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There are some new kids on the block, and they’re pretty cool. You know, into tech and everything.

They are the transhumanists, and they’re living forever—or at least much longer than we do right now.

Transhumanism isn’t really a new thing—it’s an idea that has interested philosophers in different ways for quite some time. But in a time when technological advance seems to be gaining at a record-breaking pace, is there a place for it front-and-center in a worldview—or in a political party?

There are differing definitions of transhumanism, and each has its advocates. Let us defer, for simplicity’s sake, to the Encylopaedia Britannica:

transhumanism, philosophical and scientific movement that advocates the use of current and emerging technologies—such as genetic engineering, cryonics, artificial intelligence (AI), and nanotechnology—to augment human capabilities and improve the human condition. Transhumanists envision a future in which the responsible application of such technologies enables humans to slow, reverse, or eliminate the aging process, to achieve corresponding increases in human life spans, and to enhance human cognitive and sensory capacities. The movement proposes that humans with augmented capabilities will evolve into an enhanced species that transcends humanity—the “posthuman.”

Before you think that transhumanism might be something that applies to other people, check yourself. Everyone is a transhumanist to some degree. We all use technology in some way to enhance our lives, our behaviors, our health, or our performances.

I wear glasses. I experience the world on a daily basis, almost every minute of it, through that bit of really quite vital technology. I have relatives with stents and pacemakers, friends with titanium bolts holding bones together, fellow multiple sclerosis sufferers who use leg braces, walking aids, and buggies.

The question is, as ever, how far along the continuum do we go…should we go?

I recently interviewed a number of members of the US Transhumanist Party (“putting science, health, and technology at the forefront of American politics”), including their presidential candidate. It was a fascinating chat:

YouTube video

There is certainly a lot of crossover between transhumanism and humanism, such that the movement is often called humanism+. Science, rational thinking, evidence: all of these ideas are solid common ground. And, in the interview, I also asked whether nonbelief in God is a prerequisite for transhumanism.

Although transhumanists are generally less religious and more scientifically minded, said Tom Ross, the Transhumanist Party’s Presidential candidate, “We do have very active Christian transhumanists, Mormon transhumanists, and they’re growing all the time.” It is not necessarily an either/or.

Being who you are, plus

But given that liberals have been found to be more open to new experiences, the challenge and potential benefits of technology (such as artificial intelligence [AI]) are things that liberals are more inclined to embrace.

Tom Ross’s campaign manager Maura Abad told me, “It’s keeping who you are, it’s being true to yourself plus enhancement. One of the themes that blew my mind is that you can have any other religion plus you can be transhumanist. Life is not about one or another, life can be both—there is space for everything. Sometimes, we sell ourselves short: Do you want this or do you want that? What if you can have it all? It’s our own limitations; sometimes we say ‘We are our own worst enemy.’ There is no one or another, it is all together. It’s who we are. Embrace it.”

There is definitely an inclusivity to this approach, a move away from the “us and them” mentality we see in so many other political contexts, and that is refreshing.

The question for me that stands out concerns how you get from transhumanism to politics. Or more precisely, how do you develop a manifesto? Politics is morality writ large across society. So on what is the moral basis of the movement founded? To be fair, outside of theocratic political movements, the diktats are not found in holy books. But they might be found in other schools of thought and works, from Karl Marx to Ayn Rand, Milton Friedman to John Rawls.

There is certainly the basis of humanism, which can be seen as follows: A humanist is someone who

  • trusts to the scientific method when it comes to understanding how the universe works and rejects the idea of the supernatural (and is therefore an atheist or agnostic)
  • makes their ethical decisions based on reason, empathy, and a concern for human beings and other sentient animals
  • believes that, in the absence of an afterlife and any discernible purpose to the universe, human beings can act to give their own lives meaning by seeking happiness in this life and helping others to do the same.

Although some transhumanists might step away from the overtly nonreligious framing of the last statement.

Indeed, the core ideals that the Transhumanist Party are guided by have a similar feel:

Ideal 1. The Transhumanist Party supports significant life extension achieved through the progress of science and technology.

Ideal 2. The Transhumanist Party supports a cultural, societal, and political atmosphere informed and animated by reason, science, and secular values.

Ideal 3. The Transhumanist Party supports efforts to use science, technology, and rational discourse to reduce and eliminate various existential risks to the human species.

It could be that, like with any other political party, there will be a phase of finding their feet, of working out where they stand in domains such as defense and education, social welfare, environment, and healthcare. At the moment, the Transhumanist Party is interested in the big ideas and how embracing technology can help.

Current parties ‘don’t meet the minimum requirements for what’s coming’

“One of my initiatives,” Ross tells me, “is to elect, to create, a Secretary of Singularity seat. The Republicans and the Democrats don’t meet the minimum system requirements for what’s coming. We have the economic singularity on its way faster than we were expecting. We have the technological singularity. We need a whole executive branch focused on this.”

We are at a period in time where AI and AGI are taking off. AGI is artificial general intelligence, a concept whereby an autonomous system can surpass human capabilities to perform the majority of economically viable tasks. The potential scenario is one where we could see a mass displacement of human beings with automation take over.

“I think there is going to be a lacuna of time where we are going to have to grapple with these things. There will probably be a lot homelessness and a lot of people laid off from their jobs and I think it’s going to be happening within the next 18 months within this campaign.” This is a note of warning, perhaps the result of the law of unintended consequences, with regard to the development of technology to aid humanity. Tom Ross is well aware of this. “So a big part of our campaign is coming up with ideas to help people who will be displaced. To put the human back into transhuman that way to give people a practical solution. We need to be really focused on this. The Republicans and the Democrats are not thinking about these very serious issues. That’s what brought me into this party because they were discussing policies that will affect me now and my children and children’s children over the next hundred years.”

There is something to be said about run-of-the-mill politics, where fighting and infighting concerns merely a four-year cycle without thinking to look to the horizon.

Daniel E. Twedt, who lost to Tom Ross in the vote for Presidential candidate and who would take a Vice President role, talks of the need for politicians and parties to embrace futurism: “I think government has dropped the ball on all the futurist impending issues. It’s time for the citizen scientist to step forward and use these voluntary institutions that we haven’t used yet, and use the geographic part of the information revolution we haven’t used yet…”

Of course, the biggest challenge for the Transhumanist Party is the same challenge any party has in an overtly two-party political system: the problem is the system.

“This is a pretty historic election season,” continued Twedt, “because the disenfranchised, the independent, the undecided voter are now effectively the majority, and they’re not being allowed to the table. If we can form these coalitions with all the other factors, the minor parties, to hammer away at the rank-choice voting issue, and not just that but the non-political avenues…”

This is, sadly, easier said than done. It is no small coincidence that the US remains an incredibly narrow manifestation of democracy. For a nation that talks big about free-market economics, they certainly don’t apply those ideals to politics. The barriers to entry for political parties and players are prohibitive. No one else has a chance, especially given that in often tight races, the third party will usually steal votes from one party as opposed to another. The Green Party being on the ticket will be unlikely to cause problems for the Republican Party, after all.

In other words, changing the system to benefit pluralism and citizens’ better representation is an existential threat to the very people who can change those rules. So changing those rules is a huge uphill battle.

To change rules, though, people need to understand that there is a problem in the first place. People need to understand the challenge to epistemic security. Truth is the first victim in political war, especially in a society where it has been shown that fake news travels faster and more effectively than truth.

Jason Geringer sees education as a key, setting up education groups within the party. “Education is the key to dealing with the problem—getting people to be media literate.”

There is nothing to disagree with there. Perhaps countries can take a leaf out of Finland’s book. The nation has formalized learning in schools about misinformation.

Climate change is another increasingly important area of concern (an understatement for “existential threat to humanity”). I liked Geringer’s analogy here: “Even with climate change, our Party’s position is that we will use technology to clean it up. Because, honestly, it’s like trying to ask the world to go to rehab. It’s not going to happen.”

Nonetheless, for the Transhumanist Party to succeed, there really does need to be root and branch change to the electoral system. That said, we are starting to see this, with rank-choice voting shifting outcomes in Alaska, and changes in other places such as Maine.

Daniel Twedt doesn’t cup his hand over his eyes to survey the political landscape, he would rather be peering through the James Webb telescope. “I see the transhumanist movement’s job is to be the next evolution of the internet and to keep the American experiment open-sourced. Make it a civilization-wide experiment, and a solar-system experiment, and a galactic-wide experiment eventually…”

His background is the American flag, but where 50 stars would otherwise be placed in an ordered set of lines, on his flag sits the spiral beauty of a galaxy.

The realist in me defers to the old adage, “You can’t learn to run before you can crawl.” But you can dream of running, and you can put things in place so that when you do need to run, you’re pretty swift.

As for taking those initial steps, here we are. The Transhumanist Party are in that game and we are talking about them.

Welcome to the Party.

A TIPPLING PHILOSOPHER Jonathan MS Pearce is a philosopher, author, columnist, and public speaker with an interest in writing about almost anything, from skepticism to science, politics, and morality,...

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