Gennady Stolyarov II
Recently a large amount of controversy has been generated, and questions have been raised regarding the compatibility or lack thereof among transhumanism, libertarianism, and conservatism – as well as certain positions which have been commonly attributed to transhumanism as a philosophy and as a movement. The controversy was generated by an exchange between Zoltan Istvan, founder and former Chairman of the United States Transhumanist Party (but now our Political and Media Advisor with no official decision-making role), and Kai Weiss in the pages of The American Conservative Magazine. Mr. Istvan’s article, “The Growing World of Libertarian Transhumanism” (August 8, 2017), made the case for an essential compatibility between libertarian and transhumanist ideas. Mr. Weiss countered with a disparaging article, “Transhumanism Is Not Libertarian, It’s an Abomination” – a piece which largely critiques a contrived caricature of transhumanism and does not genuinely engage views which most, many, or – in some cases – any self-identified transhumanists actually hold. In response to some of Mr. Weiss’s assertions, Mr. Istvan released a post on his Facebook profile which reinforced and endeavored to explain some of Mr. Istvan’s personal views regarding parenting (which he correctly and prominently clarified as “not an official platform policy in any way” and “just a philosophical stance”).
Unfortunately, the exchange between Mr. Istvan and Mr. Weiss has generated a maelstrom of public reaction, which largely consists of a feedback loop of misunderstandings. The purpose of this official statement, in my capacity as Chairman of the United States Transhumanist Party, is to dispel any such misunderstandings and to elucidate the positions of the Transhumanist Party on the nexus of issues involved. These positions arise out of the official Platform adopted thus far by the U.S. Transhumanist Party’s members in the course of multiple rounds of voting, and should be distinguished from the personal views of any individual, including Mr. Istvan and myself.
First, it is important to convey that the United States Transhumanist Party greatly esteems Mr. Istvan and owes him a debt of gratitude for founding the Party and continuing to offer valuable advice. However, it is also important to emphasize that the Transhumanist Party is not the Libertarian Party – in any way, shape, or form. Mr. Istvan’s candidacy for Governor of California as a Libertarian for the 2018 election has no relation or affiliation with the United States Transhumanist Party in any manner; it is, rather, his personal endeavor – although, on a personal level, I wish Mr. Istvan all the best. No statements made by Mr. Istvan as part of that Libertarian Party candidacy can be imputed to the Transhumanist Party or the ideas broadly constituting the transhumanist movement. Mr. Istvan himself clearly recognizes this and has acted appropriately to make the requisite distinctions. It surprises the leadership of the United States Transhumanist Party, however, that there persists a common public conflation between Mr. Istvan’s Libertarian campaign and the policies and positions of the Transhumanist Party under our present administration. We will endeavor to dispel this conflation with all the means at our disposal.
While many Transhumanists identify as (small “l”) libertarians philosophically and politically, other Transhumanists would not so identify. The Transhumanist Party is unique in contemporary politics precisely because of its transpartisan nature. We desire to transcend conventional political distinctions and so welcome libertarians, socialists, republicans, democrats, centrists, apolitical individuals, and anybody else – however they identify themselves – who would be willing to ally with us to craft a better future. In developing our Platform, we solicited the input of all our members and continue to do so. The result is a set of positions different from any established political party or conventional political outlook – positions that will continue to be refined and expanded as our membership grows and new perspectives, voices, and rational analyses are added. The Transhumanist Party seeks to build bridges with creatively minded, forward-thinking individuals of a variety of persuasions. We resolutely refuse, however, to be a “feeder” organization into any established political party, the Libertarian Party included. The Transhumanist Party is not intended to funnel people to serve as reinforcements for one or another of the myriad well-known players in the contemporary political arena. Rather, all of our members shall remain free to be and express their true intellectual selves, acknowledge their differences, and explore opportunities for collaboration nonetheless. We therefore are free to comment on the work of Mr. Istvan or any other thinker objectively and in a manner that acknowledges strengths and weaknesses alike.
Mr. Istvan’s article was commendable in its attempt to build bridges between transhumanists and libertarians. Mostly his article is an overview of transhumanism as a movement, its history, its recent surge in popularity, Mr. Istvan’s personal background, and some questions that Mr. Istvan poses regarding the future “civil rights battle of the century” that “may be looming because of coming transhumanist tech.” Some of the issues Mr. Istvan raises find strong support in the U.S. Transhumanist Party Platform. For instance, Mr. Istvan asks, “Should we allow scientists to reverse aging, something researchers have already had success with in mice?” The U.S. Transhumanist Party Platform, contained in Article III of our Constitution, answers this with a resounding “Yes!” Sections V, VI, and VIII of our platform specifically express support for life extension and the reversal of aging necessary to achieve it. The Transhumanist Bill of Rights, Version 2.0, expresses support for life extension in six of its Articles: III, IV, V, VI, VIII, and IX. However, there are other questions that Mr. Istvan poses, which, while interesting to consider, do not arise from any specific position in our Platform – e.g., abortion, sexbots, whether a “Jesus Singularity” is possible, or whether the human species should be renamed after sufficient cyborgization. It would be difficult, and likely impossible, for any subset of transhumanists to reach a consensus or even acceptable middle ground on these issues, although we understand that they will continue to be discussed. It is best, however, not to frame such matters as official Party positions – but rather to simply continue the conversation, as Mr. Istvan did by raising questions which may have many possible answers. But it is worth emphasizing that neither Transhumanists in particular nor (small “t”) transhumanists in general have any definitive, authoritative positions on these matters.
While Mr. Istvan’s work presents the need for discernment in distinguishing between his views and the positions of the Transhumanist Party, Mr. Weiss’s rejoinder is flawed on an entirely different scale. It is outright misleading and actually seeks to commit (small “l”) libertarians to positions that would not be compatible with liberty if thoroughly examined. Mr. Weiss states that “Transhumanism should be rejected by libertarians as an abomination of human evolution” – as if evolution were itself a moral value for humans or for the achievement of the ideals of liberty (rather than merely the process by which humans happened to arise or even, in its “natural” form, an obstacle to the flourishing and liberty of the individual – since individuals are dispensable from the standpoint of natural selection). Mr. Weiss further imports citations from some of Mr. Istvan’s prior articles (not his original editorial in The American Conservative) to allege that Mr. Istvan, and by implication all transhumanists, support eugenics, as a result of Mr. Istvan’s statement that he “cautiously endorse[s] the idea of licensing parents, a process that would be little different than getting a driver’s license.” To reach the conclusion that transhumanists support eugenics, Mr. Weiss needed to have made several non sequiturs which reach far beyond anything Mr. Istvan actually wrote.
Yet Mr. Istvan’s subsequent Facebook post appears to be a reinforcement of this position, wherein Mr. Istvan seeks to justify it by the statement that “I do not want homeless people, severely mentally disabled people (like down syndrome), or crack addicts having kids if I will end up paying higher taxes so the government must take care of them.” However, Mr. Istvan also offers a mitigating point to this view by noting that he also “deeply support[s] a libertarian version of a basic income to help the poor and hardship-burdened out, but [he does] not and will not support a lack of responsibility on a parent’s part.”
The United States Transhumanist Party takes a decidedly different view on parenting, children, and reproductive freedom than either Mr. Istvan’s proposal to license parents, or Mr. Weiss’s highly disproportionate and unfounded allegation of eugenicist tendencies. All things considered, most (small “l”) libertarians will find the Transhumanist Party’s actual positions on children and childbearing to be far more palatable than either of the positions of Mr. Istvan and Mr. Weiss.
Article XII of the Transhumanist Bill of Rights, Version 2.0, states, in part, that “All sentient entities are entitled to reproductive freedom, including through novel means such as the creation of mind clones, monoparent children, or benevolent artificial general intelligence.” If anything, the Transhumanist Party embraces novel techniques that would render it easier for many persons to have children – for instance, without the need to find a partner of the opposite gender.
Section VI of the United States Transhumanist Party Platform – an extensive section on morphological freedom – specifically states that “The United States Transhumanist Party is focused on the rights of all sapient individuals to do as they see fit with themselves and their own reproductive choices.” The last paragraph of Section VI clarifies that “The United States Transhumanist Party recognizes the ethical obligations of sapient beings to be the purview of those individual beings, and holds that no other group, individual, or government has the right to limit those choices – including […] reproductive choice, reproductive manipulation, […] or other possible modifications, enhancements, or morphological freedoms. It is only when such choices directly infringe upon the rights of other sapient beings that the United States Transhumanist Party will work to develop policies to avoid potential infringements.”
Accordingly, the Transhumanist Party sees reproduction as a fundamentally individual choice. Whether a given individual chooses not to reproduce at all, or to reproduce prolifically, or to pursue any intermediate course, is not a matter to be coercively regimented, restricted, or subjected to special permits. While it could readily be acknowledged that some circumstances are more conducive to the effective and beneficent upbringing of children than others, it nonetheless remains the province of individual judgment to determine whether a given set of circumstances is sufficient in this regard. The influence of civil society, not coercive political solutions, may be a more suitable means to encourage individuals to make decisions in full consideration of the potential consequences.
Some commentators have lamented (as in the premise of the 2006 Mike Judge film Idiocracy) that individuals who would have made decent parents often abstain from reproduction out of an abundance of caution and concern – precisely the traits that would make them better parents – while those who do not consider the consequences of bringing a child into this world may therefore reproduce unthinkingly. It appears that the intention of Mr. Istvan is to address the latter concern and set forth some manner of prior restraint to such unthinking reproduction – and yet such prior restraints are never without unintended consequences. Any externally imposed system of prior restraint creates an inflexible bureaucratic machinery that must be navigated, and good people will inevitably fall through its cracks or be caught within its technicalities, such that self-evidently reasonable decisions will be thwarted needlessly. The important insight to prevent a parental licensing scheme, such as the one proposed by Mr. Istvan, is the recognition that no single, overarching set of rules, imposed on an entire population, can possibly filter out solely the “unsuitable” parents while allowing all of the “suitable” parents to do what they would have done anyway. Errors in both directions are inevitable; the former type of error would show the system to be ineffectual, while the latter type of error would be a travesty of justice.
Furthermore, the United States Transhumanist Party strongly supports children’s rights. In addition to Section LXII of our Platform, which “supports efforts to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and to uphold the Rights of the Child as prescribed therein”, Section XXIII states that “The United States Transhumanist Party supports the rights of children to exercise liberty in proportion to their rational faculties and capacity for autonomous judgment. In particular, the United States Transhumanist Party strongly opposes all forms of bullying, child abuse, and censorship of intellectual self-development by children and teenagers.” Implied in this position is a thoroughgoing respect for children as individuals – not merely the products of their parents and the circumstances in which they find themselves. Children have rational faculties, they can exercise autonomous judgment, they can learn, they can improve themselves and rise above any sub-optimal conditions into which they were born. To state that certain persons of limited means, low virtue, or myriad possible failures of character should not be permitted to have children, neglects the fact that children are distinct from their parents and are not fated to repeat their parents’ mistakes or to suffer under the yoke of their parents’ limitations. A genius can arise from the slums; a decent person can emerge from a troubled background. The will and determination of the individual child, and the subsequent adult, should not be disregarded or underestimated here! While, undeniably, hard circumstances pose barriers to the actualization of human potential, it is unconscionable for political restraints to forestall the very possibility that such barriers might be overcome, by declaring them to be insurmountable in advance and cutting off the potential for a life to emerge that might disprove that contention.
Far from a eugenicist perspective, the view of many transhumanists and of the Transhumanist Party is a fundamentally individualist position that rejects both genetic and environmental variants of determinism and emphasizes the autonomy of each individual person.
Mr. Weiss finds other aspersions to cast upon the transhumanists, for instance by alleging that they wish to create the equivalent of Leon Trotsky’s “New Soviet Man” – as if the goal itself of most humans rising to the heights of Aristotle, Goethe, or Mozart were reprehensible! If Mr. Weiss, as a self-identified libertarian, were consistent in this criticism, he would go so far as to condemn libertarianism’s own ambitions to reduce the size and scope of government, because, after all, Karl Marx’s end goal – for “the State to wither away” – is the same as that of many anarcho-capitalist libertarians today! Mr. Weiss makes the common fallacy of assuming that a particular goal is not worthwhile, simply because some people, who also committed reprehensible actions or held other fallacious views, happened to espouse that goal.
Mr. Weiss concludes his essay by stating that “Instead of seeing nature, the world and life overall as a means to get to know God, humans in the last centuries have become accustomed to seeing the world as something that is only there for humans to take and use for their own pleasures. Transhumanism would be the final step of this process: the conquest of death. You don’t have to be religious to find this abhorrent. As we have seen, it would be the end to all religion, to human cooperation overall, in all likelihood to liberty itself, and even the good-bye to humanity. It would be the starting point of the ultimate dystopia.”
We see in Mr. Weiss’s conclusion the underlying motive behind his critique of transhumanism, which is that he finds transhumanism to be somehow in conflict with his personal view of “nature, the world and life overall as a means to get to know God” – a goal which, in Mr. Weiss’s mind, is contrary to humans either pursuing “their own pleasures” or conquering death. This is far from a general libertarian position and seems, rather, to be inextricably entangled with Mr. Weiss’s own religious views. As such, his article would have been more forthrightly presented as a critique of transhumanism from the standpoint of a particular religious denomination or theological interpretation (however Mr. Weiss might classify his views in these regards), but not a libertarian critique of transhumanism – especially since most libertarians would strongly disagree with the notion of imposing a particular religious interpretation as a justification for thwarting progress or individual choice.
Contrary to Mr. Weiss’s assertions, transhumanism per se is not incompatible with religious belief, and there exist various strains of religious transhumanism today, as acknowledged in Section XXV of the U.S. Transhumanist Party Platform: “The United States Transhumanist Party welcomes both religious and non-religious individuals who support life extension and emerging technologies. The United States Transhumanist Party recognizes that some religious individuals and interpretations may be receptive to technological progress and, if so, are valuable allies to the transhumanist movement. On the other hand, the United States Transhumanist Party is also opposed to any interpretation of a religious doctrine that results in the rejection of reason, censorship, violation of individual rights, suppression of technological advancement, and attempts to impose religious belief by force and/or by legal compulsion.”
More importantly, whether or not one is religious, nothing about the conquest of death – the genuine aim of many transhumanists which Mr. Weiss seems most inclined to disparage – is abominable or contrary to liberty or contrary to the ability of any person to express any peaceful, non-coercive religious belief or practice. It is confounding to see Mr. Weiss assert that life extension would be the end of liberty (when only free human beings could pursue it, and their rights to pursue it would need to be recognized in order for it to be achieved), the end of cooperation (when life extension could only be achieved through major cooperation by leading scientists specialized in various areas of biology, medicine, biotechnology, nanotechnology, and related fields), or of humanity itself (when individual humans would be the ones living longer – often with the option to remain in a youthful but predominantly biological state). Certainly, Mr. Weiss has offered no evidence to suggest that an “ultimate dystopia” would be generated by enabling people to live longer, more prosperous, more fulfilled lives – his straw-man characterizations notwithstanding.
Those who seek to understand transhumanist thought and Transhumanist political positions would do well to study the growing corpus of transhumanist literature, which, as Mr. Istvan validly points out, extends back to (at least) the 1980s, as well as to follow the work of the United States Transhumanist Party. While the Transhumanist Party is not exclusively libertarian in character, we also encourage individuals who hold libertarian views to see key complementarities with transhumanism – which may well describe the world which would emerge if individuals had the power to fully exercise their liberty to innovate and discover. Whether you identify as libertarian or as anything else, we welcome your input and participation in the Transhumanist Party if you have insights to contribute regarding how the human condition might be improved, and how our age-old limits and sufferings might be overcome.
Finally, the Transhumanist Party – while it shall endeavor to remain ecumenical and not explicitly align itself with either libertarianism, conservatism, or any ideologies that could be deemed the antitheses thereof – recognizes, contra Mr. Weiss, that individuals, such as readers of The American Conservative magazine, who identify either as libertarians, or as conservatives, or both, will be able to find many areas of affinity with transhumanism, properly understood. Although these are not official documents of the Transhumanist Party and are not necessarily representative of its positions, I encourage readers who are interested in discovering these affinities to read my older essays “Transhumanism as a Grand Conservatism” and “Political Priorities for Achieving Indefinite Life Extension: A Libertarian Approach” – which I mention here primarily to motivate thinking and discussion.
Gennady Stolyarov II, FSA, ACAS, MAAA, CPCU, ARe, ARC, API, AIS, AIE, AIAF
Chairman, United States Transhumanist Party
August 20, 2017