Audio-Visual Essay

Thesis: The Transhumanist agenda in the Music Industry.

Transhumanism is a cultural and intellectual movement, defined by the improvement of the human condition through the use of advanced technologies which can boost our physical, intellectual and psychological capabilities beyond what humans are naturally capable of. It adopts technologies, such as: cognitive science, cryonics, artificial intelligence and biotechnology, which can bring profound physical and societal change, likewise a dangerous idea, when applying methods to manipulate the human consciousness and prevent humans from seeing themselves as beings anymore, but as a piece of technology instead.

There are a few experts, inventors and thinkers on transhumanism technology that rose to prominence since the 1990’s. Ray Kurzweil, Director of Engineering at Google and author of “The Singularity is Near” (2005), Max More, CEO of Alcor Life Extension Foundation and author of “A Letter to Mother Nature” (1999) alongside Natasha Vita-More, Media Designer and author of “The Transhumanist Reader” (2013), are considered widely responsible for the popularization of the transhumanist agenda, with the assumption that merging man and machine via biotechnology, molecular nanotechnologies and artificial intelligence will yield physically stronger and emotionally stable human beings with indefinite lifespans while Erik Davis, Music Journalist and author of “Techgnosis: Myth, Magic and Mysticism in the Age of Information” (1998) and “The Visionary State” (2006), focus on a spiritual knowledge and has a psychic approach into the digital mind.

Hamilton (2015) defines transhumanism as a “philosophical, scientific and technological expression of humanity taking control of its evolutionary destiny”, avoiding the adversities in present life while hoping for a satisfying future existence.

Jeremy Bentham was the “Philosopher of Utilitarianism”, one of the main doctrines used in the transhumanist agenda in the music industry. Hamilton (2015) names it the “philosophy of happiness”, and writes that Bentham “argued that humans should move away from pain and towards pleasure. This maximization of happiness, what he called ‘utility’, was the goal to be sought in all endeavors. According to Bentham, pain and pleasure were innate, one might say ‘universal’ constants, of the human condition”.

Frohlich (2015) explains why the transhumanism movement must provide a consensus on the meaning of life. “Failure to do so, will result in conflict, the extent of which is difficult to predict.” He states that “transhumanism is a divided movement of various competing interests promoting values which are contradictory in nature” and adds, “the only agreement the movement has reached thus far is to promote the widespread adaptation of transhumanism”.

From his understanding, there are three primary justifications for transhumanism: utilitarianism, freedom and meaning. Utilitarianism refers to the increased capacity for humans to experience positive emotions while minimizing negative ones, by eliminating pain, suffering and failure. The utilitarian reason behind it would lead to biological immortality, eradicate sickness and enhance physical and cognitive capabilities. But this “utilitarian utopia” differs with the following justification, Freedom, by taking the choice from humans to make decisions for themselves. At this point, the third justification, Meaning, “becomes irrelevant as there is no adversity to overcome and the utilitarian goal of total elimination of suffering is met” (Frohlich, 2015). Although in contradiction, these three transhumanism values are used to justify the transhumanism movement, especially in the music industry, whether it is audibly or visually.

Estulin (2015) affirms “sound is widely used as a therapeutic tool and can alter mental and physical states of human beings”. He describes how music activates almost every region of the brain, which makes it the ideal medium to push the transhumanist agenda; “The limbic system in the brain begins to fire when we have a variety of pleasurable experiences. That same network of neurons also fires when we listen to music that we enjoy. These neurons help to modulate levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain. By having nearly every region of the brain active, you become easily susceptible to psychological attacks, in this case, by your own favorite artists”.

The transhumanist agenda started way back in the 1970’s, with progressive rock bands like Yes and The Alan Parsons Project exposing their interest in science fiction through their lyrics, but Kraftwerk went further, using transhumanist symbolism and electronic instruments on their album “The Man-Machine” (1978).

In this live music video of one of their most successful single “The Robots”, there are two of Frohlich’s justifications missing: Freedom and Meaning. These absences are revealed through the robots itself, insignificant and limited, as there is no personal goal nor any spontaneity shown, and through the lyrics, specially at the 1:39 minute mark: “We’re functioning automatik / and we are dancing mekanik / we are the robots / we are programmed just to do / anything you want us to / we are the robots”. The Utilitarianism value is exposed by the lack of failure and suffering, removing any human element and displaying them as an utility machine instead.

The same values can be described on Daft Punk’s “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” music video, from 2003. But this time, at the 1:00 minute mark, the extra-terrestrial characters are being programmed into human beings, having their extra-terrestrial memories deleted and replaced by earthly experiences. There is still a lack of Freedom and Meaning though, exposed by their apathy and loss of will. The Utilitarianism value is described through the lyrics: “Work it harder / make it better / do it faster / make us stronger / more than ever, hour / our work is never over”, non stop through the entire song.

Björk is known for her ability to merge the subject of love, nature and technology into her productions in an idealistic way, as on “All Is Full of Love”, from 1999. In this music video, all of the three Frohlich’s justifications are met; Utilitarianism as ‘happiness’, instead of ‘utility’, Freedom and Meaning, are represented through the visuals, exhibiting a duplicate of herself as a robot, capable to demonstrate human emotions, such as hope, relief and love.

The lyrics have a positive message, for a change, suggesting the joy of disconnection from the virtual world: “You’ll be given love / you’ll be taken care of / you’ll be given love / you have to trust it / Maybe not from the sources / you have poured yours / Maybe not from the directions / you are staring at / Twist your head around / it’s all around you / All is full of love / All around you”.

Pearl Jam’s “Do The Evolution”, from 1998, is perhaps the most realistic impression of the evolution of humans into transhumans. It confronts all of the transhumanism justifications; Utilitarianism, Freedom and Meaning as forged values which, in my opinion, represents the genuine aspect of the transhumanist agenda. I would recommend to watch the entire music video, with a special consideration at the 3:00 minutes mark. The lyrics, as follows: “I’m ahead, I’m a man / I’m the first mammal to wear pants, yeah / I’m at peace with my lust / I can kill ’cause in God I trust, yeah / It’s evolution, baby / I’m at peace, I’m the man / Buying stocks on the day of the crash / On the loose, I’m a truck / All the rolling hills, I’ll flatten ’em out, yeah / It’s herd behavior / It’s evolution, baby / Admire me, admire my home / Admire my son, he’s my clone / This land is mine, this land is free / I’ll do what I want but irresponsibly / t’s evolution, baby / I’m a thief, I’m a liar / There’s my church, I sing in the choir: (hallelujah, hallelujah) / Admire me, admire my home / Admire my son, admire my clones / ‘Cause we know, appetite for a nightly feast / Those ignorant Indians got nothing on me / Nothing, why? / Because it’s evolution, baby / I am ahead, I am advanced / I am the first mammal to make plans, yeah / I crawled the earth, but now I’m higher / 2010, watch it go to fire / It’s evolution, baby / Do the evolution, Come on.”

Although all of the music and videos presented on this essay are of undeniable fascinating quality, it exists not only for our own entertainment, but to make us contemplate over the signs about our present lives and our actions in the near future. I suspect the society is intoxicated by technology, with the false belief that it will make us perfect beings by eliminating our human condition. It is all about control. No soul, no problem, right? Dead wrong.

REFERENCES:

ESTULIN, D. (2015). Tavistock Institute: Social Engineering the Masses. Retrieved from https://books.google.com.au/books?id=vL-XCgAAQBAJ&lpg

EUGENIUS, J. (2015). Ray Kurzweil: Humans will be hybrids by 2030. Retrieved from http://money.cnn.com/2015/06/03/technology/ray-kurzweil-predictions/

FROHLICH, M. (2015). Transhumanism need to establish a meaning of life. Retrieved from https://www.singularityweblog.com/transhumanism-needs-to-establish-a-meaning-to-life/

HAMILTON, J. (2015). Transhumanism Philosophy: Happiness vs. Life. Retrieved from https://medium.com/wire-head/transhumanist-philosophy-happiness-vs-life-9a7be0cd0b8#.knr4z74yt

KRETOWICZ, S. (2014). How Erik Davis invented networked mysticism. Retrieved from http://www.dazeddigital.com/artsandculture/article/18277/1/how-erik-davis-invented-networked-mysticism

SOCRATES. (2010). Natasha Vita-More on Singularity 1 on 1. Retrieved from https://www.singularityweblog.com/natasha-vita-more-on-singularity-1-on-1/

SOCRATES. (2011). Question Everything: Max More on Singularity 1 on 1. Retrieved from https://www.singularityweblog.com/question-everything-max-more-on-singularity-1-on-1/

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