(ANTIMEDIA) With very few exceptions, politicians running for president are going to advocate protecting the environment. It may just be lip service, but they will at least mention it in their official platform. They also may suggest, either directly or indirectly, that you can live forever (usually through the spirit of God). Very rarely, if ever, do you see a candidate who believes you can do both — protect the environment and live forever — through technology. But that’s exactly why Zoltan Istvan, the Transhumanist Party’s 2016 presidential candidate, is running for office.
A futurist-turned-political advocate, Zoltan rose through the ranks of the transhumanist movement with the help of his science fiction novel, The Transhumanist Wager. Now he’s on the campaign trail, commanding a 40 foot-long coffin on wheels known as the Immortality Bus. He’s on a mission to make people aware of a storm on the horizon — the sociopolitical battle for transhumanist civil rights and the necessity for humans to adapt to technologies that will soon transform our culture and way of life.
Transhumanism, often abbreviated as H+, has been around for over thirty years now. In fact, the earliest iterations in transhumanist thought date back to the 1920s. The transhumanist movement largely took shape in the 1990s and 2000s, when it was buoyed into the mainstream by the success of its most popular spokesman, Ray Kurzweil. His best-selling book, The Singularity Is Near, assessed how the growth of technology would lead to humans merging with machines and living indefinite lifespans through overlapping revolutions in biotechnology, nanotechnology, and artificial intelligence.
However, Zoltan is quick to contextualize transhumanism in the here and now. This focus on the immediate present is what makes him that rare blend of futurist and brand ambassador that just may be able to reach the masses. Discussions of transhumanism and singularitarianism often get bogged down in esoteric conjecture and abstraction. I was certainly guilty of this when I asked Zoltan whether future artificial intelligence would have capitalist tendencies written into their algorithms. But Zoltan approaches technology and science as tools for social progress.
“Transhumanism,” Zoltan says, “is a social movement that wants to use science to radically modify the human being and the human experience.”
In the next decade, this will include everything from RFID implants to robotic limbs. Zoltan already has one — an implant, that is — in his hand.
Yes, robots are going to take our jobs — but that could be a good thing
Anti-Media recently reported on the way automation and robotics could dramatically affect the job market, leaving approximately half the population unemployed. We’re already seeing the emergence of this dynamic in many industries.
Zoltan says the coming age of robots replacing humans in the workforce could be a net positive, allowing humans explore education and leisure in a way previous generations couldn’t have imagined. He advocates for a Universal Basic Income and a federally-provided social safety net that would reduce the chances of chaos and rioting when the robot economy goes into full swing.
Life will be a lot different when you don’t have to work 9 to 5, Zoltan believes. With mandatory and federally subsidized college education, he imagines humans can pursue multiple PhDs while dedicating their energy to progressive new enterprises.
“The new American Dream,” he says, “is not about getting ahead, but enjoying oneself.”
This struck me as sounding vaguely like the world Herbert Marcuse envisioned in Eros and Civilization, which described a solution to the problem of alienated labor in modern society. However, Zoltan’s philosophical influences are more of a mixture of Ayn Rand, Fredrick Nietzsche, and Tibetan Buddhism, he says.
The robot economy will be an opportunity for humans to create more enjoyable lives. Most importantly, automation will make it possible for more humans to devote themselves to scientific achievement.
Radical environmentalism isn’t radical enough
In an article he wrote for Vice Motherboard, entitled, “If You Care About the Earth, Vote for the Least Religious Presidential Candidate,” Zoltan argues that current efforts to reduce our carbon footprint are well-intentioned but doomed to fail. Further, the only way for humans to navigate a course toward environmental safety, he believes, is by electing leaders who are not restricted by traditional values and philosophies. This includes a widespread neo-Luddite fear of what Zoltan calls “disruptive tech,” which he argues is the only hope for returning the Earth to a pre-industrial pristine condition.
According to Zoltan, it’s far too late to simply regulate corporations and reduce carbon emissions and expect that to clear up the toxins inundating the planet. While he applauds efforts in Paris to address the problem, Zoltan believes the global ecosystem is past the point of no return — that even if we completely reversed course, which is entirely unlikely, it still wouldn’t be enough to undo the damage.
As he wrote in his article for Vice:
“I don’t know if the major U.S. presidential candidates — like Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, or Hillary Clinton — are aware of this conundrum. And even if they were, the real question is: Can their politics, ethics, and religious beliefs handle it? Because sending out Christmas cards on recycled paper and giving tax incentives for electric cars is not going to pull us out of the toxic mess we’ve created on Earth. There’s only one realistic hope to save the planet — and it comes from an unlikely place: technology. Radical technology. I’m talking CRISPR gene editing, transhumanism, and nanobots in every biological nook of the world. This will not be Kansas, anymore. And our current politicians will be freaked out by it.”
Zoltan notes that George W. Bush stunted science during his presidency by shutting down stem cell research. This kind of regression could easily happen again — and not necessarily from a conservative leader. Liberal and progressive politicians often bow to popular sentiment when it comes to embracing the new — and popular sentiment, at least when it comes to more controversial transhumanist ideas like ‘designer babies,’ will almost certainly be reactionary.
Zoltan states plainly his stance on environmentalism:
“As a US Presidential candidate who believes that all problems can be solved by science, I believe the best way to fix all of our environmental dilemmas is via technological innovation—not attempting to reverse our carbon footprint, recycle more, or go green.”
Meatless meat, another disruptive technology, offers us a chance to free up a third of the arable land on Earth that is currently used for grazing animals. Zoltan believes introducing lab-grown protein into regular consumption would eliminate the single largest source of greenhouse gasses and pollution while freeing up massive amounts of land for a growing population. He also thinks it is possible for us to even double our current population if we are more judicious with our use of land.
The Age of Transhumanist Civil Rights
Zoltan Istvan believes a turbulent struggle is upon us. As heated and violent as past and current civil rights struggles have been, so too will the struggle for humans to augment and upgrade their bodies with technology. Things like exoskeletons, marrying a robot, and splicing plant DNA into skin so one can photosynthesize food into their body (a possible solution to starvation) sound extreme now, but within one to two decades they may be topics of conversation at our dinner tables.
While parts of the philosophy strike a chord of capitulation — that is, outsourcing all our problems to technology — it’s hard not to look for radical solutions these days. The same intractable problems keep stifling our progress, and new ones leave us confounded. Zoltan and many transhumanists believe it is time to bypass the intrinsic human flaws biological evolution has written into us and tackle issues like pollution and inequity by doubling down on science and technology.
Will new technologies create new problems? Of course. With great promise comes great peril. But it’s well past time for the conversation to be drawn into the political sphere. For his part, Zoltan has said he would be thrilled to be a technology consultant in either a Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump administration. For a more in-depth look at his policies, visit his website.
Also, check out his Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ScienceCandidate
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