Rational utilitarian ethics must inform policy at scale.
These must strive to be secular and simultaneously preserve sectarian agency of individual; ie, religious freedom within the bounds of civility
Civility is the core of society, without it we may develop rational accommodations for disintegration at the individual, communal, and structural levels. We see this in overly liberalized mental health policy and the erosion of functioning civic infrastructure.
The cost of freedom is being in relationship to the outcomes of the actions of others.
Therefore, in the realm of identity, we see a diversity of beliefs informing values, actions, and outcomes. Today’s culture scape hosts a variety of technology enabled identity curation and cosmetic expressions. This is demonstrated within the longevity, biohacking, and transgender communities. Each holds unique values and beliefs that separate them from the whole of society. Now, more than ever, these separations will require precise, utilitarian policy to guide the access to technologies of self augmentation.
Proponents of longevity are accumulating wealth to extend their lives, and thereby their agency through multiple generations of influence. This alters the flow of ideology between generations and delays the transfer of authority between leadership roles. Underneath this outcome is a belief in meritocracy that requires one to earn access to such longevity through contribution and value capture within the economy. At what point has too much authority been amassed by an individual? At what point will an individual remain a good actor, while being divorced from the broader social ecosystems onto which policy expresses? In most developed countries, automobile drivers must re-test for licensure after age 65. This exists to validate the socially developed attributes of each generation of drivers and ultimately mitigate accidents on motorways. Does a similar outcome result in other domains?
In the biohacking space, individuals can use nootropics and neuro-morphic hardware to radically enhance cognitive capacity. Will these individuals access a level of cognition beyond the masses and require similar siloed ecosystems to operate? A potential negative outcome is that these ‘enhanced’ individuals will capture authority in certain domains. Will this result in a valid caste system with high barriers to access? Or will these traits allow board authority over multiple domains, resulting in anti-competition?
In the transgender domain, the water becomes a good deal more opaque. Individuals hacking reproductive polarity through cosmetic surgeries is nothing new. Mate seeking behavior has already adjusted to filter for cosmetic enhancements in partner selection. Will these procedures mature to become undetectable? Is this a bad thing as the technologies should remain available to future generations; and thereby reconcile as a durable feature of humanity?
Most critically, will the access extend to youth seeking permanent alterations in any of these domains?
We can imagine a scenario where parents are seeking to provide the child with all advantages available, and thereby choose to equip their child with a brain computer interface at a young age. This would then alter their psychological development stages to render them incredibly capable at some tasks, while stagnating other social developments. There may be risk that such enhanced children atrophy their capacity for empathy to non-enhanced peers and develop a sort of caste hierarchy complex.
I witnessed an aspect of this within radical transgender spaces. Herein, individuals developed a superiority complex to cisgender peers. Namely, they viewed themselves as ahead of the curve in social development for having transcended the patriarchal legacy of traditional gender roles in their quest to build their prototopia. But did this prove accurate? Or were many over compensating for their bypassing of inner reflection and gender based adverse childhood experiences?
I found the latter case to be most prevalent. Many of my past peers in the gender expansive community were in fact avoiding the gift of processing and integrating their experiences with polarity in favor of transcendence and a mild form of messiah complex. And they were grappling with the permanence of their decisions.
Without going too deeply into this thread, I view access to cosmetic surgeries and hormonal supplementation as akin to getting a tattoo. It is mostly irreversible, bold, and defining. We also have laws prohibiting youth accessing tattoos due to these aspects. On the other hand, Brazilian mental health policy covers cosmetic surgeries and does not cover costs for counseling or therapy. The outcomes indicate that, at least within the materialist social sphere, these surgeries do have an impact on mental health outcomes.
““What is the difference between a plastic surgeon and a psychoanalyst? The psychoanalyst knows everything but changes nothing. The plastic surgeon knows nothing but changes everything.” -NYT, Alexander Edmonds
Now back to my ethical framework. If compassion is a value that I choose to group around, is the tolerance of individuals seeking ‘skin deep’ interventions as part of their holistic healthcare valid? Yes, I believe so. However, it is also not an excuse to bypass the inner work necessary to establish a deeply rooted center in the individual. And while we do well to tolerate surface level expression and mitigate shame, we also can encourage introspection and development, as this work will yield value throughout the deterioration of outer beauty during the aging process.
And here lies the tension of the transgender community, and longevity and biohacking communities; we are far more than our physical bodies. We are timeless beings, navigating linearly constrained timelines to develop our gifts. Within this illusion of finite mortality, all spiritual traditions speak to accessing gnosis, or direct experience. Therefore, I advocate for the actual meeting our true self before investing in altering this rented flesh suit we mistake for our identity. While we love our human animal, I know that this is a gift. We are passengers integrated with the homosapien form. Through which, we have the gift of exploring life as consciousness itself. Were all transgender individuals in touch with this ontology, would there be as much eagerness to modify the animal form to attain psychological wellness? I venture that such a spiritual core connection would substantially deescalate motivation towards surgery and increase loving awareness for what is.
Now to go more technical: is access to these affirming procedures worthy of government mandate and are they honorable decisions?
The role of government is to maintain the coherence of the diverse ideologies and values of the people towards effective civic functioning. Herein, we must accommodate all individuals’ processes of self discovery in ‘pursuit of happiness’ within the bounds of civility. This is why we can tolerate free speech, but not genocide for example. Therefore, we can tolerate self castration and cosmetic surgeries, but not hate crimes. Does it erode the civic functioning of society to allow a person born with male sex characteristics to surgically alter their body? No. Does it erode civic functioning to accommodate using gender segregated public facilities when their physical characteristics do not match the design intentions of these facilities? Yes, to some extent. The solution to bathrooms is to provide a neutral facility and clarify the intention of the segregation along the specific utilities within each space. The womens’ restroom is not designed to divide genders and mitigate sexual violence; it is designed to optimize the receptacle for defecation in privacy, while managing the turnover of users. There are other crucial pieces of legislation against sexual crimes in public spaces that govern sexual misconduct in these spaces and these will continue to apply. While some would argue that the female bathroom has become a ‘safe’ social space away from the male gaze, there are other such spaces that achieve this result and this function is not the design motivation; therefore defending this use case does not carry thrust at the core utility level.
In the domain of children, the authority of the parents to raise their children must be preserved. Specifically, the developing brain cannot harbor a mind capable of fully consenting to the permanence of certain procedures. Moreover, the derivative impacts of interrupting the cycles of physical, neurological, and social developments cannot be fully known or understood; and therefore should be extremely guarded from medical alteration. We see an increased instance of psychological divergence in youth whom have undergone hormonal therapies for example. With socio-emotional deficiencies being most prevalent in transgender youth and young adults, directly correlated to stunted socialization with peer groups experiencing similar pubescent development.
This had been further exacerbated with digital social spaces, gaming, and media platforms. Herein, youth experience social validation as the digital avatar and later seek to align their embodiment to these artificial characters using biotechnology and fashion. The key shortcoming here is the lack of embodiment and interoceptive literacy of the young person in discerning right action. What feels good to the mind is not always aligned with what is good for the mind and body as an integrated system. Therefore, the atrophied awareness of the body’s felt experience of right functioning permits the person to seek out and approve of the possibility of further interrupting the body’s intelligence. Personally, I experienced a dramatic spike in my HRV (heart rate variability) scores during my daily meditation practice the week I ceased cross sex hormonal therapy. This data point deserves further study.
Next, what is a woman? Etymologically, a man is an anglo derived word referring to property owner and civic participant. ‘Wo-’ is an antecedent to indicate not that. Therefore, a woman is any human who is not a property owner or civic participant. In this patriarchal heritage, the word woman meant all beings from children, to vagabonds, to females. Through the generations this has become socially redefined to refer to the construct of gender as it pertains to adult females in the social landscape. (source)
In this frame, we are still operating on outdated language to relegate a portion of our species and society as less active in government, carrying less legal weight, and therefore deserving less priority. It is time for an update.
With these advances in technology, we are now able to design our biology towards specific roles in society. I believe the outcomes of these applications will remain under that final authority of nature in that primary polarity will continue to inform outcomes. Namely, all things have gender, and this is key to relationship. With too much complexity, polarity becomes opaque and relationships experience decreases in polar bonds and poor outcomes. To maintain our society, we must preserve the masculine and feminine technologies of being in language, labor, and law such that men and women continue to exist in healthy relationship. The alternative is to engineer compatibility and introduce friction in partner seeking; potentially threatening the longevity of our species. Simultaneously, we are advancing reproductive technologies to displace sexual procreation as the most effective mechanism for species durability. Before we rocket off to the dystopia of “Brave New World’s” invitro fertilization and incubation clinics, hedonistic mandated community orgies, and bio-engineered caste systems; perhaps we would do well to establish a collective utilitarian ethics that preserve the sectarian independence and neo-religious autonomy of individuals to choose how to relate to such technology dependent futures.
Returning to today’s landscape of policy, I counsel a strong stance against shame. Where shame is present, the individual represses aspects of self that would otherwise have reconciled into healthy trait expression. We seek sexual deviancy, secrecy, and despotic behavior spikes in overly conservative religious communities which shame certain sexual and cross gendered behaviors. This does not contribute to a world witnessing the totality of human diversity. Even more critically, this does not serve the preservation of the value set such shame is seeking to protect. Rather it enhances the counter pressure against such a value set. Islamic and Catholic values each center on the family and the traditional masculine patriarch as key to healthy spiritual outcomes. This can be a beautiful foundation for the healthy masculine and feminine to flourish in right checks and balances, and has stood the test of time. However, when these values are enforced via shame based tactics, the baby is thrown out with the bathwater; and those rejected build animosity, while those who repress and conceal see their gifts fester and contort. Were such dogmas to preach and act in alignment with tolerance, perhaps the dissonant characters in their communities could depart with grace and arrive in more aligned communities. These communities could even form key allegiances over their shared values and peaceful sovereignty along their disagreements. Ultimately leading to a rich ecosystem of ideological diversity.
Further, these traditional dogmas fail to account for already existing cultural diversity in gender expression. Namely, across the globe humans have cultivated masculine and feminine external traits uniquely to their regions. Senegalese men are know as fierce wrestlers and passionate speakers, while also sharing platonic touch between men more regularly than their american peers. Japanese men hold strict codes of honor between men, while also regularly seeking manicures, wearing eye makeup, and even holding hands on walks home from the bar; all without infringing on their heteronormative masculinity. What then is traditional gender? And how do we globalize our place based cultures into a coherent society without judgement?
And finally, to return full circle to these technologies of self augmentation and ethics. I see a world where diversity is celebrated within reason. Where we do not need parades of pride to capture external acknowledgement of our uniqueness. Rather we rest in the knowledge that each one of us is unique and has access to ethically aligning with our tribe of aligned actors. All communities can thrive in peace, negotiate over common ground, and cultivate our capacity to see one another in our fullness.
I am currently exploring Ursula K. Le Guin’s novel “Left Hand of Darkness.” Here the indigenous science fiction novelist generated a world where individuals have no gender outside of a three day period each month. The plot revolves around this device to illuminate the cultural nuances and governmental policy diversity between traditional and advanced inter-planetary coordination and local cultures. These visions of exaggerated human behavior can be invaluable in illuminating such threads as they operate in our current world.
Let us live in a world of tolerance, free from shame and full of diversity. Herein, I see hope for a world that is deeply human.
Platic surgery in Brazil, New York Times 2011
Etymology of “man”