Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Review of Stefano Vaj's Biopolitica

I became aware of Stefano Vaj's writings, and in particular his book Biopolitica (, in the summer of 2006 lurking on Italian transhumanist lists. I did not have much time and did not really read posts carefully, but could not help noticing that there was a flame war triggered by Stefano's book, with some posters enthusiastically endorsing it and others attacking it as fascism. The same discussion has more recently taken place on the global transhumanist lists. Since the book is not available in English I am often asked to provide information, and this is why I am posting here this review adapted from a post to a transhumanist mailing list.

I am as far from fascism as one can be, but am not afraid to consider ideas different from my own. Moreover, I am acutely aware that history is always written by the winners. So I decided to actually read the book with my own eyes and brain. I discussed it at length with Riccardo Campa, the founder of the Italian Transhumanist Association and a former WTA Board member who writes on left-wing magazines and cannot be accused of fascist leanings, and asked many questions to Stefano.

Here are the conclusions that I reached:

1) The "flavor" of the book, as defined by the choice of words and quotes and the general "atmosphere", does indeed show that the author was strongly influenced by sensibilities that belong, as well, to some components of European neo-fascism.

2) The book does not contain a single endorsement of anything that I would consider as a fascist policy. No exhortations to burn people and attack cities and states, no proposals to enforce social order by means of a police state, no support for repressing deviance, no hate for or proposed actions against "inferior races", etc.

3) The main ideas are:

a) A radical flavor of transhumanism where achieving superhumanity is seen as what our species _must_ do at this stage of its evolution. Check. Note: the word "superman" has been, indeed, used by nazis. But they also used the word "potato" I believe. And don't forget that your favorite cartoon hero was "Superman".

b) A strong endorsement of the self-determination of communities and the preservation of their own culture and chosen way of life against global pressure. Check. This is, I believe, a necessary condition for the transition to posthumanity. Do we want to let a fundamentalist administration in a superpower impose a ban on human enhancement upon the rest of the world? Or is it better to leave other communities free to choose their own approach?

c) "Rights" are recognized as a cultural product. Check. This is, I believe, the only mature way to talk of rights. Unless, of course, we prefer to believe in "God´s given", "natural" rights.

4) There are many references to Nietsche and the Italian Futurist movement of the early 20th century. Both have been accused to be precursors of fascism, which is historically and philosophically not correct. Both support striving to transcend current limits with no reverence for God's or Nature's will. Check. This bold approach to taking control of our lives as individuals and as a species, with a certain sense of a cosmic destiny is, I think, exactly what the transhumanist movement needs at this moment.