For my research paper, I chose to focus on the film District 9 by filmmaker Neill Blomkamp. The film is about human relations with a group of extraterrestrials who come to Earth and live in a refugee camp under horrendous conditions. Meanwhile, the protagonist, Wikus van de Merwe, is undergoing a physical transformation from human to alien which forces insight into what constitutes humanness. In Seth D. Baum’s review of the film, he focuses on this aspect of the film which he calls transhumanism. Baum characterizes Wikus as a “human being in transition to something else with superior abilities” due to his and the aliens’ ability to use advanced alien technology; something which is sought after by the large corporation Multi-National United (MNU) and Nigerian gangsters alike.
Baum says that transhumanism is embodied by not just Wikus but also the gangsters which eat alien flesh to gain their ability. This is because he asserts that the attempt to gain abilities which transcend one’s physical capabilities is transhuman in nature. Also that the gangsters are simultaneously, and thus paradoxically, primitive due to the crudeness of their attempts at ascension. I disagree with the former claim of transhumanism being present in the Nigerians’ attempts at ascension. I find this quality to be innately more human than anything else that has ever been observed. This is evident in that humans have accomplished more technologically than thought possible relative to any other organism. I understand that Baum stated this due to the Nigerians attempting to literally change their own biology but attempting to do so and actually doing it are very different things. I find the Nigerians’ acts to be a mere means to achieve the much larger goal of skill and power.
Justification of means is also brought up when discussing MNU’s methods of torture and vivisection to develop new weapons technologies. Baum argues that if the end result were more noble, then MNU’s tactics would be acceptable. Primarily because we would be able to do something that was previously considered impossible. Essentially, transhuman characteristics should be exploited and utilized to their fullest potential when possible. Baum goes further to say that individuals with desirable transhuman characteristics would be accepted, lauded, and studied in society rather than persecuted as the story portrays. From a classical evolutionary perspective, this makes sense. But upon reflection onto last week’s post about Vonnegut’s claims that natural selection is based on luck due to the randomness of natural phenomenon, I realized that pursuing transhumanism is not as simple as it seems. Artificially augmenting our biology may give us traits that we assume are desirable, but how can we ensure that these traits will remain desirable in the future? In context, what if MNU created extremely advanced weaponry which deprived soldiers of their physical features? Is the sacrifice worth it?
To move onto more transhuman conundrums, we explore applicability of technology when it comes to athletics and other competition. Recently, people in charge of the Olympics considered banning hyperbaric oxygen chambers which improved athletes’ lungs by allowing them to function with less oxygen. This altering of the human anatomy was allowed whereas the use of anabolic steroids to increase muscle growth is still illegal. When do humans stop evolving by means of natural selection and begin doing so by means of artificial selection? I believe that the answer is not quite so simple and that there exists gradations of what constitutes human, transhuman, and posthuman.