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The Political Voice of a Transhumanist - An Interview with Presidential Candidate Zoltan Istvan
Daniel Faggella   Sep 1, 2015   Ethical Technology  

About a year from today, Americans will line up at the polls to vote for the 45th President of the United States.  Whether Zoltan Istvan will represent the Transhumanist Party on that ballot remains to be seen, but it seems likely that he’ll be the first Transhumanist candidate to run for office.

Fringe political parties are not new, though ‘Transhumanist’ does have a novel ring to it. In a recent TechEmergence interview, I asked Zoltan, why is this the time, the 2016 election, for the Transhumanist party to make an entrance?

No Movement without Politics

Transhumanism has existed for about 30 years. Historically it’s been a small movement, but it’s only in the last few years that the party has seen real growth. “All movements that start growing eventually need to enter into the field of politics to make an impact,” remarks Istvan. “ If it’s not making it on…a governmental level…then it’s not making that big of an impact in the political sphere.”

While Istvan realizes that his bid for the 2016 presidency is a long shot – he’s not planning on being in office this next round – the new party’s mission is to grow its numbers over the next 5 to 10 years to the level of the Green- or Libertarian-sized parties, enough to gain the public and the media’s attention.

Influencing the Political Conversation

While Zoltan isn’t betting on becoming President Istvan by next year, he is certainly trying to influence the 2016 elections.  “There are a number of important Transhumanist questions that should be addressed. One is designer babies – this idea that you can adjust genetic qualities (sex, hair color, etc.) presents ethical issues.”

The subject is timely and already a hot-button issue. In April, Chinese scientists published the first scientific paper on supposed successful alterations to the DNA of (damaged) human embryos. This finding became public only after the scientists were turned down by the journals Science and Nature, which speaks to the ethical controversy surrounding the technology.

Zoltan describes this as a classical Transhumanist issue, one that doesn’t go very well with diversity, which is a majority social order of the day.  “I don’t know if Hilary Clinton or Jeb Bush will be tackling these issues,” he comments.  “Abortion is thorny, but this opens up more issues, ” something that politicians, for better or worse, tend to do their best to hedge during campaign season.

Being such a small party, one might wonder how the Transhumanists plan to shake the “sleeping giant” and get their voices heard.  “I’m a big believer that media determines much of what we do, and I’m interested in ‘how can we encourage media coverage in a positive light.” Zoltan reveals a bus tour plan (though he politely declined to give any details) that he asserts will be “somewhat sensational and designed to be newsworthy.”

Istvan continues, “If I could be involved in a few debates, enough media coverage, all of a sudden that would be very interesting…Wired Germany did a great piece, what if we had a Cyborg as a President? And I thought, wow that would be a shocking thing…because it presents an image, and gets us thinking about as a species, how do we feel about something that’s not fully human anymore?”

Transcending Religion in Politics

Istvan notes that the party is always looking for events that can move the Transhumanist message forward, and gain some publicity along the way. He “admits” to being an atheist, and clearly proclaims this.  “I think I’m the first atheist to do this,” he says. In fact, he believes religion is one of the things standing in the way, at least in America, of broader support of the Transhumanist movement.

Zoltan’s hope is that by getting a broader swath of the population to embrace the principles of Transhumanism, a type of “reverse religiosity” will occur.  “We live in a ‘deathist’ culture…we’re trained that we need to die”, he comments, recognizing that the idea of an afterlife encourages this frame of thought. Submitting to death is an idea that is not conducive to Transhumanism, which is all about transcending our species’ current limits, including (one day) death.

In Istvan’s mind, the Transhumanist party is trying to spread a culture that does not take its dictates from religion. He emphasizes that Transhumanism is open to other cultural beliefs and calls it “the least discriminatory political party on the planet”. There is a voiced position by the party to advocate for a more secular-minded approach to forming decisions on policy that affect everything from genetic modification to life extension technologies. 

Zoltan believes that “when you’re talking about reason and science, you’re talking about these objective ideas – we accept we want to improve our lives and our bodies because we’re in control of that, and we can use science to do that.”

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IEET Managing Director’s Note: IEET does not endorse candidates, but we promote policies that our mission supports. Istvan’s platform includes many ideas we agree with, but IEET does not agree with his view - stated in many of his essays - that religions are an obstacle to progress. IEET welcomes people with religious views in its community and we are very happy with our contributing writers who are religious.

Daniel Faggella is the founder of TechEmergence, and blogs at SentientPotential.com.



COMMENTS

Zoltan is not transcending religion in politics. To the contrary and ironically, he is exhibiting a misrecognized religious zeal for anti-religiosity. Unfortunately, this will only serve further to marginalize Transhumanism and Transhumanists in the eyes of most of humanity. Some Transhumanists might not care about that, but those who recognize value in secular politics, and its practical function of working across and through different value systems, should clearly express their disagreement with Zoltan on this important issue. Whether religious or not, we need not indiscriminately and needlessly create enemies.

The truly transhumanist approach would be to seek greater areas of agreement and cooperation across value systems, embracing the religious and philosophic diversity of humanity, and building a society that is safe and generative for people of all faiths and non-faiths.

Zoltan Istvan is a great representative of the Transhumanist movement, we are very lucky he is a committed member.  Most people think that Transhumanist issues are abstract, remote, and removed from the fierce immediacy of now, but that is not the case.  Radical life extension treatments are available now, and our antiquated laws and medical ethics are preventing it from being available to us now.

Gene therapy is an experimental technique that uses genes to treat or prevent disease. In the future, this technique may allow doctors to treat a disorder by inserting a gene into a patient’s cells instead of using drugs or surgery.

https://mariakonovalenko.wordpress.com/2014/09/23/longevity-gene-therapy-is-the-best-way-to-defeat-aging/

“Gene engineering is the most powerful existing tool for life extension. Mutations in certain genes result in up to 10-fold increase in nematode lifespan and in up to 2-fold increase in a mouse life expectancy. Gene therapy represents a unique tool to transfer achievements of gene engineering into medicine. This approach has already been proven successful for treatment of numerous diseases, in particular those of genetic and multigenic nature. More than 2000 clinical trials have been launched to date.

We propose developing a gene therapy that will radically extend lifespan. Genes that promote longevity of model animals will be used as therapeutic agents. We will manipulate not a single gene, but several aging mechanisms simultaneously. A combination of different approaches may lead to an additive or even a synergistic effect, resulting in a very long life expectancy.”

What most people don’t know is that there is a company that has a tested longevity gene therapy treatment already:

http://joshmitteldorf.scienceblog.com/2015/03/18/tomorrows-anti-aging-therapy-available-today/

“BioViva is a new company offering experimental medical services outside US borders.  Their team includes

a lab that provides genetically modified viruses with a gene payload, made to order.  (This has now become a reliable and predictable technology.)
A doctor who has experience with experimental gene therapy, and who had the courage to experiment on himself five years ago, with good outcome thus far.
Sites in Colombia and Mexico where doctors will administer therapies for which there is not yet FDA approval.
Most important, a Scientific Advisory Board that includes two of the most prominent, senior biochemists who developed the science of telomerase in the 1990s and before.  They are Bill Andrews and Michael Fossel.
What they offer is gene therapy with hTERT and a proprietary myostatin inhibitor “in the same family with GDF-11,” according to CEO Elizabeth Parrish.”

What I am saying is that Zoltan Istvan and the Transhumanist Party is fighting for our morphological freedom to get the above treatment now.  This isn’t pie-in-the-sky, but a matter of life and death for us right now.  Please, please help.

I agree with Lincoln Cannon that promoting transhumanism as an atheist movement is intellectually unnecessary (and perhaps even unmotivated) and, in any case, politically alienating. It simply ends up reinforcing the stereotype that transhumanists are closet Ayn Rand supporters.

To be honest, I also think the fixation on indefinite life-extension is a waste of time if there isn’t a coherent plan to deal with the extra people. Again, Zoltan pitches his campaign too much at the level of self-centred people with considerable discretionary income. The problem isn’t that we couldn’t extend life indefinitely; it’s what happens after that’s been achieved. This is where some political vision is needed.

Finally, ‘morphological freedom’ should be positioned as the new ‘diversity’. As the article suggests, the transhumanist imagination tends to suppose that everyone wants the same things and, more to the point, will get what they want—if they’re allowed to do so. Nevertheless, when we accept transhumanism, we are also accepting a riskier sense of the world as positive, which means that the sorts of diversity we end up with may not be exactly as we intend, as we experiment with genetic modification, prosthetics, etc. ‘Morphological freedom’ is about the exercise of certain capacities, not the guarantee of certain results.

 

 

If I thought Zoltan has any chance of being elected, I wouldn’t vote for him, because I see him as a single-issue candidate.


Zoltan, what are your views on immigration? Health care? The economy? Taxation? Foreign policy? Military budgets?... I am a big supporter of morphological freedom and gene editing research, but I am afraid all those things are more important at this moment.

But since it’s evident that he doesn’t have real chances, I might vote for him to show that many people think transhumanist issues are also important.

Concerning religion, I agree with Lincoln, Micah, and Hank’s inline comment. Rabid “religious” atheism can only put reasonable people off. You should make peace with your inner Zoe 😉

http://turingchurch.com/2013/10/26/zoe-bachs-quantum-zen-as-a-third-way-scientific-religion/

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