tradition can perfectly conjoin technical and human progress: it must be the column that will hold up our heads, especially if, in the future, our heads become heavier from intelligence.