The intelligence of limits

The posthumanist transmutation (1) is a sum (383 pages) which gathers, in about fifteen contributions, the reflections on the worrying societal phenomena which are the transhumanism, the procreatic and other technocratic fantasies… All these analyses are carried out by brilliant specialists in their fields of expertise and the conclusion emerges that these dystopias threaten the total destruction of humanism, even humanity. We will extract here one of these brilliant productions of non-artificial intelligence (the only real one), that of Patrick Tort.

Under the direction of Fabien Ollier, philosophers, psychoanalysts, scientists… have analyzed in depth the dangerous madness of those who hate humans as hundreds of millions of years of evolution have built them. It is logical that the geneticist that I am should try to summarize for you the luminous thought of Patrick Tort, historian of science and philosophy, author of a vast work (2) studying the relations between science, ideologies and society and a great connoisseur of the thought of Charles Darwin and his exegetes (3).

The little understandable hypertelia

Patrick Tort starts from the notion of hypertelia, highlighted by Darwin and which seems to contradict the logic of natural selection: some species have developed characteristics that exceed the adaptive optimum and which should be a handicap in the logic of the selection of the most suitable. For example, the enormous feathers of the male peacock embarrass him and make him vulnerable to predators, the gigantic antlers of the Megacere deer (extinct by the way) made him heavy and made him spend unnecessary energy. Darwin hypothesized that this  » inertia of growth  » of characters, at first sight handicapping, was advantageous, because it allows an increase of the seduction with the females of the species and dissuades the competing males. Since the success of a gene is measured by its ability to multiply, to reproduce, sexual selection is therefore not only the result of actual clashes between males, but also of ornamentation: « …when the sign of strength becomes stronger than the strength itself ».

This intrusion of the symbolic into natural selection logically leads to a comparison of this  » The « growth spurt  » of today’s human societies: material growth is no longer based on the use value of products, but on an overvaluation of the form, the presentation… Patrick Tort uses the term  » capitalism of seduction  » which translates into a proliferation of professions linked to the look, to illusion: designers, communicators, influencers, publicists… Relying on the fever of innovation, this overvaluation of seduction by the futile has, as the biological shows, serious defects. Indeed, the study of natural evolution shows that species that developed momentarily advantageous ornamental excesses in seduction quickly paid for it and the fossils of extinct lineages show that as soon as environmental conditions become harsher, reality takes over again and the pretentious ones that have made an illusion are quickly eliminated. The  » transformation of weapons into charms  » provides ephemeral benefits and the lie that is its substratum creates great vulnerability and greatly increases the risk of death, biological for individuals, or collective for societies.

What is the effect of selection today?

Beyond this first comparative argument between the natural and the societal, which shows the peril of excessive growth, a detailed understanding of the mechanisms of natural selection leads Darwin (in his anthropological work La filiation de l’homme) and Tort to measure that, for « civilized » humans, selection is very different from what it is for other species and for men before the emergence of civilizations.

At the risk of caricaturing, we can summarize this approach by distinguishing three periods.

  1. The ante-civilization period where human groups are confronted with a hostile nature and where the less well adapted, the weaker, are eliminated by natural selection.
  2. During the civilization period, the groups grow (tribes, cities, nations, empires…) and manage to create artificial protective environments. The walls of buildings and cities are not the most effective barriers, but the cultures are the essential element of this evolution which was favourable to the humans so managed to colonize the smallest corners of the Planet. In order to make so many humans live together, societies have been selected that have developed behaviors that avoid killing or sabotaging each other. Thus, the development of altruism, empathy and solidarity has meant that the weakest have not been eliminated (medicine, vaccines…) but rather protected. The handicapped, the sick, the old have been the object of the attention of others and common rules have allowed them to live (and even to make invaluable contributions, not necessarily economic, to the group as a whole). Some considered that this had disadvantages: the eugenicists felt that it was necessary to prevent the weakest from reproducing and transmitting what they called « defects ». The most extreme Malthusians even went so far as to advocate brakes or bans on the reproduction of classes considered inferior (the proletarians).
  3. Patrick Tort, faithful to Darwin’s prophetic views regarding the application of the theory of evolution to the human species (4), sees the affirmation of what he calls the hypertelic period. Following the excesses of the will of the humanity to  » make us as masters and possessors of the nature  » (Descartes), the change of the environment accelerates, due in great part to the action of the men, to the confiscation and the overexploitation of the natural resources. Under these conditions, nature becomes hostile again and human groups have to adapt again. Darwin had already detected this  » retrograde force always susceptible of sporadic resurgence, reversion [retour] of atavistic characters which partially reactualize ancestral structures and archaic or barbaric behaviors « .

What kind of projects for society?

The tensions between humanity and what is left of nature are becoming more and more exacerbated by the effect of unbridled productivism, we are faced with an alternative. Either we accept to think and act with nature (5), moderate our appetites, question the desirability of the infinite desires that some people propose to us and enter the path of chosen and voluntary degrowth, or we persist in the domination without measure. Like the other authors gathered in the book La transmutation posthumaniste, Patrick Tort sees in transhumanism the advanced point of this research of overcoming all the natural limits that humanity has always known. He explains this out-of-ground, over-the-top fiction as follows:  » …the transhumanist dream is born of the deaf awareness that globalized capitalism is condemned in the short term by the objective existence of limits to its growth and manifests the consecutive postponement of the desire of unlimited on a technical universe which would free itself from the economy… « .

Still relying on the Darwinian notion of struggle for life that governs the behavior of all species, he is surprised:  » It is not conceivable that a species (in this case the human species), normally fighting for its survival, would rationally consider its own replacement by machines, which would be tantamount to voluntarily disqualifying itself in the struggle for existence and to choosing extinction (which can certainly happen, but as an undergone process and not as an adaptive modality or a necrophilic choice).  »

Human reproduction

Since Darwin and Tort insist on the importance of sexual reproduction, its success or failure, as the engine of animal and therefore human evolution, the author of the chapter « The Intelligence of Limits », criticizes procreatic techniques and favors, for humans in need of children, adoption which  » realizes the ideal of « extended altruism » which Darwin showed to be the marker of the progress of civilization. He thus believes:  » In a world where millions of orphans suffer, artificial reproduction, with its innumerable failures and accidents, can in no way be an ethical choice comparable to that embodied by adoption, and illustrates the case where « technical progress » aggravates a narcissistic luxury that appears to be a moral regression and theimperium of a self-centered desire whose imaginary component offers all the characteristics of a childishness « .

Joining Boris Cyrulnik as for the importance of the antenatal relational exchange during the stay of the future human in the belly of his mother, Patrick Tort is also frightened by the projects of the transhumanists to separate the procreation from the pregnancy and the childbirth and to go as fast as possible towards the ectogenesis (maturation of the foetus out of the maternal uterus, already evoked in the dystopia that is The Brave New World by Aldous Huxley). He strongly warns us:  » Between commercialization and industrialization, birth now opens up a future where affective frustration, ethical disarray, adult neurosis and the appearance of as yet unidentifiedforms of psychosis in the victims of this lack of connection during ontogeny arelikely to spread.  »

Paradoxical rejection of death

It is known that transhumanists base much of their success with the general public very poorly informed on the illusory promises to push back death, or even  » kill  » … Geneticists and biologists are well aware that the so-called « conservation » or « survival » instinct is a constant in all living beings, but the approach based on evolution and especially the emergence of the civilization period shows that this instinctive life drive (the conatus would say Spinoza) has been transformed into a desire for eternity first recovered by the great religions into a fiction of survival in a beyond post mortem. Transhumanists want to believe that eternity will not take place « in heaven », but on Earth. Tort shows that, on thecontrary, this denial of the indisputable reality of death can lead humanity towards a suicidal hypertelism (6). He notes that capitalism’s obsession with growth leads to the unrestrained development of industrial activities and the almost total absence of prevention of its destructive effects. And so,  » this economic system will prefer to lead the world into death rather than recognize, through its already proven effects, that it is indeed leading inexorably to it « .

Transhumanism is therefore a totally irrational thought which, turning away from the evidence of the conditions necessary for the natural survival of the species, leads  » the fanatics of the personal immortality, through the techniques, to hide that they only anticipate it through a pseudo-overcoming of the inadmissible and repressed vision of their own extinction.

In fact, we see more and more signs of abandonment of the values of empathy, solidarity, protection of the weakest… which have allowed the emergence of all human civilizations. The breakthroughs of the extreme right, of libertarian egoism, supporters of transhumanism, are the precursory signs of this civilizational reversion, of the return to barbarism. Tort therefore denounces all these manifestations of posthumanism and laments:  » Their naivety consists in thinking that it is necessary to abolish life in order to suppress death, or, in other words, in not seeing that  » killing death « is impossible without killing life at the same time.  »

Notes et références
  1. Fabien Ollier (sous la direction de), La transmutation posthumaniste. Critique du mercantilisme anthropotechnique, QS? Éditions, Horizon critique, novembre 2019, 383 pp., 20€.
  2. Patrick Tort est l’auteur de 2.500 articles et de 55 volumes savants. On citera parmi ceux-ci : L’effet Darwin. Sélection naturelle et naissance de la civilisation, Ed du Seuil, 2000 ; Théorie du sacrifice. Sélection sexuelle et naissance de la morale, Belin, 2017 ; L’intelligence des limites. Essais sur le concept d’hypertélie, Gruppen, 2019.
  3. Beaucoup ont déformé les découvertes et le pensée de Charles Darwin sur la sélection naturelle, en faisant croire que l’évolution sélectionnait les plus forts (interprétation favorable aux théories libérales) alors que Darwin avait dit que se multiplient le plus vite les mieux adaptés à leur environnement et que la solidarité entre membres d’un même groupe était un grand avantage sélectif (voir L’entraide, l’autre loi de la jungle, P. Servigne, G. Chapelle).
  4. Charles Darwin, La filiation de l’homme et la sélection liée au sexe, Champions classiques, Essais, 2013.
  5. Titre de l’ouvrage magistral de Catherine LARRÈRE et Raphaël LARRÈRE, Penser et agir avec la nature. Une enquête philosophique, Éditions La découverte, 2015.
  6. Rappelons l’étymologie : « allant au-delà du but ».
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