Celebrating self-mutilation, Ctd.

In response to my last post about transhumanist celebration of the self-harming behavior of one young woman, tlcraig comments:
I have to say, I am tempted by the view that Lepht Anonym is simply more clear-sighted and thorough-going in her rejection of ‘the given’, or, more sharply put, her hatred of the body, than her fellow transhumanists. Like the body-builder, or the cosmetic surgery patient, she at least recognizes the necessity of risking the good that goes with our presently limited bodies in order to get FOR HERSELF the thought-to-be-possible good of a deliberately remade body. Her fellow transhumanists are willing, even eager, to risk the goods available to presently limited bodies FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS. The fact that they are willing to risk nothing themselves must be somewhat telling, no? Indeed, from the vantage point of L.A., it looks a bit like cowardice masquerading as generosity.
Of course, this is not to deny that there may be a confusion, even a kind of mental illness, behind her ‘daring’, and that the actions of the more ‘timid’ transhumanists in fact points to a prudence. But making that explicit would oblige thinking their way past ridiculous arguments like “searching on Google makes us all cyborgs already” and “aging is a disease no different than cancer”
Tlcraig is right, of course, that one could view Lepht Anonym’s behavior as simply following transhumanist principles without timidity. But now that we have an example of those principles in action, we can vividly see their shortcomings. From a theoretical standpoint, one could argue that we only consider her sort of self-modification to be caused in part by mental illness because of our outdated normative principles — or even that we’re all actually mentally ill for accepting our frail, decaying bodies. But then, as we’ve seen in this case, one becomes unable to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy states of mind — in particular, one loses the capacity to judge any self-modification behavior as unhealthy, or as motivated by unhealthy impulses.
Perhaps there is such a thing as a perfectly adjusted, psychologically balanced, and untroubled person simply deciding for philosophical reasons to cut up himself or herself. But it is striking that none of the transhumanist-friendly discussions I’ve seen about Lepht Anonym have mentioned even the possibility that her behavior might be motivated in part by disturbed psychological states, feelings of self-loathing, or suicidal ideation. Nor, of course, have they noted the easily available confirmation that her behavior actually is motivated by these things. Nor have they discussed whether this might bring into question the praising of self-modification — much less have they discussed whether it might be unethical to encourage it in this one individual.
All of this points to the conclusion that transhumanism has some profound shortcomings in its ability (and desire) to understand the human subject it claims to be so interested in bettering.

Celebrating self-mutilation

I had a look today at the disturbing, fascinating blog of Lepht Anonym, the young woman who recently caused a stir on transhumanist-leaning sites by performing various “enhancement” surgeries on herself at home. These surgeries typically involved implanting small devices in herself, such as magnets under her fingertips, meant to give her extra sensory abilities — often with medical complications resulting.
There’s actually something strangely refreshing about Anonym’s blog: it may be the only transhumanist writing I’ve seen that seems to be written by an actual person, one clearly possessed of a complicated inner life. Transhumanists usually seem to lose interest in expressing their inner lives when they give their thoughts over to the boundlessly incoherent muddle of transhumanist theorizing.
Here’s just one example of Anonym’s distinctive relationship to transhumanism:
i would very much like it if the uneducated masses who like to call me an idiot would disavail themselves of the following precepts:…
3. that you are just as much a “cyborg” as i am because you use an iPhone and wear glasses. [****] off if you are going to tell me that what i do is pointless, and i do not want to debate the definition of cybrog with any normal.
Anonym is here rejecting one of the most familiar and empty transhumanist tropes (employed just yesterday in a blog post by Philippe Verdoux, who says that “the cyborg is already among us”).
Lepht Anonym delivers a lecture.
There is much else that could be said about Anonym’s very personal chronicle. Most notable, sadly, is the confirmation, in a post dated eight days before Wired.com ran its story about her, that Anonym is a diagnosed sufferer of borderline personality disorder (BPD). One of the main symptoms of BPD is deliberate self-harm — formerly known as self-mutilation.
Transhumanists love to repeat the idea that life as we know it, inextricable as it is from aging, is inherently a state of disease (for which transhumanism is the cure). Whatever you think of the aims of that idea, it is difficult to distinguish among various diseased states as good and bad. The only easily recognizable good is resisting the disease — rebelling against the bounds of biology.
Consequently, transhumanists have no conception of any relevance to beings alive today of what it means to flourish, and neither, then, of what sorts of acts and states of mind constitute a profound lack of flourishing. And so it’s sad, if not at all surprising, to find transhumanists not only lacking the faculties to evaluate self-mutilation as the self-destructive behavior of a person in need of help, but encouraging it — both by reporting on it so enthusiastically, and by fostering a subculture in which it could be understood as a laudable act of creation and self-expression.
It’s not psychological distress: it’s “morphological freedom” through “DIY bio.” This is the terminology transhumanists use to anoint their attitude as the highest and bravest sort of enlightenment. Except, read a few of Anonym’s posts describing her self-surgeries and the complications following them, and get a sense of the motivation behind them, and those terms begin to seem like cruel euphemisms — and yet another indication that transhumanist ideology represents a step backwards, not forwards, in our betterment and self-understanding. Wired.com should seriously reexamine its decision to run this piece in the way it did. And — although I know that the moral invoked here is itself scoffed at as unenlightened — the transhumanist community should be ashamed of its role in this.
Lepht Anonym certainly has a distinctive voice and presence on her blog. I can’t help but enjoy that she has twenty-six blog posts tagged “that is illogical captain.” She can be clever, witty, and charmingly self-deprecating. Her self-description says that she “likes people,” and it shows: even in posts in which she describes her pain and confusion, there is an obvious and admirable warmth and love for her friends and family.
I hope Lepht Anonym will stick around, and will find an outlet for her energy and talents that is better for her.
UPDATE: See my follow-up post here.

Transhumanist self-mutilation

Wired has a story up by John Borland featuring one Lepht Anonym, who performs surgery on herself to implant various small devices intended to augment her sensory abilities. “You just have to get deep enough to open a hole and put something in,” she says. Take a minute and read this short article before continuing here, as it is one of those stories that cannot possibly be improved in the retelling.

Lepht AnonymI can’t be sure, of course, but I’m willing to bet that had such a story appeared in the news anywhere in the modern West up until very recently — the past decade at most — it would have been given a headline more like, “A Curious Case of Self-Mutilation.” But look at how readily Ms. Anonym and Mr. Borland fall into the transhumanist mindset to account for what she is doing to herself (and this despite her contempt for transhumanist theoreticians). When young people cut themselves and do not attempt to stick anything into the incision — as so many today, especially young women, do — it is still relatively obvious even in our tolerant times that they are in need of psychological assistance. That, after all, is pointless cutting, a cry for help. But let a young woman cut herself and implant some foreign and potentially toxic material into her body, and she becomes worthy of respectful attention, a pioneer. Somebody has to show the way for the next step after tattooing and piercing lose their edge, right?
“Self-mutilation” may be one of those ideas that become too old-fashioned to survive in a transhumanist-influenced future. It will be hard enough to maintain any serious idea of mutilation when the transgressive “creativity” that the artistic temperament currently unleashes against innocent canvas is turned on flesh. It might seem as if any diminishment of capacity would constitute mutilation on transhumanist assumptions, but that caveat is unlikely to survive its libertarian relativism.

In this case, however, even “doing her own thing” does not seem to be the last word. She is Lepht Anonym — left nameless — as if despite doing something so distinctive, she does not seek distinction, but rather wishes to be always in motion, to be the one who can be defined by no name. How can there be self-mutilation if one denies there is a self to do it, or do it to?

[Image: Lepht Anonym, courtesy of Wired.]