Transhumanism & Transmetropolitan: Familiar Hypocrites in a Dystopian Plain

If you’re reading this, you’ve already been augmented; your brain is no longer just your brain. With just an internet connection, your mind connects almost instantly to a collective font of information that far surpasses the capacity of a single person. Using portable technology, access to this connection is ubiquitous; it is a near permanent augmentation of the human ability to store and process information.

In Warren Ellis’ Transmetropolitan, this facet of contemporary life is taken to an extreme and transposed approximately 2000 years into the future. Internet pages aren’t just sent to phones; they’re sent directly into minds. The desire and means to augment experiences and capabilities are so elevated in Transmetropolitan that humans can upload their consciousnesses into computers or undergo massive surgeries to transform themselves into aliens. The entire series is a nod to transhumanism, a philosophical and cultural exploration of how technology may seek to improve the human condition. Ellis, however, also subverts transhumanism. In his world, technology hasn’t made humans better. It’s made them worse: they are hedonistic and selfish, using expensive technology to augment themselves in superficial ways while keeping what could be practical and helpful technology from the poor.

Transmetropolitan is explored through Spider Jerusalem, a caricature of gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson. Like Thompson, Jerusalem is a populist boozer who has no patience for authority and a healthy appetite for any kind of mind-altering substance. Jerusalem believes that the technology that surrounds him – and those that use it lightly – has distracted society from what is important: humanity itself. For those who will listen to him, he shares his views through his journalistic endeavours. For those who won’t listen, he shares his views through his fists.

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Jerusalem explores a number of different transhuman aspects of The City as he goes about writing his column. He spends vast amounts of time and energy caring for the downtrodden children abandoned by virtual TV addicted parents and humans from our contemporary time period who wake alone and disoriented from cryogenic hibernation.  To Jerusalem, these are people free from the promise of transhuman technology; they haven’t lost their humanity to the promise of entertainment or pleasure.

But Ellis also uses Jerusalem as a means of lampooning countercultural subcultures in the modern era, including figures like Thompson. Jerusalem seems opposed to human augmentation through technology, but is fine with augmenting his own experiences and abilities through anything ingested, snorted, or injected. The drugs Jerusalem consumes are products of advanced technology; somehow his brand of transhumanism escapes the moral boundaries he’s set for society when applied to stimulants, depressants and hallucinogens.

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Jerusalem also protests the deluge of media foisted on the populace of The City, yet his means of living come from the publication of his work within that same media landscape. To stay on top of news, he has it beamed it into his head like everyone else, but believes himself to be immune to its effects. The series begins with Jerusalem languishing in self-imposed exile out of range of media broadcasts, but once he re-enters the city he adopts the same augmentations as those he criticizes (albeit for the sake of destroying them).

Jerusalem’s simultaneous rejection and acceptance of society’s norms — in this case, transhumanist technologies — is a display of Ellis’ subtle critique of all heroes of the counter culture movement. In order to destroy the technological order he despises, Jerusalem adopts its tools and its vices. He attempts to destroy the paradigm he loathes by participating in it, while at the same time outwardly claiming to have rejected it. He is a futuristic caricature of the environmentalist with an iPhone or the anarchist with an internet connection – both a critic of and participant in transhumanism.

– Contributed by Dan Seljak

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