This is not a painting.
A painting is a physical artifact. To experience a painting is to be in the same room with it, to examine it closely and from afar, to appreciate its texture and color and context. This image on your screen is a simulacra–it compresses the beauty of a painting, defiles the experience in its pantomime of the real.
Appearances are not the passively received “impressions” of the empiricist myth, but the products of a profound interaction between subject and object, by which we impose form and order on the input received through our sense. 1
Of course, there is an even higher order of beauty than the interaction between subject and object: that between subject and subject. Even the emotions evoked by the highest art pale in comparison to the laughter, love, and sorrow that others bring. For that reason I will assert that the highest beauty of all is the flourishing of one’s self along with one’s fellow man, what the Greeks called eudemonia.
We always choose eudemonia because of itself, never because of something else. Honor, pleasure, understanding, and every virtue we certainly choose because of themselves, since we would choose them even if it had no further result; but we also choose them for the sake of happiness, supposing that through them we shall be happy. 2
One may only assess another’s flourishing when one stands face-to-face, I-to-I, subject to subject! The transhumanist technology of today mediates this interaction to our extreme detriment. How many have been misled by filters and social media hear-says? Worse: how many have been led into propagating just these same lies about themselves? We are constantly called to construct digital appearances that are more perfect than our analog being–on Twitter we are always socially just or fully based. Transhumanism arrived with the iPhone! We all left our bodies to become façades of ourselves. See how people get thinner and flimsier by the day!
Environmental degradation comes in just the same way that moral degradation comes, through representing people and places in impersonal ways, as objects to be used rather than as subjects to be respected. The sense of beauty puts a brake upon destruction, by representing its object as irreplaceable. 3
When we stand and look one another in the eye, we cannot choose to be someone else. The movement of our bodies, how our faces react and what we say, these are ours and ours alone. Tradhumanist technology must facilitate, enable, and enhance these relationships rather than overwrite them. We must use tools to build beautiful parks, buildings, cities, vistas, &c in order to have beautiful people. The only way tradhumanists engineers are allowed to judge things is through experiencing them! Yes, collect metrics to justify your intuition–but it is only by operating a machine I-to-it that one may understand how well it behaves. Reports, metrics, numbers, these are digital constructions that will faithfully lie to you.
Thus the Tradhumanist Research Program begins in a locale. It faces the people around it and asks them: how may you flourish? As always the customers will have impossible requirements, its up to the engineers to figure out how to make it work. At each step we must walk among our locale’s people and judge how our machines operate. When we see children playing and laughing, the elderly comforted and dispensing wisdom, when our flowers blossom and the birds chirp at sunset then we know we have done our jobs as engineers justly, and we flourish ourselves.
If this locale does not exist then it must be built. For that reason intentional communities today and charter cities in the future are especially fertile grounds for a Tradhumanist Lab to come into being. Next up, I’ll be discussing one possible research direction…