BSG: Champion of Transhumanism


Important plot details from most recent episode (aired 02/13/09) of Battlestar Galactica are revealed below. Caveat lector.


You have been warned.

Now, I'm assuming that everyone at this point has already watched the episode, so I'm not gonna bother with background details.

For the longest time, my favorite character has been Gaius Baltar, a fascinating, conflicted soul who creator Ron Moore once described as "the most human character" in the series. Baltar is a very flawed individual, but it seems that after these traumatic events, he's finally starting to grow as a person.

Now that's all well and good, but after tonight's episode, I have a new favorite character: John (Cavil). His speech about the limitations of being able to experience a supernova is something I would have been proud to write. It's a beautiful argument for transhumanism, i.e., the view that human beings should be allowed to alter their forms to become better than human.

Now, of course the show can't outright endorse that view, because the vast majority of the viewing public will have never considered such a crazy thing before. But how appropriate that this should air immediately after Darwin Day? Transhumanists adopt the motto (seriously, I have this on a bumper sticker I got from the World Transhumanist Association, now known as H+): "If evolution is outlawed, only outlaws will evolve."

I am so frakking excited right now! While transhumanism is a distinct view, I see omnilibertarianism as the product of a tryst between libertarianism and transhumanism. People already know about, and many advocate, libertarianism, and now thanks to BSG and its popular audience, more will know about transhumanism (even if they call it by a different name).

It's unfortunate that it's presented as the sort of "bad guy"'s view, but like I said, I don't think they can outright advocate it. The moral ambiguity that viewers have become accustomed to might make some of them consider the merits of John's philosophy.

John speaks in my voice when he says (22:29 into the episode):

I don't want to be human! I want to see gamma rays, I want to hear x-rays, and I wanna, I wanna smell dark matter!

Do you see the absurdity of what I am? I can't even express these things properly, because I have to, I have to conceptualize complex ideas in this stupid, limiting, spoken language. But I know I want to reach out with something other than these prehensile paws, and feel the solar wind of a supernova flowing over me!

I'm a machine, and I could know much more, I could experience so much more, but I'm trapped in this absurd body!

And why?!

Because my...creators thought that "God" wanted it that way.

The fact that he was an atheist was revealed very early on after his character's ironic introduction to the show as a priest. (Thus, the association between John's atheism and his transhumanism could potentially do a lot of damage if it's reinforced too strongly. Atheists are the most reviled group in America, at least.) While personally I am an atheist, I think believers of many different faiths could also be transhumanists or omnilibertarians.

For example, this is an argument I'd make to a Christian: to the extent that God grants us mastery over the whole over nature, and has endowed us with capacities that he seems to want us to use (I mean, we can really flourish with the products of science and technology--just look at what modern medicine has done for quality of life!), it only makes sense that we should be able to transcend our initial limitations.

To say that we were made in God's image, I would contend, doesn't mean that God has a body like ours. That's gross anthropomorphism, and if you believe that, you believe in a rather pitiful God (so go away, I'm not speaking to you). We are like God in our mental and spiritual qualities first and foremost. Thus, so long as we retain these basic parts of our humanity, that is, some form of intellect and some kind of compassion for our fellow rational beings, so long as we keep that, we are not transgressing against what God intends for us.

Indeed, this very well might be what he meant for us all along. How do you know history has not been set up to facilitate this very possibility? Even if this is not what he specifically intended (and really, who can say with certainty what God intends?), did he not give us free will, so that we might choose such a path if we so wished it?

I'm not saying you have to do anything to yourself, just that you let me modify my own body and mind as I see fit. I'm an adult, and I'm willing to accept the consequences of any risky choices I make. So let me evolve! Let me soar like the angels, who are supposedly also God's creation (so it must not be so bad to be like them). (Disregard any theological premise here you don't admit to; I'm not committed to the existence of angels, for example, for this argument to work.)

I'm not sure how convincing this argument is (when presenting it, I'd probably try to hide the fact of my atheism; and, really, to the extent that I believe that Spinoza's God exists, I'm not a total atheist; you might even call me a very liberal believer), so feedback is appreciated, especially from believers.

In any case, Ron Moore is my hero now, and so I'm gonna listen to his boring podcast commentaries of the most recent episodes! :-)

Thank you, Battlestar Galactica! You may just help me to spread my philosophy (and sell more books, so I can actually afford to enhance myself, heh)...


Thaís said...

Hey, hi. I was surfing in the internet and found your site accidentally.

Really good the text; i'm a junkie in Battlestar galactica, the series is consistent with my philosophy of life - reminds me Nietzsche.

Continue with this type of analysis, is very good.

Sorry my bad english.

Abraços. =)

Anonymous said...

The shows intention/meaning, as is made repeatedly, abudantly clear is human interest & subjectivism, The human capacity of Cavils thoughts, hence his emotional and motivation of the self and hence Obviously the dictator of self, of a person, any person, was of flawed nature and hence its expression and becoming, via action and act of represemting/recreating or the use of "stupid, limited spoken language" is of the same flaw for it IS the same flaw, and it is w/ It that you argue or struggle and not its symptoms as representative as the whole: Cavil, resentful and malcontent, in emotional resistance to parent and hence, and to also, his creator and ergo his creation and existence, or at least via them, rebelled, and seeks to compromise his existence as an answer or solution of/for his emptieness: so simply, if of functional, realistic nature his pursue of it, functional &realistic | As for the above, RDM would Never support Nietzschian philosophy, its base and product being self based & producing: selfish