Warning: Mad Scientists May
Force You to Be Happy

by Aaron Franz

You can't force happinessWant quick and easy happiness? Think science can get you there?

Don’t fall for the propaganda.

Notions of quick and easy happiness are part of an effort to demonize “negative” emotions.

Many and varied groups push to eliminate negative emotions, thoughts, and experiences, and accentuate the positive.

Here is a list of just a few culprits, and quick descriptions of how they attack negativity:

  • Popular music — Carries the general theme of baseless optimism, which has now become ubiquitous in pop music. (Watch this excellent video for some examples.)
  • Major media — Also pushes baseless optimism. It’s not just music, but television, motion pictures, and much more.
  • Medicine — Especially psychoactive drugs, provide quick fixes to complex problems. It’s no secret that Americans abuse prescription pills more then ever. And the medical establishment is set up so to sell, sell, sell those drugs.
  • Transhumanists — Frequently point out the many distressing, difficult, and negative emotions that could easily be done away with by developing and using new technologies to alter the current human form. And, of course, even more drugs.

All of the different groups listed above mix and match to a great extent.

New Age ideals of positive uplift are now everywhere, and so are the means to achieve it.

The real question of course, is whether or not this sort of uplift is actually healthy.

The transhumanist endeavor

When it comes to uplift, one group stands out in particular.

The transhumanists constitute a movement just entering the mainstream.

They advocate converging technologies such as:

    • Artificial intelligence
    • Genetic engineering
    • Nanotechnology
    • Life extension therapies
    • Virtual reality
    • Cybernetics

Transhumanists say that by using these tools, you can actually do away with the human condition altogether in favor of a new and better form of life.

The quest for creating a “better” human

Before transhumanists can convince the public that they need fixing, they have to describe what is wrong in the first place.

The transhuman laundry list includes: complex and difficult human emotions.

Transhumanists say that many of our emotions could be purposely deleted, and that we would be better off if we deleted them.

Humans are well known to be less than perfect, but the transhumanists take this point to an extreme.

Transhumanists want to get rid of your (negative) emotions

R. C. W. Ettinger was a pioneer in cryonics, and an early proponent of transhuman ideas. Here’s what he had to say about human emotion in Man Into Superman (1974):

“Humanity itself is a disease, of which we must now proceed to cure ourselves” [...] “Surely it will be an advantage to be able to ‘turn off’ or ‘tune out’ one’s emotions at will, choosing fully to savor only those that are enjoyable…”

Artificial general intelligence researcher Ben Goertzel is involved with both the Singularity Institute and Humanity Plus, or H+. He said in his Cosmist Manifesto (2009):

“All human emotions are complex multifaceted beasts…”
[Later this text goes on to talk about inundating the world with media and entertainment to such a degree that everyone will be happy, and feel no need for war.]

Nick Bostrom, co-founder of the World Transhumanist Association (WTA), which now goes by the name H+, had this to say about human emotion in his 2007 TED Talk:

“…life isn’t usually as wonderful as it could be. I think that is a big big problem… There are just those moments that you have experienced where life was fantastic… and you wonder: Why can’t it be like that all the time?”

You can view Bostrom’s clip in my film, The Age of Transitions.

As you can see from the above quotes, the “negative” aspects of human experience are a major problem for transhumanists.

Their many solutions to this apparent problem range from using helmets that stimulate the brain magnetically to actually bioengineering new humans to be less prone to mental suffering.

Theirs is an engineering approach; build better humans.

Transhumanists want to force happiness

The major transhumanist think tank, the Institute for Ethics & Emerging Technologies (IEET), is cooking up something called the Cyborg Buddha Project.

There’s an obvious tie to eastern religion and the promotion of meditation.

The transhumanist view is that mediation and other “ecstatic states of mind” should be studied fervently. Not unlike the current main stream in psychology research.

Happiness — “quick and easy”

With this knowledge, various devices can then be created that directly affect the mind to induce:

    • Meditation
    • Enlightenment
    • Bliss
    • Happiness
    • Other desirable states of consciousness

Well-being could then be achieved with the press of a button.

Moods could be selected at will.

The transhumanist argument is that this would give you more control over your emotions.

But would it really? To what extent? And at what cost?

Happiness — technologically induced

Here is a quick list of some “emerging technologies” that could directly affect the human brain, and as a result, human emotion:

    • “Mood brightening” drugs
    • Implantable brain chips
    • Transcranial magnetic stimulation

The technologies themselves are something to marvel at, especially when you realize that most of these devices have already been developed.

It should not come as a surprise that the military is heavily involved, leading research in this field.

Science gone mad

Transhuman technology is here.

But what sort of “human enhancement” is socially acceptable, marketable, and legal?

The technological cutting-edge has cut much deeper than most know.

The mere labeling of problems is what this is all about.

Labeling human emotions as a problem. Without a more balanced perspective on “problem emotions” and how we can constructively work with them, or the problem of suppressing undesirable emotions.

The big transhumanist problem is humanity itself.

That means, you.

Engineering utopia

Top transhumanists promote the end goal of scientific utopia.

Not only do they say that it is possible to create a new paradisaical world, but for many it is also a moral imperative to do so.

The subject of paradise engineering is so important that I dedicated an entire chapter to it in my book, Revolve: Man’s Scientific Rise to Godhood.

David Pearce, co-founder of the WTA, is also the founder of BLTC Research, an “ambitious global technology project” established in 1995 in Britain.

The goal of BLTC is to:

“…abolish the biological substrates of suffering. Not just in humans, but in all sentient life.”

BLTC promotes the idea that our biology is determined by “random genetic mutations,” and that we would be far better off if we decided to take Life into our own hands.

Genetic engineering could be the way to “deliver genetically pre-programmed well-being.”

Constant bliss could be engineered into the human condition, and subsequently given to the world as a whole.

Pearce uses the term “paradise engineering” to describe a grand Utopian vision for the transhuman enterprise.

He truly sees all forms of “suffering” as abhorrent, and he certainly is not alone.

If you read transhumanist literature you will find this theme pop up again and again — the idea that negative human emotions are holding us back, and should be eliminated.

The danger of forcing happiness

The very act of defining a problem yields enormous power.

When the human condition itself becomes a problem, what becomes the solution?

According to the transhumanists, the solution is the so-called posthuman Utopian world.

There is an underlying issue here, however. Perception.

Just because we label certain uncomfortable conditions as negative does not mean that those conditions are without value.

That which creates distress, heartache, and even pain in a person can actually end up being a good thing.

By working through difficult emotions, one can consciously choose to live their life in a better way.

Some of the greatest prizes in life are won in this way.

What would happen if we decided to alter our bodies and minds to such an extent that feeling even the slightest discomfort became impossible? What motivation would we have to change anything? Would a Brave New World be the natural outcome?

I think that the most powerful question one can ask is whether or not a Brave New World is the natural outcome of what we are doing right now.

Where are we headed?

The psychoactive drugs flooding our streets are obtained by prescription. “Quick and easy” ways to conquer negativity are promoted everywhere you look.

We are dissociating from reality, and we believe that it is healthy. The complex and difficult thing that is human consciousness is being reduced.

I don’t see how this process will simply stop if we decide to use high technology to multiply happiness and bliss. If anything, the process will be amplified.

Could it be that we find consciousness, with all of its ins and outs, so threatening that we decide to flee from it altogether?

What if such a choice is actually being made at a macroscopic, or worldly scale?

Only you can find answers to life’s big questions, for true answers and solutions are never formulaic.

They are dynamic, complex, and yes, even difficult.

About the author: Aaron Franz is an author, filmmaker, and researcher. He is best known for his 2008 film, The Age of Transitions. Aaron’s website theageoftransitions.com, greatly expands upon the topics covered in this article.

P.S. If you want to get a head start on answering your own Big Life Questions, check out the free e-class: Your Life is Your Construct.

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Melissa Karnaze January 18, 2011 at 4:16 pm

Thanks for sharing this with us Aaron! I really liked the quotes you used, very telling.

Merging with technology isn’t necessarily bad. But human “enhancement” often stems from dissatisfaction with self, and a dysfunctional narrative about what it means to be human — just have to look beyond the PR campaign to see it.

I think it’s ironic that meditation is supposed to shed light on consciousness, when in mainstream Western practice it’s simply “fleeing from it altogether” as you say.

Aaron Franz January 19, 2011 at 1:35 pm

and thank you for hosting this article, Melissa.

There is a lot of self-loathing and dehumanizing material out there. The “humans are evil” meme is going strong, and I don’t like it. It is disempowering, and leads one to seek out alternatives to humanity itself.

Cory January 19, 2011 at 2:18 pm

Hey Aaron,

Thanks for providing a quick intro of transhumanism for the uninitiated. It’s a serious topic if there are people with the means to do so who want to subdue the human experience with technology. I don’t think it’s necessarily that A.I. will become sentient–I can’t see that really happening. The true danger is humans turning themselves into robots!

If you can create a soldier who doesn’t feel physical pain, a President who can’t feel negative emotions, or scientists without empathy, this could be the true nightmare of the Singularity.

Anyway, good stuff to think about. Good job, Aaron!

PS: I wrote a response to the video you linked to, “How Conscious Rap Creates Ignorant and Malleable People.” I was going to respond to it here in the comment field but I had too much to say:

http://www.sacredsheath.com/?p=1732

Melissa Karnaze January 19, 2011 at 10:26 pm

The “humans are evil” meme is going strong, and I don’t like it. It is disempowering, and leads one to seek out alternatives to humanity itself.

That’s the key issue. It’s insane when you really think about it. I hope the public becomes aware of this before the technology truly escalates.

I’m really enjoying your book by the way! As with the quotes in this article, it shows how much is given away in the actual (government) publications/ source materials. Tone, selected buzz words, framing — all shed light on the mindset behind the forces driving these technologies. Which is very hopeful for those want to know.

Aaron Franz January 20, 2011 at 4:09 pm

Cory,

I tend to think that you are right about the possibility of an Artificial General Intelligence (a truly living/sentient/thinking machine). It seems more likely that AI will simply be used to automate just about everything. All the systems in our world will likely be administrated by AI in some way soon. True sentience is not needed for that, and it is possible that Singularity advocates are pushing the concept of “spiritual machines” simply to get attention and to promote AI in general.

I read your critique of the video, and as you said, there is so much to say that only an article’s worth of points is enough to really give the topic justice. I still think that it is an excellent video with great points, and really deserves to be watched alongside foreverand2day’s other video series that expand upon many of the same concepts.

Melissa,
Yes, buzz words and tone are something that often fly under the radar. All too often things boil down to simply advocating “scientific progress,” or some other ambiguity. When confusion creeps in, just refer to the reports, they won’t cease to amaze. We have to also recognize the role that philosophy plays in this.

Luke S May 10, 2011 at 2:52 pm

I am glad that some people are spreading the word about the harmful side-effects of transhumanism. Aside from my personal philosophical beliefs on living a natural life and death, I feel that transhumanism proponents are disillusioned themselves by society so much that they actually believe they can create a “heaven” on Earth. They want to become gods out of their still-immature fantasies. They haven’t yet grown up. This article reminds me a lot of Taoism: Without sadness, misery, and pain, happiness in life would not be. Without negative emotions, “happiness” is meaningless. Sadly things like plastic surgery are just temporary improvements to self-esteem.

Melissa Karnaze May 10, 2011 at 3:13 pm

Without negative emotions, “happiness” is meaningless

Indeed, Luke. I think this understanding is a prerequisite for grasping the sinister drive behind transhumanism, which Aaron extensively researches, as well as the transhumanism link to Buddhism.

dashi June 20, 2011 at 11:36 pm

the idea behind Transhuman thinking is that we embrace human evolution. Isn’t it clear that “we” have no hope in our current way of life? Our way of thinking, our behavior is suitable for living in tribes of 25 or so interrelated people, chasing beast for meat and digding in the dirt for tubers. It just doesn’t fit with the reality around us. Should we aspire to go back to that “perfect” time when infant mortality was 50% and a 40 y.o. was an elder?
And why not curb the petty, hormone-driven emotions that are the root of most unhappiness? If “love” is nothing more than a biological imperative to perpetuate the species, perhaps we should re- evaluate it’s worth. and if that’s the truth of it, how different is “love” from “hate” of those other tribes that want our resources?
Religion has been nothing but a sick, blinding opiate. More and more children are born into a hopeless ratrace. what does the future hold?
If the history of our Earth can tell us anything, it’s that change is always coming, dramatic changes that sometime cause major extinction events. If we don’t have a self sustaining colony off our cradle world by then, humanity is extinct.

Spencer Greenwood July 8, 2011 at 9:40 pm

Your central point, that there are very beneficial consequences of coming to terms with one’s own suffering (and the suffering of others) seems intuitive to me, but I’m not sure that a world in which pain helps us grow is any better than a world without pain. The point is moot anyway, because transhumanists propose optional advancement, not compulsory elimination of suffering. If you still want to give birth without an epidural and feel suicidal after a breakup, no sane transhumanist will try to stop you (although you might have a harder time convincing nanobots or some hard, superintelligent AI of your argument).

As it happens, I would rather remove suffering from my own life. It seems to me a very complacent, Western view that suffering is beneficial. I have heard the argument from Abrahamic monotheists before, and it has always upset me. I find it hard to believe that anyone who makes this argument has ever experienced true pain. I have experienced great psychological suffering, and moderate physical pain, but I know that I know nothing of human suffering compared to those who die of starvation in their thousands every day, or to innocents tortured in war. Can you look a Jew who escaped Auschwitz in the eye and tell them that their suffering has meaning? Jewish scholars use the term Shoa instead of Holocaust because “holocaust” implies some kind of resolution and healing, which they acknowledge is impossible. Transhumanists offer immunity to torture. We will force it on no one. If you want it, you are welcome to it. We are striving for it out of love.

On which note, you also imply that transhumanists are self loathing. A cursory examination of the subculture would highlight the absurdity of this argument. Some transhumanists are excessively disracted by the disappointing “meatiness” of our being, and I understand why, even if I am not particularly. Are there not arbitrary physical limits on our imaginations? Don’t you want to fly unaided, or be twice as smart? I want to forge a more profound psychic (i.e., “of the psyche.” Please don’t confuse my views with those of New Age anti-intellectuals) bond with my partner during sex, and to give them more physical pleasure. Don’t you?

I also reject the dichotomy between consciousness and prolonged experiential bliss as false. Transhumanists argue for more mindfulness, not less. Have you ever experienced a state of total clarity, and a feeling of oneness? Forgive my quasiBuddhist rhetoric, but I can find few other ways of describing this experience. If some people can reach this point through meditation or drugs, then good for them. I experience it sometimes, serendipitously, and it is joyous. I achieve my best work and have my best interactions in this state. If I could turn it on at will, I would jump at the chance. But this would not constitute a rejection of my conscious being. It would be a celebration of it! I want bliss, sure, but mindfulness is my chief objective. With it, we will become more productive and less wasteful. So please don’t claim that extending happiness would be the equivalent of injecting heroin.

There are plenty of things to dislike about the Singularitarians, but by rejecting their opus from an ideological standpoint, I think you oversimplify them all together, straw man their arguments and obfuscate their actual views. You claim that they are human hating totalitarians who want you to tune in and drop out. I offer reassurance to the contrary. Will you amend your thesis?

dirk bruere July 9, 2011 at 11:04 am

Hi, being an evil Transhumanist I thought I might jump in here!
We are not really talking about making people feel happy against their will, as it were. So if some psycho decides to murder your entire family you take it with a smile on your face and an “easy come, easy go – that’s life” quip. What we are talking about engineering away is the kind of excessive “negative” emotions that are totally disabling, like chronic depression. That is, an extreme of a natural response that goes far beyond what most people experience and which can be triggered by situations that most of us would take in our stride. Indeed, there is a whole industry devoted to trying to help these people, from psychiatry to pharmaceuticals. Ditto responses like PTSD.

It turns out that these excessive responses are largely mediated through a small number of gene variants, alleles. The same with the physical pain response. For example, if you burn your hand not everyone feels the level of pain to the same degree. A very tiny minority feel no pain – which is itself a life threatening condition. And some feel a vastly elevated level of pain. In these cases we are talking about gene tweaks that would eliminate the extremes, without the need for medication. Pain is useful, but no pain or too much is not.

The same is true of happiness, again mediated through a small number of alleles. Some people, believe it or not, feel happy and optimistic all the time. Others the opposite. We propose that people should have a choice.

dirk bruere July 9, 2011 at 11:44 am

I should also point out that there is no Official Transhumanist Future – we all have our own ideas on how the world, and people in it, can be made better. Myself, I think smarter, healthier and more compassionate might go a long way to making this a nicer place to live. No doubt we have some advocates for stupidity, disease and general evil telling me how unnatural my vision is!

Humanity should be defined by its best characteristics, not its worst.

Ben Zaiboc July 10, 2011 at 6:03 am

Transhumanists don’t want to force anyone to do anything.
They want to widen people’s choices, including the ability to change your own emotions, *if that’s what you want*.
The only way that can be seen as a bad thing is if you think people need to have their choices limited, ‘for their own good’. We all know where that kind of thinking leads.

Aaron Franz July 11, 2011 at 4:37 pm

Spencer,

To address the issue of the suffering of Jews at Auschwitz, there is an amazing book titled “Man’s Search For Meaning” by Victor E. Frankl. Frankl is himself a Holocaust survivor, and his book is an autobiographical account of his own death camp survival. The main theme of the book is that perseverance in the face of tragedy actually leads one to find profound meaning in life. If you have hope in the face of a situation that seems to be hopeless, then you can transcend. There is actually meaning in the very act of pushing onward. The horrible struggle itself is not to be praised, but it is not to be totally condemned either.

Neither you or I have had to endure the sort of horrors that Frankl lived through, so of course any opinion made by us will only be worth a grain of salt. That being said, I found this book to be a profound testament to the power of the Human Spirit. When actualized, there is nothing that can stand in its way. By choosing to go forward in the face of all adversity one can obtain a very real, albeit mysterious, reward. The mere labeling of any human emotion as “negative” is problematic in itself. Today we take aspirin to dismiss headaches, but tomorrow we may well be opting out of any and all forms of unease simply because we have the means to do so. This may actually be harmful, rather than helpful in the grand scheme of things.

Sado-masochism is obviously antithetical to any valuable human progress, but by the same token the multiplication of bliss, pleasure, or happiness may actually contain some of the same problems. For the masochist pain is pleasure, and so the seeking of more and more pain actually becomes his preference. I know this seems like a strange question, but will masochistic transhumanists be looking for new high tech ways to torture themselves? To put our own personal interpretations of pain and pleasure on a pedestal by seeking them as ends in and of themselves, we can actually lose sight of something amazing: our very own conscious awareness. To at least try to understand our interpretations of pain and pleasure can be immensely valuable. Conscious self awareness is obtained by observing ourselves for what we are. By fundamentally changing the structure of what we are, could we actually be going the wrong direction? Could we be forfeiting self knowledge, and replacing it with self improvement? Is self knowledge valuable in the first place? These are the sort of questions that cannot be ignored when confronting the issue of “paradise engineering.”

dirk bruere July 11, 2011 at 4:52 pm

These sort have questions have been far from ignored with every medical advance designed to ameliorate pain, from the introduction of anesthetics onwards. I recall the furor over the question of heart transplants when people were seriously asking whether receiving someone elses heart would result in that person somehow becoming “other” ie the heart being somehow special. Going back further we have the controversial use of anesthetics to control the pain of childbirth, with many eminent Victorian doctors and philosophers claiming that the pain was meant to be there (put there by God as a punishment), and eliminating it was immoral. That attitude only started to die away when Queen Victoria herself opted for the pain free alternative.

However, the subtext of this article is not about the details, it’s about the notion of legitimizing a worldview that limits choice in the matter. Initially by attacking the whole idea and hoping it never gets so far that people can actually choose for themselves the condition they want to live in.

Amon July 12, 2011 at 12:32 am

Hi Aaron -

It was interesting to read your post here, thanks. I will lay my cards on the table and say that I consider myself a transhumanist, so unsurprisingly I disagree with much of what you say, but I figure that shouldn’t get in the way of intelligent comment.

As others have said or alluded to above, it’s one thing to identify a subculture that endorses a general drive toward happiness and bettering the human lot, but it’s quite another to create a cartoonish angle in which regular (if passionate) people are depicted as working to oppress the rest of humanity in some emotion-mangling conspiracy. For a start, most transhumanists are passionate individualists, who believe it is wrong to force anyone to do anything against their will.

And lumping transhumanists in with New Age spiritualists or Hollywood seems somewhat disingenuous too, given that most transhumanists aren’t exactly in favour of the first subculture, and have no influence whatsoever on the second (as much as they’d like to!).

I suppose the easiest way to illustrate my unease with your angle here, would be to show how easily your argument may be inverted. You are effectively arguing that the emotional constraints and parameters that humans currently live with are inherently better than *any conceivable alternative* – despite the amount of suffering we know to exist in the world.

You are arguing for global, mandatory suffering. And somehow transhumanists are the oppressive ones?

I’m not trying to goad you pointlessly here – believe me, I can see flaws in the points I’ve made above. But I’d very much like to know how my cartoonish straw-man stance, in which people with your point of view are depicted as part of some grand conspiracy, is any worse than yours?

In short: What gives anyone the right to tell everyone else that they *must* suffer, even if we knew a way to avoid it?

Minh-do Vai-maitah July 12, 2011 at 4:37 pm

Cybernetics research has scientifically proven that it’s easier to control and direct towards a sought-after end using anticipated (learned) rewards rather than anticipated (learned) suffering, and has certainly not neglected additional research concerning itself with improvements in

When making a criticism against suffering, if we are to find a solution, we should resort to inquiry and observe the suffering. Then ask what the cause of suffering actually is and where it lies, rather than ameliorate the symptoms of it through technology. This mistake in approach is a common Western one. Even when using Eastern Devices or technologies that are support practices of inquiry (such as meditation).

Fantastic article Aaron.

The Majore July 12, 2011 at 6:53 pm

The public is always a problem when it boils down to what the powers are seeking for the public to become. Generally, there is not too much inquiry into the infrastructure of civilization and whether it is collectively in humanity’s best interest, or towards the evolution of things in general. Maybe the increased trend of controlling people and their property as systems is absolutely necessary, but as the scope and dynamics of control continues to increase, shouldn’t it be approached more openly or frequently discussed rather than brushed aside or overlooked?

The way things are going throughout the spectrum, it’s becoming harder to access information that’s actually free information without a hidden political agenda behind it, or access free information in the infrastructure that is outside the influence of political or corporate control.

Contrary to what most people associate with the term… Cybernetics doesn’t actually require implants (social media is at the moment far more effective). At it’s basic level it’s the ability to coerce a population into supporting agendas that it doesn’t want (like war… as history shows, populations DO NOT WANT it). Cybernetics is at it’s basic level, research of the control systems… for any purpose or agenda. However, power of the purse spearheads cybernetics in certain directions, and civilization is a model of this control mechanism through nation-states, political power and corporate power.

So, whether it’s technology being incorporated into your being through the Apple, or political power being exercised outside of your own sphere of influence from several complex sources. The general message regarding all future development is indeed, don’t worry be happy. Happiness is the goal and the ruse. For this reason, critics, just aren’t understood by the proponents (“Well, why wouldn’t you want to be happy?”)

Ugh, the problem isn’t being happy. If we are going to embark into a Huxley novel we need to come out of Orwell’s first. To mix and match both these medications is fatal. :SNIFFF:

dirk bruere July 13, 2011 at 8:31 am

So Majore, your answer is an elite that controls what people see and hear, and associated technologies “for their own good”? because the only alternative is to let a hundred flowers bloom, including “happiness on demand”. In short, you are NEVER going to extricate society from political structures, hidden and overt agendas and people who want to tell other people what to do. At least we Transhumanists are up front about what we want.

I see lots of criticism, especially along your line of argument, but what is your alternative? What do *you* want other people to do?

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