Identity Politics, Transhumanism, and the Ajat Institute
Questions of social, ethnic and cultural identity remain important factors in world politics. Identity Politics can be found on both the Left and Right, and the use and/or misuse of such factors can make great differences to individual and societal wellbeing, both for better and worse. In our age of accelerating technology and converging societal challenges, it would be enormously beneficial to have a paradigm for positive, non-partisan Identity Politics to hand.
As technology develops at ever-more rapid rates, we are already seeing emergent examples of what has been called the Transhuman. That is, humans whose quality of life is significantly improved by some close or even integral relationship with technology. Examples include anyone who has had an organ transplant (particularly of an artificial organ or device), and those whose cognitive abilities are technologically enhanced (e.g. via medicines or computers). As time goes by we will only see more of this kind of thing, and the enhancements will be increasingly more dramatic and subtle. Although potentially world-changing, Transhumanism is nothing more than the latest chapter in humanity’s constant striving for a better existence.
Transhumanism also offers a potentially seismic solution to problems of Identity Politics. The key ethical issues uniting all Identitarian questions implicitly revolve around choice: Historically there has never been much room – to put it mildly – for individual choice in determining one’s social or ethno-cultural identity. Naturally then, determining a person’s rights or access to resources (or anything else) on the basis of their Identity becomes discrimination on the basis of something which that person has no control over, which is of course a major ethical issue which has stood at the heart of Western politics since at least the English Civil War. In a world of Transhuman technologies, however, identity increasingly becomes a question of personal choice. To the extent that such technologies are accessible, in the (near) future everyone will have the option and ability to make radical changes to their biological and socio-economic identity just as much as people have increasingly been able to choose their own philosophical or ideological inclinations over the course of the last few Centuries.
Futurists and Transhumanist philosophers have explored some of the radical possibilities for personal change offered by new technologies, and individual freedom of choice between virtually endless options. The resultant focus on the “Trans-” and “Post-“(human) is quite alien to human historical and cultural experience. People have seldom (if ever) identified as Trans- or Post-anything, but rather prefer to identify as a thing-in-itself (e.g., nationality, citizenship, socio-economic class, generation, ideology, ethnic group). People tend to want and develop positive identities of their own, rather than a negation of some other identity. Now, in order to best illustrate and develop the options available to individuals who together comprise emerging Transhumanity, it is time to focus on one possible and desirable model of Transhuman Identity which solves many traditional problems of human Identity Politics. This model is only one of infinitely many possibilities, but it is an actual project and aspiration which can only move the conversation forward.
The Ajat Institute is so-called because it exists to advocate the idea of a particular Transhuman Identity: The Ajati. “Ajat” and “Ajati” come from ancient Sanskrit, with roots in the reconstructed Proto-Indo-European language, and mean to be unborn, uncreated, self-creating and eternal. The a- prefix means “not” (as in Latin and Germanic languages), and the ja- sound comes from the same ancient root which gives us “gene”, “generate”, and “genetics”. The essential idea encapsulated by this word is as follows:
What is Ajat? Who are the Ajati?
The Ajati are a people who are not born, but who create themselves by developing toward a shared ideal, as a matter of personal choice and commitment. They are Transhuman, and their ideal is Posthuman. They can come from any social, ethnic, political or cultural background, but all converge on the same identity-ideal, by definition. The question of whether a person or community is Ajati is purely a matter of personal choice and demonstrated commitment.