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Transhumanism and Politics
Amon Twyman   Oct 7, 2014   Ethical Technology  

I am a transhumanist, and I believe that politics is important. Let me unpack that a little: I believe that we can and should voluntarily improve the human condition using technology. That makes me a transhumanist, but aside from that single axiom I have in common with all transhumanists, we’re an increasingly diverse bunch.

 Some of us care about politics while others do not, and among those who do you will find a wide spread of political views. My own view is that every important decision and interaction is in some sense political – that everything is political - and that we should make a point of being aware of our (political) values and priorities.

Very broadly, we could divide transhumanists into two groups; those who have political views and are aware of that fact, and those who prefer to believe that they are apolitical creatures. Let’s start by taking a closer look at that latter group. Usually these are people who have conflated “politics” with whatever system runs the country they live in, see little value in that system, and have thus come to the conclusion that changing things directly via technology is more interesting and valuable than getting dragged into interminable political discussions.

I have a lot of sympathy with that view, and do in fact think that recent and near-term technological developments offer the chance to simply bypass failed institutions like representative democracy, replacing them with new and alternative institutions such as tools for direct democracy. At the same time, however, I think such people tend to indulge in magical thinking and inevitablism, such as the view that The Singularity will work everything out with no effort or interference from mere humans.

Also, I think that most apolitical transhumanists probably don’t have a strong awareness of the opposition. Of the people who hate what transhumanism stands for, and who feel that transhumanism is extremely political in virulent and malignant ways. We humans tend not to notice the things that have become normal to us, so transhumanists are often able to conceive of transhumanism as somehow neutral and politically inoffensive in the same way that children often believe that they do not have an accent (or that of all the accents in the world, amazingly they were raised with the one and only “neutral” accent).

The Central Meme of Transhumanism (CMT; that we can and should improve the human condition using technology) has many implications that are profoundly threatening to various other worldviews which we happily dismiss as extremely political, without acknowledging that our advocacy is therefore also inherently political. In short, the next time someone tells you that transhumanism is or can be apolitical, ask them if they’ve ever met any Anti-GMO, Anti-Morphological Freedom, Anti-Science Creationists with whom they can have an apolitical discussion about transhumanism. If they say “yes”, then they must have a very narrow definition of politics.

Many other transhumanists, on the other hand, have very strong and explicit political views. The content of these views is very seldom limited to defending the core transhumanist idea (more on that in a moment), it varies widely in terms of political sympathies, and it also varies widely in the extent to which its advocates believe it is a necessary aspect of transhumanism. For example, twenty years ago it was common for transhumanists to be (Right, Economic) Libertarians, to the extent that in certain circles Libertarianism was thought to be an essential component of transhumanism. In some circles it still is, but their influence over transhumanism as a whole is now greatly reduced.

Now 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.

They are relatively few in number, but not as rare as they once were. Transhumanism has seen several attempts to define political extremism as outside its range of potential characteristics, but that has always said more about the political sensibilities and PR concerns of those doing the defining than transhumanism itself.

I am a volunteer administrator for Singularity Network (SN) [https://www.facebook.com/groups/techsingularity/], which is a very large transhumanist group on Facebook, with 16,000 members and counting. Political discussion is discouraged in SN as it tends to be acrimonious and unproductive, so we direct people who want to have those conversations to other transhumanist groups where they will be encouraged, such as Zero State [https://www.facebook.com/groups/zerostate/]. Whenever these conversations come up in SN, 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. Let me give you a clue; there can be no such policy for any of these areas that will please all (or even most) transhumanists. A unified transhumanist party that pleases all transhumanists is simply unworkable.

So, where does that leave us? That politics is important and inevitable, but we transhumanists can never be unified as a single political force? Not quite, no. That would be a disheartening outcome, and as a community I think we’re smarter than that. I would suggest that the way forward is to view transhumanism as a kind of political vector, axis, or hub rather than a single party or philosophy. In other words, the different political philosophies supportive of transhumanism (e.g. Social Futurism, Techno-Progressivism, Anarcho-Transhumanism, Techno-Libertarianism etc) should be considered to collectively constitute Political Transhumanism.

The various threads could each offer full sets of policies via their own parties as they see fit, but when a collective response in service of transhumanism as a whole was required, all of these groups would be expected to do their part. Indeed, the extent to which they were able to temporarily put aside differences and pitch in to help with a purely transhumanist political issue could be taken as a measure of their true and demonstrated commitment to transhumanism.

Any statement along the lines of “we’d like to help but we have to think about these other policies of ours” would simply demonstrate a balance of priorities in which transhumanist issues were not rated most important. I would strongly support the creation of a Political Transhumanism network to connect the various political strands of our movement, allowing them to come together in time of need, and in support of the few core issues on which they are in total agreement.

Dr M. Amon Twyman (BSc, MSc Hons, DPhil) is an IEET Affiliate Scholar and philosopher interested in the impact of technology on humanity.

Amon's professional background is in both cognitive science and digital arts, and he has been a founding member of several organisations including the UK Transhumanist Association / Humanity+ UK, and the Transhumanist Party. Amon is currently the Transhumanist Party’s UK Party Leader, and Global Party Secretary.

http://transhumanistparty.org.uk
http://transhumanistpartyglobal.org
http://socialfuturism.net




COMMENTS

I would like to see a network developed.  While transhumanists do have different political affiliations - left/right, etc. the goals are the same. It is the process in achieving these goals that differ.  This is laudable to navigate a workable process. How this is negotiated is a challenge, and one that I would rather see people work toward than to huddle in their separate rooms.

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