Future Past: Disability, Eugenics, & Brave New Worlds

Future Past: Disability, Eugenics, & Brave New Worlds. A public symposium on the history and ongoing implications of eugenics ideologies and practices for people with disabilities.
Why do these issues matter? How can we address them in teaching and pedagogy, in policy and activism, and in art?

On November 1, 2013 at San Francisco State University, Seven Hill Conference Center from 9:00 am – 8:00 pm.
The Living Archives on Eugenics in Western Canada is co-sponsoring a conference, dinner and reception plus the screening of FIXED: The Science/Fiction of Human Enhancement. Conference organizers include: Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability, Living Archives on Eugenics in Western Canada, and the Center for Genetics and Society.

Registration is free:  geneticsandsociety.org/futurepast

Future Past is the result of a cross-national collaboration among advocates and academics interested in gaining a deeper understanding of the long and tangled relationship between disability and eugenics, and the contemporary implications of genetic technologies to the lives and futures of people with disabilities.

Program – November 1, 2013

9:00 – 9:15: Welcome

  • Provost Sue Rossier, San Francisco State University
  • Catherine Kudlick, Director, Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability

9:15 – 9:30: Table Introductions

9:30 – 11:30: What? Eugenics and Disability: Past and Present

Many people are unaware of the history of eugenics movements in North America, yet they are disturbingly relevant today.

Presenters:

  • Alexandra Minna Stern (moderator), Departments of Obstetrics and Gynecology, American Culture, and History at the University of Michigan.
  • Marcy Darnovsky, Center for Genetics and Society
  • Glenn SInclair, Living Archives on Eugenics in Western Canada
  • Nicola Fairbrother, Living Archives on Eugenics in Western Canada

Table Discussions

11:30 – 12:30 : Lunch

12:30 – 2:30: So What? The Consequences of Misremembering Eugenics

What are the social and ethical consequences of omitting eugenics from historical memory or misrepresenting it? What is the price of the pursuit of “human betterment” for reproductive and disability justice?

Presenters:

  • Marsha Saxton (moderator), World Institute on Disability
  • Rob WIlson, Living Archives on Eugenics in Western Canada, University of Alberta
  • Troy Duster, Warren Institute for Law and Society Policy, University of California, Berkeley
  • Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, Emory University

Table Discussions

2:30 – 3:00: Break

3:00 – 5:00: Now What? Looking Ahead to Brave New Worlds

What is being done – and what can be done – to increase public and student understanding of the legacies of eugenics through teaching, activism and art?

Presenters:

  • Milton Reynolds (moderator), Facing History and Ourselves
  • Gregor Wolbring, Living Archives on Eugenics in Western Canada, University of Calgary
  • Kate Wiley, Lick-Wilmerding High School
  • Patricia Berne, Sins Invalid

Table Discussions

5:00 – 6:30: Dinner and Reception

6:30 – 8:00 Sneak-preview screening

FIXED: The Science/FIction of Human Enhancement

Producer/DIrector Regan Brashear will answer questions

 Future Past Nov 1

FIXED:The Science/Fiction of Human Enhancement

How do technologies that claim they will change our bodies and minds challenge our views of disability and normalcy? How might this affect what it means to be human in the twenty-first century?

These are the questions tackled in FIXED: The Science/Fiction of Human Enhancement. It’s a haunting, subtle, urgent documentary that takes a close look at the drive to be “better than human” and the radical technological innovations that some are advocating we embrace. Producer/director Regan Brashear has working on labor, race, youth, LGBTQ, and disability issues for over twenty years through documentary film, union organizing, community forums, and grassroots activism. She is co-founder of Making Change Media, which produces videos for non-profits and labor unions, as well as independent long-form documentaries such as FIXED.

Regan will be interviewed by Gina Maranto, Director of Ecosystem Science and Policy at the University of Miami’s Leonard and Jayne Abess Center, and author of Quest for Perfection: The Drive to Breed Better Human Beings.  Please join us on Thursday October 3 at 11 am PT/ Noon MST / 2 pm ET for Talking Biopolitics a live web-based interview and conversation with Regan Brashnear, Gina Maranto, and you.

Registration is required! You can register here: registration. You can read more about the film and Regan and Gina here

The Living Archives on Eugenics in Western Canada is hosting the Alberta Premiere of FIXED: The Science/Fiction of Human Enhancement with co-sponsors the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine and the John Dossetor Health Ethics Centre, University of Alberta, on Friday October 18, 2013 at the Telus Centre 150, University of Alberta. Doors at 6:30 pm, film at 7:00 pm. Dr. Gregor Wolbring will join us after the film for questions and answers via SKYPE. Admission is FREE and this event is open to the public! Plan to attend!

A Prequel to Gattaca?

The 1997 film Gattaca, written and directed by Andrew Niccol, portrays a futuristic society where babies are genetically engineered according to parental references.  The film features a society that consists almost exclusively of such artificially built individuals, with those who are born in the archaic, natural manner occupying the fringes of this society.  In order to protect the rights of what are referred to as the “valids” and thereby keep out the inferior “invalids,” each individual’s genetic material is constantly sampled and monitored.  Every person’s DNA is stored in a database, making multiple scans and random genetic sweeps in the workplace very efficient.  The story follows an “invalid” who has a dream of becoming an astronaut, a job open only to the genetically enhanced elite.

But my intention here is not to provide a synopsis of the film, which is very good and is certainly well worth the time it takes to watch.  Rather, I wanted to Continue reading

A reply to Allen Buchanan on Cognitive Enhancement

The interview with Allen Buchanan has spawned numerous discussions throughout the web, including Brendan Foht’s response. In it, Foht looks to address Buchanan’s claim that the nature of our evolution in some sense justifies cognitive enhancement, and the existence of other technologies.

It is strange that Buchanan thinks that opponents of genetic engineering who find something worth preserving in our nature must believe that evolution is analogous to some sort of “master engineer.” Considering that evolution is a slow process by which biological order spontaneously emerges from highly complex networks of highly conserved genes, there would seem to be an obvious analogy for it in the conservative view of society.

Another article on the topic by Allen Buchanan can be found here. And you can watch a lecture by Buchanan through Youtube, titled “Using Biotechnology to enhance normal humans: Why nature isn’t good enough.” 

“Why Cognitive Enhancement is in Your Future (and Your Past)”

For those interested in transhumanism, cognitive enhancement, and the potential ethical problems that follow, this interview with Duke Philosophy Professor Allen Buchanan might be of interest. Buchanan has written extensively on the ethical implications of human enhancement, notably in his book Better than Human, and has argued forcefully in favour of pursuing cognitive enhancements.

Buchanan disagrees with critics who suggest that cognitive enhancement should not be pursued, in part, because it’s antithetical to human nature. In fact, he argues that the desire to improve our capacities, and our ability to do so, constitutes an important part of our nature.

I think that any appeal to the notion of human nature, on either side of the enhancement debate, is tricky and problematic and has to be handled with care. Yes, in one sense we might say that it’s part of human nature to strive to improve our capacities. Humans have done this in the past by developing literacy and numeracy, and the institutions of science, and more recently we’ve done it with computers and the Internet. So, yes, if an alien were looking at humanity and asking “What is human nature?” one of the ingredients is going to be that these beings seem quite concerned with improving their capacities and they seem to have a knack for doing it.

Check out the complete, and lengthy, interview for more discussions on this topic, the films Gattaca and Limitless, the potential to exacerbate social inequalities, and other ethical debates surrounding cognitive enhancement.

Conference Call for Papers: Human & Machine: Posthumanism in Technology, Culture, and the Arts

This might be of interest to some people:

The Ewha Trans-Humanities Research Team will host an international
conference on “Human & Machine: Posthumanism in Technology, Culture
and the Arts” from June 1st to 2nd, 2012 and invites suitable
contributions for presentation at the conference..

Genetic engineering and digital technology are more than just
supplement of human intellectual and physical ability; they seem to
bring fundamental changes to the nature of what it means to be human.
Such changes have been seen in how philosophy, literature, art,
technology and cultural discourse view the issue of individual and
group identities, the nature of human characteristics, the meaning of
life, the status of humans in nature and other relevant issues taken
from ethical and political perspectives. In this conference, the
subject of humans and technology, both of which are represented in the
debate on posthumanism, will be deeply discussed from a
multidisciplinary perspective focusing on the topics of: Human Body
Transformation in Science, Technology, and Art; Ethical Issues on
Human Enhancement; Representations of Posthumans in Popular Culture;
and Posthumanistic Impact on Human Ontology.

The conference poses the question as to whether or not technology has
influenced the perspective of being human and the nature of humanity
itself. The conference examine the aspects of the human body that have
been transformed through technology and their significance: How have
physical transformations through prostheses, implants, genetic
engineering, and organ transplants influenced human identity? How are
the ethical issues, that such transformations generate, demonstrated
in the arts? Given the phenomenon that human beings can reconstruct
themselves with machines as well as utilize machines, what is the
meaning of post-human embedded within the interaction between
human-like robots and human beings, or the combination of technology
and human-beings? These questions are to be discussed in the
conference.

Human enhancement and transformation technology, which cutting edge
technology will make possible, demand our serious consideration since
the diverse aspects of being human in the future rely on a variety of
ethical and political issues including the rationality and validity of
the application of such technologies. The conference endeavors to find
answers to the fundamental questions of how to define what is the norm
in the nature of being human, and what natural rights for human beings
are, followed by which values are to be respected in the era of
cutting edge technology.

Furthermore, the conference examines aspects of representations of
posthumans like human clones, androids, cyborgs and aliens which
depict new forms of human beings, through the image of the future
presented in popular culture such as SF movies, animations, SF novels,
music videos and TV commercials. And also, there will be a discussion
of public awareness on the notions of naturalness, otherness, class,
utopia and dystopia related with such popular culture.
As human beings attain the ability and skill to reconstruct their
bodies through substitution, the boundaries between the human body and
its image, the lines between what is artificial and what is natural,
and the distinctions between nature and culture disappear. This
phenomenon raises various ontological issues regarding the
relationships of the real body and the virtual body, life and
lifelessness, and the subject and its surroundings or ‘others’.
Posthumanism pursues, on one hand, a liberal and post-ideological
relativism, but on the other hand, it tends to combine with the
critical theories, materialism and feminism. How can individual
transhumans and posthumans be positioned in social systems and
relations? Indeed, do human beings have the freedom to choose a body
for themselves? If so, how and where can we apply our enhanced
abilities? To what extent can it be considered an individual matter or
a social and political matter? Through posing the issues and problems
on modern anthropocentricism, this conference reconsiders the human
ontology that is constantly changing and being reconstructed rather
than the one that is defined by identity in the nature of
transcendental property.

A tentative schedule of the conference is as follows:

June 1st
Session 1: Human Body Transformation in Science, Technology, and Art
Session 2: Ethical Issues on Human Enhancement
Roundtable Discussions: all speakers and discussants will participate in

June 2nd
Session 3: Representations of Posthumans in Popular Culture
Session 4: Posthumanistic Impact on Human Ontology
Roundtable Discussions: all speakers and discussants will participate in

Confirmed Speakers include Julian Savulescu (Oxford University), Dónal
O’Mathúna (Dublin City University), Michael Hauskeller (University of
Exeter), Thomas Philbeck (NYIT), Stefan Sorgner (Universität
Erlangen-Nürnberg),  and Jens Eder (Johannes Gutenberg University,
Mainz).

If you like to present a paper at the conference, please submit an
abstract of not more than 400 words by 29 February 2012 to Dr.
Eunryung Kim, e-mail: elysak@ewha.ac.kr.

Our Post-Human Futures Conference

Living Archives team member, Gregor Wolbring, will be speaking on the body and prosthetics at the “Frontiers in Research: Our Post-Human Futures” conference at the University of Ottawa on November 15, 2011.

The University of Ottawa is pleased to present the thirteenth annual Frontiers in Research lectures. This year’s theme is Our Post-Human Future .

During the past decade, human perfection and even immortality have become topics of renewed interest due to groundbreaking scientific advancements, and are now much more tangible and potentially achievable goals. The quest for human improvement through biomedical means appears to be unstoppable in the developed world. But this drive towards the “post-human” has also given rise to discussion, debate, conflict and a great deal of research on where to take the human species.

Frontiers in Research: Our Post-Human Future will explore these questions in light of developments in the fields of genetics, neuroscience and prosthetics, and their social, political, economic, ethical and religious implications.

For more information on the conference, click here.

Eugenics and contemporary disability studies

from Natalie Ball, working with Gregor Wolbring at the University of Calgary on the Living Archives on Eugenics project:

People with disabilities often were targeted by the state for eugenic intervention. Such policies and practices continue to impact the lives of people with disabilities. The word ‘eugenics’ often invokes thoughts of forced sexual sterilization mandated by a governing body. It recalls to mind 19th and 20th century ideas about a ‘master’ race, the Holocaust and ‘forgotten crimes’. Yet, eugenics often is seen as a dark era of the past, a regrettable fragment of history, beliefs, ideas and practices from which modern society progressively has distanced itself. But is eugenics truly limited to the past?

Eugenics is not just an historical experience. It is, arguably, a contemporary and future topic of concern for people with disabilities and for disability study scholars. To understand why we need only look at how the concept and practice were understood by Sir Francis Galton, the person who coined the term, and the way in which eugenics practices have changed over time. In his 1883 book Inquiries into Human Faculty and its Development, Galton introduced the term as follows: “the investigation of human eugenics – that is, of the conditions under which men of a high type are produced.”

You can read the full article at the FEDCAN blog here

or

http://blog.fedcan.ca/2011/07/14/eugenics-and-contemporary-disability-studies/

FIXED: a Kickstarter plea

Aimee Mullins' Legs

Some of Aimee Mullins' legs

Oakland-based filmmaker Regan Brashear is launching her film FIXED: The Science / Fiction of Human Enhancement and is running a Kickstarter campaign to help with funding for the film’s clean-up.  You can start with donations of $1 and up–details about the campaign and film here.  The campaign runs until 9.03am EDT, August 31, so donate NOW.  A brief excerpt from the site:

What’s the film about?  What does “disabled” mean when a man with no legs can run faster than many Olympic sprinters? With prenatal screening able to predict hundreds of probable conditions, who should determine what kind of people get to be born? If you could augment your body’s abilities in any way imaginable, what would you do and why? From pre-implantation genetic diagnosis to neural implants and bionic limbs, researchers around the world are hard at work developing a myriad of technologies to fix or enhance the human body, but what does it mean to design “better humans” and do we want to? FIXED follows three remarkable people: Continue reading

Human Kinds–Ray Kurzweil and Uploading: Just Say “No”–Q & A

Panel questions for Nick Agar–from Natasha Vita-More on either / or, and Ed Stein on backing up.

If you’re interested in following this debate, you can also check out some of the comments building up directly on the Youtube posting of this right here.

Human Kinds–Ray Kurzweil and Uploading: Just Say “No”–Parts 2 and 3

Here Nick moves on to uploading proper, starting with ideas about cochlear implants and the incremental move on to full uploading. Turning minds to technology, the celebration of the arrival of The Singularity in 2045, and then uploading … and why this is a bad idea!

In part 2, we get as far as the outline of Nick’s main argument, taking seriously the possibility that uploading = death. In part 3, we get the deal finished. For both, you might want to have the following handy, using your extended mind:

A = You live; benefit from bioenhancements, but forego other, significant enhancements asociated with uploading

B =You live; benefit from bioenhancements, and avoid death or replacement by a non-conscious Upload

C =You live; benefit from electronic enhancements, disease free, intellectual surge

D = You die; replaced by a machine incapable of conscious thought.

Human Kinds–Ray Kurzweil and Uploading: Just Say “No”–Part 1

Nick Agar‘s talk at the Human Kinds Symposium focuses on Kurzweil on uploading, and gives his ideas a critical combing. Here Nick starts off with some of the basic, background ideas that Kurzweil draws on before getting ready for the view of uploading, in Part 2.

Nick’s Wikipedia page stub is here and his homepage at Victoria, Wellington, is over here.

Human Kinds–Species Typical, Sub-typical, Beyond Typical–Part 2

Gregor Wolbring in full swing on ableism and its relationship to sexism, racism, caste bias, anti-environmentalism, consumerism. It all goes by very fast, so be prepared! Part 3 will have some panel interchange on this.

Here Gregor argues that ableism lies at the root of these other “isms”, and so is in that sense the most fundamental form of discrimination.  In the audience discussion following the talk–which, unfortunately, we did not have permission to film–there was quite a bit of discussion of, and resistance to, this idea.  Gregor also writes a regular column, The Choice is Yours, and you can find more information about him there.  On this issue, as Gregor says about most things, the choice is yours.  Is ableism the most fundamental form of discrimination out there?

Human Kinds: Design Issues Concerning Extreme Life Extension–Part 3

The final part of Natasha Vita-More’s talk, together with an audible but hard-to-hear exchange with Nick Agar at the end. Nick is asking about the prototype that Natasha designed 10 years ago, Primo Posthuman. You can get more on Primo, and on Natasha’s work more generally, from her website.

The examples that Natasha provides are provocative, and in the exchange with Nick we’re reminded of the difference between “prototype design” and “industrial design”–design at the planning (detailed as that may be) level, and design at the level of implementation. But even once implemented in some form, there’s the further question of what we might call full-blown implementation, truly industrial design, where we scale up from some kind of implementation to implement the device to realize its full promise.

Example: consider artificial intelligence vs artificial retinae (and related visual prosthetics) or cochlear implants. Continue reading

Human Kinds: Introduction

Over the next few weeks, we will run videocasts from in invited symposium panel that I organized at the Pacific Division meeting of American Philosophical Association in April, 2009, held in Vancouver. The panel was on human kinds, and topics that we discussed ranged from transhumanism through to disability and sub-normalcy and gay rights and gay marriage. The speakers, in the order in which they spoke, were:

Natasha Vita-More

Gregor Wolbring

Nick Agar

Ed Stein

The talks are relatively short, and we’ll run about 1 per week before linking them all up together. No captioning yet, but we hope to have captioning done by the time the series has run.

The introduction talks a little bit more generally about the panel and the What Sorts Network. You can also watch the videos directly on Youtube, by searching for videos by Rapunzelish. Really.

Human Kinds symposium, Vancouver, April 11th

The What Sorts Network has organized an invited symposium session on Human Kinds at the Pacific Division of the American Philosophical Association in a few weeks time. Details below; please spread the word. The meeting is being held at the Westin Bayshore, 1601 Bayshore Drive, Vancouver V6G 2V4 Canada, April 8-12, and our session will be on the Saturday morning before Easter Sunday, April 11th. Those who want to attend just this single session can register on site just for this session ($10); registration for the whole conference is $60.

Philosophers will note that, unusually for an APA symposium, we have managed to stage this one with only 1 out of 4 speakers likely being recognized by the APA cogniscenti as a bona fide philosopher: Nick Agar. Congratulations Nick! And, now I think of it, kudos to the rest of you as well. Impostors all.

Well, not really impostors, just very smart folks who mask their philosophical savvy in other cloth. So who are these other folks, you might ask? Click on their names to find out more details, but in summary: Natasha Vita-More is a renowned transhumanist trailblazer in art, media, and culture; Gregor Wolbring is a disability activist, trained in biochemistry and specializing in future technologies and human life; and Ed Stein is a leading scholar on gay rights, sexuality, and the law, having moved into law after finishing his Ph.D. in Philosophy at MIT.  The session should be a blast.

If you’re going to this meeting, come along, and let others know who might be interested. Room information can be gained when you register on site for either the conference or the session.

VIII-F. Invited Symposium: Human Kinds
9:00-Noon
Chair: Robert A. Wilson (University of Alberta)
Speakers: Natasha Vita-More (University of Plymouth)
“Design Issues Concerning Extreme Life Extension”
Gregor Wolbring (University of Calgary)
Human Beings—Sentient Beings: Species Typical, Sub-typical, and Beyond Typical”
Nicholas Agar (Victoria University of Wellington)
“Ray Kurzweil and Uploading: Just Say ‘No'”
Edward Stein (Yeshiva University)
“The Categories of Sexual Orientation in Law, Science, and Society”

Three Events in Edmonton on Disability and Eugenics

This week in Edmonton The What Sorts Network is holding three public events around the themes of disability and eugenics that follow up two earlier conferences / workshops (Eugenics and Sterilization in Alberta: 35 Years Later in April 2007, and Understanding Human Variation in September 2007). All events are free, and everyone is welcome.

PUBLIC DIALOGUE, Thursday, 23rd October, 7-9pm: The Pursuit of Modern Perfection: Defining Who is Worthy of Life

PUBLIC WORKSHOP, Friday, 24th October 8.30am – 4.00pm: Families and Memory

PUBLIC SYMPOSIUM, Saturday, 25th October 1.30 – 4.30pm: Philosophy, Eugenics, and Disability in Alberta and Places North

Continue reading

Autonomy, Singularity, Creativity

THE NATIONAL HUMANITIES CENTER EXPLORES
WHAT IT MEANS TO BE “HUMAN”
Final Conference with Leading Scientists and Humanists

h/t to Gualtierri Puccinini at Brains

Outlines of some people

Outlines of some people


WHAT: The National Humanities Center will host the third and final conference that explores how modern scientific developments give more insight into what it means to be “human.” The 2008 “The Human & The Humanities” Conference will bring together philosophers, neurologists, cultural scholars and scientists from various disciplines to discuss the implications of technological advances, and how recent scientific findings alter our understanding of human autonomy, singularity, and creativity. Ultimately, the conversations will focus on how new knowledge is redefining the human experience.

The 2008 Autonomy, Singularity and Creativity Conference will feature an opening keynote address by renowned neurologist, Oliver Sacks, M.D. from Columbia University, probably most well known for Awakenings, a 1990 movie based on his work in treating a group of patients with sleep-sickness. Sacks has conducted multiple groundbreaking studies on scientific and social issues surrounding neurology, Tourette’s syndrome, Alzheimer’s disease, and the hearing impaired. Continue reading

Knowing Thine Enemy?: a book to look out for

cover image for Enhancing Human Capacities by Julian Savulescu

cover image for Enhancing Human Capacities by Julian Savulescu et. al

Some of you — and especially philosophers on the ‘what sorts’ team — will know of a controversial Australian ex-pat ethicist who likes to provoke debate about what sorts of people there should be … No,this time it’s not Peter Singer (although Singer was his PhD supervisor), but rather Julian Savulescu of The Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics. Savulescu’s chief interest is the use of biotechnology for what he presumptively calls ‘human enhancement.’

When he worked for the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute Savulescu wrote a piece called “In Defense of Selection for Nondisease Genes”.* As this community knows well, others have argued that it is defensible to engage in postconception selection against diseased genes, where the term diseased genes refers to:

a gene that causes a genetic disorder (e.g. cystic fibrosis) or predisposes to the development of a disease (e.g. the genetic contribution to cancer or dementia)

This argument in itself is highly contestable, given that it is reasonable to feel that a ‘diseased’ life of one with, say, cystic fibrosis — let alone one that down the line ends with cancer or dementia — is worth living… and more pertinently, that there are grave social consequences when that decision is made on others’ behalf as a matter of course. Savulescu, however, offers a far more radical thesis than this. Continue reading