Is tech progess in your Luddite homeland too slow? You’d rather dwell in a Transhuman-Land? Here’s plans for a H+-friendly Home Base in the South Pacific, from “Zero State”…
I recently interviewed Amon Kalkin, founder of the Zero State (ZS) movement, which applies futurist / transhumanist values in areas as diverse as philosophy, politics, social activism, science, technology, the arts, environmentalism and spirituality. The goal of Zero State is to establish a distributed, virtual, trans-national state dedicated to mutual aid and global renewal. Amon is a philosopher with a doctorate in the psychology of decision making, an electronic artist & musician, and an advocate of nonviolent political revolution.
Hank Pellissier: Hi Amon. While perusing the Zero State website, I noticed that there’s a plan to emigrate to New Zealand. Can you tell me why this is desirable for Zero State members?
Amon Kalkin: Hi Hank – Well, it’s not so much a plan to emigrate, as to establish a “Home Base” somewhere amenable to accommodating transhumanist views and projects. For example, cryonic suspension cannot be performed under optimal conditions anywhere that has over-strict euthanasia laws. All that would be required is establishment of a presence and a certain degree of influence, enough to allow facilities to offer services to transhumanist visitors legally. This wouldn’t necessarily require emigration, per se; only the staff of such facilities would need to stick around more or less permanently. New Zealand is certainly a location we’ve been looking at, but it isn’t the only one. The key issue for us is a trade-off between the size and stability of the location on the one hand, and the resources required to significantly influence local politics on the other. New Zealand is the largest place we’ve considered seriously, but almost our entire shortlist consists of locations in the South Pacific. Of course, New Zealand has long been an attractive proposition to people planning to avoid expected catastrophes in the Northern Hemisphere, and that is a factor in our thinking, but a relatively minor one. In terms of logistics, it helps that Zero State is a global organization with members already based in New Zealand, so there is no need for overt emigration to establish a Home Base, as there would be with other island nations.
Are you frustrated in your attempt to change policies in the United Kingdom?
Although several of the Zero State founders and leaders are based in the UK, our members are spread around the world, primarily across Europe and the US. It’s not so much an issue of UK, European or US law being problematic, as of those places having very large, well-resourced populations and deeply entrenched political cultures. If any Transhumanist project required any degree of deviation from established societal norms, the time and money costs of lobbying for the required legal adjustments would be prohibitive, to say the least. Less effort and fewer resources would simply go a lot further in other places. At the same time, however, any Home Base would need to be located somewhere stable and easy to adjust to (e.g. in terms of climate and culture) if it were to be viable in the long term.
Can you describe the goals of Zero State, and of your philosophy, Kalkinism?
As it says at zerostate.net, Zero State (‘ZS’ for short) is a movement for positive social change through technology. We’re a grass-roots world community pursuing smart, compassionate solutions to problems, and improving the human condition. Personal transformative technologies we pursue include life extension and Artificial Intelligence. Social projects include accelerating change, basic income, Meshnet and Bitcoin, while lifestyle initiatives explore areas such as the arts, spirituality, fashion and culture.
Our one goal is the establishment of a trans-national, virtual state - the Zero State - dedicated to mutual aid and global renewal in science, technology, politics, economics, environmentalism and spirituality. The Zero State is intended to eventually act as a counterpoint to traditional governmental, corporate and religious institutions, bringing people together to share independently-developed tools and resources. Our work toward that goal comes in many forms, channeled through four projects organised around the themes of Philosophy, Organization, Resources, and Media.
The essence of the idea is that we are acutely aware, as Futurists and Transhumanists, that the world is changing rapidly. Some of the changes are positive, some negative, and the proportion that are readily and accurate foreseeable is dropping all the time. Once upon a time it was ‘standard practice’ to Futurists to be optimistic about everyone equally enjoying the benefits of technology in the future, but now we are seeing that the reality is likely to be more complex than that. We are determined to create a “Sphere of Influence” which is geographically distributed (even if we do manage to establish a ‘Home Base’), focused upon positive Futurist values. The idea is that those who help to build that community should be personally empowered by a spirit of mutual support, whereby ZS members go out of their way to help each other – improving access to resources and freedoms, no matter where people are in the world. We may not be able to change the world for the better, or even a single nation, but we can certainly work to create a network of people who support each other and subscribe to a common set of positive values. (The values I refer to are a specific set of ideas known as the “Zero State Principles”, which can be found here: http://zerostate.net/philosophy.html).
Why is New Zealand an ideal place for Zero State members to emigrate to? Are you encouraging all transhumanists to emigrate there?
Although we wouldn’t necessarily be encouraging anyone to emigrate anywhere, New Zealand does have a number of potential advantages as a Transhumanist Home Base. The first is the old idea that NZ is geographically removed from likely Northern Hemisphere danger zones in the event of a crisis. It has a very pleasant environment, friendly people, stable society and currency, and is small enough that with a well-resourced and concerted effort then a Transhumanist community might be able to have some influence on local law and opinions, to the benefit of both the Transhumanists and the nation as a whole. It helps that NZ is known for having a particularly secular and tolerant society, and has been open to “experimental” attitudes at both the local and governmental levels. If we were to successfully establish a presence and degree of influence in New Zealand, then there would be some scope for emigration as already defined by the NZ government. This is, after all, a country the size of the UK with only four million inhabitants. Having said all of this, I need to make a couple of declarations. The first is that in terms of sheer political practicality, we should expect it to be much easier to establish a degree of local influence in one or more of the (much) smaller South Pacific island nations. As much as New Zealand is attractive, it would require a much more extensive effort to engage meaningfully with local culture and politics than it would in a smaller country. My second confession is that I myself was born in New Zealand, and some I’m naturally inclined to see it as a place where Transhumanists could live and prosper in significant numbers. The country has a proud history of tolerance and pragmatic experimentation with different ways forward for society, and I can easily see us playing a part in the future of that tradition.
What policies in New Zealand would you like to change? Is your goal to transform it into the first transhumanist nation?
I am personally inclined to think along the lines of helping to inaugurate the first explicitly Transhumanist Friendly nation. We Transhumanists tend to be pretty liberal creatures, so it’s hard to imagine wanting to encourage anyone to identify with anything they weren’t naturally inclined to. At the same time, NZ is also a fairly liberal place, and what’s more it is a country with a history of pushing scientific and technological boundaries, from the earliest Antarctic expeditions to Ernest Rutherford splitting the atom, to any number of cutting-edge technological projects today. In my opinion, New Zealand is the kind of place where Transhumanists are highly likely to feel at home, where their needs are likely to be met, and where their presence would be welcomed as beneficial to the nation, both culturally and economically.
If New Zealand doesn’t work out, what other places are in contention?
On the one hand, we’ll be working to establish and develop a Zero State presence in New Zealand no matter what, since as I mentioned some of our Citizens already live there. On the other hand, in terms of our hopes for establishing a Home Base somewhere we can cultivate direct and significant political influence, New Zealand isn’t at the top of our list. The other locations we’re investigating are small island nations, such as Kiribati and Vanuatu in the Pacific, and Saint Kitts & Nevis in the West Indies. Although such places could prove much more amenable in purely political and economic terms, they would have fewer benefits or attractions in terms of emigration or establishing sizeable Transhumanist communities. A Home Base in such places would almost certainly be a facility that people simply visit for access to procedures or technologies not available in their home countries.
Can you describe for me the impact a transhumanist New Zealand would have on the rest of the world?
I believe the impact would be twofold; an impact on the stability and recognition of Transhumanism worldwide, and a significant advantage to New Zealand as a destination for highly motivated and resourced people seeking technologies and services not available elsewhere. In terms of impact on Transhumanism around the world, I’ll mention again that the Zero State movement is distributed and virtual – pointedly non-geographic – so I would expect that people would come to see Transhumanists as a world-wide network, scattered throughout the Western world and beyond, but having the added legitimacy of entrenched support in a geographically discrete nation. This would have huge implications wherever authorities seek to ban or control access to Transhumanist technologies. The real trick, of course, would be ensuring that the advantages to a host nation were greater than the costs of pressure from countries seeking to ban the technologies in question. Thankfully, it would appear that accelerating technological development is on our side in this situation, as it confers concrete advantages to those nations which choose to embrace technological developments wholeheartedly.
How easy for UK citizens is it to emigrate to New Zealand?
New Zealand does have stringent immigration standards, which is one reason why it’s an advantage that we have ZS Citizens living there already. NZ and the UK have a close relationship – NZ having been established as a British Colony less than two hundred years ago, which may help in some cases. New Zealand runs a points-based immigration system which favours skilled individuals, which Transhumanists typically are, not to mention having special schemes for people immigrating with the intent of being entrepreneurs. For more information, I would suggesting visiting http://www.enz.org. Emigration isn’t an issue, of course, where people would simply be visiting to partake of the latest Transhumanist technologies unavailable elsewhere (and perhaps taking a little time out to be a tourist – it is a beautiful country, after all).
Is Zero State a specific kind of transhumanist? Is it aligned with any international H+ groups?
Zero State has only officially existed for a little over a year, since May 1st 2011, so our affiliations and alignments are entirely informal at this stage. That said, many of our founder-members are long-time Transhumanists with relationships with and positions within other organizations. Given that ZS started in London, it is unsurprising that our most familiar relationship is with Humanity+ UK (AKA the UK Transhumanist Association), of which I was a co-founder. Also, some of our Citizens are notable members of the Associazione Italiana Transumanisti (AIT), and since our AGMs are held in Munich we are glad to share members and the occasional large beer with De:Trans.
Although something like half of our members are in the US, clearly there is presently a European focus when it comes to our concerns and organizational infrastructure. In terms of ideology, there are really two aspects to consider. The first is that although ZS has its roots in Transhumanism (and Futurism, more broadly), we are actively concerned with reaching out to other groups and subcultures with whom we share common opinions and interests. These include political groups (with an emphasis upon grassroots Social Justice movements of the type that are increasingly common today), non-political technological groups such as hackerspaces (this is where our US connection is strongest), privacy and autonomy-oriented movements such as the P2P and Bitcoin crowds, and even spiritual groups who want to explore personalised alternatives to the major religions, not to mention various arts, music & subculture scenes. So far, we seem to be picking up a deserved reputation for being overtly political – much more than you would normally expect from Transhumanists, who are typically more concerned with technology than politics. As you clearly intuit, our politics naturally define our relationship with the wider Transhumanist community. Just as we try to actively avoid tribal identification with the Left or Right (both in tribute to FM2030’s “Up-Wing” idea, and in the spirit of treating political issues as engineering problems of a sort), we try to maintain connections with other groups and ideologies where possible.
Our views tend to be collectivist in the sense of an emphasis upon mutual support and the role of society in supporting individuals, and we are opposed to military adventurism, discrimination, Totalitarianism and Economic Libertarianism. At the same time, however, we are for the most part happy to be considered “Social Libertarians”, favouring de-criminalization of acts with no identifiable victim. We tend to critique Capitalism, Corporatism and Authoritarianism heavily, but I wouldn’t go so far as to consider us complete anarchists, since we do favour some aspects of meritocracy to balance direct democracy, and are not opposed to Capitalism per se, but rather only its radical, criminal excesses. In short, I think it would be best to say that ZS views are *compatible* with Anarchism and Social Democracy, in much the same way that we favour Transhumanism as a core aspect of our identity, but expect to grow beyond the relatively narrow concerns of traditional Transhumanism. Anarcho-Transhumanists, Social Democrats and most other flavours of Transhumanist should feel comfortable engaging with ZS, especially if they are dissatisfied with the state of the world today and feel that a Futurist Sphere of Influence (virtual, geographic, or both) would be a good thing. I cannot say that Totalitarians or Anarcho-Capitalists are likely to enjoy the welcome they’d receive though, to put it mildly.
How big of a group is Zero State? In the UK transhumanist world, what percentage is it?
ZS isn’t just a UK group, so it’s not entirely a fair comparison, but since several of our founders and most regular meetings are here in London, it’s one I can easily make. The largest UK Transhumanist organization is Humanity+ UK, which no longer keeps official membership records, but has held a couple of meetings with 200 attendees and has close links with the London Futurists meetup group, which has around 500 members online, with several dozen typically attending meetings. I would say that ZS is currently around the same size, with a little under 200 registered members, around six times as many informal members online, and plans underway for a May 2013 meeting in Munich with 200-250 attendees. So, in a very rough sense I would say that we represent 50% of the UK Transhumanist community. Although that’s not huge, it’s not bad for a group that has existed for a year, and more to the point we’re working on growing through connection with other groups and subcultures of different types.
What that will mean for the size or nature of ZS in a year or two is hard to predict – so please do ask us again, then!
What future do you envision for Europe in the next 5-10 years?
Things aren’t looking good. The European Stability Mechanism (ESM) has essentially just been given a license to print money, which alleviates the immediate symptoms of the financial crisis while actually increasing the size of the underlying “time bomb”. Things have not improved significantly since 2008, despite genuine efforts from some politicians and empty assurances from others. It would only take one more crisis - one more fracture - and everything could really go to hell. That said, there are a number of positive developments in the world right now - most of them being advances in science and technological capability - and crisis does at least allow an opportunity for non-Establishment voices to be heard, however briefly. For all the doom and gloom, the array of interdependent risks just waiting for one more button to be pressed, the coming decade could ironically represent our generation’s one and only chance to make a difference.
Some ZSers believe that political engagement is a good idea, others would prefer that we simply sidestep politics and focus upon technological strategies for change… as it happens we’re pursuing both paths unless or until we’re forced to choose, so on the political front right now I am particularly encouraged by the election of AIT member Giuseppe Vatinno to the Italian parliament.
In many ways we simply can’t know what’s coming - the situation is far too complex for accurate forecasting - but we can certainly sure that it’s a high-stakes decade, in which we can expect to see a number of interesting developments in Europe and beyond.
Can you tell me your perception of the USA?
On a personal level, I love visiting the US. The people and places are always a great pleasure. Politically, however, I’m generally opposed to the entirety of US foreign policy over the last few decades. If I were in the US I would be voting for Obama, since I see him as a good man trying to control what is essentially a broken machine. The political rhetoric of the Republicans is, quite frankly, astonishing from a foreign perspective - but that’s a bit of a distraction in my opinion, since electoral politics doesn’t really seem to affect policy on the big issues anyway. This may sound trite, but on a personal level I’d say that the US feels like a favourite cousin who was always such a pleasure, but who has spent the last few years acting like a dangerous delinquent, and the rest of the family wishes she could get back to something more like her old self. That said, I don’t think the UK is much better these days. If I didn’t feel that way, I don’t suppose I’d be calling for a radical global paradigm shift, political and otherwise.
Can New Zealanders be persuaded to accept your ideas? Is there support there?
As is the case everyone, the majority of people aren’t going to care about philosophy, or politics, or even about questions of what the world is going to be like in thirty years. Most people just want to get on with their lives, maximise fun and minimise trouble, and that’s about it. The important thing about New Zealand is not only is it broadly receptive on the levels I mentioned earlier, but more importantly there is an absence of entrenched opposition. Unlike many other places, the country is not in the grip of religious or political views which would hinder transhumanist projects. It’s also a small enough place that should a significant minority of New Zealanders decide that radical technological innovation would be a good thing for the country and for them personally, it would be pretty easy for them to make their voice heard. In New Zealand and the smaller island nations there is at least a chance of establishing a Transhumanist Friendly niche, and that’s all we need. Now we just have to roll up our sleeves and make it happen!
Image 1: Amon Kalkin