Candidate Profile: Johannon Ben Zion
The U.S. Transhumanist Party / Transhuman Party (USTP) has asked all of its declared candidates for its 2019 Presidential Primary to answer the same essential questions so as to inform the USTP membership of the candidates’ stances on key issues and provide each USTP member the opportunity to make an informed decision, including through comparisons of the candidates’ answers.
This profile features candidate Johannon Ben Zion, who won the USTP Electronic Primary. See the detailed primary results here.
Candidate Name: Johannon Ben Zion
Contact E-mail Address: email@example.com
Campaign Slogan: Radical Life Extension Is Closer Than You Think.
Note from Candidate: The Arizona Transhumanist Party has been recently founded, you can visit us at https://www.facebook.com/groups/AzHplus/ to join and receive regular updates on the campaign.
Discuss your background and why you think it would render you an effective President of the United States.
I have been involved with the techno-optimist movements from the time that they were called “extropianism” – even some years before. Having been an entrepreneur/developer in both computer science and life science startups, as well as having worked as a Public Policy Analyst at the eponymous think tank The Ben-Zion Institute (which, although it publishes populist content, focuses largely on left-libertarian and techno-optimist market solutions to contemporary problems) – the nexus of these three fields have given me insights into the world of near-term technological progress and US policy that other candidates might not instinctively possess.
What do you consider to be the most important aspects of transhumanism and the kinds of impacts it should have upon the world?
In a very basic sense, transhumanism describes the human relationship to technology, a relationship which goes back tens of thousands of years; as such, transhumanist views are as diverse as the views of the general population. For this reason when campaigning for transhumanism I have and will continue to focus on “radical life extension”, as it is the “common thread” that tends to motivate the more earnest techno-optimists. However I also point out the value and importance of an earthbound economic populist message – and I have tended to focus on certain kinds of policies that would be of interest to the population at large, even those who are not particularly preoccupied with immortalism or longer life, such as a “negative income tax” for workers/citizens or, on the other hand, many kinds of “value-added” or economically stabilizing social programs which we need to strengthen our society and economy, which I will describe at greater length in the coming responses.
What are the areas of the U.S. Transhumanist Party Platform that you identify most strongly with?
The areas of the U.S. Transhumanist Party Platform that I most strongly identify with would be those that deal with emerging biomedicine. I would say that emerging technology in the medical field, and the lack of consensus as to the role of that technology in our lives – is the chief reason we need a more visible Transhumanist Party in America. I think that a discussion of what biomedicine is becoming and how it will impact our society is something that is lacking in the platform of other candidates, some of whom I would otherwise tend to support. Andrew Yang, for example, I believe to be a very reasonable man who embodies transhumanist values, but as he campaigns principally on economic policy matters (Universal Basic Income, an elegant platform the message and primacy of which I agree with), for Transhumanists to focus primarily on inhumane economic policies in the USA, an issue about which I have very strong feelings, perhaps would add little to these existing public policy conversations.
Reference: Yang 2020 Campaign. “What is Universal Basic Income?”
As such we Transhumanist Party members should focus, not just by voting, but in every conversation and action we undertake, on radical life extension and strengthening consensus on the “game-changing” nature of emerging biomedicine to our society, so that we become a loud and raucous voice in the public square.
What are, in your view, some of the major problems in contemporary American society? How can transhumanism aid in resolving those problems?
I would say that there are VERY VERY FEW parts of contemporary American policymaking that work exceedingly well for most citizens, or if transhumanist goals like Radical Life Extension are to be achieved and safeguarded for that matter.
Countries on average rewrite their constitutions every 15 years, while the United States has a constitution that was written almost 250 years ago – before the advent of any sort of mass media or any noticeable industrialization, much less one with algorithm-driven markets and social-media domination and so many post-industrial mechanisms and institutions. I think that many of our institutions are held to or even artificially maintained by a sense of obligation or nostalgia in conjunction with a dangerous “creep” of wealthy special-interest control over many decades, rather than by any real concern for human well-being or betterment.
There’s a man most of you know; he may well be regarded as the most politically successful transhumanist in history, Peter Thiel – and I agree with some of the things that he advocates for. For example, I have very little divergence with his approach to biomedicine or even education, areas in which he has become a key tastemaker and policy advocate. His approach to economic policy is one I sometimes find a little bit upsetting. However, perhaps the most important thing that I can say about such a man is that he absolutely would not tend to allow nostalgia, antiquated or techno-sluggish institutions, or reactionary habits to prevent us from developing new forms of governmental institutions or private institutions, or even “adhocracies” to deal more presciently with 21st-century problems.
In this sense when I hear people on the more rightward spectrum of our transhumanist or libertarian movements describe the “regressive left” – I can relate to what they are saying. I would NEVER describe these nostalgic or techno-sluggish centrists as “genuine leftists,” but I do understand that many establishment personalities in government seem to be married to institutions that are not moving half so quickly enough or adapting to change in the 21st-century world. If you’ve ever wondered why you can do all manner of simple and quite complex tasks as “click-through processes” on Amazon.com or other platforms, but you cannot vote or pay your taxes with such ease, you should thank these regressive centrist personalities for this abject failure to move us all more fully into a post-industrial society or governance framework – and that is something that I feel the Transhumanist Party must be as committed to as raising awareness for radical life extension. This broad failure to make significant technological progress in our political systems and civil society is at the heart of my and the #jbz2020 team’s reform platform known as “The Futurist New Deal”.
In your view, what aspects of contemporary American politics work well? What aspects of contemporary American politics are broken or malfunctioning?
So many of our people today have an idea that the United States is “broken” in terms of its public policy and leadership – but I feel that it’s more accurate to describe it as “short-sightedly mismanaged.” Many of the problems of the United States stem from economic insecurity and the undue influence of wealthy special interests. Many of those interests have little regard for citizens, or even the health of our planet; these are major problems that must be addressed and I feel that there are three or four candidates for President for other parties who have some pretty good ideas about doing so, ideas that are receiving a lot of attention.
I did not anticipate Senator Bernard Sanders having a televised town-hall on Fox News Network, much less it being a big “hit.” As a left-libertarian transhumanist I would tend to focus on implementing a series of new systems and policies, bipartisan e-governance programs like those advocated by the “Flux Party” and Pirate Parties of the United States and so many other countries.
Reference: “Liquid democracy uses blockchain to fix politics, and now you can vote for it”. Danny Crichton. TechCrunch.
In the longer term, transitioning our healthcare system to something that is more focused on prevention and utilizing emerging biomedicine to reduce costs and extend quality of life is of equal importance to these current failings of representative governance, and informing people of the kinds of technology that are “in the works” and how it might affect their thinking on policy in the near term is key.
“Medical Device Used in ‘Star Trek’ Is Now a Reality”. Bob Curley. HealthLine. August 11, 2017.
“Future pills will be personalized and 3D printed, just for you”. Holly Cave. Fast Company. February 1, 2019.
It should give every one of us pause that the kinds of prototypes described in the links above could easily be placed in your or every home in a pretty short time; and that while public healthcare networks must be strengthened in the near term for the sake of the health of an increasingly unwell population, that in the longer term their role will evolve, as will the role of syndicates like “Big Pharma” and related special interest groups, whose interests have never been fully aligned with optimal US public health. The power of such public and private monoliths both will wane all the sooner if we as a society would more fully embrace “Citizen Science” and decentralized power by, among other things, supporting the development of preventative biomedicine, healthful maintenance of all of our bodies, and our own awareness that is optimized for radical life extension.
If elected President of the United States, what policy measures will you pursue?
As President my first order of business would be to change the voting age to 16 and more broadly to create a system that incentivizes voting to such a degree that we would effectively have full voting and participation in our democracy. No matter our political differences, every single one of you has a voice, one that must be heard, and being able to participate in civil society and political discourse by voting and by influencing public policy and institutions, beyond merely voting, is the most important thing that any of us could do.
Reference: “Increasing Voter Participation in America”. Danielle Root and Liz Kennedy. Center for American Progress. July 11, 2018.
I would focus daily on campaign finance reform, which would reduce the influence of wealthy individuals in our elections and the power of corporate special interests in influencing public policy.
In those two wretchedly bio-luddite political parties in the U.S.A (Republican and Democrat), there is a very real sense among most ordinary people that the most important issues to citizens – those being economic policy matters – are not even ever fully considered or given due treatment – because those very humane economic policies might tend to disrupt these wealthy special interests, many of whom are not the heroes or luminaries they believe themselves to be, but something out of Muckraker Upton Sinclair’s descriptions of unhealthful and violently environmentally irresponsible industrial practices.
So these two parties have quite successfully socially engineered “wedge issues” that become the central focus of political discourse to distract all of us from their failures as statesmen or philanthropists. Repealing Citizens United and making dark money illegal, as well as some form of compulsory voting, would go a long way toward fixing these problems. We also need an economic system that better values workers, for example changes to the tax code or make it far less arcane, and implementing a “negative income tax” for workers and living, breathing citizens.
From nearly the beginning of the modern era until the Reagan years, the tax burden was on corporations and was commensurate with their capabilities and needs, and this higher tax rate for corporations and wealthy individuals allowed for the creation of a middle-class society. In many ways that middle-class society has changed for the worse, and that is a direct result of the “deterioration” of the tax code, namely shifting the burden from corporations and wealthy individuals to middle-class workers, effectively creating a system where BOTH the desperately poor and the obscenely wealthy are picking the pockets of the stalwart middle class. Instead we should have a system that “robs from the rich and gives to the poor” – and working-class.
No one on earth needs more than a million dollars a year to meet their own life goals, even if you are a transhumanist who is very focused on radical life extension. The fact that our society lionized people earning tens of millions of dollars or more a year reflects how little we understand the devastation that is caused by the kind of inequality that has arisen with it– and those within the Transhumanist Party who wish to ignore these problems of the middle class and the immense institutional corruption that led us here – do a villainous disservice to the American people and to the proliferation of radical life extension for their fellow man.
Aside from a focus on radical life extension and removing or lessening special interest involvement in economic policy it is very important that we strengthen the existing social programs that will allow EVERY American who wishes it continued existence until such time as radical life extension interventions becomes commonplace. Although you may not have personally experienced it, you certainly know someone who has been bankrupted by medical expenses or by the failure of our society to provide an adequate safety net to all citizens and so pursue higher ends. It is not inaccurate to say that 30,000 natural-born U.S. citizens die in the street like filthy miserable dogs because of the failures of our healthcare system every year. Nor is it inaccurate to say that another 50,000 people will die in the street like filthy miserable dogs because of the failures of our “inhumane economic policies” – and a robust federal jobs guarantee, guaranteed basic income, or negative income tax are not the only solutions to the latter set of problems.
Fully paid child care and other long-term support for young families, greater assistance for single parents; these are all extremely important areas in which our government is an utter failure. Many right-libertarian transhumanists or “economic conservatives” will point to the cost of these programs and call for “austerity”, but please consider the possibility that this “concern” itself is a carefully crafted wedge issue, a corporatist sham argument. Even though we cannot always easily put a dollar value on the “economic disruption” that is caused by so many living in poverty, that does not mean that it is not extremely disruptive to so many lives, our own social cohesion, or the even economically the “small business that should have been.”
Other nation-states that more responsibly regulate certain aspects of the marketplace – these societies that do not fail to provide the social safety nets as ours does. In a great number of ways these societies are “freer”: the bulk of Norwegians, Danes or Dutch folk are free to start small businesses and take care of their families in a safe and accommodating environment; they have the time and economic security to do so, and as such they have far lower incidence of disease and social disorder and little serious risk of burgeoning insurrectionist sentiment.
There are other vital policy areas that are extremely valuable to the techno-optimist which are not related at all to this constellation of issues revolving around workers, markets, or safety-net regulation. I would certainly intend to describe these areas as I am delivering my campaign speeches in the months leading up to the US primary elections this year. These are heady issues like net neutrality, the role of automation and artificial intelligence in both public and private institutions in greatly improving the quality of life in our society, and even the near-term prospect of a well-regulated “algocracy” replacing or augmenting most of our present systems. However, if I were to describe net neutrality or artificial intelligence policy as being actually more important than the above “middle-class issues” related to our current or near-term economic policies, national stability, or social cohesion, I would be engaging in, I believe, intellectual dishonesty.
It is a transgression which I know many Transhumanists are guilty of. This “intellectual dishonesty” is why I have not always agreed with the more prevalent transhumanist “talking points”, and it may also be why some of the larger techno-optimist goals have not gained the traction in our society that they might have, despite an overwhelming majority of US people, and those living in wealthy societies more generally, being “baseline transhumanists” (a concept I will better define shortly, and one alluded to in these interview questions).
At the risk of overstatement, we might have, by this time, achieved a more truly robust post-industrial society and a techno-optimist consensus, or made greater strides toward full automation, e-governance, or even technologies in every home that would contribute greatly to your or my own preternaturally long lifespans had we as a society not allowed our middle class and its economic welfare to be ignored. What’s more, there simply is no “adhocracy”, there is no “egalitarian algocracy,” there is no truly safe or secure preternatural long life for anyone rich or poor, without first stabilizing these systems relating to humane economic policy, to workers and citizens.
Straightforward and easily implemented technologies like e-voting, simplifying tax returns for online filing, and lessening special interests’ supremacy in all policy-making by making dark money illegal and strengthening representative governance – these are required precursors to building a healthy techno-optimist society, and to suppose that a single solitary one of you will ever live a preternaturally long time or enjoy a more free, dramatically more technologically advanced society without first doing this “difficult work on behalf of the middle class” is to engage in a dangerous degree of “magical thinking.”
If elected President of the United States, what changes do you hope to achieve during your first term in office?
In addition to the domestic policy platform that I have begun to describe to you, as President of the United States, I would also like to bring back an organization called “The President’s Council on Bioethics” – in a completely new incarnation. This was an organization that previously tended to serve the interests of paleo-conservative and bio-luddite individuals, many of whom may have tended to be among what is termed “the religious right.” Thankfully, this unseemly organization was dismantled in 2009 at the beginning of the Barack Obama Presidency.
I would like to see it reborn, not as anything that resembled its former self, but rather as an advocacy and “influence operation,” fully integrated with US intelligence services, that advances awareness of emerging biomedicine and “emergent culture” that will support radical life extension. The kind of technology that will allow people to live a preternaturally long time already exists in very many prototypes and forms – as any H+ person worth their salt knows – and such breakthroughs have been well documented by scientists and peer review journals.
Sadly, the kind of cultural values that support such things may not currently exist to an effective enough degree. We could use the kinds of tools that data science companies (even to this day in April 2019 despite the Cambridge Analytica/Facebook furor) run by Robert Mercer, Charles Koch, or Peter Thiel deploy to advance narrow partisan ends – but we would use them to advance the least narrow or selfish end of all: to convince all the worthy but risk-averse, every last single one of them with a pulse and at least a few brain cells firing, that living a lot longer need not be a pipedream nor an act of hubris.
I will not stand for a world where men like Peter Thiel will benefit from these technologies – while you do not.
These modern miracles are not the sole province of persons like Peter Thiel (even though he has donated tens of millions of dollars to their advancement.)
They are not the province of any lucky individual with great wealth or any national or institutional power. They are your birthright as citizen scientists, as every one of you is, and you – yourself and no other – must actively campaign to receive that birthright – if it is to come to pass in this lifetime.
As President, I would also immediately commence work on a $10-$15 billion design for an “orbital ring” to make near-earth space travel and development much easier.
Reference: “Low Cost Design for an Orbital Ring”. David Nelson. July 18, 2017.
Imagine for a moment that you were in a position to anticipate some of the great technological breakthroughs of the 20th or 21st centuries – if you could have truly foreseen the impact of our ARPANET, the internet’s precursor way back in 1969; if you could have predicted how the invention of GPS would spread out into IOT or so many other valuable breakthroughs we use daily; if you had really seen the grand future in integrated computing systems, CPUs, personal computers. What if you had known that a grand’s worth of bitcoin in 2009 would one day be worth 6 billion dollars? I have great news for you, my friend; you do have that kind of foresight.
Building an “orbital ring” is well within the means of over 1200 of the world’s largest corporations. The cost of a streamlined design for a ring around our planet would be about half of the annual budget of NASA. It would cost about the same as 25 years of funding (by current projections) for the newly formed “U.S. Space Force”.
So who needs a ring around the planet anyway? Well, a US-funded orbital ring would reduce the expense of sending one person to space from the cost of a pretty nice house to the cost of the average child’s toy!
I’ve often joked with my fellow skeptics that if human beings hadn’t wasted so much of their time and resources worrying about metaphysical or tribalist shenanigans (such as counting the number of angels on the head of a pin, then starting a war with another country because their guys got a different number), I’d already be making summer plans to take the space elevator to my summer home on the Moon.
It doesn’t take a psychic to see how the orbital ring could significantly expand markets and experiences, providing near-earthshattering breakthroughs for many, many decades to come. As your President, I would have such an undertaking be first on my list of bold new projects – in this case funded solely from the existing budgets of NASA and the U.S. Space Force.
What are your thoughts on the U.S. Constitution and its relevance and implications in the transhuman era? Are transhumanism and the current U.S. Constitution compatible?
Countries, on average, rewrite their constitutions every 15 years, while the United States has a Constitution written almost 250 years ago – before the advent of any real mass media or any industrialization, much less social media and post-industrial mechanisms and institutions. While it is the law of the land and we must abide by it, truth be told, I would trust the wisdom of a “strict constructionist” about as much as I would trust a person clutching a Bible or Koran calling me a “Luciferean” because I wish to see humanity live longer, healthier lives. Actually – I would trust the strict constructionist less.
A Transhumanist campaign for President is primarily an educational endeavor. What are the key insights about which you would like to educate the public during your campaign? How would you like to educate them?
I have earlier in this interview suggested that there is a tendency to be intellectually dishonest about the needs of our society and the ways that we, its citizens, are not served – on the part of many a staunch techno-optimist or right-leaning transhumanist. However many of these policies and failures on all of our parts are being described very well by such presidential candidates as Andrew Yang, Senator Elizabeth Warren, or Senator Bernie Sanders.
I feel that the role of a transhumanist candidate for President is first and foremost to make radical life extension more present in the minds of the average citizen and to do so in such a way that is palatable or even, dare I say, amusing to them. However, radical life extension should not be the only area of discussion for techno-optimists; we must also focus on incrementally moving toward any governmental or private “fully automated means of production” or similar significant advancements that better serve all of our interests. In these key areas I have written a number of campaign speeches, including those somewhat tailored to different audiences of different backgrounds and ideologies – for the purposes of bringing the Transhumanist public-policy message to the people of the United States
Given that a President would need to act on behalf of the interests of the entire population, with regard to members of the public who are either not transhumanists or may be implicit transhumanists (but may not be familiar with or use that term), what would make you an effective candidate for appealing to them and representing their interests?
I have coined the term “baseline transhumanist,” admittedly a notion well understood to most transhumanist philosophers although not always described in these words, to paint a picture of those people who may not be actively pursuing radical life extension but nevertheless seem to have a de facto position that would allow them to embrace such incredible biomedical advances as they become available. Your own mother or father may very well be one.
It is not so much of an overstatement to say that any living person who has a “primary care physician” and owns a cell phone or other digital device would be such a de facto adopter or “baseline transhumanist.” It is because of this distinction between the ideologically-driven or immortalism-oriented transhumanist – and ordinary people who may be pretty well poised to accept radical life extension despite their unfamiliarity with the goals of the staunch techno-optimist, that many immortalists themselves state that the two need not be described as opposing forces. To allow such a division to happen is to play into reactionary thinking and the socially engineered “wedge issues,” the partisan organizing principles of the two dominant parties that we are all – not to put too fine a point on it – pretty fed up with. These odious phenomena of wedge issues, which I hope are well understood to you all, at best serve nonsensical, crassly materialist, or atavistic political agendas.
Such an ideological and bio-luddite oriented “digital divide” is the reason that many very well-respected Transhumanist philosophers regard the Transhumanist Party policy platform as potentially troublesome- and while I do not agree with that cowardly non-position, it is paramount to be able to engage in a sort of “realpolitik” in matters of this kind. The entire United States population, so many of whom are going to be able to reverse their own cell death or otherwise practice radical life extension in their lifetimes – that body politic need not become personally invested or ideologically driven to radical life extension advocacy to benefit from such breakthroughs, and so bringing the concept to them or engaging them even with a little bit of levity – as well as addressing the more near-term policy goals that should be implemented sooner rather than later to save the most lives and to create a society that is stable enough for transhumanist goals to be met – is the best way to address the public at large; it is why I intend to campaign to a variety of different audiences and even at times to make very little mention direct mention of radical life extension at all but rather focus on other near-term solutions and institutions that we can derive from advanced technology.
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