"...let the sidewalks remain in disrepair. Instead, in the transhumanist age we're now in, let's work to repair physically disabled human beings, and make them mobile and able-bodied again."
American transhumanist philosopher, writer and presidential candidate Zoltan Istvan has recently argued in Vice against financial investment in repairing pavements in Los Angeles to make them more accessible for disabled people.
He asks: '...with so much radical transhumanist technology being invented in the 21st Century--like exoskeleton suits--should society instead try to use that money to eliminate physical disability altogether?'
He goes even further to suggest that America should 'reconsider the Americans with Disability Act. It's great to have a law that protects against discrimination, but in the transhumanist age we also need a law that insists on eliminating disability via technology and modern medicine.'
On reading his article In the Transhumanist Age, We Should Be Repairing Disabilities, Not Sidewalks I couldn't stop Coldplay's Fix You song going round in my head. I'm sure Chris Martin had really good intentions in wanting to 'fix' whoever inspired that song. However, I myself don't want or need to be fixed. I am not broken and I am not in need of repair. Yes, I live with a pretty severe physical impairment (muscular dystrophy), but I am independent and I am mobile.
I'm a firm believer in the social model of disability. People are labelled and treated as disabled as a result of the negative social attitudes and environmental barriers towards them because of their impairment. Our impairments are not the sole problem: society is.
"Let the sidewalks remain in disrepair" seems a completely ridiculous statement to me. Is it only wheelchair users that use pavements? Clearly not. By taking that approach, are we not running the risk of having a ruined infrastructure? Will it be acceptable to have broken pavements that cause the elderly to fall and break something? Are parents with pushchairs meant to just struggle with potholes that the baby could take a bath in? Inaccessible environments affects us all, which is why we should all be campaigning for inclusive design.
The British Standards Institute (2005) defines inclusive design as "The design of mainstream products and/or services that are accessible to, and usable by, as many people as reasonably possible ... without the need for special adaptation or specialised design." There is no mention of disability in that definition. Why? Because it is not solely aimed at disabled people. It is encompassing of all members of society. A ramp does not just allow access for a wheelchair user, it allows access for a parent with a child in a pushchair. If our money should go anywhere, my vote is for inclusive design. If fixing something is necessary, let us fix society's inaccessibility and social exclusion of disabled people.
For the record, I am not anti-technology. That would be the equivalent of being anti-ice-cream and hypocritical given that I am sitting in a very expensive, all singing, all dancing wheelchair. I love what technology allows disabled people to do. I love how physically disabled people can drive a car or fly a plane! I love how it has given a voice to people who otherwise would have had to live their lives in silence.
I am also not anti-cure. I do not want to see people have their lives cut short by something that could be prevented. I do believe research is important. But it is not the only thing that matters. I do not live for a cure, I do not fight for a cure. I actually can't imagine the pain someone must go through living every day just wishing they will one day just get up and walk.
What I am, is anti the transhumanist belief that I am broken. I was born different; I was born with a body that does not work the way most people's do. But I am a human who does not need to be fixed. What I need is a society that does not exclude me. One that does not view me as 'other'. I am not a person to be feared or ignored. I am just a person.
So Zoltan Istvan, on the off chance I ever move to America, I will not be voting for you or the Transhumanists. Technology is a great thing, but so are smooth pavements.