“An American political organization dedicated to promoting and embracing transhumanism”
This was announced a couple of weeks ago. Since then i had several discussions about Zoltan’s new party and his intention to run for president in 2016. Frankly i was surprised how many dismissive or outright disparaging responses i encountered. One well known transhumanist said: “He will not get more than 0.01%”, another considered that an unsuccessful run might actually set back the cause, and these responses were not atypical.
These examples prompted me to look around a bit more systematically.
Zoltan himself declares in his Huffpost opening salvo from 10-7: “the reality is, of course, that it’s totally improbable a new independent party and its candidate will get elected. It probably will be impossible to even get on many state ballots. Obviously, I’m aware of that. Why do it then? Because it’s a start.”
Incidentally on the same day Amon Twyman published an article on ‘Transhumanism and Politics’ on the IEET site saying: “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.”
The next day Peter Rothman agreed with Twyman’s views and added a few reservations of his own in Transhumanism gets Political on the humanity+ site; referring to Jethro’s (not Zoltan’s) Three Laws he writes: “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” and later: “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.”
And another day later in the article “Zoltan Istvan plans a courageous transhuman political surge”, the only encouraging one i have come across, Eric Schulke wrote on Immortal Life: “I agree with Zoltan that the time could be right and that we should all consider helping to make this push” and “I agree with Zoltan’s general messaging and strategy. I might say a few things differently and include or exclude some things but I find that is often times inconsequential when it comes to long term health activism among serious participants. Those kinds of things evolve as we go, through constructive influence and deliberation.”
Though i certainly disagree with several of Jethro Knights’ arguments and views stated in The Transhumanist Wager, i am fully supportive of Zoltan’s political endeavour and find his willingness to expose himself and his family to the implied inconveniences and possible dangers admirable.
I do not see the presidential run as the primary goal at this time, but as a rallying point, comparable to a roman standard. These days personality, even better celebrity, has become more important than content, which actually has to be understood, while symbols only have to be liked. And regardless of the outcome, the campaign itself will be a first step into the important area of name recognition which has proven to be extremely effective as the tasteless example of Palin has shown. Zoltan has already proven his talent for public relations, in the provocative way he has presented his ideas through the novel and in the tireless way he has begun to promote his ideas and himself subsequently. I think within the last two years he has become more of a household name among transhumanists than any of the movement’s veterans. Therefore he is in a pivotal position, and apparently willing, to provide this rallying point.
The more important aspect here is the establishment of a transhumanist party, and even more generally the entrance into the political arena. This can only be done by building a political force from the ground up. So far TH has been seen by the public mainly as an apparently radical (thus not to be taken serious) accumulation of philosophies. The step into politics would emphasise the social implications, and over time make them more concrete and begin to show their relevance to improving personal conditions. This has to begin on the personal and local levels. The goal of transhumanism is to improve the (post)human condition, and it is firmly rooted in the enlightenment tradition. In order to achieve this long term objective on a large scale, which will take resources, skills and time, the foundations must be solidified.
For many, Zoltan himself, the aforementioned Mr. Schulke, and just about any other transhumanist i have met, longevity is a primary concern, which can only be attained on the basis of healthy bodies in their younger years. Unfortunately the trend is reverse, largely as a consequence of insufficient health and counterproductive economic policies, especially in food and drug production and regulation. High tech medical procedures and devices, prosthetics and robotics will be of ever increasing importance. If longevity is to be achieved not just for the materially resourceful but for all, these policies must be improved far beyond the PPACA, which will be an easy sell, at least within urban populations. A change in food policies resulting in the abolishment of factory farming would also find support way beyond transhumanist circles.
The non-economic tenets of libertarian (what i would call liberal) principles, namely protection from governmental and corporate transgression (police brutality, forced evictions, victimless crimes, inhumane penal systems) would all resonate with large parts of urban populations, as would another issue on many transhumanists’ agenda, building momentum for a guaranteed income scheme.
All these issues, and probably many others, can be promoted, some implemented, on the local and state levels. It will be necessary to attract andor build the capabilities needed for successful political work such as deep subject knowledge, presentation, negotiation and coalition building skills, as well those needed for logistics and activism. The core of this will already be required for the campaigns themselves, and this should build momentum for a more permanent organisation if managed well.
One point made repeatedly by the skeptical voices is undeniably correct: transhumanism is not a unified platform. Some years ago James Hughes posted the following on a Q&A site when the question of a party was raised: “The question is what such a party would advocate. All transhumanists are libertarian on individual rights, but most are left-wing on economics while only a minority are traditional libertarians in the US sense. There is a least a rationale for a separate left-libertarian transhumanist party, and a right-economic libertarian one.”
I take a long view. Unless one or several of the known or unknown risk factors strike, transhumanist technologies will be ubiquitous within twenty years, and transhumanist policies designed to support them will have begun to be discussed and implemented by then, regardless of individual political leanings. The current diversity within the movement is a partial reflection of the political landscape at large, and may result in more than two parties once transhumanism has become a majority view. Initially trying to find general agreements will be like herding cats and the party will never have the support of all ‘transhumanists’. It will have to work with the forces that are agreeable. My sympathies lie with James’ ‘technoprogessive’ view, and it seems clear that Zoltan is, as most are, a ‘libertarian on individual rights’, but i do not yet know how he feels about corporate rule unleashed. Nonetheless for now he has my advocacy and support.
More important than pleasing everybody is actually pleasing nobody. What i mean by that, far from striving to be disliked, is, as indicated in the headline, sticking to one’s declared principles and intentions and being open and credible even when goals are not achieved or new information requires their modification. Betrayal of one’s constituents, political allies and opponents has become too commonplace, and has led to the disengagement of a large part of insightful citizens from the political process altogether, and though many perpetrators get away with it, ultimately undesired consequences will be engendered by that sort of karma. On the other hand politics is known as the art of achieving the possible and compromises are the norm and necessary but must remain transparent. In diplomacy being liked and building a reputation as honest players or brokers is essential.
Finally in order to truly represent at least a major part of the movement it will be necessary to look and act beyond the national boundaries, and Zoltan seem to be well qualified for this task through his personal history and his ideas as expressed in the Wager. Good relations must be established and maintained with transhumanist organisations, many of which reside in other countries and in netspace. To my knowledge there is only one other political party in existence, the Alianza Futurista in spain, which was legally established about a year ago and is getting ready to present itself to the public. The Longevity Party, having declared itself a couple years ago, is apparently still working on its legal framework, but they also have an fb page. Beyond that good relations with sympathetic entities in business, NGOs, governments and international organization like EU and UN will be important and helpful, needless to say.
A couple of days ago Dirk Bruere posted the following question: “Here we are, at a pivotal moment in (post) Human history where even the smallest actions will have consequences stretching billions of years into the future. Or which ends in global extinction. A time of legends the like of which the universe may not see again. And what are you doing? Pulling up a chair as a spectator? Being “too busy” to take part in all this?”. I do not know what Dirk himself is currently doing, but he is probably correct in his implied assessment about too many spectators. Whatever your skills and your location, i implore you to join the political effort, this is an opportunity to become active and you will be needed.
I like to close with a quote from Guiseppe Vattino:
“Too often transhumanists focus only on advancing technology and scientific discoveries, ignoring the important social and psychological aspects of accelerating change. Political action can advance change as well, for example through legislation and funding that promotes life extension technologies, research into artificial intelligence, space exploration, nanotechnology and biotechnology. Also, legislation limiting these developments might be opposed at least in some cases. But too few transhumanists get involved in the political process.”
* hero image used from http://proactiontranshuman.wordpress.com/2014/08/18/transhumanist-street-actions-continue-in-washington-d-c/