After suffering a severe stroke in May, Pennsylvania senatorial candidate John Fetterman now relies on speech-to-text software to understand the spoken word. The digital interface has become a part of him. In a recent NBC interview, Fetterman can be seen gazing at his desktop screen, struggling to comprehend the questions asked. The Democratic nominee will even be allowed to use this software in the Oct. 25 debate with his Republican opponent, Dr. Mehmet Oz.
In a healthy society, Fetterman’s own party would urge him to resign for the common good. This situation is beyond the polarized arguments over immigration, crime, or nuclear war. Cognitive fitness is crucial for political leaders. Their job is to engage the public, project competency abroad, and go toe-to-toe with rivals. But we do not live in a healthy society.
Rather than acknowledge the danger of electing a U.S. senator who, tragically, has been forced to merge with a machine, Fetterman’s supporters are framing this as an “equity” issue. The normal desire to have leaders of sound mind and body is being denounced as “ableism” — i.e., the expectation that people are able to do their jobs. In a culture that rewards virtue-signaling, even compromised cognition is exalted as a virtue.
Our new normal is not inclusive of MAGA or the unvaccinated, but it undoubtedly includes cyborgs. And now, riding a wave of “diversity and inclusion,” Fetterman is America’s first official cyborg candidate.
“For transhumanists,” Tucker Carlson noted last week, “this is Neil Armstrong on the moon. Here you have one of the most famous politicians in the country merging with a computer.” Anyone familiar with the serious conversations around human augmentation knows Carlson is correct. It’s becoming the central issue of our time, and we must grapple with the benefits and dangers in a serious manner.
Klaus Schwab, chairman of the World Economic Forum, calls this global transformation the Fourth Industrial Revolution — “the fusion of our physical, our digital, and our biological identities.” His 2016 book by that title identifies cochlear implants as a forerunner to an implanted brain-computer interface, casually described as a “‘built-in’ smartphone.” What begins with healing is expected to become enhancement.
A Public Illustration of Digitization
Fetterman is a public illustration of this digitization process — both its advantages and its limitations. Supporters argue that a senator using a computer to communicate should be accepted as normal. His use of digital assistance is being defended as ordinary “closed captioning.” This is disingenuous. Unlike people with hearing loss, Fetterman suffers from something far more serious.
Aphasia — the neurological inability to process speech — is not a mere sensory disorder. It’s a debilitating processing issue. In Fetterman’s case, this problem is compounded by difficulty speaking and maintaining a steady train of thought. One wonders how he would endure the pressure of the Senate.
Politicians are natural targets for cruel commentary. Their looks, their gaffes, their scandals — these are all fair game in the public square. If you step into the combat arena, expect onlookers to jeer at the first sign of weakness. In societies where free speech is protected, that’s just the nature of politics. This is as it should be. It keeps our leaders humble.
Even so, a public figure being mocked for a serious brain disorder is intolerably cruel. Many who despise President Joe Biden can’t help but feel sadness as he wanders around onstage, attempting to shake hands with the Invisible Man. Even if one has zero sympathy for Biden himself, the scene is a terrifying symbol of a nation in decline.
Normalizing Merging Humans with Machines
Transhumanists are convinced that technology will save us — not only from failing health and social decay but from physical death and cosmic entropy itself. As advances in biology and artificial intelligence rapidly catch up with these futuristic dreams, proponents use two rhetorical tactics to normalize merging humans with machines.
The first is an appeal to raw power. In the near future, machines will confer physical and cognitive advantages that make their adoption necessary to compete. That includes everything from athletic enhancement to advanced brain-computer interfaces. Given that everyone needs a smartphone to navigate basic situations, this is already a stark reality.
The other argument, resonant with woke culture, rests on human frailty. As the story goes, mindless evolution left us vulnerable to various ailments, from gradual dementia to sudden strokes. Augmentation technology, it is believed, will allow us to overcome all of these problems. Once extreme tech is proved effective in healing, it will be adopted for enhancement. To achieve this transition, the stigma attached to cyborgs must be demolished.
Neil Harbisson is a prime example of this approach. Born colorblind, he has an experimental antenna implanted in his skull that allows him to “hear” colors through fine-tuned vibrations. When he went to get his British passport renewed in 2004, officials instructed him to remove the device for his photo. He replied that his antenna is a part of his body. After weeks of advocacy, Harbisson became “the world’s first legally recognized cyborg.”
That was a win for social justice and transhumanism, but it would be delusional to claim Harbisson is qualified to be an interior designer. In the same sense, it is inhumane — and profoundly irresponsible — to pretend Fetterman’s reliance on cognitive assistance software does not affect his candidacy for the Senate.
America faces social disintegration at home and the threat of nuclear war abroad. In the immediate future, the performance of our legislature will determine whether our country survives in any recognizable form. Fetterman’s struggle stirs pathos, but to shield his disqualifying condition with an “ableism” label is the height of cynicism. More than ever, we need capable leaders.
Should Fetterman be elected to the Senate, it will be a victory for Democrats obsessed with “equity.” Cyborgs will have good reason to celebrate. Beyond any policy decisions, though, I suspect his public persona will do more to shake America’s confidence in itself and inspire our rivals’ contempt.
On a symbolic level, Fetterman will not represent technological progress. He will represent an organic civilization in crisis.