More MOOC Stuff (and Reflections on Transhumanism)

I feel like the MOOC is getting farther and farther away from what I was hoping it would be with each passing week. And it’s a bummer, because I started out pretty optimistic.

This week, we did more readings on humanism/transhumanism/posthumanism, and I’m having a hard time finding connections between these readings and online teaching (which is what I’d been hoping the class would have more of a focus on). The two concepts seem like they’re on totally different ends of the spectrum for me, though I did enjoy the Stacey Pigg article on student bodies that we read for 516 this week.

I guess I’m just feeling kind of tired of the MOOC at this point because of all the focus on this idea of humanism and transhumanism, which is something I just can’t get into (and believe me, I’ve tried). I do believe that there is something inherently different about being a human as opposed to an, say, an ape…but I don’t really see the point in advancing an idea of humanism. And as for transhumanism, I actually found Nick Bostrom’s “Transhumanist Values” articles to be a depressing read.

Specifically, I didn’t care for the negative way Bostrom in which portrayed the “normal” human life, such as his claim that “lasting joy remains elusive.” I get that there are some pretty awful things that happen in the world and that everybody has their trials and tribulations, but I guess I’ve just been lucky enough to always feel like I’ve got it pretty good regardless. To quote American Beauty (because I like to do this as often as humanly possible), “there’s plenty of joy in my life.” 🙂

Aside from that, Bostrom’s claims just seemed very generalized, not well-thought-out, and generally individualistic (a claim that I believe Katherine Hayles, in “Wrestling with Transhumanism” made about transhumanist notions as a whole). You can’t just list all of these ideal conditions that would be in place for the transhumanist vision to become a reality and then not explain how those conditions would ever actually come to be. Specifically, Bostrom mentions that there would have to be equal access of technologies to everybody. Okay…how? How is that going to be a possibility when not everybody in the world has even remotely equal access to things like health care? Or food? Or water?

On the bright side, Hayles article was refreshing because it exactly addressed the kinds of issues I have with the idea of transhumanism. I appreciated that she took some of the ideas of transhumanism and essentially said “even though I don’t agree with these, I still think they’re useful to think about. Let’s put them in another context: science fiction!” Now, I’m not a big scifi fan, but looking at it through that lens was refreshing. Not to mention, some of the literature she was discussing actually sounded pretty interesting.

Anyway, the MOOC will be wrapping up next week, so here’s to hoping that week 5 is a better one.

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