Transhumanism Gets Political [updated (2)]

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For better or worse, transhumanism is rapidly becoming a political as well as philosophical movement.

Gabriel Rothblatt, son of well known transhumanist billionaire and author Martine Rothblatt, is running for congress as a candidate for the Democratic Party in the United States. Another openly political transhumanist and techno-libertarian, Mike Lorrey, is running for the New Hampshire House under the Republican Party in New Hampshire.

And, entering the fray just last night, transhumanist author and adventurer Zoltan Istvan is taking a page from his own book The Transhumanist Wager and announcing what he calls “The Transhumanist Party <tm>” a political party for transhumanists seemingly with Zoltan himself as the lead candidate for the presidency in 2016.

This isn’t the first time a transhumanist has been political. Humanity+ board chair Natasha Vita-More was elected as a Councilperson for the 28th Senatorial District of Los Angeles in 1992 on an openly futurist and transhumanist platform. Another transhumanist politician that garnered widespread mainstream media attention recently is Italian member of parliament Giuseppe Vatinno who was previously covered here in h+ Magazine.

Zoltan wrote last night on his Facebook page:

Dear friends, 

This is not something I wanted to announce this way, however recently there have been many explorations and inquiries of this topic online, making this announcement necessary. It’s also something I have been working on for a while now and pondering how best to handle. So I think it’s right for me to just announce what I plan to try to do. If interested, look for much more to occur regarding this in the coming weeks. I believe it’s time to truly take transhumanism to the broader public in concrete and visible way. Thanks!

A link was further provided to http://transhumanistparty.org/ where the image displayed above was provided.

Responses to the announcement varied. One person wrote, “you have my support” but another opined, “This is one of the worst things possible that could occur for the transhumanist vision and meme set.”

Zoltan is an outspoken proponent of a very individualistic strain of transhumanism summarized in his book as The Three Laws of Transhumanism. This is in itself problematic as not all transhumanists accept these laws or agree with Zoltan’s suggestions about the best approach to social management and control.

Zoltan is also an outspoken atheist and has recently proposed a variety of fairly extreme notions such as requiring parental licensing, mandatory birth control and outlawing the teaching of religion. The last being a suggestion which would pretty clearly entail altering the United States constitution in a fundamental way.

In an apparent nod to religious and spiritual transhumanists, Zoltan joined the Facebook group for Christian Transhumanists recently as well and posted the following:

I’m glad to see this group up and running. Even though I may seem anti-religious, more and more I see Christian transhumanists being an important part of the overall push to widen the transhumanism movement. In addition to a facebook page and your website, and I hope you will spread to all forms of social media. I will gladly positively feature you in one of my articles. Thanks for adding me!

Despite the nod, it seems to this observer that these ideas about restricting religious practice make Zoltan unelectable in the United States.

Outlawing the teaching of religion in a nation founded on the idea of religious freedom is simply a non-starter. And Zoltan himself is seemingly aware of the issue as he wrote on Facebook that, “I realize some of my ideas have been quite extreme.” And “I don’t plan to advocate for many of those with this endeavor.”

But the problem is, these views have been stated in numerous online and very public places such as the Huffington Post, WIRED UK, and Psychology Today where Istvan commonly writes. While Istvan can claim that he doesn’t really believe in these “extreme” ideas after the fact, it may be harder to get other people to believe him. It seems that these previous publications will become a huge issue if his candidacy ever gains any traction.

Over at IEET, Amon Twyman (aka Amon Kalkin) offered an interestingly timed piece with his opinions about whether transhumanism should be political and whether it needs a political party like Istvan’s proposed TP.

…we see Social Democrat, Liberal, Socialist, Nationalist, Green/Eco-activist transhumanists, and just about every other shade of political belief you can imagine. Evangelical, politically religious transhumanism seems to be a notable absentee, and my guess is that we don’t see any evangelical Christian transhumanists because that approaches paradox… but perhaps we’ll hear of them soon. There are of course several varieties of religious and spiritual transhumanism, some of which shade into political sentiment occasionally, and all of which have implicit political opinions baked into their faith. Perhaps most controversially, there are extremist political transhumanists of the hard left and right wings.

It is notable that transhumanist founding father FM 2030 designated his ideas as “up wing” offering a third alternative to the conventional left/right wing dichotomy.

Amon continues:

…a recurrent theme is a call for a unified transhumanist political party. I understand the sentiment, but I don’t think such a party is viable, for the simple reason that in order to attract more than a small proportion of transhumanists it would have to have a tiny set of policies. Far too few to get elected, let alone govern even the smallest nation effectively. If you don’t believe me, ask yourself; what is the natural “transhumanist” policy on abortion? Immigration? Tax? Compulsory military service? The list goes on.

I agree with Amon on this, as a political entity, the proposed party is problematic because transhumanists do not have one set of beliefs about key issues. Generally speaking, transhumanists do not have a unified set of opinions about anything. Consider the variation of views on uploading, immortality, and risks of artificial intelligence.

And the usual key areas of policy such as economic policies and foreign policy are not even articulated in most transhumanist thinking. What are the Transhumanist Party’s positions on the conflict in the Middle East and Ukraine? Does the party support the U.S. campaign against ISIS? Immigration reform? Gun control?

Amon reports seeing more “left” facing transhumanists, but I think this might depend largely on who you talk to. Certainly there remain strong libertarian trends in transhumanism and we also unfortunately do see some interest from the extremes. This is a problem for this proposal because it is a nice target for certain special interests. As far as Istvan himself, his book is pretty clearly an homage to Ayn Rand, so we might expect to find him in the libertarian camp.

Some wondered whether the entire proposal was simply a publicity stunt. Zoltan has proven himself to be a successful promoter of transhumanism and he is featured prominently in various online publications. And he himself wrote, “Mostly, it will be an attempt to generate massive support for life extension science and to get people to embrace general transhumanist ideas.” The implications aren’t entirely clear, but this statement is seemingly setting this proposal for a political party apart from a more serious political campaign such as Gabriel Rothblatt’s.

While I support promoting life extension technologies obviously, it seems that this isn’t a serious proposal to get political. Too bad.

It isn’t entirely clear how realistic forming a political party is. In California were Istvan resides getting on the ballot will require 1% of the registered voters in the upcoming 2014 gubernatorial election to support the idea, and that means creating a new party will require over 150,000 California residents to support it. There notably are currently only seven parties qualified to participate in the 2014 election.

And similar rules apply in all 50 states and the territories and presidential candidates have to qualify in each state separately. Qualifying in California does not mean you are on the ballot in Ohio. This is a huge undertaking. No wonder no third party candidate has been a serious presidential contender in the United States since Ross Perot’s ill fated attempts including Ron Paul.

While it would be great to see a transhumanist in a serious role in American politics, this approach of starting a political party isn’t necessarily the best way to do it. The effort of starting a party is separate from running for office and arguably detracts from the potential to actually get elected. Third party candidates that win are few in number even outside the presidential arena. Further, running two very complex, challenging and mutually inter-dependent projects is not generally a great formula for success.

It seems that a clear decision needs to be made about the real objectives and purposes of this effort. Is it just to garner attention? Is this a serious attempt to form a new and meaningful political party? Is the goal to actually get elected?

The details remain unclear so we’ll just have to wait and see.

Update: After publication of the original version of this article, I was referred to an article by Zoltan that appears to be, in part, a response. In Should a Transhumanist Run for US President? his proposal is supposedly explained. But unfortunately, after reading it, I was more confused than before.

Zoltan states, for example, that the “transhuman future doesn’t care what color skin you have, what your sexual orientation is, what faith you embrace, where you were born, what type of job you have, or what political perspective you hold.”

And yet he has previously argued for banning the teaching of religion to minors. See his prior article Should it be Illegal to Indoctrinate Kids With Religion? where he states “Like some other atheists and transhumanists, I join in calling for regulation that restricts religious indoctrination of children until they reach, let’s say, 16 years of age.”

Does the Transhumanist Party support freedom of religion or regulation of religious indoctrination? I have no idea. And nevermind the fact that his novel centers in part around a fictional military confrontation between religious believers and atheist transhumanists.

The big confusion however is over the entire purpose of this adventure. Zoltan writes, “Transhumanism is not a political end, but a life-affirming commitment to becoming one’s best self using the help of reason, science, and technology.”

Right. Then why pursue the effort to form a political entity, the Transhumanist Party?

“I’m in the very early stages of preparing a campaign to try to run in the 2016 election for US President. I’ll be doing it as a transhumanist for the Transhumanist Party, a political organization I recently founded that seeks to use science and technology to radically improve the human being and the society we live in.”

It seems transhumanism is a political end here in that this article and proposal is about the creation of a political party using transhumanist themes and further it is about Zoltan’s seeking election to a political office.

Zoltan states, “The future is less about social security, climate change, immigrant border traffic, taxes, terrorism, the economy, and the myriad other issues that flash across news headlines every day–and more about how far we are willing to use science and technology to fundamentally alter the human being and experience.”

Apparently missing the point that getting elected is all about these issues and not whatever the candidate decides is of interest to them.

Average people, the ones you need to support the formation of a political party or get elected to office, care very much about the economy, jobs, taxes, war, the environment, and a variety of other thorny issues that they confront in their daily lives. They also care about the future, but you can not ignore the present realities of people’s lives. Ignoring this very obvious fact seemingly sets the stage for failure.