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The Growing World of Libertarian Transhumanism

Freedom from the government will allow radical science to go on undisturbed.

Transhumanists are curiosity addicts. If it’s new, different, untouched, or even despised, we’re probably interested in it. If it involves a revolution or a possible paradigm shift in human experience, you have our full attention. We are obsessed with the mysteries of existence, and we spend our time using the scientific method to explore anything we can find about the evolving universe and our tiny place in it.

Obsessive curiosity is a strange bedfellow. It stems from a profound sense of wanting something better in life—of not being satisfied. It makes one search, ponder, and strive for just about everything and anything that might improve existence. In the 21st century, that leads one right into transhumanism. That’s where I’ve landed right now: A journalist and activist in the transhumanist movement. I’m also currently a Libertarian candidate for California Governor. I advocate for science and tech-themed policies that give everyone the opportunity to live indefinitely in perfect health and freedom.

Politics aside, transhumanism is the international movement of using science and technology to radically change the human being and experience. Its primary goal is to deliver and embrace a utopian techno-optimistic world—a world that consists of biohackers, cyborgists, roboticists, life extension advocates, cryonicists, Singularitarians, and other science-devoted people.

Transhumanism was formally started in 1980’s by philosophers in California. For decades it remained low key, mostly discussed in science fiction novels and unknown academic conferences. Lately, however, transhumanism seems to be surging in popularity. What once was a smallish band of fringe people discussing how science and technology can solve all humanity’s problems has now become a burgeoning social mission of millions around the planet.

At the recent FreedomFest, the world’s largest festival on liberty, transhumanism was a theme explored in numerous panels, including some I had the privilege of being on. Libertarian transhumanism is one of the fastest growing segments of the libertarian movement. A top priority for transhumanists is to have freedom from the government so radical science experiments and research can go on undisturbed and unregulated.   

So why are so many people jumping on the transhumanist bandwagon? I think it has to do with the mishmash of tech inundating and dominating our daily lives. Everything from our smartphone addictions to flying at 30,000 feet in jet airplanes to Roombas freaking out our pets in our homes. Nothing is like it was for our forbearers. In fact, little is like it was even a generation ago. And the near future will be many times more dramatic: driverless cars, robotic hearts, virtual reality sex, and telepathy via mind-reading headsets. Each of these technologies is already here, and in some cases being marketed to billions of people. The world is shifting under our feet—and libertarian transhumanism is a sure way to navigate the chaos to make sure we arrive at the best future possible.

My interest in transhumanism began over 20 years ago when I was a philosophy and religion student at Columbia University in New York City. We were assigned to read an article on life extension techniques and the strange field of cryonics, where human beings are frozen after they’ve died in hopes of reviving them with better medicine in the future. While I’d read about these ideas in science fiction before, I didn’t realize an entire cottage industry and movement existed in America that is dedicated to warding off death with radical science. It was an epiphany for me, and I knew after finishing that article I was passionately committed to transhumanism and wanted to help it.

However, it wasn’t until I was in the Demilitarized Zone of Vietnam, on assignment for National Geographic Channel as a journalist, that I came to dedicate my life to transhumanism. Walking in the jungle, my guide tackled me and I fell to the ground with my camera. A moment later he pointed at the half-hidden landmine I almost stepped on. I’d been through dozens of dangerous experiences in the over 100 countries I visited during my twenties and early thirties—hunting down wildlife poachers with WildAid, volcano boarding in the South Pacific, and even facing a pirate attack off Yemen on my small sailboat where I hid my girlfriend in the bilge and begged masked men with AK47s not to shoot me. But this experience in Vietnam was the one that forced a U-turn in my life. Looking at the unexploded landmine, I felt like a philosophical explosive had gone off in my head. It was time to directly dedicate my skills and hours to overcoming biological human death.

I returned home to America immediately and plunged into the field of transhumanism, reading everything I could on the topic, talking with people about it, and preparing a plan to contribute to the movement. I also began by writing my libertarian-minded novel The Transhumanist Wager, which went on to become a bestseller in philosophy on Amazon and helped launched my career as a futurist. Of course, a bestseller in philosophy on Amazon doesn’t mean very many sales (there’s been about 50,000 downloads to date), but it did mean that transhumanism was starting to appear alongside the ideas of Plato, Marx, Nietzsche, Ayn Rand, Sam Harris, and other philosophers that inspired people to look outside their scope of experience into the unknown.

And transhumanism is the unknown. Bionic arms, brain implants ectogenesis, artificial intelligence, exoskeleton suits, designer babies, gene editing tech. These technologies are no longer part of some Star Trek sequel, but are already here or being worked on. They will change the world and how we see ourselves as human beings. The conundrum facing society is whether we’re ready for this. Transhumanists say yes. But America may not welcome that.  

In fact, the civil rights battle of the century may be looming because of coming transhumanist tech. If conservatives think abortion rights are unethical, how will they feel about scientists who want to genetically combine the best aspects of species, including humans and animals together? And should people be able to marry their sexbots? Will transhumanist Christians try to convert artificial intelligence and lead us to something termed a Jesus Singularity? Should we allow scientists to reverse aging, something researchers have already had success with in mice? Finally, as we become more cyborg-like with artificial hips, cranial implants, and 3D-printed organs, should we rename the human species?

Whether people like it or not, transhumanism has arrived. Not only has it become a leading buzzword for a new generation pondering the significance of merging with machines, but transhumanist-themed columns are appearing in major media. Celebrity conspiracy theorists like Mark Dice and Alex Jones bash it regularly, and even mainstream media heavyweights like John Stossel, Joe Rogan, and Glenn Beck discuss it publicly. Then there’s Google hiring famed inventor Ray Kurzweil as lead engineer to work on artificial intelligence, or J. Craig Venture’s new San Diego-based genome sequencing start-up (co-founded with Peter Diamandis of the X-Prize Foundation and stem cell pioneer Robert Hariri) which already has 70 million dollars in financing.

It’s not just companies either. Recently, the British Parliament approved a procedure to create babies with material from three different parents. Even President Obama, before he left office, jumped in the game by giving DARPA $70 million dollars to develop brain chip technology, part of America’s multi-billion dollar BRAIN Initiative. The future is coming fast, people around the world are realizing, and there’s no denying that the transhumanist age fascinates tens of millions of people as they wonder where the species might go and what health benefits it might mean for society.

At the end of the day, transhumanism is still really focused on one thing: satisfying that essential addiction to curiosity. With science, technology, and a liberty-minded outlook as our tools, the species can seek out and even challenge the very nature of its being and place in the universe. That might mean the end of human death by mid-century if governments allow the science and medicine to develop. It will likely mean the transformation of the species from biological entities into something with much more tech built directly into it. Perhaps most important of all, it will mean we will have the chance to grow and evolve with our families, friends, and loved ones for as long as we like, regardless how weird or wild transhumanist existence becomes.  

Zoltan Istvan is the author of The Transhumanist Wager, and a Libertarian candidate for Governor in California.