GIULIO PRISCO THE CONTRADICTORY TRANSHUMANIST
My friend and fellow transhumanist, Giulio Prisco, might seem like something of a contradictory character. This is because he has beliefs which, to some, may seem incompatible. For example, many transhumanists would call themselves atheists and assert that one cannot possibly believe in transhumanism, which they consider to be a purely rational, scientific discipline, while also having religious beliefs, which they consider to be irrational, superstitious and therefore entirely incompatible with transhumanism. But not Giulio. He is a firm believer that transhumanism and religion can make good bedfellows, and has established such organisations as the 'Turing-Church' to promote this idea that there can be a happy marriage between religiosity and transhumanism.
I am not, however, interested in examining his work in bringing about a unification of transhumanist and religious beliefs, at least not in this essay. Instead, I want to focus on something else about Giulio which might well strike some as even more contradictory. That something else is this: Giulio Prisco is a smoker.
I think that bares repeating: Giulio Prisco is a transhumanist, and he is a smoker.
Doesn't that strike you as odd? As two entirely incompatible lifestyles?
(Image from Giulio Prisco)
Think about it: If transhumanism is known for anything in the popular imagination, it is known as the movement which has set for itself the task of abolishing death through the application of science. News reports on the movement will talk mostly about these 'immortalists' who enthusiastically embrace any technology no matter how controversial or absurd it may seem to outsiders, if it holds even the faintest hope of granting life everlasting. These are people who swallow hundreds of pills and adopt punishing dietary regimes, who sign up to have their heads cryonically preserved, and much more besides, all in the hope of remaining alive for as long as possible. Zoltan Istvan, who ran a US presidential campaign in 2016 promoting transhuman agendas, rode around the country in an 'immortality bus'. This is the group of people which Giulio counts himself a member, and yet he is a smoker, which by now is universally agreed to be very bad for one's health. I mean, it is not like anyone can claim not to realise these 'cancer sticks' are hazardous to one's longevity. The damn things are sold in packets with pictures of tar-filled disease-ridden lungs and "SMOKING CAUSES DEATH!" in unmistakably clear lettering. So why is this transhumanist- this 'immortalist'- indulging in an activity which is going to cut his life short?
(The Immortality Bus. Image from immortalitybus)
One possible explanation was put forward by Max More, who once said:
"I see a distressing number of superlongevity advocates who apparently do not exercise or eat healthily, instead firmly hoping that medical technology will cure aging before they die".
In the same interview, More expressed concerns that the Singularity was a concept liable to be hijacked by religious "belief systems that promise some form of salvation, heaven, paradise or nirvana". As I briefly touched upon at the start of this essay, Giulio is very much committed to a unification of religious and transhuman beliefs, so maybe he has a firm belief that technology will save him? It might, right? Maybe someday somebody will figure out how to make ciggies that provide all the pleasures of smoking with none of its negativities? Maybe one day, tiny microscopic robots will be able to slip into our bodies, repairing all damage, clearing up all toxic waste, and leaving us supremely fit and healthy no matter how much we abuse our bodies?
Actually, I do not think that is the case with Giulio. Instead, I think it is a mistake to think of transhumanism as being primarily concerned with immortality. No, what transhumanism is mostly concerned with is choice or rather the lack of it. Our bodies, our minds, our cultures, impose all kinds of restraints on us, limiting our ability to choose for ourselves what kind of people we want to be. The main purpose of transhumanism is to challenge the idea that any limit, any constraint, is permanent and unbreakable. That is not to say it is a belief system which proclaims 'anything goes'. To be a serious transhumanist, one must believe in the rights of others to seek and adopt their own idealised self, lifestyle and community. Thus, transhumanism is as far removed from the eugenics movement (which is about a small group of people imposing their notions of what a person should be on everybody else) as any belief system can get.
Since the fundamental drive of transhumanism is to increase personal choice wherever theoretically possible, I think we can put forward a simple explanation for why Giulio Prisco is a smoker. Because he chooses to be. He knows the risks, he knows the positive aspects (and goodness knows there must be something really good about smoking, or else it would not be such a popular product despite such horrifying warnings) and he has decided that he wants to smoke. You see, there is more to life than just extending it indefinitely. Life should be enjoyed, tailored to suit one's own unique sense of what is most fulfilling, and for Giulio that evidently includes a puff on a cigarette every now and then. As a committed transhumanist, provided Giulio respects the rights of non-smokers not to breathe in his polluting fug (go outside if you wanna light up) I say 'it's your life, your choice'.
And as a Singularitarian, I pray to the techno-gods that the ability to save his poor body from his filthy habit appears in time to keep dear Giulio with us, forever:)