Space for New Transhuman Voices



What are we about as members of the Mormon Transhumanist Association? It is clear from past surveys that we have numerous individual purposes and goals, but here is a short description from the MTA website:

The Mormon Transhumanist Association is the world’s largest advocacy network for ethical use of technology and religion to expand human abilities, as outlined in the Transhumanist Declaration and the Mormon Transhumanist Affirmation.

It appears that, as members of the Mormon Transhumanist Association, we aspire to be advocates. Advocates for whom and to whom? This is a question I think about on occasion. Clearly we are not an organization for everyone, but if we are trying to build a future Zion and lift up all of humanity, I think we would do well to make sure that we are including voices far beyond the middle class, white, American, Mormon corridor, tech savvy male that is heavily represented among the board, voting members, and MTA conference presenters and bloggers. There are some good things happening in this regard. We have at least two female board members. We have numerous, prominent non-Mormon and former Mormon members. We have heard critics of Mormon Transhumanism speak at MTA conferences. But if we are to reach significantly beyond our biases, we likely need to do much more to seek diverse voices and make room for them in Mormon Transhumanism.

I understand the ease of calling for diversity and the much greater difficulty of achieving diversity, but since I think this is an important discussion, I'm going to bring up what I see as some institutional barriers to giving voice to diverse voices in the MTA. Maybe others will suggest additional problems and possible solutions to problems I can't see, and maybe we can find ways to make this organization I'm proud to belong to even better.

  1. Encourage membership contributions in kind. Voting membership excludes those without ~$100/yr to contribute. This is a perfectly reasonable requirement for most kinds of associations, but questionable for an organization that hopes to engage all of humanity--including the poor. There is apparently an option of contributing in kind at least part of the membership fee, and there are, I believe, exceptions or reductions for those in the developing world, and maybe for students. Determining and advertizing a process for making contributions in kind, and requiring the contributions be approximately as substantial as what an average voting member currently requires to earn $100, could democratize voting membership significantly. I don't know the income of voting members, but I suspect $100 is considerably less than 10 hours of their work life, so requiring a 10 hour contribution of service is perhaps even a high requirement for full voting membership. And in kind payments need enough variety to match the skills or resources of members who may not be tech savvy.

  2. Invite Critics to Blog. The blog is dominated by white, male, science/tech types--me included. It's hard to draw in other voices when membership is skewed toward that demographic, but perhaps we should be asking more people why they aren't Mormon Transhumanists? We have had a few wonderful talks (by white, male scholars) about their objections to religious Transhumanism at the MTA meetings. Maybe it's time we start asking more of our female friends, and especially more of our friends of color, to tell us why they aren't interested in Mormon Transhumanism, and what it would take for them to take up common cause with us in working toward the technological advancement of humanity. But that's the easy part. The hard part comes after. After hearing the ways in which we have it wrong, or are unwelcoming to someone, or are bad feminists, or are racists, or are technosnobs, we have to say thank you. We have to say we love your voice and will try to take it to heart. We have to shut up and take it. No long explanations of why we are right. No arguments about the flaws in their logic, or the things they are overlooking. We can have those amongst ourselves, elsewhere. It may be online, but we have to treat them like valued guests in our online home. We have to use the World Table comment system and police those who would try to silence contrary voices, even simply by making them feel unwelcome. The guests' perception of welcomeness is the crux of welcoming. There's a reason for 4 categories of judgment on comments. Let's be respectful and helpful and honest and likeable in our responses to our critics. It will take practice, as it is not the normal mode of communication online, and our critics may not be all of those things, but we can start by practicing it in our social media groups right away.

  3. Geographically desegregate MTA conferences. MTA meetings are geographically segregated. I feel selfish bringing this up, but I'm going to anyway. Yes, there are partial scholarships for voting members to attend and present at the meeting, but this doesn't solve the many logistical and/or economic problems of some who would wish to attend and participate. Even in our technologically connected world, MTA leadership recognizes the value of face to face interaction, and doesn't wish to dilute that rare interaction through turning the MTA conferences into just another online forum. But there are certainly voices around the world that would benefit us if we could listen to their words, and members who would feel more connected if they could be heard in this live format. Introducing a limited number of time slots for remote speakers could expand the geographic diversity of the MTA, and possibly also contribute to the economic, gender, and racial diversity of voices.

These are just a few ideas, probably not the best, and they probably don't address the most pressing issues for MTA governance. But we know countries are more peaceful in direct accord with women's rights. We know there are problems from mostly white men having guided medical research for its entire existence. We can predict, if they aren't already evident, problems of bias from white and Asian men dominating development of the internet. It's hard to imagine that by actively incorporating disparate views from near the beginning that the MTA won't be better and more influential in the long run. I'd love to hear other people's ideas and to do what I can to implement the best of them, because we don't need more space for the views of people like me--we need space for the views this white, male, Utah-raised, Mormon scientist hasn't even considered.