Gennady Stolyarov II
On October 7, 2019, the United States Transhumanist Party celebrated its five-year anniversary, right after a milestone 2019 Presidential Primary election and the acceptance speech of the winning candidate, Johannon Ben Zion, who has been endorsed by the USTP to run for President of the United States in 2020. November 17, 2019, only a month and a half after these momentous events, marks three years since I became Chairman of the USTP. While the vigorous, extensively discussed, and thoroughly tabulated primary election was the USTP’s most significant undertaking during its third year, occupying the majority of our efforts between April and October 2019, several other achievements are noteworthy as well.
In January 2019, the U.S. Transhumanist Party merged with the Transhuman Party and, after the dissolution of the Transhuman National Committee of the United States, became the sole remaining explicitly transhumanist U.S. political organization – the last, best hope for transhumanist politics to succeed, given that the USTP has continued to grow and attract public interest, even as other organizations failed to gather the necessary momentum and engagement of their members. In the words of Professor Angel Marchev, Sr., at the VSIM-2019 Conference in Ravda, Bulgaria, “This year it was empirically proved that direct democracy is a bad idea for starting projects. Leadership parties adopt a model that is working, and the fact that all three political centers in the United States were united is the best illustration of that. Leadership is necessary; direct democracy is not the way to do big projects – to change the world. […] Without quality leaders, you can’t do anything.” While the USTP has relied extensively on democratic processes in developing its Platform and endorsing its 2020 candidate for President of the United States, experience obliges me to agree with Professor Marchev’s fundamental point; indeed, even to organize and oversee democratic processes, leadership is required. There must be an umpire to objectively monitor and enforce the rules of engagement, and there must be a systematic, organized way to coordinate the logistics and infrastructure that enable voting and member participation to occur.
It is most impressive and gratifying when the energy to achieve great tasks arises spontaneously from within the community, but even in those cases, a call to action is necessary, as is the demarcation of the parameters of the task. A superb example of this phenomenon in action was our project to create Free Transhumanist Symbols which any person may use to represent the concept of transhumanism in general. The purpose of this project and the conditions for providing symbols (i.e., that they must be made available freely for use by others – either by being released into the public domain or via a Creative Commons license) galvanized the creativity of individual members to contribute a plethora of high-quality symbols within mere days. However, only leadership with a principled vision can provide the incentives and the structure for such creativity to become instantiated and for its fruits to be made available to the world. This experience, like so many others over the past year, has taught me that active engagement by leadership is a vital prerequisite for a member-driven, participatory organization to be feasible.
Even in organizations where conceptual policy stances are determined by voting, leadership is required for the everyday implementation of these agreed-upon concepts into practice. The USTP’s first test of this practical application in a legislative context came during March-May 2019, when we successfully achieved significant improvements to the provisions of Nevada Assembly Bill 226 by informing legislators of the true potential and limitations of implantable microchip technology – particularly through the testimony of Anastasia Synn and the Cyborg and Transhumanist Forum – the first transhumanist event in the halls of a State legislature.
Another important function of leadership is to present the public face of an organization, as the USTP leadership was able to do in the course of numerous events – both in-person and virtual – during the past year – including the Young Americans for Liberty meeting at the University of Nevada, Reno (February 16, 2019), Wellness and Longevity Seminar in Burbank, California (August 24, 2019 – also watch the subsequent discussion panel), the VSIM-2019 Conference in Ravda, Bulgaria (September 6, 2019), and RAAD Fest 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada (October 3-6, 2019) – as well as interviews and conversations such as those with Tobias Teufel (July 9, 2019), James Strole (July 16, 2019), Johannon Ben Zion (August 24, 2019), Steele Archer (July 1, 2019, July 31, 2019, August 7, 2019, September 10, 2019, September 25, 2019, September 29, 2019, and October 14, 2019), Brent Nally (October 12, 2019), and Dr. Bill Andrews (October 12, 2019). Candidate Johannon Ben Zion on his campaign tour has already visited Washington, D.C., Pennsylvania, New York, and San Francisco and engaged with transhumanist and futurist organizations in those locations, as well as with scientific research institutions, policy think tanks, and political figures from other parties. The role of leadership is to represent the organization accurately and systematically to those who seek to educate themselves about the organization’s purpose, values, goals, and positions.
Membership growth has continued to be a core focus of the USTP leadership over the past year. As of this writing, the USTP has 1,859 members, as compared to 1,187 one year ago. The net number of members joining during the third year of my tenure as Chairman (672) materially increased from those joining during the second year (487), and it is my hope that the USTP might be able to surpass the 2,000-member milestone by the end of 2019. The USTP’s growth remains steady and is accelerating slightly; however, much work remains to be done in order to bridge the awareness gap regarding transhumanism and attract the numerous implicit transhumanists in the general public to the USTP. For this, continued outreach and projects to promote the visibility of transhumanism and the USTP will be necessary. Much of the USTP’s focus during 2020 will be on coordinating with the Ben Zion 2020 Presidential campaign to maximize its impact and enable it to achieve levels of public awareness similar to what the tireless 2016 campaign efforts of Zoltan Istvan were able to accomplish.
Numerous avenues for progress are open before us. While predicting the future is notoriously difficult and never exactly accurate, some noteworthy endeavors are on the horizon for the USTP.
- Development of Tiered Membership: In a member-driven organization, the members who are more active and who have demonstrated an in-depth understanding of the organization’s positions, values, and operations should be rewarded with additional influence over the decisions made within the organization. Hitherto, every member of the USTP has had one vote in our internal elections. While this approach has yielded productive results in the course of the USTP votes thus far, it can nonetheless be improved. The vote of a long-time, dedicated transhumanist with extensive knowledge of transhumanist ideas as well as a high degree of familiarity with the USTP should have more influence than that of a completely new member who may have thus far only filled out our membership form but has not yet had time to study the USTP’s history and operations. Accordingly, USTP leadership will explore the possibility of developing a weighted or tiered voting system where members who demonstrate a strong commitment to and a thorough understanding of the USTP will be able to earn additional votes in so doing. The key to such a system, however, is objectivity; a set of criteria needs to be established that any member could potentially meet with the requisite effort and study, and whose satisfaction can be easily validated. Accordingly, USTP leadership welcomes suggestions as to what criteria might be used to objectively award additional voting power to members who fulfill such criteria.
- Continued Membership Growth by Reaching New Demographics: Over the past year, I have come to the conclusion that the USTP has already engaged those segments of the existing transhumanist movement which are capable of becoming constructively involved with the USTP. In order to grow much further, the USTP needs to encompass individuals who are new to the transhumanist movement and to interest individuals from constituencies that share key common goals with the USTP. Many of these individuals are currently implicit transhumanists; they lead their lives in a manner that generally welcomes new technological advances and often have an optimistic outlook on the impacts of technology on humankind’s future. For those people to become aware of the transhumanist movement and involved with the USTP will require continued diligent communication by USTP leadership in as many forums as are made available to us. With each communication, recognition of the transhumanist movement spreads, and our ideas become expressed in “mainstream” discussions to a slightly greater extent. I was recently quite pleased to be able to assist teams of university students with a debate project regarding transhumanism, longevity, and their implications. After two conversations of approximately an hour in length each, I was able to convey insights about what transhumanism stands for, as well as answers to common objections and persuasive arguments in favor of transhumanism. Several days after our conversation, I received an e-mail from one of the debate teams, announcing that it had won the debate in its class, having taken a position in support of transhumanism. “Not only that,” one of the debaters informed me, “but we asked the class after we learned the result if we had actually changed anybody’s minds on the topic, and about half the class said that we had.” This is ultimately the most effective way to change minds – through in-depth interaction with a relatively small number of people at a time, but in a manner that makes an impact and enables the insights to spread throughout the society. Debates like this one are welcome signs that the cultural conversation is shifting toward actively engaging the ideas of transhumanism, which is necessary for these ideas to become instantiated in mainstream discourse and drive a more rapid rate of advancement. This path to growth does not yield instantaneous large-scale results, but it does represent the most sustainable and long-term successful approach, since it cultivates genuine, informed understanding of transhumanist ideas, which can then be spread to others by those who have become newly but accurately aware of them.
- Continued Creation and Creative Utilization of Media: Since the emergence of Steele Archer’s Debt Nation channel as a hub for in-depth conversations among transhumanists, as well as the extensive efforts of Johannon Ben Zion to interview notable transhumanists, futurists, and life-extensionists on his Futurist New Deal Podcast, the public has greater access than ever before to the discourse that occurs on a regular basis within the transhumanist community. Such discourse is now memorialized and shared with the world, and those who are interested in day-to-day developments within the USTP and the transhumanist movement now have several venues which can provide them with detailed updates. The most important aspect of effective communication with the media is not ideological alignment; some will agree with us, whereas others will disagree and critique us – but that is to be expected for any growing movement with the promise of bringing about major change. The most important task, rather, is to accurately convey the facts about transhumanism and the USTP so that they are reported on accurately. Unfortunately, we live in an era where “fake news” abounds, and the quest for sensationalism, as well as merely sloppy journalism can lead to rumors, fabrications, and unverified assertions being published or broadcast as if they were facts. A community characterized by robust internal dialogue and ready to articulate the facts to those who need to receive them is our strongest possible asset in preventing misinformation from becoming dominant.
- Anti-Troll Campaign: Unfortunately, one of the greatest obstacles to the success of the transhumanist movement comes from within – from a small faction of petty and adversarial detractors whose primary motive is power and who seek to smear other individuals and organizations within the transhumanist movement when those individuals and organizations take initiative and act independently of the detractors. These “trolls” often behave in a toxic manner – gratuitously insulting other transhumanists, leveling invented false allegations, or becoming fixated on non-issues that are then used as an excuse to disparage others and seek to thwart promising initiatives. Unfortunately, because the transhumanist movement is still small, these trolls presently have disproportionate power. Because some of them have credentials in academia and are experts in some area of research, their toxic and antisocial behavior has been tolerated for far too long. Indeed, even more unfortunately, some of the trolls have become ensconced in so-called “transhumanist” groups on Facebook which actually purge much genuine transhumanist content. But professional achievement is no excuse for mistreating one’s fellow human beings or intentionally undermining others for perceived personal power gain. In order for transhumanism to grow and achieve widespread respectability, our movement needs to take a stand against the small handful of obstructionist and corrosive personalities who would rather undermine their fellow transhumanists than come to terms with growth whose parameters they cannot personally dictate. During the next year, the USTP will send a strong signal that toxic behavior will no longer be countenanced; the trolls and their malicious tendencies will be publicly identified and called out – and a clear message will be sent that our movement does not welcome those who continue to gratuitously attack, ban, harass, and intimidate reasonable transhumanists.
- Candidates for Non-Presidential Offices: Now that the 2019 Electronic Primary has concluded and the Ben Zion 2020 Presidential campaign is well underway, it is possible for the USTP to consider endorsing candidates for other federal, state, and local offices – and we would welcome interested individuals who wish to put themselves forward for such consideration. I anticipate that a several substantial candidate-endorsement and Platform votes will take place at various times during the next year.
- Building Alliances with Like-Minded Organizations: The USTP will continue to build its network of Allied Organizations, seeking areas of common ground, such as advocacy for longevity, support for emerging technologies, pursuit of electoral and political reforms, and encouragement of cultural rationality. For some of these organizations, the best approach will be ad hoc collaboration on issue-specific initiatives. For other organizations, where the alignment is deeper, opportunities for longer-lasting strategic partnerships should be explored.
- Development of a Systematic Plan for Ballot Access: While ballot access is an extremely formidable hurdle to overcome, the USTP will endeavor to maximize the realistic possibilities for Johannon Ben Zion, and possibly future endorsed candidates for other offices, to appear on as many ballots as possible. This will require a systematic survey of the ballot-access requirements in each jurisdiction and the identification of “low-hanging fruit” – those jurisdictions where ballot access is easiest to attain. The USTP will then develop an action plan for how that ballot access may be attained and what resources may be realistically necessary to achieve this – especially for a non-monetary organization operated entirely by volunteers.
While in the first five years of its existence and in the first three years of my tenure as Chairman, the USTP laid the groundwork for a vibrant, growing, and distinctive organization, the next five years may well be the period in which transhumanism becomes a household word – a concept that enters mainstream discourse and becomes seen more accurately as the worldview that can enable humankind to overcome its deleterious limits and select the best of all possible futures. The USTP leadership will endeavor to continue building an organization where members can readily participate and work on the instantiation of their visions toward such a future – all while actualizing the common goals and values of the Transhumanist Party and the broader transhumanist community. In the course of working toward the best possible future, we should also create the best possible version of transhumanism to serve as its vanguard.