New complete book awaiting reader reviews

The dawn of 2019 marks four years since the original launch of Transpolitica (January 2015).

The dawn of 2019 also marks the first full availability of the book “Sustainable Superabundance: A universal transhumanist manifesto for the 2020s and beyond“.

All twelve chapters of this Manifesto are now awaiting reader review and feedback, ideally over the next 1-2 weeks. I’ll welcome any comments, on any parts of the Manifesto that catch your attention. You can make comments via this shared Google doc.

Depending on the feedback, the Manifesto is expected to be officially published around mid January – first as an ebook, and shortly afterwards in physical and audio formats.

For people inspired by any of the ideas in the Manifesto, the final chapter sets out “options to engage”.

TAM Graphic 12

For the opening chapter and links to all the other chapters, see here.

TAM Graphic 1

I’ve actually rewritten parts of every chapter over the last couple of months, as the overall flow of the message has become clearer to me. Even if you’ve read individual chapters before, you may find new inspiration from looking at the latest versions:

  1. Advance!
  2. Superabundance ahead
  3. Beyond technology
  4. Principles and priorities
  5. Towards abundant energy
  6. Towards abundant food
  7. Towards abundant materials
  8. Towards abundant health
  9. Towards abundant intelligence
  10. Towards abundant creativity
  11. Towards abundant democracy
  12. Options to engage

For comparison, Sustainable Superabundance has 54 thousand words, in the latest draft, whereas the previous Transpolitica book, Transcending Politics, has 142 thousand words. The new book is intended to be much more accessible.

On a personal note: 2019 will see, from me, a greater focus than before on activism rather than analysis. Of course, both are needed. But whereas before my energy was divided roughly 30% activist and 70% analyst, it will now be the other way round.

Similarly, I will put less focus on being a futurist and more focus on being a transhumanist.

I’m keeping an open mind as to the best organisational structures to assist these projects. I may shortly reboot or even shut down some organisations where I’ve previously invested my time. I may wind down my links with some communities and ramp up new links with others.

For the time being, I’m directing people to use the Transpolitica mailing list discussion group,!forum/transpolitica.

Flawed humanity, flawed politics

Evolution is a many-splendoured thing. Our long evolutionary history has prepared us well for many aspects of modern life. But in other aspects it bequeaths us problems. Nasty problems.

One example is our sweet tooth. Our ancestral instinct to eat plenty of fruit (or things that taste like fruit), in anticipation of subsequent times of lean, leads in the modern age to an epidemic of obesity. Oops.

Another example is our tendency to imagine intelligent agency where none exists – our so-called “hyperactive agency detector”. A rustle in the leaves; a cracked twig; a bolt of lightening – were these mere accidents, or the signs of a crafty predator? Better to be safe than sorry. But that hyperactive agency detector gave rise to numerous fantasies, worldwide, of ghosts and demons and supernatural deities. Double oops.

And yet another example is our tribalism – our innate apprehension of “the other”. We learned to fear alien groups of people who were noticeably different from our closer circle, and who might be expected, given a chance, to double-cross us or stab us in the back. Once upon a time, a rule of thumb “beware the outsider” was doubtless useful for survival. But in present times, that xenophobia can have all kinds of adverse consequences. Oops again.

What does this have to do with 21st century politics? Plenty!


Four versions of tribalism

As I’ll list shortly, four of the most destructive tendencies in modern social life have their roots in our apprehension of “the other”. In each case, our social harmony is warped by ideologies that reinforce our innate tendency to fear those who seem different from ourselves. In each of the four cases, an ideology tells its adherents that there are deep reasons why the leopard cannot change its spots – why, that is, the outsiders are bound to keep on behaving in dangerous, destructive ways. So the ideology exacerbates the mistrust.

Look at these strange folk, the ideology says. Look at him here, and her there. These specific individuals are undeniably bad. And the rest are all the same. We – the decent, normal people – need protection against the entire tribe of others. We need to take back control – so these ideologies tell us, in various different ways.

These ideologies find willing listeners. Our subconscious minds are grateful for intellectual rationales that can be adopted, that shore up our instinctual urges, regardless of whether these urges remain good for us.

The first case is nationalism, or its variant, racism. Some English are duplicitous, therefore all English are duplicitous – that is (more or less) what I remember my barber telling me, on more than one occasion, when I had my hair cut as a teenager in Aberdeenshire in the mid 1970s. Other nationalists of a different stripe might say, in retort: some Scots are mean, therefore all Scots are mean. Some African Americans are lazy and disrespectful, therefore all African Americans are lazy and disrespectful. Some Moslems are fanatics, therefore all Moslems are fanatics. Some Poles are welfare scroungers, therefore all Poles are welfare scroungers. And so on.

Stated in such bald terms, the ideology is evidently puerile. But it is typically dressed up with finer trimmings. The reason why the other is likely to behave badly, we are told, is because they are victims of their culture, and (in some cases) victims of their religion. The ideology asserts – correctly, in my view – that some cultures are inferior to others, and that poor cultures can be kept in place by tendencies within religious teachings. For example, when a holy book emphasises that women are deeply different from men, we should not be surprised if people enmeshed in the resulting culture give scant attention to female equality. And if that holy book elevates faith as a virtue high above honest doubt, it’s no wonder that the members of that culture are inclined towards fanaticism.

The key question is: how easy is it for people to step aside from the culture in which they were previously enmeshed? Ideologies of nationalism tend to be sceptical on that count. In that view, culture is deterministic, and diminishes the capacity of “the other” to change. Forget any hopes of multi-cultural harmony. Instead, build walls.

The second case is anti-capitalism. That’s a bit more sophisticated than nationalism, but not by much. This line of thinking goes as follows: some business owners are ruthless profit-seekers, therefore all business owners are ruthless profit-seekers. Anyone who claims to be a “conscious capitalist” or a “moral capitalist” is deluding themselves. Their prevailing culture – the system of shareholder contracts and imperatives to maximise profits – ensures that they cannot really change. Therefore the “decent, normal people” – the working class – need to seize power, seize the means of production, and (if need be) string up the recalcitrant capitalist class from the lampposts.

Yet again, it’s an ideology that can find ready adherents. Developed under the label Marxist-Leninism, it’s an ideology that has caused horrible upheavals around the world.

The third case is the widespread rigid displeasure at EU bureaucracy.  Here’s the thinking: some EU bureaucrats are faceless self-serving empire-builders, therefore all EU bureaucrats are faceless self-serving empire-builders. As before, the argument runs from the specific to the general. A business leader finds his growth plans thwarted by ill-conceived regulations handed down imperiously from Brussels, therefore we have to take back control of all regulations handed down from Brussels. An innovative medical intervention is stymied by slow-moving EU healthcare review processes, therefore we have to take back control of all review processes from the EU. Perhaps we should even string up the leaders of that bureaucracy from the lampposts.

The key question in this case is: what stands in the way of intelligent reform of the EU bureaucracy? One answer is that the EU bureaucracy is part of a gigantic self-perpetuating system which is incapable of reform – much the same as Marxists claim that capitalism is incapable of meaningful reform. People with bad personal experiences of EU bureaucrats are, not surprisingly, sympathetic to that ideology.

What makes that line of thinking more likely to be accepted, alas, is the dearth of adequate positive communications about:

  • The rich benefits achieved from EU membership (despite a steady stream of mistakes being made)
  • The history of positive evolution of EU governance (despite the delays in some of these steps being taken).

Too many people have gained, in the short term, by spreading “bad news” stories (often wildly exaggerated) about EU governance. These stories have been good fun – ha ha ha – until they weren’t. Oops.

That takes me to the fourth case: rigid displeasure of government. It’s worth some extra attention.


The case for governments

What is the point of governments?  Governments provide social coordination of a type that fails to arise by other means of human interaction, such as free markets.

Markets can accomplish a great deal, but they’re far from all-powerful. Governments ensure that suitable investment takes place of the sort that would not happen, if it was left to each individual to decide by themselves. Governments build up key infrastructure where there is no short-term economic case for individual companies to invest to create it.

Governments defend the weak from the powerful. They defend those who lack the knowledge to realise that vendors may be on the point of selling them a lemon and then beating a hasty retreat. They take actions to ensure that social free-riders don’t prosper, and that monopolists aren’t able to take disproportionate advantage of their market dominance.

Governments prevent all the value in a market from being extracted by forceful, well-connected minority interests, in ways that would leave the rest of society impoverished. They resist the power of “robber barons” who would impose numerous tolls and charges, stifling freer exchange of ideas, resources, and people. Therefore governments provide the context in which free markets can prosper (but which those free markets, by themselves, could not deliver).

What I’ve just described is a view of governments which is defended by the most frightening book I’ve read this year. The book is “American Amnesia: How the War on Government Led Us to Forget What Made America Prosper”. The authors are the political scientists Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson.

American Amnesia_1280

In describing this book as “frightening”, I don’t mean that the book is bad. Far from it. The authors’ characterisation of the positive role of government is, to my mind, spot on correct. It’s backed up by lots of instructive episodes from American history, going all the way back to the revolutionary founders.

But what’s frightening is another set of information clearly set out in the book:

  • The growing public hostility, especially in America (but shared elsewhere, to an extent) towards the idea that government should be playing any significant role in the well-being of society
  • The growing identification of government with self-serving empire-building bureaucracy
  • The widespread lack of understanding of the remarkable positive history of public action by governments that promoted overall social well-being (that is the “amnesia” of the title of the book)
  • The decades-long growing tendency of many in America – particularly from the Republicans – to denigrate and belittle the role of government, for their own narrow interests
  • The decades-long growing tendency of many others in America to keep quiet, in the face of Republican tirades against government, rather than speaking up to defend it.

The risk ahead

I listened to the concluding chapters of American Amnesia during the immediate aftermath of the referendum in the UK on the merits of remaining within the EU. The parallels were chilling:

  • In the EU, the positive role of EU governance has been widely attacked, over many decades, and only weakly defended. This encouraged a widespread popular hostility towards all aspects of EU governance
  • In the US, the positive role of US governance has been widely attacked, over many decades, and only weakly defended. This encouraged a widespread popular hostility towards all aspects of US governance. The commendable ambitions of the Obama government therefore ran into all sorts of bitter opposition.

The parallels might run one step further. To me, and many others, it was almost unthinkable that the referendum in the UK would come down in favour of leaving the EU. Likewise, it’s unthinkable to many in the US that Donald Trump will receive a popular mandate in the forthcoming November elections.

But all bets are off if the electorate:

  1. Feel sufficiently alienated
  2. Imbibe a powerful sense of grievance towards “the others” who are perceived to run government
  3. Lack a positive understanding of the actual role of big government.

Dealing with the flaws

Given the three risk factors I’ve just listed, various counter-measures ought to be clear:

  1. Action is required towards the concrete factors that generate a sense of alienation. Rather than the fruits of economic success being channelled to a small fraction of society, with growing inequalities, we need powerful steps for greater inclusion and wider participation.
  2. Language that encourages grievance must be rooted out. Whenever pundits present distorted stories about “the other”, these stories should be strongly challenged.
  3. Education is long overdue about the positive role of big government – as a kind of “visible hand” that complements the famous “invisible hand” of the free market.

On the third point, I particularly like the formulation of Hacker and Pierson that the mixed economy was the most important social innovation of the 20th century:

The mixed economy spread a previously unimaginable level of broad prosperity. It enabled steep increases in education, health, longevity, and economic security.

That’s an insight with a lot of mileage.

However, none of the above three tasks is easy. They’re made harder by the deep-rooted tendencies inside the human spirit to tribalism – ugly tendencies that keep coming to the surface in contemporary debates over politics.

In turn, we’re often maintained in our tribal thinking by yet another legacy hangover from our evolutionary heritage. That’s the heritage of a human propensity for self-deception.

The poison of self-deception

Time and again, as I’ve read what friends of mine have written online in recent months, I’ve gently sighed to myself: these people are surely deceiving themselves. (And no doubt I am similarly guilty on many occasions!)

Indeed, as the giant of evolutionary theory Robert Trivers explains in his genre-defining 2011 book “Deceipt and Self-Deception: Fooling Yourself the Better to Fool Others”,

We deceive ourselves the better to deceive others, and thereby reap the advantages.

Our subconscious minds often work hard to prevent our conscious minds seeing the whole picture and thereby disturbing our equanimity:

However much we champion freedom of thought, we actually spend much of our time censoring input. We seek out publications that mirror or support our prior views and largely avoid those that don’t.

Robert Trivers Deceipt

Trivers also provides this telling observation:

The great sage Thales once put the general matter succinctly. “Oh master,” he was asked, “what is the most difficult thing to do?” “To know thyself”, he replied. “And the easiest?” “To give advice to others.”

Towards a better intelligence

As a transhumanist, I look forward to a time in the hopefully not-too-distant a future when we’ll be smarter, not only rationally, but also emotionally.

But that I mean that our conscious minds will have a clearer understanding of the factors leading us to espouse various beliefs and ideologies. I’m sure we’ll all have some rude shocks in the process (me included).

With that clearer understanding, we’ll have a chance to resolve our political debates in a more rational way – a way that avoids unnecessary tribalism and alienation. Better humanity can provide the gateway to better politics.

Whence comes this better emotional intelligence? That’s perhaps the biggest question of all. Smart drugs may contribute. So might improved meditation techniques, or digital nootropics (such as helmets that modulate the brain via electrical stimulation). Enhanced communities of emotional support are likely to play a key role too.


Article by David W. Wood, Executive Director, Transpolita

The graphics images are from Pixabay (click to see the individual sources.)

Prolegomena to any future transhumanist politics

Can transhumanism avoid becoming the Marxism of the 21st century?

By Steve Fuller,
Auguste Comte Professor in Social Epistemology at the University of Warwick

Marx Bismarck Bostrom Fuller

Revisiting Marx and Bismarck

In ancient Greek tragedy, the term hamartia referred to a distinctive feature of the protagonist’s character that is the source of both his success and his failure, typically because the protagonist lacks sufficient judgement to keep this feature of his character in check. (Original Sin is the comparable Biblical conception, if Adam is seen as having overreached his divine entitlement.) The propensity for projecting the future, often with specific dates attached (as in the arrival of the Kurzweillian ‘singularity’), is transhumanism’s hamartia. But transhumanism is only the latest self-avowed ‘progressive’ movement to suffer from this potentially fatal flaw.

Karl Marx notoriously predicted that the proletarian revolution would occur in Germany because its rapid industrialisation made it the most dynamic economy in Europe in the second half of the 19th century, housing the continent’s largest and most organized labour movement. However, the widespread publicity of this quite plausible prediction — starting with The Communist Manifesto — led Bismarck less than two generations later to establish the first welfare state, which exploited Marx’s assumption that the state would always support capital over labour, thereby increasing wealth disparities until society reached the breakpoint. Bismarck effectively refuted Marx by treating his prediction as a vaccine that enabled the political establishment to regroup itself – effectively developing immunity — through a tolerable tax-based redistribution of income from rich to poor that provided a modest but palpable sense of social security from cradle to grave. On the side of the poor, Bismarck capitalized on the tendency for people to discount risky future prospects (i.e. a Communist utopia) when given a sure thing upfront (i.e. social security provision).

Thus, the Marxist revolution was averted – at least in Germany. Of course, like foreign bio-agents (viruses, bacteria, etc.) that over time generate more virulent strains capable of overcoming the target organism’s immunity, Marxism developed a more militantly revolutionary strain, which refused to work with the ‘social democrats’, as the Bismarck-appeased leftists came to called. It triumphed in Russia, courtesy of Lenin. To be sure, it involved various Realpolitik compromises (e.g. the Brest-Litovsk Treaty with Germany) that established a zone free of external interference to enable the desired regime to acquire some traction in a turbulent Russia. But once the Soviet Union was in place, Marxism developed a still more virulent strain, courtesy of Trotsky, which presumed that Marxism would not completely succeed until the whole world was re-made in the image and likeness of Marx, even if that means making sacrifices at home and exporting the revolution abroad.

Now, when faced with a choice between the sort of Communist utopia that Marx envisaged and Bismarck’s welfare state, many – if not most – people still feel that the latter was indeed the better path for history to have chosen. Of course, this judgement is based on a greater familiarity with actual welfare states than actual Communist societies. Or, more to the point, it is easier to assess an unrealized Communism in relation to the realized welfare state than vice versa – despite the vivid imaginations of the most fervent Marxists. Bismarck’s revenge on Marx’s much-hyped prediction amounted to controlling the spin made of the subsequent history – not least by Bismarck’s English-speaking followers on the left, the British Fabians and American Progressives of the early 20th century.

I believe that something similar is bound to happen to transhumanism. To put my thesis in a nutshell: Transhumanism is the Marxism of the 21st century: Like its 19th century precursor, it comes burdened with hype – it sets the direction of political travel, while remaining an easy target for opponents. So let’s think through the political implications.

The first point is to recall Bismarck’s maxim that politics is the art of the possible. The very idea that one can make an art of the possible presupposes a sense of constraints – if not necessity – within which possibilities can be played out. These constraints are provided by what is presumed to be law-like in operation, such as Marx’s historical materialism. However, as Leibniz famously noted, even the laws of nature are hypothetical imperatives from God’s standpoint. In other words, certain consequences necessarily follow – but only if the initial conditions are met. If politics exists in Heaven, then there is everything to play for in terms of trying to persuade God which possibilities should be fixed and which should remain fluid. When Henri Poincaré spoke of the axioms of mathematics and physics as ‘conventional’, he was trying to secularize just this point of view. Applied to the present case: By suspending one of Marx’s axioms – that the state will always remain weak and compliant in the face of expanding capital – Bismarck opened up an entirely different political universe: What Marxists had presumed to be a foregone conclusion yielded a realm of new possibilities. The result is the political universe broadly defined as ‘social democracy’, originally the name of the manageable left-leaning parliamentary opponents of Bismarck’s own conservative party.

Contemporary transhumanism

Now shift the focus to contemporary transhumanism. Two tendencies are noticeable. On the one hand, there are bold, even millenarian predictions that within a generation our computational and/or biotechnological capacities will radically transform the material conditions of being human. These are analogous to Marx’s prediction that the German labour movement would launch the first Communist Revolution. On the other, there is a steady stream of mainly dystopic science fiction novels and films that generate an equally hyperbolic level of fear. The Bismarckian move in the face of this dialectical tension is the precedent set by the US National Science Foundation’s 2002 ‘Converging Technologies’ agenda, which established a programme of anticipatory governance, whereby social researchers would attempt to gauge the likely public response to the realization of these predictions. The tools of anticipatory governance are drawn from market research but raised to a new level, since the products in question remain speculative – albeit vividly conceived and frequently articulated. However, the effect of such research is to create a demand for broadly ‘transhumanist’ products while neutralizing the worst fears surrounding them.

So, even if the current transhumanist projects do not turn out as planned, a culture is being nurtured that wants them to be true and hence is willing to support their continued funding. In this respect, the founder of self-actualization psychology, Abraham Maslow, counts as an intellectual godfather of transhumanist politics with his conception of ‘Theory Z’ as a marketing strategy for the emerging group of consumers he called ‘transcenders’. These people, first identified in the late 1960s, had sufficiently large disposable incomes to easily satisfy their material needs, but they were disinclined to make further material investments in, say, property or stocks. Rather, they were open to products that promised positive self-transformation even if their material composition was not so different from the versions they had previously bought. Think ‘ecologically friendly’ or ‘socially responsible’ consumer goods.

A transhumanist descendant of this mentality may be found in the various shows and commercials fronted by Jason Silva, most notably his series ‘Shots of Awe’ and his exciting infomercial for Russian Standard Vodka, which manages in a little over three minutes to show how to get from Dimitri Mendeleyev, who formulated the periodic table of elements, to the transhumanist vistas that this particular mainstream brand of spirits opens your mind to. More to the point, Singularity University in California has become the mecca for cultivating this sense of ‘visioneering’, which, at least in the first instance, is a kind of Marketing 2.0 for Humanity 2.0. The unasked business plan question lurking in all this is how long are these ‘transcenders’ willing to wait before their symbolically driven purchases come to be redeemed by serious material improvements in, say, their quality of life and productivity. A Bismarckian move to short-circuit the transhumanist narrative might involve, say, channelling the modest advances made across the relevant sciences and technologies into mainstream healthcare, education, production systems, etc. – while cutting off funding for the more visionary projects. After all, even such modest advances amplified across the entire economy might result in a step change in the standard of living that might cause people to forget about the Singularity, especially if it does not involve a massive disruption of lifestyles already seen as desirable (e.g. the difference between extending lifespan 20 and 200 years).


So, is there any politically tractable strategy for transhumanism to avoid the Bismarckian move, which ultimately curtails the capacity of basic research to explore and challenge the fundamental limits of our being? My answer is as follows: Transhumanists need to take a more positive attitude towards the military.

A strong libertarian strain within transhumanism sees military spending as a waste of taxpayers’ money to fight wars over which they had little say, instead of spending it on, say, life-extending treatments that would directly benefit individuals. However, this is a myopic view of the military, which hints at an isolationist mentality that goes against transhumanism’s natural cosmopolitanism. (After all, aren’t transhumanists the ones interested in space colonization and searching for extraterrestrial life?) More to the point, such a myopic attitude neglects the very positive role that blue skies military-based research (e.g. DARPA in the US) has played in advancing much of what we now regard as a transhumanist agenda, not least the Silicon Valley revolution that took off with redeployment of military-funded research for civilian purposes as the Cold War drew to a close. This pattern of techno-commercial bonanza on the back of sustained military focus has been common at least since the Franco-Prussian War.

The reasons for the military’s potential centrality to the transhumanist agenda are easy to understand:  It is an institution that is by definition focussed on liminal possibilities – matters of life and death — at the largest scale and over the longest time periods. Its organization is fit for purpose: well-trained, risk-oriented yet subject to clear channels of communication and control – and, not least, subject to considerable trust from those on the outside to be able handle its own messes when they arise. The military suffers neither from the short-term ‘quick win’ mentality of most businesses nor the tendency of more democratic institutions to compromise their own values to appease powerful interests.

One way to make the connection between the military and transhumanism tighter would be by casting the transhumanist biomedical agenda as a matter of national security – a kind of long-term insurance against foreign rivals who might outproduce us, outflourish us, etc. Many mass medical innovations – from public hygiene reform to vaccinations – were introduced with this sense of ‘civilian preparedness’, with the likes of Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch emerging as ‘national heroes’ of their respective countries in the Franco-Prussian War. In more general historical terms, major public funding for adventurous research has typically been done against the backdrop of a sustained external threat or ‘permanent state of emergency’ (think of the US v. USSR in the Cold War). A political party that says living 200 years is an inherently nice idea is not as persuasive as one arguing that living 200 years is necessary to maintain our position in the world. The activities of China’s Beijing Genomics Institute can help focus the mind on this issue. This public-private partnership aims to sequence the genomes of thousands of high-IQ people to find interesting transferable molecular patterns. Whether or not it succeeds in its ambitions, it is certainly assuming that the goal posts for ‘normal’ and ‘successful’ human existence are changing, which in turn requires substantial investment in basic research that aims at long-term human capital development.

Moreover, the focus on the military would help shift tenor of transhumanist political discourse from one of personal freedom to one of geopolitical necessity – but, at the same time, a discourse with a much more positive spin from that of Nick Bostrom at Oxford and Cambridge’s Centre for the Study of Existential Risk. Whereas they are largely in the business of preventing worst possible outcomes (e.g. our unwitting destruction at the hands of superintelligent machines of our own creation), I am suggesting a spirit more in line with ‘necessity is the mother of invention’, namely, that each potential threat is an opportunity in disguise, a moment for further distinguishing the chaff of our evolutionary heritage from the wheat that we wish to take forward, be it in terms that are purely carbon-based, silicon-based or some combination of the two. Even highly probable long term changes to the Earth’s climate can be seen in this fashion: namely, as invitations for us to undertake now — prior to any actual global catastrophe – a systematic revaluation of our existential priorities, especially in terms of energy provision. In this respect, transhumanists can ally with a proactionary ‘ecomodernism’, which specifically targets energy as a locus for innovation, encouraging a general shift away from fossil fuels to more sustainable forms of energy and a more generally planned global environment, with a door open to more substantial space exploration, not only as an escape route in case of ecological meltdown but also as a means of enhancing life on Earth.

Further reading

Fuller, S. (2011). Humanity 2.0: What It Means To Be Human Past, Present and Future[i]. London: Palgrave.

Fuller, S. (2012). Preparing for Life in Humanity 2.0[ii]. London: Palgrave.

Fuller, S. and Lipinska, V. (2014). The Proactionary Imperative: A Foundation for Transhumanism[iii]. London: Palgrave.






The article above features as Chapter 11 of the Transpolitica book “Envisioning Politics 2.0”.

Cyborgization: A Possible Solution to Errors in Human Decision Making?

By Dana Edwards and Alexander J. Karran

Cyborg brain


Accelerating social complexity in combination with outstanding problems like attention scarcity and information asymmetry contribute to human error in decision making. Democratic institutions and markets both operate under the assumption that human beings are informed rational decision makers working with perfect information, situation awareness, and unlimited neurological capacity. We argue that, although these assumptions are incorrect, they could to a large extent be mediated by a process of cyborgization, up to and including electing cyborgs into positions of authority.


In the modern information age governing bodies, business organisations and adaptive systems are faced with ever increasing complexity in decision-making situations. Accelerating rates of technological and social change further compound this systemic complexity. In this complex environment the effects of human cognitive bias and bounded rationality become issues of great importance, impacting upon such domains as political policy, legislature, business practice, competitiveness and information intelligence.

In this text we shall use regulatory capture as an illustration of how human cognitive bias and conflicts of interest interact in the politico-economic space to create disproportionate advantage. We shall also hypothesize a novel potential solution to human cognitive bias in the form of human-machine hybrid decision support.

In broad terms regulation encompasses all forms of state intervention in economic function, and more specifically intervention with regard to the control of natural monopolies. The term “regulatory capture” is used to explain a corruption of the regulatory process. Regulatory capture has both narrow and broad interpretations. The broad interpretation is that it is a process through which special interest groups can affect state intervention ranging from the levying of taxes to legislation affecting the direction of research and development [i].The narrow interpretation places the focus specifically on the process through which regulated monopolies exert pressure to manipulate state agencies to operate in their favour[ii].

What these interpretations express is that regulatory capture generally involves two parties: the regulated monopoly and the state regulatory agency. The process of regulatory capture can be two way: just as corporations can capture government regulation agencies, the possibility exists for government agencies to capture corporations. As a result of this process, government regulatory agencies can fail to exert financial and ethical boundaries if they are captured, while corporations can fail strategically and financially if they are captured.

Regulatory capture takes two forms, materialist and non-materialist capture. In materialist capture, which is primarily financially motivated, the mechanism of capture is to appeal to the self-interest of the regulators. Materialist capture alters the motives of regulators based on economic self-interest, so that they become aligned with the commercial or special interest groups which are supposed to be regulated. This form of capture can be the result of bribes, political donations, or a desire to maintain government funding. Non-materialist capture also called cognitive or cultural capture happens when the regulator adopts the thinking of the industry being regulated. Status and group identification both play a role in the phenomena of regulators identifying with those in the industry they are assigned to regulate[iii].

Given the current socio-political climate of accelerating technological and social change, consideration should be given to how organizations are formed. Organizations should be structured to resist or otherwise minimize any service disruption caused by regulatory capture, so that if the process of normative regulation fails i.e. in situations where the balance of the relationship between the two entities has become corrupted, the service which required regulation in the first place can remain available after the failure.

One example of potential government regulatory failure due to a captured agency is the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) hydraulic fracking scandal of 2004. The EPA released a report[iv] in which they stated that hydraulic fracturing posed “little or no threat” to drinking water supplies. Whistle-blower Weston Wilson disputed[v] this conclusion of the EPA publicly and exposed five of the seven members of the peer review panel as having conflicts of interest. These conflicts of interest allowed elements within the administration to apply pressure, and become involved in discussions about how fracking would eventually be portrayed in the report. Due to this pressure the EPA may have unable to publish a genuine conclusion about the safety of fracking. This reveals a potential failure of the EPA to protect the public interest due to regulatory capture.

Another example of regulatory capture concerns a dramatic failure of regulatory oversight for the British National Foundation (BNF), which is one the UK’s most influential institutes on diet and health. The BNF, established more than 40 years ago, advises government, schools, industry, health professionals and the public, and exists solely to provide “authoritative, evidence-based information on food and nutrition”[vi]. Its ability to provide independent evidence-based advice however has been called into question given its apparent bias towards promoting the views of the food industry and the organization’s lack of transparency when reporting funding sources.

This comes as no surprise when 39 members of its funding membership come from the food industry[vii]. For example, In October 2009, when a television commercial for a member company’s probiotic yoghurt product was banned, the BNF spoke out in support of the product (and thus the company) by claiming that there is “growing evidence that a regular intake of probiotics may positively influence our health”. As a result while appearing to take a stance on the grounds of public health, it would appear as though the BNF were protecting its own interests and those of a member company under the guise of regulatory oversight.

Factors that affect human decision making within complex adaptive systems

The examples of regulatory capture described above highlight some of the issues associated with human cognitive bias, specifically within a complex adaptive system (such as a government or corporation) where rational choice is bounded by self-interest combined with overarching organizational goals. In information saturated environments such as these, human cognitive limitations can become a factor that leads to poor rational decision making, requiring the individual or organisation to rely on shortcuts which may lead to human error. A number of psychological and social factors such as “attention scarcity”, “information asymmetry”, and “accelerating societal complexity” contribute to poor rational decision making within complex organisational structures. Awareness has been rising that human attention has become a scarce resource in the information age, and attention scarcity ultimately relates to the economics of attention.

Attention scarcity relates to a human cognitive limitation which determines the amount of information a human can digest and attend to in a given period of time (also referred to as an information economy). Simply put, “attention is a resource-a person only has so much of it”[viii]. Thus, in a low information economy any item brought to the attention of decision makers is perceived by its economic properties which are deemed decisive for its profitability. In contrast, in a high information economy, the diversity of items mean perception is limited and only choices that expose decision makers to sufficiently strong signals are viable.

Attention scarcity is a weakness of human cognition which can be purposefully exploited. For example, consider the U.S. Affordable Care Act, which has over 9000 pages of rules. It is likely that most voters lacked sufficient “attention” to read through and digest each page at the time when the act was being debated. Due to the complexity of legislative law, even if a team of “netizens” formed to crowd source the reading and analysis of a new law, it is unlikely that they would be able to interpret and understand it within the available timeframe to object if needed.

The effects of attention scarcity are observed in the poor public understanding not only of legal documents, but also of complex open source software. We see in open source software situations where the developers allow anyone to read the source code but in which the source code has so many lines of opaque obfuscated code that very few users or even other software developers understand how it works. We can see how attention scarcity produces information asymmetry between the open source developers who can decipher the source code and everyone else who may or may not choose to use the software.

Information asymmetry is a serious factor intrinsic to cognitive bias in human decision making, and concerns decisions in transactions where one party has the perception of, or is in possession of, more or better quality information than the other. This potentially creates an imbalance in the transaction power dynamic which may lead to future failure and a collapse of trust, causing a kind of market failure in a worst case scenario.

Accelerating societal complexity refers to the structural and cultural aspects of our institutions whose practices are identified by the “shrinking of the present”, a decreasing time period during which expectations based on past experience reliably match the future[ix]. When combined with accelerating technological progress this “shrinking” appears to flow ever faster, making decisions based on belief or the perception of better information problematic.

All of these individual factors can influence the human decision making process; in combination they potentially create a decision space that becomes more fluid, with a self-reinforcing feedback loop which requires better decisions to be made in shorter spaces of time with incomplete or asymmetric information. Indeed, by all accounts humans make errors all of the time, but as society gets ever more complex, these errors have lasting and increasingly dangerous consequences (such as in the example of hydraulic fracking discussed above). In order to get a clearer picture of a possible basis for this error effect, some discussion of human cognitive limitations is warranted.

The impact of human cognitive limitation

As we have discussed previously, information asymmetry in complex adaptive systems allows for decision error to appear within the system, as the better informed parties possess a marked information advantage which allows them to exploit the ignorance of other parties. This can occur in any field of human endeavour, such as law, science, commerce or governance, where new knowledge will be easier to grasp by those with previous knowledge, given that knowledge is self-referential and compounds on itself[x]. As organizations grow larger and the decision requirements become ever more complex, attention scarcity and information asymmetry can form a feedback loop that – at scale – slows the rate of innovation/knowledge diffusion, as individuals and organisations vie for supremacy in transactions.

Research in the area of cognitive neuroscience suggests that the cognitive abilities of an individual are limited to five core systems (objects, agents, number, geometry and social) [xi], each with its own set of limitations. An example of limitation within the social system is “Dunbar’s number”, first proposed by British anthropologist Robin Dunbar[xii], who posited that the number of social group members a primate can track is limited to the volume of the neocortex, and while this theory is hotly disputed[xiii], it has yet to be disproven with any certainty. This limitation, if taken to its logical conclusion and scaled to match an average complex adaptive system (such as regulatory or corporate bodies) highlights that the decision making abilities of an average individual could be impaired significantly, when not augmented by technology or genetic engineering.

This impairment of decision making ability was remarked upon in Herbet A. Simon’s theories of bounded rationality[xiv]. These theories were concerned with rational behaviour in the context of individuals and organisations and individuals within organisations, which he stated were indistinguishable under the “theory of the firm”. In this theory the given goals and the given conditions (of the organization) drive “rational” decision making based on two functions: the demand function (the quantity demanded as a function of price) and the cost function (the cost of production as a function of the quantity produced). These two rules when applied to complex adaptive systems, such as regulatory or governing bodies, demonstrate the vast scope in which human cognitive bias can affect outcomes at the macro scale while appearing to be a series of micro decisions made by individuals.

Nowhere can this asymptotic synergy of information, human cognitive ability and bounded rationality be seen more clearly, than in the case of law. A truism often used in this context is that Ignorance of the law excuses no one, but the complexity of law confuses everyone. In a world where few if anyone in society knows the law it may well become necessary for people to supplement their own cognitive capacities with “apps” to protect themselves from the complexity of the law. “Lawfare” is said to describe a form of asymmetric warfare which allows for the exploitation of the esoteric and complex nature of the law to damage political opponents. Just as complex words on an ingredient list can be used to hide undesirable ingredients from customers, the law and its potential use as a weapon also remain hidden from most citizens.

The current analogue forms of government have their basis in a complicated combative bureaucracy (necessary to support representative forms of democracy). Accelerating technological progress, however, shows that this approach may not scale particularly well as society becomes orders of magnitude more complex in the coming decades. It is our analysis, that unless a Transhumanist approach is adopted to enhance the existing human decision processes by merging with technological decision support, catastrophic failures may occur.

In this socially complex future, it is likely that our politicians may have to rely increasingly on information technologies, to the point that they essentially become cyborgs, merging fact checking and recommendation engines – based on rational rulesets – to keep pace with accelerating societal change and allow them to fully encompass monolithic social structures. In addition, citizens may also out of necessity need to adopt similar technologies, in order to understand the decisions made by these new “enhanced” politicians and to adapt to and effectively participate in an increasingly complex and fast changing society. In addition the institutions of the future will likely have to adopt human error tolerant designs which use the latest decision support technology to help mitigate and dampen the consequences of human error.

The Cyborg Citizen: A transcendent solution?

In order to avoid confusion we first have to properly define what we mean by a cyborg citizen. Andy Clark[xv] in his book Natural-Born Cyborgs: Minds, Technologies, and the future of Human Intelligence, argues that human beings are by nature cyborgs, claiming that human neural plasticity and a propensity to build and utilise tools in everyday life (from handwriting to mobiles phones), produces a species that thinks and feels most effectively only through the use of its technologies. Ray Kurzweil[xvi] goes one step further to predict that, by 2030, most humans will choose to be cyborgs:

Our thinking then will be a hybrid of biological and non-biological thinking. We’re going to gradually merge and enhance ourselves. In my view, that’s the nature of being human – we transcend our limitations.

In order to understand what a “cyborg citizen” means in today’s information and technology driven society, we must expand upon this definition to include current technological and social developments. Indeed, we will have to recognize that each individual today, and more so in the future, will have a digital, virtual, and physical self[xvii]. Thus, a cyborg is a person who is (singly or in combination) enhanced by or dependent upon, robotic, electronic, or mechanical devices such as artificial hearts, pacemakers, portable dialysis machines or even mobile / cloud computing which employs storage, search, retrieval and analysis (SSRA) capabilities such as Google, Amazon etc.

Corporations also appear to be taking advantage of technologies to enhance human decision making as a way to adapt to increasing business and market complexity. Venture capitalist firm Deep Knowledge Ventures named to their board of directors[xviii] an algorithm called VITAL, which they intend to someday evolve into a full-fledged artificial intelligence. This move may represent one of the initial forays in what may become a trend toward human-machine run corporations. Indeed, some are going much further, to call for complete replacement of humans within complex organisations (such as government) with artificial intelligence[xix]. However, arguments about the inevitable rise of artificial general intelligence aside, we push for a “human-in-the-loop” approach through the merger or bonding of human ethical and moral “instinct” with a bounded rational decision support engine, existing in either digital space or embedded into the human central nervous system via implants.

So what would such a citizen cyborg look like? Below is a list of a number of hypothetical decision support systems which are presently borderline (in that they exist, but are not as yet fit for purpose), which could exist in digital space and employ SSRA capabilities to allow for enhanced human-machine hybrid decision making.

  • Intent casting: Intent casting, originally described by Doc Searls, allows consumers to directly express their wants and needs to the market. This could allow for the digitization of intent and for agent-based AI to shop on behalf of customers.
  • Algorithmic democracy: Algorithmic democracy in theory, would allow voters to delegate their voting decisions (and thus agency) to an algorithm, which could be referred to as a digital voting agent (DA). Examples of digital agents today include Siri, Amazon Echo, and Cortana. As these DA’s become more capable, it is possible that voters could rely on their DA to inform them as to how they should vote in accordance to their specific interests and preferences.
  • Digital decision support consultants: These are intelligent decision support systems that would help professionals make better decisions. It is likely that there will be apps for different professions such as IBM’s WellPoint for doctors, legal assistant apps, and real-time fact checkers[xx] These apps may be decentralized collaborative applications with human and robot participation or they may be software agent based AI. This category would also include algorithms such as Deep Knowledge Ventures VITAL and agents to track relationships and the flow of information between groups within a complex organization or brokers between two transaction parties.

Examples of algorithms that hypothetically speaking, could run on physiologically embedded technology, directly accessible by the human brain to provide decision support:

  • Generate and test search: a reinforcement learning, trial and error algorithm which can search through a limited solution space in a systematic manner to find the best solution[xxi]. In operation this algorithm would generate possible solutions to a set problem and test each until it finds the solution which passes a positive threshold, whereupon the solution is relayed to the human cognitive process for a potential decision and reinforcement. This kind of technique can be used to take advantage of simulation testing and solve problems which have a limited solution space, such as those presented by the “free market” or those requiring a quick human decision in a “lesser of two evils” scenario.
  • Global optimization search: evolutionary algorithms which are inspired by the biological mechanisms of global optimization search, such as mutation, crossover, natural selection and survival of the fittest[xxii]. These algorithms can search a solution space and compare each solution to a desired fitness criteria. In the case where human input is necessary to evolve a solution then an interactive evolutionary algorithm could allow the human to be the solution selector, while the algorithm is the solution generator. The algorithms can go through a similar process and be generated and evolved for improved fitness.
  • Markov decision processes: an experimental framework for decision making and decision support. A Markov decision process automates finding the optimal decision for each state while taking into account each action’s value in comparison to the others, essentially an idealised decision output for a given problem state. With human decision selection driving the process, the ramifications of each decision selection at each stage of the problem analysis can be carefully considered and accepted or rejected based on rational choice.

This list is by no means exhaustive and there may be other borderline hypothetical decision support systems and algorithms which are not mentioned here. However, this list gives a general idea of how embedded or digital artificial decision support agents can improve decision quality in certain sectors of human society. By improving decision quality through technology and semi-autonomous agencies we may be able to reduce the frequency of poor decisions which result from nothing more than human error and or human ignorance.

Discussion: Checks and Balances

We do not propose that cyborgization makes for a perfect solution to the problem of human cognitive limitation and decision error in complex social systems. Indeed, decision support systems already exist in one form or another. However, they are still in an early stage of development and not ubiquitous, thus technology such as VITAL benefits only large corporations and perhaps the intelligence establishment. It is a situation similar to the early stages of computer development or the Internet, both of which existed, but the benefits were limited to certain domains, back in the 1960s during the Cold War.

We believe the widespread adoption of decision support technology, be it embedded or digital, could provide the tools necessary for individuals to comprehend the entirety of complex organizations, model the decision-consequence space and select ethical decisions. These tools would essentially enable decision makers to take into account individual need and motivation, and provide ethical solutions which afford the greatest good for the greatest number, without creating asymmetric information economies.

An example of a beneficial application of cyborg technology would be the doctor who utilises WellPoint[xxiii] to make diagnoses based on a combination of learned skillset and a digital health agent with a broad specialist evidence based knowledge base. Alternatively, in a quantified-self context an individual could upload health data gathered from wearable sensor technology, and receive information of potential health issues which could be treated with alacrity in their early stages by doctors able to access this information and review treatment options.

However, such technology and its application would not come without limitation or risk. The widespread use of these technologies could lead to a form of information “cold war”, in which human and machine agents (singly or in combination) attempt to create a state of “perfect information” to gain a competitive advantage. They may seek a form of perfect regulatory capture where one party seeks always to have an advantageous position in any transaction, be it in the free market or in the policy, legislative or intelligence domains. Arguably, such an information cold war already exists between various governments, intelligence services and corporate entities and while the “battle ground” as it were, is in so called cyberspace, it is primarily an analogue concern where agency is biological i.e. human as opposed to A.I.

It is a sad reflection upon humanity that one “positive” aspect of this cold war scenario, is that competition (war) leads to innovation, as opposing sides race to gain the information advantage. This impetus this would accelerate the development of the technologies required to create a “true” cybernetic individual or generally intelligent artificial agent. It is a matter for debate whether this would result in a situation that would be to the benefit of humanity in general or lead to a totalitarian dystopia; in which one entity or organisation exists in a near perfect state of “knowing”, stifling the development of both technology and society.

It is our opinion that the potential benefits of cyborgization outweigh the potential risks. As our technological systems and culture grow ever more complex, we must consider the risk of human error, of bad decisions, of ignorance combined with advanced technologies, in the light of a technology so pregnant with possibility.

We realize cyborgization is a controversial subject, however we see it an unavoidable and unstoppable trend. Indeed, Ginni Rometty (Chairman and CEO of IBM) stated recently that:

In the future, every decision that mankind makes is going to be informed by a cognitive system like Watson, and our lives will be better for it[xxiv]

This is a statement is very much in accordance with our notion of keeping the human-in-the-loop during decision making. Furthermore, an argument could be made that given the current reliance by vast numbers of the world population on mobile phones and internet search engines, rather than becoming cyborgs at some specific point in time (as in the prediction of Kurzweil), we have always been cyborgs (as per Clarke’s argument) and it is merely a matter of time and technology, until the line between what is human and what is our technology becomes non-existent.


Just as search engines allow for human beings to find the relevant information meeting their “criteria”, the adoption of decision support engines could allow autonomous digital agents and human-machine hybrids alike to find the most ethical decision within a given consequence-decision space. This approach would allow for “what if” hypothesis testing[xxv] of many decision types such as policy determination, legislative impact, market transactions and global consequence. The dawn of ethical computing is fast approaching and it is in this area requiring our fullest attention. Transhumanism provides a socially progressive framework that if adopted can allow us to transcend our human cognitive limitations, so that we can become more effective and ethical decision makers. We believe that developing the technology which can facilitate our arrival at the cyborg stage of human leadership should be a top priority, especially in this time of accelerating developments in Artificial Intelligence, which if left unsupervised could surpass us to become the apex decision maker for our entire species.


[i] Stigler, G. (1971), “The Theory of Economic Regulation.”, Bell Journal of Economics and Management Science, 2, 3–21

[ii] Peltzman, S. (1976), “Toward a More General Theory of Regulation.”, Journal of Law and Economics, 19 , 211–48.

[iii] Carpenter, D., & Moss, D. A. (Eds.). (2013). “Preventing regulatory capture: special interest influence and how to limit it.” Cambridge University Press.

[iv] Environmental Protection Agency, “Study of Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing of Coalbed Methane Wells on Underground Sources of Drinking Water.” Office of Groundwater and Drinking Water report, June 2004 – accessed May 2015.


[vi] Chamberlain & Laurance (2010). “Is the British Nutrition Foundation having its cake and eating it too?” – accessed May 2015.

[vii] Chamberlain & Laurance (2010). “Is the British Nutrition Foundation having its cake and eating it too?” – accessed May 2015.

[viii]Crawford, Matthew B. (March 31, 2015). “Introduction, Attention as a Cultural Problem”. The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction (hardcover) (1st ed.). Farrar, Straus and Giroux. p. 11.

[ix] Rosa, H.: “Social Acceleration: A New Theory of Modernity.” Columbia University Press, New York (2013)

[x] Klein, S. B., & Kihlstrom, J. F. (1986). “Elaboration, organization, and the self-reference effect in memory.” Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 115(1), 26-38. doi:10.1037/0096-3445.115.1.26

[xi] Kinzler KD, Spelke ES. Core systems in human cognition. Progress in Brain Research. 2007;164:257–264

[xii] Dunbar, R. I. M. (1992). “Neocortex size as a constraint on group size in primates”. Journal of Human Evolution 22 (6): 469–493. doi:10.1016/0047-2484(92)90081-J

[xiii] Wellman, B. (2012). “Is Dunbar’s number up?” British Journal of Psychology 103 (2): 174–176; discussion 176–2. doi:10.1111/j.2044-8295.2011.02075.x

[xiv] Simon, H.A. (1972). Theories of bounded rationality. In C.B. McGuire and R. Radner (Eds.), Decision and organization: A volume in honor of Jacob Marschak (Chap. 8). Amsterdam: North-Holland

[xv] Andy, Clark. (2004) “Natural-Born Cyborgs: Minds, Technologies, and the Future of Human Intelligence.”, Oxford; Oxford University Press.

[xvi] Guia Del Prado “Google Futurist Ray Kurweil thinks we’ll all be cyborgs by 2030” – accessed june-2015

[xvii] The digital and virtual while similar are distinct in their differences. To make clear the distinction, something is virtual if it will only exist contained within a virtual world while if something is digital it is known to exist in the physical world just in digitized form. The distinction is between digital and virtual space in which digital space is a subset of what people consider to be part of the physical world while virtual space isn’t directly referring to a part of the physical world

[xviii]Wile, R. (2014, May 13). “A Venture Capital Firm Just Named An Algorithm To Its Board Of Directors – Here’s What It Actually Does.” Retrieved June 5, 2015, from


[xx] Ciampaglia GL, Shiralkar P, Rocha LM, Bollen J, Menczer F, Flammini A (2015) Computational Fact Checking from Knowledge Networks. PLoS ONE 10(6): e0128193. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0128193

[xxi] Kaelbling, L. P., Littman, M. L.,.and Moore, A. W., (1996) “Reinforcement Learning: A Survey.”, Journal of Artificial Intelligence Research, Volume 4, pages 237-285

[xxii] Weise, T. “Global Optimization Algorithms – Theory and Application.” Germany: (self-published), 2009. [Online]. Available: -accessed 06-2015



[xxv] Winfield, A. F., Blum, C., & Liu, W. (2014). “Towards an ethical robot: internal models, consequences and ethical action selection.” In Advances in Autonomous Robotics Systems (pp. 85-96). Springer International Publishing


The article above features as Chapter 5 of the Transpolitica book “Envisioning Politics 2.0”.

The image is an original design by Alexander Karran.

Zoltan Istvan’s “Teleological Egocentric Functionalism”: A Libertarian Philosophical Basis for “Transhumanist” Politics

A viable approach towards a sustainable political agenda?

By Roland Benedikter, Katja Siepmann, and Annabella McIntosh


Image source: Raúl Soria via Roland Benedikter


The current foundation phase of “Transhumanist” politics deserves a critical discussion of the philosophical principles that implicitly underlie its new political organization. As part of the effort towards a self-critical evaluation of political transhumanism, which is undoubtedly still in a very early phase of development, this chapter discusses the philosophy drafted by the founder of the “Transhumanist Party of the USA”, Zoltan Istvan, in his bestselling novel “The Transhumanist Wager” (2013) dedicated to develop the vision of a better society. Istvan called the philosophy underlying his meta-national, if not global, vision “Teleological Egocentric Functionalism”.

We discuss the achievements, contradictions and dialectics of and within this philosophy; its possible relation to realistic social policy programs; as well as the potential implications and consequences. The goal is to achieve a more considered overall discourse at the contested new ideological interface between humanism and transhumanism which could define an influential zeitgeist of our time.

Introduction: The Framework

In recent years the importance of technology in daily life has been growing steadily. This trend is reflected by the rise of technology and its applications to ever more crucial factors within the economy, the health care sector, the military and political rhetoric. Among the systemic factors that are shaping globalization from a medium- and long-term perspective, technology has indeed become probably the most influential factor – to the point that critics speak of a “universalization” of technology in our time that is replacing the former lead roles of politics and economics.

Indeed, the computer and internet have revolutionized society since the 1990’s; genetics, bio- and neurotechnology have modified aspects of our image of the human being.[i] Furthermore, new technologies and its derivatives have also profoundly changed the ways we look at the desirable future. To a certain extent, technology has not only changed the traditional – including ideological – utopias, but has itself become the most important utopia, if not the embodiment of a utopian ideal as such. Technology as ideology is in the process of displacing most other ideological approaches both from the left and the right. This displacement has become possible given that technology -as objective process- can claim to be a new “neutral” ground between traditional political factions and their mostly “binary” inclinations that shaped the 19th and 20th centuries.[ii]

I: The “Transhumanist” Movement And Its “Proto-Political” Character

As a consequence, a technology-inspired “transhumanist movement”[iii] has begun to arise out of (as at yet mostly Western) civil societies to start to influence opinion-makers and governments, and is increasingly imitated in its basic ideas by non-democratic governments in Asia and elsewhere. The main “transhumanist” goal as far as it has been elaborated, is not only to further modernize civilization, but to overcome the existing human condition, which it regards as in principle still unsatisfactory, given its dependency on factors outside human influence.[iv]

The literal meaning of “transhumanism” is, as the term suggests, to “go beyond the existing human being”[v] through as free and open as possible application of technology to all sectors of human activity. But – more important – the meaning of “transhumanism” is also about merging technology with human biology, in order to extend human lifespan dramatically and, if possible, to eventually defeat death.

Zoltan Istvan, one of the most publicly present and well-known advocates of transhumanism, stated clearly but controversially:

What are transhumanists to do in a world where science and technology are quickly improving and will almost certainly overcome human mortality in the next 30 years? Will there be a great civil rights debate and clash around the world? Or will the deathist culture change, adapt, or even subside?

First, let’s look at some hard facts. Most deaths in the world are caused by aging and disease. Approximately 150,000 people die every day around the world, causing devastating loss to loved ones and communities. Of course, it should not be overlooked that death also brings massive disruption to family finances and national economies.

On the medical front, the good news is that gerontologists and other researchers have made major gains recently in the fields of life extension, anti-aging research, and longevity science. In 2010, some of the first studies of stopping and reversing aging in mice took place. They were partially successful and proved that 21st Century science and medicine had the goods to overcome most types of deaths from aging. Eventually, we’ll also wipe out most diseases. Through modern medicine, the 20th Century saw a massive decrease of deaths from polio, measles, and typhoid, amongst others.

On the heels of some of these longevity and medical triumphs, a number of major commercial ventures have appeared recently, pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into the field of anti-aging and longevity research. Google’s Calico, Human Longevity LLC, and Insilico Medicine are just some of them.

Google Ventures’ President Bill Maris, who helps direct investments into health and science companies, recently made headlines by telling Bloomberg, “If you ask me today, is it possible to live to be 500? The answer is yes.”[vi]

As a consequence, Istvan outlines the resulting political and social attempts of transhumanists to make the most out of this new potential by starting a broad public debate, including dialogue with the traditionalist and religious stripes of the population:

Recently, a number of transhumanists, including myself who is an atheist, have attempted to work more closely with governmental, religious, and social groups that have for centuries endorsed the deathist culture. Transhumanists are trying to get those groups to realize we are not necessarily wanting to live forever. Transhumanists simply want the choice and creation over our own earthly demise, and we don’t want to leave it to cancer, or an automobile accident, or aging, or fate.

To change the deathist culture in America and abroad, it’s important for people to understand that lengthening lives and having the ability to overcome human mortality is not something that has to be seen as clashing with religion. I’ve often told Christian friends, for example, that living longer could be seen as a way for religious missionaries to spread their message further – to save more people if that’s how they want to view it.

Longer lifespans and more control over our biological selves will only make the world a better place, with more permanent institutions, more time with our loved ones, and more stable economies.

In the end, transhumanism is not really trying to overcome deathist culture, but get it to understand that transhuman culture can also stand functionally next to it, helping the aims of everyone involved. Together, we can find the middle ground, and give everyone the choice to follow whatever path they want when it concerns dying or not dying in the 21st Century.[vii]

II: Another Transhumanist goal: Cognitive expansion

Another “transhumanist” goal is to expand and enhance human perception and cognitive potentials through the systematic application and broadest possible employment of neurotechnology, Brain-Computer Interfaces (BCI’s) and Brain-Machine Interfaces (BMI’s). These technologies can provide direct interfaces between the human brain, the spinal cord and various technological devices through implants (and other interface technology), and such technologies have already reached a noticeable level of maturity and applicability.[viii]

Given their positive, if sometimes flamboyant basic drive, “transhumanists” are gaining relevance in several sectors of society. This is particularly the case with regard to those sectors of innovation which are involved in discussions about the possibility – and desirability – of future scenarios for mankind under “super-technological” conditions. These sectors include the debates about a rising “global imaginary”[ix]; about what humans should become both body- and consciousness-wise[x]; and about the ethics of technology application both in the broad vision and with regard to more specific anthropological implications and consequences in particular.[xi]

The most important point to consider here is that all these topics are in essence “contextual political” dimensions and thus “proto-political” in themselves by definition. In other words: Although mainly about imaginations as interconnected with technological advances, transhumanist ideas about what the human being may (and should) become, bear (willingly or unwillingly) remarkable political and social implications. These implications are presently implicit both in the topics addressed and in their specific interpretation by transhumanist ideology, including the respective public narratives. The politics inherent in transhumanism await being clarified, sooner or later, by public debate and analysis in explicit ways. This analysis needs to rise above the critique of the (unavoidable?) ethical limits of both traditional politics and transhumanism[xii], to highlight the socio-political potentials of technology in a globalized, accelerating, transdisciplinary and “fluid” social, cultural and institutional framework.

III: 2014: The Transformation of Transhumanism From “Worldview Movement” To Applicable Political Force

The constellation of ideologies and activities that comprises the transhumanist movement reached a somewhat new phase in 2014, with the outreach of transhumanist ideology from civil society to politics. Although there have existed since the 1980s several very well organized transhumanist and, more broadly speaking, “human enhancement” associations and groups able to attract synergies and sympathies both on national and international levels, and although there have been many well-known philanthropists providing funding over that time, 2014 brought something new, at least from a formal viewpoint. The year saw the more or less simultaneous founding of transhumanist political parties in several countries, including the U.S. and the UK, as well as an ongoing process in Germany and Austria towards such initiatives, several of them loosely interconnected within the more general project of a “Transhumanist Party Global”[xiii]. In the first half of 2015, all these new parties were preparing for general and presidential elections such as those of May 2015 in the UK[xiv] and those of 2016 in the USA, with the goal of gaining impact on big-picture policy decisions. All of them were directly or indirectly (i.e. through the hoped-for influence upon other, more important political parties and actors) aspiring to political power in order to maximize the impact of what is, compared to the past, a radical technological agenda for Western societies.

Most important, the publicly well-known author, columnist, adventurer and transhumanist Zoltan Istvan (born 1973)[xv], who might be viewed by now as a leading libertarian political figure of the transhumanist movement, in November 2014 founded the “Transhumanist Party of the United States of America”[xvi] with the goal to run for U.S. presidency in 2016[xvii]. Istvan elaborated – as one of his main ideological bases – the philosophy of “Teleological Egocentric Functionalism”[xviii], a fictional transhumanist system of ideas developed in his best-selling book “The Transhumanist Wager” (2013)[xix].

This philosophy, although not the only one within the still very pluriform and diverse transhumanist movement, is partly challenged by prominent leftist and progressive transhumanists. However, it does appear to be the first clear condensation of existing transhumanist ideology that is, to a certain extent (as will be discussed), likely to drive the transhumanist movement’s political engagement. Because technology is declared in essence as “neutral” within transhumanism, the current Transhumanist Party claims to have a structure and agenda beyond the traditional dialectics between left and right. However, the same “classical” dichotomy between left and right, as exists in other parties, seems to characterize its present state and constellation. This can be seen with “progressivists” (or “collectivists”) in the U.S. sympathizing with a more “leftist” UK faction (which is not least a product of the traditionally rather “leftist” UK healthcare system), and with the “Technoprogressive Declaration”[xx] propagated as an alternative to the libertarian approaches of Istvan and his followers within the overall transhumanist movement. As detailed and sharp-minded as the “progressivists” contributions are, though, the libertarian “Transhumanist Wager” still remains the defining work of the transhumanists’ political and social agenda in the view of large parts of the broader public, because of Istvan’s outstanding public outreach.[xxi]

Therefore, at the start of an inquiry into the ideological bases of transhumanist politics, the question must be posed to what extent “Teleological Egocentric Functionalism”, or TEF, might be able to impact the future of transhumanism as a movement, and if and how it might become influential for politics in the broader sense beyond the inner transhumanist debate. Although there might be restricted implementation potentials for TEF in applied day-to-day politics, there will be most likely many mutual influences between TEF and the “Transhumanist Party of the USA”’s practical political aims.

IV: Pillars of Transhumanism

In order to analyze “Teleological Egocentric Functionalism” and its political potentials, it is first necessary to take a closer view of transhumanism, as that forms the departing basis of TEF, and may therefore indicate how TEF fits into the greater array of posthuman and transhuman philosophies of the present.

The philosopher Max More (a telling pseudonym, as transhumanism is clearly about “maximizing and more” in every sense!) often addresses issues of transhumanism in his speeches and papers. He explains the basic transhumanist philosophical approach through its key theoretical and practical elements. According to More, transhumanism is a mindset which strives to overcome the physical and psychological barriers of being human, by rationally using technology and science to their fullest and without inhibition. The most significant aims of transhumanism are a distinctive extension of life, improved intelligence and the “optimization” of the human body. To ensure that this mindset and its aims will be supported by current society, the transhumanist movement claims to be based in both its ideology and its aspirations on rationality, including partly the tradition of rationalism.[xxii]

Nick Bostrom, professor of philosophy and director of the Future of Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford[xxiii] and of the Oxford Martin Programme on the Impacts of Future Technology[xxiv], includes in his definition of transhumanism “The study of the ramifications, promises and potential dangers of the use of science, technology, creativity, and other means to overcome fundamental human limitations.”[xxv]

In such a framework, most transhumanists (in the first instance independent of their political inclination) explicitly promote a fundamental “enhancing transformation” of humans, in particular of human bodies and human consciousness. This position can be clarified in three parts, firstly by transhumanists being part of a long historical tradition consisting in the perpetual strivings of humans to overcome their boundaries, which therefore can be understood as a primordial human instinct, without which for example the history of medical advances would not have been possible, achieved as it was through a centuries-long battle against theology.[xxvi] Secondly, transhumanists claim that postmodern high-tech times (since the 1990s) make it possible to extend further beyond previous human options than ever before, and to take the endeavor of human emancipation against bodily and natural restrictions to a new level.[xxvii] Thirdly, transhumanists regard it as human destiny and determination to take an active role in human-technology development, including the development of the human body which was subject to nature until only recently, but which can now in their view and to a formerly unthinkable extent be “transferred” to human responsibility.[xxviii]

V: “Teleological Egocentric Functionalism”, or: The Philosophy of Becoming an “Omnipotender”

On these bases, the book “The Transhumanist Wager” by Zoltan Istvan (2013) introduces a transhumanist philosophy called “Teleological Egocentric Functionalism”, which is developed by the fictional protagonist and transhumanist Jethro Knights (another potentially telling name, since according to their mainstream discourse patterns, a number of transhumanists seem to conceive themselves as “knights” in the present “battle” for a better future against those unwilling, or incapable of recognizing the new technological opportunities – including a well-pondered self-irony hinting to “Star Wars”). Jethro Knights begins to evolve the TEF philosophy after a near-death experience, which brings him to the conviction that his aim in life must be to conquer death, and this core tenet also applies to all transhumanists worldwide.[xxix] While developing TEF, the key terms “omnipotender” and “transhumanist wager” are introduced at an early stage in the novel and then explained throughout the book’s story. According to the story, being the “omnipotender” means to become “the elite transhuman champion [and] the ideal and zenith of life extension and human enhancement populace.”[xxx]

Further, Jethro Knights as an individual is characterized as uncompromising, striving for the most possible power and improvement. Thus, he will overcome biological limitations and find a lasting form of life, and in the end immortality.[xxxi] The protagonist describes the significance of his transformation of consciousness, from humanistic individual to radically egocentric, as “advancing my memories, my value system, my emotions, my creativity, my reasoning”[xxxii], and therefore as an entire “enhancement of consciousness”. In this view, to transform an individual’s consciousness does not only mean to question one’s experiences, knowledge and culture, but in doing so to think and act as “reasonably” as possible. However, the exact meaning of the term “reasonable” is never clarified in detail by Istvan, and never compared to competing usages of the term, historically or in the present.[xxxiii] When applied to individuals as “systems nested in collectives nested in societies”[xxxiv], as neuroethicists John Shook of the University at Buffalo and James Giordano of Georgetown University(2014) define them, reasonable in this context could mean to examine, revise and in some cases replace current values, norms, social and governmental structures in order to reach a “transhuman” world that acknowledges the human in transition – a world in which everyone can have at least the potential to become their own most efficient and enduring self, in ways that comport with social citizenship at large and small scales. However, the question remains as to whether the version of transhumanism implied by Shook and Giordano aligns with those espoused by Bostrom and Istvan.

VI: “To love life means to become a Transhumanist”

Besides these obvious ambiguities, the “Transhumanist Wager” is clear in one point: The “wager” is about the decision each individual must make whether or not to be part of the transformation into a transhumanist world. In face of this decision, the “wager” implies the most primordial (and thus maybe most important) statement of TEF:

If you love life, you will safeguard that life, and strive to extend and improve it for as long as possible. Anything else you do while alive, any other opinion you have, any other choice you make to not safeguard, extend, and improve that life, is a betrayal of that life. (It) is a betrayal of the possible potential of your brain.[xxxv]

In essence this subtly suggests that to love life means to become a transhumanist almost automatically, and logically.

As a result, TEF – like transhumanism in general – considers the advancement of research and technology to be its first priority, as this prioritization is most likely to realize the transhumanist agenda through science. Science – and its outcome, technology – thus becomes the centerpiece of virtually “everything”, with politics, economics, culture and religion taking second place, as servants of the natural sciences. This in essence makes the humanities irrelevant, since they stem from centuries ago and will therefore have to be rebuilt from the scratch for the new transhuman world that arises.

Focusing on the individual this radically might lead to the conclusion that TEF does not pursue any kind of personal relationship between transhumanists and ultimately “omnipotenders”. But on the contrary, TEF asserts that while it is true that “a transhumanist has no immediate concern for others”[xxxvi] she or he is nevertheless able to have intimate relationships with others, such as Jethro Knights has with his wife, friends and co-workers. According to Istvan, the reason for this is that while transforming into the omnipotender, the transhumanist individual is still dependent on the knowledge of and inspiration by others; and as such can experience happiness through interacting with others. Therefore, in the vision of TEF a transhumanist society encourages family cohesion as long as it is reflected through reason and in harmony with transhumanist values.[xxxvii] When this is not the case, i.e. if one individual has lost its value to the other or is in any way in contradiction to transhuman development, then this individual will lose everything and finally be forced out of transhuman society.[xxxviii]

VII: How to Deal with Conflict If You Are an “Omnipotender”?

Taking these aspects together, it might seem surprising that while TEF supports upholding peace for as long as possible, it legitimates the use of “whatever means necessary”[xxxix] – including violence -, when it comes to conflict situations with anti-transhumanists. This is one of many parallels to other philosophies of “selfishness”, such as “Objectivism” conceived by Russian-American writer and philosopher Ayn Rand (1905-1982)[xl], which inspired the Reagan era of American politics and had prominent followers such as Alan Greenspan (the former chief of the Federal Reserve) who was a personal disciple of Rand in New York. “Objectivism” hails egoism as the true altruism since, as the saying goes, “If everything cares about himself, everybody is taken care of”. Rand legitimizes extreme violence of “first handers” (i.e. entrepreneurs) against “second handers” (i.e. employees), including cold-blooded murder of the helpless, in her monumental novel “Atlas Shrugged”[xli]. The historic goal of Objectivism to achieve “true egoism” appears to align with TEF: that is, to define “true egoism” as taking care about oneself and thus to create a world of “first handers” against a society where altruism has falsified reason by producing “second handers”, who rise against those who are the inventors of machines and progress.

Transhumanism as condensed in the novel “The Transhumanist Wager” is not far from such a vision, particularly when it comes to interaction with opponents.[xlii] However, TEF proposes any actions taken are, as far as possible, characterized by the recognition of the potential value other individuals have for themselves. When asked in this regard, the fictional protagonist and developer of TEF in Istvan’s novel declares:

We want to teach the people of the outside world, not destroy them; we want to convince them, not dictate them; we want them to join us, not fight us. They may not be essential, but they may help make it possible for us when it is time to journey through what is essential.[xliii]

Is there not implicit in these sentences a differentiation between “first” and “second handers” (those “not essential”)? Confronted with such ideals, it is unavoidable to ask questions concerning their social and political implications and how those might be concretely put into reality. Some arising questions could for example be, what negative effects might TEF as a mind-set have on the issue of community, and how should a technocratic society of the future deal with these issues? How would a majority of individuals be able to reach omnipotence without getting in conflict with each other, and what consequences would arise from such conflict? Who would be able to participate in the institutions of government and policy development and how would that differ from now? And finally, how would transhumanism be supposed to prevent misuse of inventions and technologies? These questions may be of particular concern for the concrete social and political possibilities of “Teleological Egocentric Functionalism” for years to come.

VIII: Can TEF Be Put Into Political Reality?

Whilst the book “The Transhumanist Wager” ends by outlining a thoroughly positive outcome for transhumanism and creates a clean and bright future scenario that seems a utopia, it is questionable in what sense the transhumanist transformation would be likely to happen in reality. For instance, massive social and political alterations such as a “world wide [sic] government”[xliv] and a broadly shared civilizational convention of a “one person universe, existence and culture”[xlv], seem rather unrealistic in the near future, since there are competing narratives that oppose this vision. “Posthumanistic” philosophies are not necessarily egocentric and egoistic like TEF; and neither are “postmodern” ones, not to speak of “third way” approaches or even the surviving leftist systems of ideas – rather on the contrary.[xlvi]

The author Zoltan Istvan himself states that with regard to his political campaign for U.S. presidency in 2016 he distances himself from TEF and Jethro Knights’ envisioned “measures” to spread the transhumanist mission in the world.[xlvii] He explains this with the need for a civil competition between transhumanists and its governmental or religious opponents. Indeed, rather than through mobilization on the streets, Istvan wants his party to focus on publicity-based measures to attract attention, in order to make transhumanism popular foremost as a “soft power” and thus to prepare the ground for a “transhumanist mindset” that in his hope will receive widespread voluntary support at least in the technology-driven U.S. and in the most developed Western nations.[xlviii]

This peaceful and nonaggressive approach can also be found within TEF, as seen when the fictional protagonist declares in his speech to the world’s population that the transhuman nation “will strive to settle all disputes, conflicts and problems without violence”.[xlix] This at first gives a positive impression of the actions of the new transhuman citizen and might even lead to further interest in transhumanist psychology. But the statement in the book continues by stating that transhumanists “firmly believe in possessing the most powerful weapons, having an aggressive police force, and using military might against enemies.”[l]

The first two points might remind readers all over the world of the arms race between the West and Russia during the cold war. Striving for the most efficient weapons, and frightening the other country with their possible use, created at the time a feeling within society of constant endangerment rather than reassurance. In addition, a strong police force might further add to an oppressive atmosphere, since it could give the individual the impression of constantly being controlled for “wrong” behaviour. Although the punishments foreseen in this case by the transhumanist’s police executives are mostly non-violent ones, they do interfere drastically with the individuals’ possibilities of self-realization and egoism.

IX: How To Become A “Transhuman Citizen”?

By addressing someone as a full “Transhuman Citizen”, the fictional transhumanist leader Jethro Knights means an individual who has become a citizen of “Transhumania”, his transhumanist nation. This individual has broken with everything connected to her or his history, country of origin and personal provenance; she or he will only care for someone or something outside of “Transhumania”, when this is of value for the cause of the new “Transhuman Citizen”.[li] If not so, she or he could be exiled from “Transhumania” for ignorance[lii] and most likely never receive a second chance to reintegrate into society, which would mean isolation not only from family and friends, but also from the benefits society provides to the individual, such as security or rights and freedoms. As “Transhumania” is supposed to be a worldwide nation, this would also mean that the exiled individual could not be able to turn to any other country and become a citizen there. In reality this would mean all established nations and their governments would have to be “integrated” or replaced by one “transhuman” government.

This seems to be a very unlikely scenario for the foreseeable future, though, as it would cause more conflicts than it could settle. Leading transhumanist thinkers such as Nick Bostrom have long underscored that many crucial ethical questions concerning the human body or the further development of the human brain, in relation to new technologies, will not be solved quickly; since in the age of globalization they would require a global government which in their view is quite unlikely to come into existence anytime soon.[liii]

On the other hand, such a scenario could open the way for one forceful authority to bypass the variety of existing ones – a not very reassuring vision, in a time when new extremist movements are rising around the world. Nevertheless, it seems safe to say that the program of the “American Transhumanist Party”, does indeed include plans to build up an internationally connected and unified transhuman political movement. This unification can be seen in the so-called “Transhumanist Party Global”[liv], which Zoltan Istvan stated in an interview in early 2015[lv] was formed to maximize the international political influence of the movement.

X: The “Three Laws of Transhumanism” and Mainstream Politics In A Democracy

The motivation behind the transhumanist drive for increased political influence is similar to that in Istvan’s book, and in the reality of his political initiative. Both are linked to the main goals of the transhumanist movement: First, supporting life extension research with as much resources as possible to give a majority of people the chance to benefit from the findings and applications of new technologies, and eventually even overcome death.[lvi] In order to do so, it is necessary, secondly, to spread the transhuman mindset, and thirdly, to participate actively in the development of new technologies, to be able to control them and to protect society from possible misuse of new technologies as well as other dangers they may incur. As Istvan put it in his “three laws of transhumanism”

  1. A transhumanist must safeguard one’s own existence above all else.
  2. A transhumanist must strive to achieve omnipotence as expediently as possible – so long as one’s actions do not conflict with the First Law.
  3. A transhumanist must safeguard value in the universe – so long as one’s actions do not conflict with the First and Second Laws…[lvii]

In response to these “laws” John Hewitt writes “If energetically adopted, these deceptively simple maxims ultimately compel the individual to pursue a technologically enhanced and extended life. (Transhumanists) have come to see the choice to accept or reject these principles as something far more fundamental than the choice between liberal or conservative principles.”[lviii]

This assumption may be correct, as technology is indeed substituting traditional political mechanisms by a new logic.

However, while transhumanists such as Zoltan Istvan want to push forward according to the “three laws” both philosophically and politically, they appear unaware of any larger risks or even contradictions in the joint endeavor. Researchers from scientific fields involved such as neuroscientist and neuroethicist James Giordano of Georgetown University[lix] recognize the potential benefits of technological evolution and policy focus, but nevertheless express concerns about the all too direct political plans of the transhumanist political movement. Even though Giordano also sees positive perspectives, he points out that there are many contradictions in programs such as those espoused by Istvan, for instance between the push toward the development of radical technologies and the safeguard of society’s safety when the innovations are not to be restricted by regulations.

This indeed poses an important question that most likely will arise louder in the years to come: what is the relationship between radical technology and safety under the condition of a potential “Transhumania”? Presumably, the absence of a compelling solution for this issue will be a hindering factor for the spread of the transhumanist mindset. Furthermore, adequate financing of transhumanist technologies and research might also become an issue when, as conducted in the fictive nation “Transhumania”, the government applies the lowest possible taxation rate on citizens’ income and as the price to pay for this discontinues the payment of retirement and public pensions[lx], as well as ceasing all governmental welfare.[lxi]

This may be interpreted by some observers as an attempt of the new political aspiration of transhumanism to get Republicans as well as rightist civil society movements such as the “Tea Party” on board. Unfortunately, Zoltan Istvan has not made any clear statements yet to address the issue of financing the transition from the present into a transhuman world. However, Istvan has stated that if twenty percent of the defense budget were to be redirected into longevity science, that would trigger in short order a great change for reaching the transhumanist core goal of defeating death.[lxii]

XI: Connecting Fiction, Philosophy and Politics

Taking all of the above into consideration, it is obvious that Zoltan Istvan lets his political agenda be influenced by “Teleological Egocentric Functionalism”, but promotes these values in a more moderate form, so to speak. By at first focusing his manifesto on just three aims and otherwise concentrating his efforts on acquainting the public with transhumanism, he has been able to reach out to a broader public and achieved at least an increasing discussion about transhumanism and its political relevance. However, it is due to more than Istvan’s personal commitment that transhumanism will likely become more prominent in international political and social debates, as transhumanist parties are also in the process of being founded in Europe – with other continents most probably following. Consequently, this could mean that when a committed figure such as Zoltan Istvan manages to connect and unify transhumanist parties around the world through his prominence and public presence, then the latter could influence conventional parties and gain impact without growing a big membership first.

This influence, combined with the increasing role technology plays in globalized life, could push forward a culture which, while not fully transhuman, will be in all practical sense a more transhumanistic oriented society. If such a combined approach is successful then this transition will be achieved smoothly and without being noticed by the public and conventional politicians. Despite all its shortfalls, the developments around technological research and the transhumanist movement constitute a realistic potential for transhumanist parties to gain relevance in the political sphere. The ascent of transhumanism to a concrete social and political force at least in the US now seems based on the philosophical fundament rooted in “Teleological Egocentric Functionalism”. The question, as to the extent that TEF itself is inspired by other philosophies of “selfishness”, such as Ayn Rand’s “Objectivism”, is a matter requiring further research into the direct and indirect relationships, affinities and differences involved.

XII: Conclusion: Four questions for critical debate. First Question: To What Extent Is U.S. Transhumanist Politics Driven By TEF?

To conclude this discussion on the philosophical basis of transhumanism, four crucial questions remain to be answered. (However, given the current fluid nature of transhumanist politics, more such questions are likely to arise.)

The first question concerns the extent to which the U.S. Transhumanist Party is actually driven by the statements made concerning TEF and the Transhumanist Wager in Istvan’s novel, given that Istvan distances his own policies from those of fictional lead figure Jethro Knights as previously described.

The answer to this first question is, at least for the immediate future, simple: We’ll have to wait and see. There are different, partly opposed signals and indications with regard to the proximity or distance between Istvan’s fiction and his envisaged political reality. Besides the goal of “putting science, health and technology at the forefront of American politics”, we know very little about the politics of the U.S. Transhumanist Party. There has been little discussion of the implications, derivatives, consequences and side issues involved in this manifesto. The Party is still in an early stage of development, with no sign of an encompassing, concrete political program, besides the three goals formulated in Istvan’s manifesto article in the Huffington Post[lxiii], and a reference to the “Transhumanist Declaration” [lxiv]. Neither of these sources provides a description of concrete policies, as opposed to general claims concerning the improvement of our lives by the means of technology.

Moreover, there is the fiction-reality question, which is always difficult to answer. Without doubt, there has been an influential hermeneutic circle between science fiction in particular, and practical societal progress in Western civilization throughout the past one and a half centuries. This synergistic feedback loop – of mutual inspiration and the building of stories and mythologies – can stabilize a concrete technological social agenda in the face of disputes. This allows access to the broadest possible number of people, giving the agenda an identity (possibly only transitorily) which can expand and strengthen. Given the current trend in which the imaginary and reality are becoming increasingly interwoven and mutually influential within a combined framework of a “society of images and ideas”, it may become increasingly difficult to fully differentiate or even segregate the fictional imaginary of a novel from its effects on reality – especially if it is in itself, a strongly politically colored account like the Transhumanist Wager.

Indeed, on the one hand the Transhumanist Wager is a novel about a future society and not an explicit political program. But on the other hand, this novel contains many explicit ideas about the reorganization of society which are profoundly political. Furthermore, it has been written by the subsequent founder of a political party and presidential contender, which makes it inevitable to consider its implicit and explicit political contents as related to any subsequent practical political efforts. In addition, the Transhumanist Wager contains many autobiographical parallels to Istvan’s life; and even though Istvan publicly distances himself from some ideas of his book, they still remain his proper thoughts, and thus potentially practical policies.

XIII: Second Question: How Much Influence Can One Person And His Work Of Fiction Have On A Political Movement?

A second question that is often posited is, how much influence can one person (Istvan) have on the (necessarily) greater whole of a party and political movement, and what are his real intentions, within the broadening network of his sponsors and collaborators?

Generally speaking, a political network becomes more complex the more it advances over time and the more successful it becomes. In the present stage, the U.S. Transhumanist Party appears to be largely a one-man-show, but this may change once the party gets going and expands its outreach activities. If the party is to avoid becoming a kind of subtle dictatorship (and we don’t see any signals for this at the moment), the issue of competing wings will become more accentuated, and the interior ideological debate may sharpen, as it is natural with any developing democratic party (and visible even in non-democratic parties). Comparing Istvan’s public statements, columns and the ideas formulated in the Transhumanist Wager, a picture of the presidential candidate’s political agenda becomes apparent that shows it to be rather unfinished, and in any case unconventional. In this agenda fiction, philosophy and politics appear mixed up, and Istvan’s ideas in some points appear inconsistent as a result. Depending on the occasion, Istvan still seems to decide case by case, whether a statement of him should be interpreted as a “fictional idea” of him as an artist, or as a “serious idea” of him as a political contender. In his recent columns on Motherboard, it seems as if he advocates for the same radical technologies described in his novel to be put into practice, but personally envisages a different transhumanist philosophy and social policy than in his fictional book.

There are many examples of this dichotomy. In the fictional world of the novel the main goal is to become the “Omnipotender”, and radical egocentrism is presented as a moral value. In a recent column in the online technology and science magazine Motherboard with the title: “Do We Have Free Will Because God Killed Itself?” Istvan in turn argues:

The problem with being god – a truly omnipotent being – is that of free will. […] Being all-powerful is a very strange, ironic dead end. The only thing omnipotence can truly equal is a total mechanistic void. Achieving omnipotence is literally the act of suicide, in terms of forever self-eliminating one’s consciousness. This is because a conscious intelligence, as reason dictates, is based on the ability to discern values—values, for example, to know whether as an all-powerful being, one can create something so heavy that one can’t lift it. Values require choice. But omnipotence means that all choices have already been made, and nothing can ever change, because all variables are already accounted for and no randomness or anomalies exist.[lxv]

In another article on Motherboard, Istvan writes about the future of politics and the role Artifical Intelligence (AI) should play in it:

Should we let AI run the government once it’s smarter than us? Take that one step further—should we let that AI be the President—maybe even giving it a robot form for aesthetics or familiarity’s sake? […] We would have government and a leader who really is after the world’s best interests, free from the hazards of corporate lobbyists and selfishness. As a futurist and a politician, a central aim of mine is to do the most good for the greatest amount of people.[lxvi]

Here Istvan clearly distances himself from the ideal of selfishness and egocentrism – thus leaving the libertarian approach apparently in favor of a move toward the center, or even toward the “leftist”, or to put it in more appropriate terms, participatory wing of the Transhumanist movement as for example represented in the “Technoprogressive Declaration” of November 2014 signed by many transhumanist associations and organizations[lxvii].

Something similar appears to be the case with regard to social politics in the stricter sense. In his novel Istvan abolishes most forms of social security (retirements, public pensions, governmental welfare etc.) But to the surprise of many readers of the Transhumanist Wager, Istvan in his political columns advocates not only for free education, but also for a Universal Basic Income (UBI), i.e. for one of the allegedly most “socialist” ideas of the post-Cold-War era:

To begin with, there’s no point in pretending society can avoid a future Universal Basic Income -one that meets basic living standards- of some sort in America and around the world, if robots or software take most of the jobs. Income redistribution via taxes, increased welfare, or a mass guaranteed basic income plan will occur in some form, or there will be mass revolutions that could end in a dystopian civilization – leading essentially to what experts call a societal collapse. […] The elite may not want to part with some of their money (I myself support many libertarian ideas) via wealth redistribution, but I think they probably want to avoid an ugly dystopian world even more – especially one where they would be despised rulers.[lxviii]

And again:

I specifically advocate for free education at all levels, including higher education. In fact, I support increased education levels, too, including some forms of mandatory preschool and 4-year college for everyone.[lxix]

It remains to be seen if there will be some ties with transhumanist higher education initiatives, such as the “Singularity University”[lxx] founded in 2008 by leading transhumanists like Ray Kurzweil to prepare for the upcoming age of AI and to “educate, inspire and empower leaders to apply exponential technologies to address humanity’s grand challenges”.[lxxi] The dispute here seems to be predetermined: The Singularity University is about leaders, as is the way of “most” transhumanist initiatives so far. Istvan seems to favor a socially broader educational agenda, beyond hierarchies and classes, which contrasts starkly with the present day American educational system that, under George W. Bush and Barack Obama, focused more on business needs than ever before. Therefore, Istvan’s agenda may sound revolutionary to many.

Here we will discuss an area of conflict that will represent one of the major challenges for the relationship between Teleological Egocentric Functionalism and the applied political pragmatism of the transhumanist movement in the years ahead. The crucial issue that will define public discussion, not only within the framework of the U.S. presidential campaign 2015-16, but worldwide (and one currently dominating the international debate since the publication of Thomas Piketty’s book Capital in the Twenty-First Century in 2014[lxxii]) is equality versus inequality – in crucial areas such as fairness, participation, inclusion and access to technologies. Yet the ethical dimension (i.e. inequality, and how to avoid it) of the transition into a transhumanist society is barely addressed in the Transhumanist Wager. Rather, it is presented as an individual choice to be solved by everybody for him- or herself. However, in reality the choice is highly dependent on socio-economic factors, as Istvan rightly points out in his political statements:

The controversy with this technology is two-fold. Will conservative or religious people let us remake the human being into a more functional version of itself? And will all people be able to afford it? Editing a genome isn’t going to be cheap, at first. Neither will driverless cars. Furthermore, I surmise the Ivy League undergrad education download is also going to be costly (although, it’ll probably still be much cheaper than a physical education). So, is all this transhumanist child rearing tech fair to those who can’t afford it?

The short answer is: Of course, not. But neither are the costs of AIDS treatments in the world today. Hundreds of thousands still die because they can’t afford the proper technology and medicine. And it’s a fact that wealthier people live far longer, fuller lives than poor people—about 25 percent more on average. So what can we do to even the playing field?

To begin with, let’s not stop the technology. Instead, let’s work on stopping the inequality and create programs that entitle all children to better health and child rearing innovation. As a society, let’s come up with ways that make it so all peoples can benefit from the transhumanist tech that is changing our world and changing the way our children will be raised.[lxxiii]

XIV: Third Question: What Is Better Suited To Meet The Needs Of Politics In A Pluralistic Society: TEF or TF?

A third crucial question to be discussed with regard to the interface between TEF and concrete transhumanist political programs is: To what extent is the “Egocentrism” of TEF necessary? Might a better basis for international transhumanist politics be a Teleological Functionalism (TF) rather than a Teleological “Egocentric” Functionalism (TEF)?

This question once again points to the fundamental logical (not necessarily ethical) contradiction within Istvan’s interpretation of the potential political agenda of transhumanism as a consequence of TEF. Varying Istvan’s own question, “should a transhumanist run for president?”[lxxiv], we could pose the principal question: Should an egocentric become president – a job to represent and act in the interest of a nation?

Society is without doubt rapidly changing, and with it the basic expectations directed towards leaders with regard to their identity and ideological stature. “Egocentrism” may be viewed rather critically by larger parts of the public as a poor attribute for a political leader and a socio-political movement to hold, since politics by traditional definition in the West, is about the representation of the interests of others, and their thoughtful and pondered consideration versus specific “ego” concerns. For sure, most people consciously or unconsciously in “postmodern” globalized societies (necessarily) act egocentrically. However, in the mind of many average voters (and not to forget many leading Western intellectuals) there remains a difference between psychological/automatic egocentrism and moral/rational egocentrism. As Harvard scholars Nicolas Epley and Eugene M. Caruso explain this difference:

People see the world through their own eyes, experience it through their own senses, and have… access to the others’ cognitive and emotional states. This means that one’s own perspective on the world is directly experienced, whereas others’ perspectives must be inferred. Because experience is more efficient than inference, people automatically interpret objects and events egocentrically and only subsequently correct or adjust that interpretation when necessary.[lxxv]

In essence, the problem with moral egocentrism seems to be that in the “postmodern” (or contradictorily materialistic and idealistic) era people in general “regard their own thoughts and needs as most important and willfully fail to account for the needs and intentions of others in making their decisions”.[lxxvi]

Moreover, there are more strictly philosophical and logical implications with regard to the relation between ideas and concrete political potentials. The issue of “egocentrism” is not necessarily implicit in establishing transhumanist thought, and it is not necessary to promote human enhancement or transhumanism. On the contrary, many motives, including the opposite value of selfishness – altruism – could be used to legitimize many transhumanist technologies, for example extended life spans and improved physical and cognitive abilities, as a means to care longer and better for others. Thus, a logical conclusion could be to detach the “Egocentric” suffix of “Teleological Egocentric Functionalism”, leaving “Teleological Functionalism” aimed at practically improving the lives of the greatest amount of people possible in an open society, focused on evolving, rather than on structuring and consolidating what it has. Nevertheless, it is not clear what “Teleological Functionalism” may mean without “Egocentrism”. Could it become a “Teleological Social Functionalism”? And if so, in which direction would that concretely aim, and what would it mean in practice?

XV: Fourth Question: How Does TEF Fit Into The Greater Array Of “Social Futurist” Visions Of The Present?

While the discussion so far and the conclusions reached highlight further issues to be addressed, the fourth and final question to be asked here is: To what extent might a “Teleological Functionalism” (with or without “Egocentric”) fit with the “social futurist” moral vision promoted by “alternative” thinkers such as Amon Twyman of the UK Transhumanist Party[lxxvii]?

If the central meme of transhumanism is that it is ethical and desirable to improve the human condition through technology, the central meme of social futurism is that it is ethical and desirable to improve society through technology.[lxxviii] The flip side of this second meme seems to be the principle of ‘Nobody Deserted’. Indeed, Twyman has written this up in Principle 3 of the program of the UK Transhumanist Party (TP):

We advocate these freedoms in the context of strong social support for society’s weakest members, and base policy on the principle ‘Nobody Deserted’. All citizens shall have a right to sustenance, clothing, shelter, energy, healthcare, transport, education, and access to information resources. TP also advocates that all citizens must be able to contribute to society, in their own fashion, without blemish to their dignity or sense of self worth.[lxxix]

If the different positions within the transhumanist movement are to be integrated, the question here is how selfishness and egocentrism on the one hand and the principle of “Nobody Deserted” on the other hand, can coexist, or be brought together in applied policy. If technological progress requires a certain level of solidarity and thus necessary care for others, as for example, due to the disappearance of jobs as Istvan pointed out in his plea for a universal basic income, selfishness and egocentrism must be logically submitted to and integrated into a greater picture in order to avoid new revolutions and class fights.

Nevertheless, the principle of egocentrism and selfishness in itself requires to not be subordinated to any other principle, and that absolutism lies in the basic meaning and content of the term “egocentrism” itself. The result is a similar contradiction in ideology to the one Istvan himself pointed out with regard to the issue of “omnipotence”: Once “egocentrism” is fully established according to the logical meaning of the term, it starts to socially implode. That once again shows the inconsistency of some basic pillars of current “transhumanist” political core terms.

XVI: Outlook

Summing up?

“Teleological Egocentric Functionalism”, levitating as it still seems between fiction and reality, remains in many ways an unfinished and contradictory basis for transhumanist politics. While TEF is an inspiring attempt to integrate transhumanist thought into politics and presents without doubt many interesting approaches and some surprisingly novel views on traditional standpoints, the fact is that there remain many inconsistencies within its underlying structure, logic and argument; and the same can be said of its inventor and his practical political statements regarding many issues of social practice, in particular with regard to social politics.

What does this mean?

For now, the outlook is wide open. If Istvan’s promise: “If you want to live forever, vote for me” wants to be taken seriously, he will have to realize some of his visions within the circumstances of the environment he is in – for example free education or universal basic income. However, this will be a huge challenge, since the U.S. hardly seems prepared to move in such a direction, even should Istvan be voted in as president, or as is currently in vogue, the “new social agenda” that all presidential candidates for 2016 are putting on the table to gain the votes of an unsettled middle class, which sees the “American dream” threatened by structural and systemic inequality that is getting out of hand.

Finally, if transhumanist politics wants to stabilize a broad and sustainable agenda in the center of society (as Istvan seems to aspire to), the further development of transhumanism as a political force will have to address the existing contradictions in some of its underlying philosophical terms and beliefs. And it would be well advised to address these with the help from and discussion with other approaches, for example including the experience and the views of more “humanistic” ones.

Lots of questions remain to answer; and lots of fascinating debates lie ahead.

Selected Bibliography

Benedikter, Roland, Siepmann, Katja, and McIntosh, Annabella (2015): The Age of Transhumanist Politics Has Begun. Will It Change Traditional Concepts of Left and Right? Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3. In: The Leftist Review. Commentaries on Politics, Science, Philosophy and Religion, March-April 2015, Reprint in: Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies (IEET), April 27, 2015,

Bostrom, Nick (2003): The Transhumanist FAQ 1.5. In:, http// Access: 31.03.2015.

Deutsche Gesellschaft für Transhumanismus e.V. (Hrsg.) (2005): Reader zum Transhumanismus. Würzburg:

Eternal Life Fan (2014): Zoltan Istvan’s political campaign – The Transhumanist Party. Video sequence from PowerfulJRE(2014): Joe Rogan Experience #584 – Zoltan Istvan. In: Youtube, Access: 31.03.2015.

Istvan, Zoltan (2014): The Transhumanist Wager, Futurity Imagine Media 2013, and

Wood, David (2015): Q&A with Zoltan Istvan, Transhumanist Party candidate for the US President. Youtubevideo: Access: 31.03.2015, 13:52.

The authors


Roland Benedikter, Dr. Dr. Dr., is Research Scholar at the Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies of the University of California at Santa Barbara, Senior Affiliate of the Edmund Pellegrino Center on Clinical Bioethics of Georgetown University, Trustee of the Toynbee Prize Foundation Boston, Senior Research Scholar of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs Washington DC and Full member of the Club of Rome. Previously, he was a Research Affiliate 2009-13 at the Europe Center of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, Stanford University, and a Full Academic Fellow 2008-12 of the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies Washington DC. He has written for Foreign Affairs, Harvard International Review and Challenge: The Magazine of Economic Affairs, and is author of books about global strategic issues (among them most recently two on Xi Jinping’s China in 2014), co-author of two Pentagon and U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff White Papers on the Ethics of Neurowarfare (2013 and 2014, together with James Giordano) and of Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker’s Report to the Club of Rome 2003. Contact:

Katja Siepmann, MA, is a socio-political analyst, Senior Research Fellow of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs Washington D.C., Member of the German Council on Foreign Relations, Lecturer at the Faculty of Interdisciplinary Cultural Sciences of the European University Frankfurt/Oder and has written for Foreign Affairs, Harvard International Review and Challenge: The Magazine of Economic Affairs.

Annabella McIntosh is a freelance political writer based in Berlin, Germany.


[i] R. Benedikter, J. Giordano and K. Fitzgerald: The Future of the (Self-)Image of the Human Being in the Age of Transhumanism, Neurotechnology and Global Transition. In: Futures. The Journal for Policy, Planning and Futures Studies. Volume 42: Special issue “Global Mindset Change” (ed. J. Gidley). Elsevier 2010, p. 1102-1109.

[ii] Cf. R. Benedikter, K. Siepmann and A. McIntosh: The Age of Transhumanist Politics Has Begun. Will it Change Traditional Concepts of Left and Right? In: In: Leftist Review. Commentaries on Politics, Science, Philosophy and Religion. Edited by Thomas Parslow. Portland, Oregon, 3 Parts, 06 March 2015ff., pp. 1-18, Reprint of the text in one part under the title: The Age of Transhumanist Politics Has Begun. Will It Change Traditional Concepts of Left and Right? In: Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, April 27, 2015, and in: Telepolis. Journal of Media, Technology, Art and Society. Edited by Dr. habil. Florian Rötzer. 19. Jahrgang, Heinz Heise Verlag Hannover 2015, 12.04.2015,

[iii] N. Bostrom: A History of Transhuman Thought. In: Journal of Evolution & Technology, Vol. 14, April 2005, Cf. World Transhumanist Association:

[iv] N. Bostrom: Transhumanist Values. In: Review of Contemporary Philosophy, Vol. 4, May (2005),

[v] J. Hewitt: An Interview with Zoltan Istvan, leader of the Transhumanist Party and 2016 presidential contender. In: Extremetech, October 31, 2014,

[vi] Z. Istvan: Can Transhumanism Overcome A Widespread Deathist Culture? In: The Huffington Post, May 26, 2015,

[vii] Z. Istvan: Can Transhumanism Overcome A Widespread Deathist Culture?, loc cit.

[viii] R. Benedikter and J. Giordano: Neurotechnology: New Frontiers for Policy. In: Journal of European Government PEN: Pan European Networks. Section: Science and Technology. Issue 3 (June), Bruxelles, Strassbourg and London 2012, pp. 204-207.

[ix] M. Steger: The Rise of the Global Imaginary: Political Ideologies from the French Revolution to the Global War on Terror, Oxford University Press 2008.

[x] R. Benedikter and J. Giordano: The Outer and the Inner Transformation of the Global Social Sphere through Technology: The State of Two Fields in Transition. In: New Global Studies. Edited by Saskia Sassen, Nayan Chanda, Akira Iriye and Bruce Mazlish. De Gruyter and Berkeley Electronic Press, Berkeley and New York 2011, Volume 5, Issue 1 (2011), pp. 1-17,

[xi] R. Benedikter and J. Giordano: Neuroscience and Neurotechnology: Impacting Human Futures, Springer Political Science, New York 2015 (forthcoming). Cf. J. Giordano and R. Benedikter: Integrative convergence in Neuroscience/Neurotechnology. On the engagement of computational approaches in neuroscience/neurotechnology and deterrence. Book chapter 3.2.1 in: H. Cabayan, W. Casebeer, D. DiEuliis, J. Giordano and N. D. Wright (ed.s): U.S. Department of Defense and U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff White Paper: Leveraging Neuroscientific and Neutechnological (NeuroS&T) Developments with Focus on Influence and Deterrence in a Networked World. A Strategic Multilayer (SMA) Publication. Washington DC: Pentagon Press 2014 (April), pp. 74-79; and J. Giordano and R. Benedikter: Toward a Systems Continuum: On the Use of Neuroscience and Neurotechnology to Assess and Affect Aggression, Cognition and Behaviour. In: D. DiEuliis and H. Cabayan (eds.): U.S. Department of Defense and U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff White Paper: Topics in the Neurobiology of Aggression: Implications for Deterrence. A Strategic Multilayer (SMA) Publication. Washington DC: Pentagon Press 2013 (February), pp. 68-85.

[xii] N. Bostrom: Technological Revolutions: Ethics and Politics in the Dark. In: M. de Nigel et al (eds.): Nanoscale: Issues and Perspectives for the Nano-Century, Wiley & Sons 2007, pp. 129-152,

[xiii] Transhumanist Party Global (TPG):

[xiv] G. Volpicelli: Transhumanists Are Writing Their Own Manifesto For The UK General Election. In. Motherboard Journal, January 14, 2015,

[xv] Zoltan Istvan’s Homepage:

[xvi] Transhumanist Party USA: Putting Science, Health, and Technology at the Forefront of American Politics,

[xvii] Z. Istvan: Should a Transhumanist Run for U.S. President? In: The Huffington Post, August 10, 2014,

[xviii] Teleological Egocentric Functionalism (TEF):

[xix] Z. Istvan: The Transhumanist Wager, Futurity Imagine Media 2013, and

[xx] Institute for Ethics & Emerging Technologies (IEET): Technoprogressive Declaration – Transvision. In: IEET, November 22, 2014,

[xxi] For example V. Larson: Transhumanist novel by Zoltan Istvan sparks intense dialog among futurists. In:, December 19, 2013, Cf. G. Prisco: The Transhumanist Wager. In: Ray Kurzweil Homepage, May 15, 2013,

[xxii] Deutsche Gesellschaft für Transhumanismus e.V. (Hrsg.) (2005): Reader zum Transhumanismus. Würzburg:, p. 7.

[xxiii] Oxford Future of Humanity Institute:

[xxiv] The Oxford Martin Programme on the Impacts of Future Technology:

[xxv] N. Bostrom: The Transhumanist FAQ 1.5 (2003). Word-Document from the internet:

[xxvi] Cf. P. Unschuld: What is Medicine? Western and Eastern Approaches to Healing. University of California Press 2009,

[xxvii] Deutsche Gesellschaft für Transhumanismus e.V. (Hrsg.), loc cit., p. 7f.

[xxviii] Deutsche Gesellschaft für Transhumanismus e.V. (Hrsg.), loc cit., p. 7f.

[xxix] Z. Istvan: The Transhumanist Wager, loc cit., p. 19.

[xxx] Ibid., p. 33.

[xxxi] Ibid., p. 33.

[xxxii] Z. Istvan: The Transhumanist Wager, loc cit., p. 55.

[xxxiii] Ibid., p. 280.

[xxxiv] J. Shook and J. Giordano: A Principled and Cosmopolitan Neuroethics: Considerations for International Relevance. In: Philosophy, Ethics and Humanities in Medicine, 2014, 9:1,

[xxxv] Z. Istvan: The Transhumanist Wager, loc cit., p. 270.

[xxxvi] Ibid., p. 281.

[xxxvii] Ibid., p. 281.

[xxxviii] Z. Istvan: The Transhumanist Wager, loc cit., p. 202.

[xxxix] Ibid., p. 53.

[xl] Ayn Rand:

[xli] A. Rand: Atlas Shrugged, New York 1957.

[xlii] Z. Istvan: The Transhumanist Wager, loc cit., p. 53.

[xliii] Ibid., p. 230.

[xliv] Z. Istvan: The Transhumanist Wager, loc cit., p. 282.

[xlv] Ibid., p. 201.

[xlvi] R. Benedikter: Third Way Movements. In: In: M. Juergensmeyer and H. K. Anheier (ed.): The SAGE Encyclopaedia Of Global Studies. 4 Volumes, SAGE Publishers London and Thousand Oaks 2012, Volume 4, pp. 1647-1650.

[xlvii] D. Wood: Q&A with Zoltan Istvan, Transhumanist Party candidate for the US President. In: Youtube, January 11, 2015,

[xlviii] Ibid.

[xlix] Z. Istvan: The Transhumanist Wager, p. 282.

[l] Ibid., p. 282.

[li] Ibid., p. 201.

[lii] Ibid., p. 282.

[liii] N. Bostrom: Technological Revolutions: Ethics and Politics in the Dark, loc cit.

[liv] Transhumanist Party Global:

[lv] D. Wood: Q&A with Zoltan Istvan, loc cit

[lvi] Ibid.

[lvii] J. Hewitt, loc cit.

[lviii] J. Hewitt, loc cit.

[lix] J. Giordano: The human prospect(s) of neuroscience and neurotechnology: Domains of influence and the necessity – and questions – of neuroethics. In: Human Prospect 4(1): 1-18 (2014).

[lx] Z. Istvan: The Transhumanist Wager, loc cit., p. 282.

[lxi] Ibid., p. 282.

[lxii] D. Wood: Q&A with Zoltan Istvan, loc cit.

[lxiii] Z. Istvan: Should A Transhumanist Run For U.S. President?, loc cit.

[lxiv] Humanity+: The Transhumanist Declaration (1998/2009),

[lxv] Z. Istvan: Do We Have Free Will Because God Killed Itself? In: Motherboard, May 4, 2015,

[lxvi] Z. Istvan: The Transhumanist Party’s Presidential Candidate on the Future of Politics. In: Motherboard, January 22, 2015,

[lxvii] Institute for Ethics & Emerging Technologies (IEET): Technoprogressive Declaration – Transvision, loc cit.

[lxviii] Z. Istvan: The New American Dream? Let the Robots Take Our Jobs. In: Motherboard, February 13, 2015,

[lxix] Ibid.

[lxx] Singularity University:

[lxxi] Ibid.

[lxxii] T. Piketty: Capital in the Twenty-First Century, Harvard University Press 2014.

[lxxiii] Z. Istvan: The Technology Transhumanists Want in Their Kids. In: Motherboard, May 18, 2015,

[lxxiv] Z. Istvan: Should A Transhumanist Run for U.S. President?, loc cit.

[lxxv] N. Epley, E. M. Caruso: Egocentric Ethics. In: Social Justice Research, Vol. 17, No. 2, June 2004, p. 171-187, here: p. 174,

[lxxvi] M. Ylvisaker, M. Hibbard and T. Feeney: Cognitive Egocentrism Theory of Mind. In: LearNet, The Brain Injury Association of New York State, New York 2006,

[lxxvii] M. A. Twyman: The Moral Philosophy of Transhumanism, February 28, 2015,

[lxxviii] transhumanpraxis: Social Futurism: Positive Social Change Through Technology, May 10, 2012,

[lxxix] A. Twyman: Transhumanist Party Membership Open. In: Transhumanist Party UK, March 24, 2015,


The article above features as Chapter 1 of the Transpolitica book “Envisioning Politics 2.0”.

The Vision Thing

By René Milan, Thelemic Transhumanist [see Editor’s note]

A brief review of existing visions for alternative political systems


Last year’s establishment of the Transhumanist Party in the u.s. has sparked much activity in Europe towards the same goal, and it seems likely that the trend will spread across the planet within the next few years.  This begs the question of the ‘vision thing’ as G.H.W. Bush once called it.

Unlike the general movement which is under little pressure to develop a common goal about what kind of society and political, economic and social model or models it wants to pursue, and indeed encompasses a wide range of ideas on the topic, political transhumanism will be asked the question and must develop at least some vague models, and ultimately concrete programs, to work toward.

This task is complicated by these factors among others:

  • Participants in electoral democracies must adhere to the rules under which these systems operate, which also vary from country to country, despite the question of the desirability of these rules, and the likelihood that they will, perhaps profoundly, change as a consequence of accelerating advancement of technology and its effects on social structures anyway. But it is the essence of transhumanism to not only anticipate these changes but attempt to control them toward maximising benefits for the planet.
  • These changes bear a high degree of unpredictability, so the vision is necessarily a moving target. Nonetheless at least foundational principles and a general direction have to be made identifiable, and these will have to avoid being in conflict with local constitutional conditions as well as voter acceptability.
  • Most self-declared transhumanists entertain already individual visions which vary widely, sometimes enough to constitute incompatibilities, and those who participate in party politics must work to at least arrive at common denominators.

This process has barely begun, which is why i decided to assemble some existing models and fragments that appear suitable as building blocks for debating and developing visions that can be commonly agreed upon.

Vision 1

 Image source:

A – Science Fiction

Over a century science fiction has established itself as a rich source of inspiration for technological and social innovation as it provides complete freedom from the restrictions of current reality for developing and fleshing out possible scenarios and offers an abundance of ideas and models.  Here i want to restrict myself to discussing only the one that is probably most widely known: Star Trek.

Those familiar with the various productions will know that the protagonists act within a world characterised by material abundance and minimised social conflict.  Yet the environment is far from a perfect utopia.  Evolution continues but mostly in regard to technology and little in terms of psychology and biology, problems with technology persist and conflicts mostly with other ‘species’ keep erupting, mostly at the periphery of the terrestrial federation.   While a comprehensive social model is never presented there are possibly enough indications of its elements to allow to reconstruct a somewhat comprehensive picture.  One such attempt has been undertaken by Rick Webb.

In his view,

The federation is a proto-post scarcity society evolved from democratic capitalism. It is, essentially, European socialist capitalism vastly expanded to the point where no one has to work unless they want to.

It is massively productive and efficient, allowing for the effective decoupling of labor and salary for the vast majority (but not all) of economic activity. The amount of welfare benefits available to all citizens is in excess of the needs of the citizens. Therefore, money is irrelevant to the lives of the citizenry, whether it exists or not. Resources are still accounted for and allocated in some manner, presumably by the amount of energy required to produce them (say Joules). And they are indeed credited to and debited from each citizen’s “account.” However, the average citizen doesn’t even notice it, though the government does, and again, it is not measured in currency units — definitely not Federation Credits. There is some level of scarcity — the Federation cannot manufacture a million starships, for example. This massive accounting is done by the Federation government in the background.

While it is not knowable that this socio-economic model did evolve from ‘democratic capitalism’, the similarities between it and social democratic capitalism are large enough,  the few references to the transition period, which took no more than a couple centuries, make no mention of disruptions major enough to have caused substantial deviations, so that this is a real possibility.  Apparently the only major intervening change is the substantial advancement of technological capacities which is already underway and accelerating.  This of course is a very optimistic scenario according to which today’s humans, if existential catastrophe can be avoided, just have to carry on as now.

But does this system of abundance really work well?  For the most part yes, but within limits.  On the individual level it is impossible to go overboard because

If they go crazy and try and purchase, say, 10 planets or 100 starships, the system simply says “no.”

Webb explains that this occurs rarely if at all by assuming strong ‘social pressure against conspicuous consumption’, but it seems more likely that it is due to the fact that nobody will be impressed by it when everybody has what they need and more, than because of social pressure which is likely to provide motivation to disregard it.  He points out that locally crises and disasters can and periodically do occur.  These can be caused by unforeseen environmental changes or interference by nonhumans.  Help is usually dispatched quickly but does not always arrive in time, and sometimes it is already too late by the time information reaches Starfleet.

In the current discussion the scope is usually limited to Terra.  The complications and unpredictabilities resulting from encountering and reacting to nonhuman interference are ignored, and for good reasons, as there is simply no way to know what benefits or threats it may bring.  Most existential threats that can be anticipated are home made.  Biospheric warming has already limited effects on politics, economics and technology; the only extraterrestrially caused events that warrant serious efforts of preparation are meteoric and cometary impacts.  It is therefore unnecessary to explore this aspect any further.

There is a lot of trading going on between humans and nonhumans, which presumably accounts to a degree for the abundant conditions in the terrestrial domain.  The Enterprise occasionally finds itself needing certain materials to carry on that have been lost, destroyed or consumed and they are often obtained through bartering from established nonhuman systems or freelance traders or smugglers.  The wild card in these scenarios appears to be replicator technology.  In the current debate additive manufacturing is often pointed to as a solution for self-sufficient resourcing, which is incorrect.  3D- printing will lower production costs mainly by eliminating labour expenses, but raw materials, ‘ink’, will still have to be synthesised, mined or grown.  A much larger step will be alchemy through nanotechnology.  My conclusion was that this is the method used in replicators, and if so it is unclear why the ship would be dependent on bartering.  Some reviewers however go a step even further and claim that replicators create matter from energy, which appears highly unlikely given how much energy would be needed according to Einstein’s famous formula just to constantly feed a thousand people.  But then i do not know how and how much energy can actually be generated by warp drive technology.  As long as humans are confined to Terra it would appear that nanotech will be sufficient to provide the material basis for abundance.

Quite a few essays and articles about Star Trek and its economics can be found, and a few caught my attention for various reasons.

One by Greg Stevens makes an interesting and quite obvious connection to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and says:

If human endeavours are seen as advancing up this noble ladder of advancement, then any society where all of the basic low-level needs are met would obviously be left to while away their time exclusively on love, self-esteem, and self-actualisation.

Near the end of his article Stevens points to this possibility:

One of the biggest fears that comes up in this discussion is the simple fear of pranks and mischief-makers. Mischief-makers of this kind are largely absent from the Star Trek universe, but they are a very real component of humanity.

He quotes from Rudy Rucker’s “Realware” and presents some examples of his own, illustrating the possibility to create anything out of thin air and concluding:

Some people will want to band together and perform great creative deeds for the betterment of humanity …..  But some people – maybe even most people – will want a thousand-ton turd.

In this extrapolation he ignores the probabilities indicated by accelerating evolution of human psychology, but if this were to become a real problem there will be technological solutions to it.

In his piece “The Star Trek Economy Thing” Joshua Gans, after dealing with the problem of how to measure the value of goods and thus G.D.P. growth, points to the changes of terrestrial economy caused by the massive increase in military production after the first Borg invasion.  While it remains rather unlikely that Terra will be invaded by the Borg, or will be able to resist, anytime soon, it is important to expect the unexpected and gear some of the wealth derived from the coming abundance toward dealing with unanticipated high impact events.

At the conclusion of his article Fred E. Foldvary writes:

Each person’s heritage, values, and personality are respected. While this is relatively easy to achieve in the organizational order of a ship, to do this on a galactic scale requires universal liberty where each person, regardless of species, has an equal right to do whatever does not coercively harm others.

Ship captains repeatedly talk about cultural evolution as if it is following along the same lines for each ‘species’.  But that this is not necessarily so is shown most starkly by the Borg but also others like the ‘extragalactic’ Species 8472.  I do not even think that all posthumans will want to continue evolving uniformly, as we already are confronted with incompatibility among human cultures to which my proposed solution is habitat separation, an issue i will address elsewhere.

The strongest connection between Star Trek economy and current theory of economics is made by Andrew Leonard in his Salon article “The utopian economics of Star Trek”.  Starting out from J.J. Abrams’ 2009 film ‘Star Trek’ he points to the explicit reference it makes to new growth theory as laid out in Paul Romer’s 1990 paper “Endogenous Technological Change” (download).  Not being an economist i am in no position to technically evaluate its merits, but it has found wide acceptance and seems to be definitely worth studying in the quest for economic models compatible with transhumanist thought.  For non-experts like me easy introductions are offered in WP and by Tyler Cohen’s and Alex Tabarrok’s brief video introduction.

In conclusion it appears that models presented in Star Trek and other science fiction creations, many of which are much further removed from the present, are of limited value in developing a politico-economic transhumanist theory.  By their very nature as stories to be told they inevitably focus much more on the what than on the how.  However they contain plenty of ideas that can be useful in defining transhumanist goals.

B – Transhumania

In the very near future Transhumania is created as an extraterritorial independent city state floating offshore in international waters.  Zoltan Istvan has used this device for the plot of his novel “The Transhumanist Wager” but also as an illustration of his idea of a transhumanist polity; therefore it gets a fair amount of the author’s attention in that he outlines principles and practices of living and working together in a transhumanist community.

While quite a few reviews of the book itself have been written, not much has been on this particular subject yet.  There is an interesting piece by 33rdsquare which deals with the figure of Jethro, the main protagonist and most radical of the transhumanists, but it becomes clear in the course of reading that there is no real difference between his person and the political system he implements, and i will refer to it later.

In the press conference where Jethro presents Transhumania to the rest of the world, he says the following:

Ladies and gentlemen, behind me on the screen is a picture of Transhumania, the seasteading transhuman nation where scientists, technologists, and futurists carry out research they believe is their moral right and in the best interest of themselves. We are on our way towards attaining unending sentience and the most advanced forms of ourselves that we can reach, which is the essence of the transhuman mission.

And later:

On Transhumania, we are all one-person universes, one-person existences, one-person cultures. Bearing that in mind, we may still live or die for one another: for our families, for our children, for our spouses, for our friends, for our colleagues at Transhumania—or for those whom we respect and for whom we care to reasonably live or die. We will not live or die for someone we don’t know, however. Or for someone we don’t respect. Or for someone or something we don’t value. We will not throw away years of our lives for uneducated consumers, for welfare-collecting non-producers, for fool religious fanatics, or for corrupt politicians who know law but don’t stand by it or practice it.

This does not contain much information on the topic, but provides a good insight into the intellectual atmosphere in which Transhumania is conceived and created.  Only the first sentence of the second paragraph hints at principles of social organisation.  Clearly the individual is the basic element.  This one-person universe can submit to more general collectives such as family and friends, implied by one’s willingness to die for them, and the term ‘submit’ is used here not in the sense of subordination but that of integration.  But i question the verity of including colleagues here.  If this refers to colleagues in general it seems plausible in the sense that they have all submitted themselves to the idea and cause of Transhumania, have integrated into it and thereby become subject to the willingness to die for Transhumania itself.  But if it regards personal disagreement or conflict such a decision would have to be taken under the rules of utility as described in the following quote that closes Jethro’s address, and will be further discussed within the topic of humanicide:

We will invite you to join us: as friends, as colleagues, as comrades. And we will trade value to each other to gain what we want. We will discriminate against and judge each other on the basis of whether we offer sufficient utility to one another or not. There’s only one quintessential rule on Transhumania: If you don’t add value to the transhuman mission, if you are inconsequential or a negative sum to our success, then you will be forced off and away from our nation.

The political structure of Transhumania does not amount to much more than derivation from Jethro’s logic, which i consider to not always be compelling, and the social structure during the island days is firmly based on the business principle: benefits in exchange for work.  This changes later when after a military confrontation with a coalition of established governments is won by Transhumania which then proceeds to govern all planetary affairs.  The underlying principle is a hierarchical meritocracy with Jethro, bearing the most merit, at the top.

All reviewers appear to agree that when Transhumania takes on global rulership Jethro starts using his position in dictatorial manners.  I tend to disagree.  The project has been run this way since its inception, only until now he never encountered any resistance.  The following quotes illustrate the way in which his transhumanist ideology remains paramount:

The Transhuman Revolution seeks to transform the world into a transhumanist-inspired planet. Transhumania aims to fulfil that goal in order to harness the Earth’s resources and to unite with those millions of people on the outside who can, and want to, help us accelerate the greater transhuman mission…

Jethro turned from the ocean and stated firmly to the leaders of Transhumania, “We want to teach the people of the outside world, not destroy them; we want to convince them, not dictate them; we want them to join us, not fight us.

In the following i sense an almost fascist attitude of contempt: “If you weren’t an intellectual with progressive thinking and creative futuristic ideas, you were no one”, which is somewhat ameliorated by the fact that mandatory and free education is provided.

And the reference to Earth’s resources betrays colonialist impulse:

The Transhuman Revolution seeks to transform the world into a transhumanist-inspired planet. Transhumania aims to fulfil that goal in order to harness the Earth’s resources and to unite with those millions of people on the outside who can, and want to, help us accelerate the greater transhuman mission.

And here he surprisingly commits a grave logic error, taking his reasoning to absurd conclusions:

The optimum transhuman trajectory of civilization is that which creates the most efficient way to produce omnipotenders.  Currently, the best way to accomplish this is to achieve as expediently as possible the highest amount of productive transhuman life house in the maximum amount of human beings; however not all human beings will be a net-positive in producing omnipotenders.  Any individual who ultimately hampers the optimum transhuman trajectory of civilization should be eliminated.  The Humanicide Formula addresses these issues directly.  It determines whether an individual should live or die based on an algorithm measuring transhuman productivity in terms of that individual’s remaining life hours, their resource consumption in a finite system, and their past, present and potential future contributions.

Besides the inane concept omnipotender, meaning an almighty one, which is an unrealistic idea and contributes nothing to the story, there is no need for such a formula in an abundance based society.  This seems to be more of an expression of dislike of, and contempt for, those who show no interest in becoming ‘omnipotenders’, and it implies totalitarian control over the behaviours of individuals.

This is addressed by 33rdsquare as well:

Knights even describes how TEF should make people try to act like computers, to explore and even attain a “cold precisionlike morality” and a “harsh machine-like objectivity.”   Among the controversial ideas Knights and his fellow transhumanists act out would transfer those billions from programs that fund society’s most vulnerable — or as Knights says, “lazy welfare recipients,” “mentally challenged, “uneducated repeat criminals” and “obese second-rate citizens bankrupting our medical system”.

But Jethro manifests more agreeable aspects of his personality.  Here he shows a degree of transparency rarely seen in current governments:

Every one of you is to go to your teams and staff today, and tell them the same thing I have told you: war is imminent. You are also to offer them the same opportunity to leave Transhumania on the same terms I have given you. Tell them everything exactly as I have told you just now.

After 17 years of undivided rule he announces ‘democratic elections’.  At this point transhumanism has been firmly established and accepted, and the presidency smoothly goes to his closest associate.  This raises the question of what criteria should apply for participation in ‘democracy’, a topic to which we will return later.

As we have seen there is not much in the rules by which Transhumania is governed that is applicable to the foundations and policies of current transhumanist parties.  This is quite surprising but can be explained by the way in which transhumanism comes to power in the novel and by Jethro’s l’état c’est moi approach.  Meanwhile in the real world Zoltan is pioneering the transhumanists’ hopefully not too long march through the institutions.

C – Neue Slowenische Kunst

NSK or Neue Slowenische Kunst, which is german for New Slovenian Art, is an art collective based in Lublijana.  It was founded in 1984 by the multimedia group Laibach (established 1980), the visual arts group Irwin (1983), and the theatre group Scipion Nasice Sisters Theatre (SNST) (1983–87).  Further groups have joined since then.  In 1992 they founded NSK State in Time, which is described on their website:

The State is conceived as a utopian formation which has no physical territory and is not identified with any existing national state. It is inherently transnational and describes itself as ‘the first global state of the universe.’ It issues passports to anyone who is prepared to identify with its founding principles and citizenship is open to all regardless of national, sexual, religious or other status. It now has several thousand citizens across numerous countries and all continents, including a large number in Nigeria. The NSK State itself is a collective cultural work, formed by both the iconography and statements of its founders and its citizens’ responses to these and to the existence of the state. It is also part of the wider ‘Micronations’ movement which has grown increasingly visible and received growing critical and theoretical attention in recent years.

It is clearly not directly applicable to current or future realpolitics transhumanist parties are dedicated to, but still can serve as a model to work toward in the long view.

Several very interesting articles have been written about it, most putting greater emphasis on its artistic implications than the political ones, even though the two are inseparable.

Conor McGrady writes in The Brooklyn Rail:

A full working group session also examined the question of whether the NSK state should or should not consider itself a micronation. Loosely described as “independent nations or states, but which are not recognized by world governments or major international organizations,” micronations usually exist as social or political simulations. On this issue delegates were unanimous. It was argued that the NSK state transcends micronations, in that for the most part they limit themselves to outmoded forms of government, mimicking fiefdoms, monarchies, and other feudal structures. As the “first global State of the Universe,” it was suggested that the state relate to micronations in a paternal fashion, rather than build fraternal ties.

On the influencers site i found this quote:

The artists who form the collective Irwin are the visual biographers of NSK: their work, framed within the tradition of totalitarian regimes, reappropriated the supremacist symbols of the Eastern European Block to construct their own identity as “state artists”, faithful to a strict collective discipline. They opened consulates, designed badges and distributed passports for the NSK, a “state in time” that takes the paradoxes of state identity to an extreme in order to ultimately reveal a glimpse of the hidden face of existing ideological structures.

The most interesting view is presented by Gordan Djurdjevic in his article ‘Crossing the Wires: Art, Radical Politics, and Esotericism in the Project of Neue Slowenische Kunst’ on the academia site, where he explores the esoteric dimension of NSK, which he introduces with two quotes:

  • “All art is Magick” – Aleister Crowley
  • “All art is subject to political manipulation … except for that which speaks the language of this same manipulation” – Laibach

In 2005 MIT published an extensive treatment of Laibach and NSK by Alexei Monroe under the title of ‘Interrogation Machine’.

Certainly transhumanism will have to develop an artistic foundation, especially in the context of party politics and propaganda.  NSK can provide interesting and valid ideas, and should be studied.

D – Zero State

Zero State is an emerging trans-national, virtual state.  On its website it is presented as follows:

The Zero State (ZS) community works toward the establishment of a VDP (Virtual/Distributed/Parallel) State or “Polystate” committed to Social Futurism and the WAVE Principles.

These terms are explained there subsequently, with the exception of ‘Polystate’ which may still be in flux; it has no WP entry yet, but here Poly- and VDP state are equated.  We will look at Polystate separately later on.

On its site there is a FAQ section that describes its general ideas and the possibilities of participation, but not much is said about either its internal structure or its ideas for the organisation of the world at large.  However in an article on the IEET site by Amon Twyman, who is the founder of ZS, entitled “The Social Futurist policy toolkit” he says: “It is my intent that this toolkit should form a kind of bridge between the broadest, most general level of political discussion on the one hand, and the development of specific policies for local groups on the other”, and lays out the following six policy categories:

  1. Evidence, Balance, & Transition
  2. Universal Basic Income & LVAT
  3. Abolition of Fractional Reserve Banking
  4. Responsible Capitalism, Post-Scarcity, & Emergent Commodity Markets
  5. Human autonomy, privacy, & enhancement
  6. Establishment of VDP (Virtual, Distributed, Parallel) States

It would be redundant to explain these categories here, and i highly recommend reading the original text on the site.  Another promising source may be the book “Zero State: Year Zero”, which to read i did not have enough time.  Another source worth mentioning here is the technoprogessive declaration conceived during the TransVision conference of 2014 and mentioned here by James Hughes.

While far from a comprehensive program, an internal constitution or a vision of how to optimally organise local, national, or virtual association, this toolkit does in fact deliver the “the broadest, most general level of political discussion”, which can be the basis for any and all of the above.  The principles underlying these policies can be applied to all political activities.  Besides the Transpolitica manifesto, which is actually ideologically very close to, if not identical with, Twyman’s social futurism, and well worth studying, this is in fact the most suitable material i have come across in my search for transhumanist political principles.  But that is no accident as ZS is clearly a transhumanist organisation de facto, if not explicitly, and it has begun developing long before transhumanism entered the political arena.

E – Libertarianism

There are two areas where a strong connection between transhumanism and libertarianism exists.

History:  early transhumanism, namely extropianism (now extropism), grew, at least in part, out of the 60s counterculture, a confluence of various movements such as those who work for equality before the law (race, gender, wealth, age) and those who work for mental, physical, and social self-determination.  Many among them declared themselves to be libertarian, quite often reflexively as a reaction to the restrictive policies used against them.  Libertarianism was almost the countercultural default position in those days.

Economy: many of the people who dream up, develop and produce the technologies that are essential to transhumanist thought are unsurprisingly entrepreneurs and capitalists, and a sizable number among them are libertarians, trying to minimise government influence on business activities.

Since the turn of the century an increasing influx of a variety of new ideas and people into transhumanism is underway, and now libertarians are a large minority within the movement.

Even though the core idea of libertarianism is that of individual freedom with an emphasis on protection against intrusion by ‘authority’, this has often been expanded and altered.  Within the economic domain it often refers to the freedom of business activities and strongly overlaps with neoliberalism.  Other variants such as socialist, anarchist and cooperative libertarians promote freedom from corporate as well as governmental interference.

Politically libertarianism plays a significant role mostly in the u.s., while in Europe it is more of philosophical interest.  Because of the diversity in the usage of the term, it is not easy to find common libertarian principles that could apply to transhumanism.

However there is an extropian manifesto that contains the following policy principles:

  • Endless eXtension – perpetual growth in accord with biological and technological evolution
  • Transcending Restriction – “abolish all restrictions imposed by religion, protectionism, segregation, racism, bigotry, sexism, ageism, and any of the other archaic fears and hatreds”
  • Overcoming Property – reform of “archaic, out-dated human laws that govern possession by improving and/or annihilating terms such as ownership, copyright, patent, money and property”
  • Intelligence – “The most valuable material in the universe is information and the imagination to do something with it”
  • Smart Machines – “attainment of Friendly Artificial Intelligence. We promote the development of robots, computers, and all machines that can emulate human thought, copy minds, and attain intelligence that exceeds human ability”

These are explained further on that site.  They appear to be quite compatible with those of ZS mentioned above, again unsurprisingly.  Another concept that i find very useful is that of the Proactionary Principle explained on the Extropy Institute’s site.

F – Socialism

Even though socialist ideas have been promoted since long before Karl Marx, his version is often associated with the term.  Founded in materialism that holds that history is driven by the changing material base, the economic conditions, which determines the superstructure, society’s culture and politics, it is based on the principles of collective ownership, compensation by contribution and production for use.

While for Marx socialism was a transient period leading by historical necessity to communism, the various forms of socialism we see today, including social democracy, would be described by him as reformist.  He made explicit this distinction in his 1848 Communist Manifesto.

Unfortunately he did not foresee the development of the power of the media we see today, which does a lot to obscure the perception of real class differences, especially in the u.s. where the term ‘class’ has been successfully banned from the vocabulary in order to keep up the pretence that class does not exist, which leads almost half the population to regularly vote contrary to their own material interests.  He also ignored, understandably, the fact that the traits that lead humans to capitalist behaviour in the first place, namely hoarding and raiding, control and violence, are anchored deeply within the genetic code as they proved to be conducive to survival during a long period of human history.  This was the main reason that the only real experiment to implement his model three decades after his death, the soviet union, showed signs of failing even under Lenin and turned into an imperialist ‘thugocracy’ under Stalin, from which it never recovered.  Thus socialism as it exists today is quite distinct from the marxist idea and comes in a wide range of variations which can also be quite distinct from each other.

As it would exceed the scope of this writing to explore the many variations of socialism that today are alive and, because of the accelerating excesses of capitalism, increasingly kicking, it shall suffice to point again to the above quoted article by Twyman.  At least points 2, 3, and 4 in his policy toolkit imply a more or less profound reform if not abolition of capitalism.  In fact the article also includes ‘A note on Marxism’, in which he says:

Social Futurism does not deny the Marxist analysis of the problem, but seeks a staged transition to a post-Capitalist society which does not attempt to undermine the entire basis of our current society in a single move.

I completely agree with this position, but in this context point out that his transhumanism, or ‘social futurism’, is one form, in my view the most advanced, of what Marx would have called ‘socialist reformism’.

Even the third point in the extropian manifesto ‘Overcoming Property’, far from being libertarian as understood in the u.s., is in complete contradiction to the foundation of capitalism.

In closing i must point to the above mentioned principle of ‘production for use’ as opposed to production for profit.  As the latter takes an increasing proportion of value out of the economy and makes it disappear into a finite holding of unproductive land and real estate value as well as an infinite holding of financial or virtual value, transhumanism, which is based in reason, but also any reasonable economist, will see virtue in this principle.

G – Anarchism

Like socialism anarchism is a historic phenomenon with close links to the former that also is alive today in theory but much less in practice of political significance.  There are no anarchist governments in existence and no significant anarchist parties, the latter actually being a self-contradictory concept.  Another problem is that anarchism in much of public perception still carries terrorist connotations.

And like socialism it also manifests a wide range of sometimes contradictory variants, too many to list in this context, but a fairly comprehensive overview can be found here.

However there exists an explicit form of transhumanist anarchism with its own manifesto.  It claims to be based on the Transpolitica manifesto, from which it distinguishes itself by introducing the concept of vanguardism:

Vanguardism traditionally conceived of a small group of people who value a socialist state to guide the working class (proletariat) away from the tyranny of the capitalist-state and the few who run it (bourgeoisie)”.

This is sensible only under the premise of misidentifying socialism as leninism, stalinism or some other such manifestation, and adds nothing of value to the discourse.

While the manifesto is perhaps the most detailed presentation of transhumanist policy ideas, and i essentially agree with its intention and recommend it as a rich source of material and inspiration, i see two major flaws with it.

To associate transhumanism with anarchism, and anarcho-syndicalism and libertarian socialism in particular, instead of promoting these ideas simply as transhumanist policy principles, is a tactically unwise move that will not find much resonance in populations of currently existing polities.  Likewise including the Fermi paradox is unneeded baggage and the question “Have millions of civilisations gone extinct because they could not realize such a [anarchist] society?” is naively self centered and showing an untranshumanist lack of imagination.

It appears to be in disagreement with engaging in electoral procedures within current systems that even allow for such an option.  “Said reform rarely happens as parties become interconnected with the current neoliberal system”.  My conclusion is not inescapable, but a political party by its very nature has to be connected with existing systems, none of which are by definition neoliberal, neoliberalism being just the current marketing device of capitalism.

H – Democracy

Even more so than socialism and anarchism, the term is applied in a myriad of ways, ranging from the just mentioned anarchism through western systems to the DPRK.  Everyone, including transhumanism, and even Jethro Knight’s version, wants to be ‘democratic’ because of the populist attraction it has assumed over the past two centuries.  In truth the rule of the people has remained elusive, and personally i object to it at least until ‘the people’ have, through voluntary, if possible, genetic reprogramming or otherwise, purged themselves of the obstructive tendencies acquired in the course of human evolution.  But a more plausible solution appears to be the delegation of policy decisions to future machine intelligence altogether.  However neither is currently or in the immediate future available and the idea is beyond our current concern; my point here is that like everything else, the idea of rule by the people should be questioned.

But if the ‘will of the people’ is to partake in the generation of political decisions, there should be more efficient ways to accomplish this than through representative bodies, despite the fact that that is currently the only model being practiced.  Most people do not feel like they have any real influence on politics, especially on the state level, and the clearest indicator for this is the often quite low rate of electoral participation.  I shall here present brief descriptions of some alternative approaches.

1. Delegative Democracy

There is precious little information out there on this concept despite it being very plausible at first glance.  The best i could find is Bryan Ford’s 2002 paper, and apparently its last two sections are still under construction.  In 2014 he published ‘Revisited’, which contains some further links.  Both are here.

The idea is that each voting right holder can choose to delegate his vote, preferably to a person he trusts and knows to hold similar views on the matters of concern as himself, or to become a delegate himself.  This principle is repeatable so that the next level will always be comprised of fewer delegates than the previous.  Each delegate is afforded a degree of influence corresponding to the number of votes he represents.  The aim is to combine the principle of direct democracy with the practicality of representative democracy.

Advantages are among others that voters, even those who have no time or inclination to study the issues in question, can feel that their votes are not wasted, and that the cost for entering the process is low.  The WP entry contains a more detailed list, and Ford’s paper discusses ideas on practical problems and solutions.

Software solutions for implementing the systems have been developed and European Pirate Parties are using them.  There is also a brief and quite superficial video introduction.

The model is certainly one to be explored, discussed and tested.

2. Deliberative Democracy

Beyond the question of how to best recognise and realise voters’ intentions, this model is concerned with the quality of those intentions.  Valid decisions can only be arrived at through explicit deliberation free of the influence of prevailing power structures.

The main forum promoting this view is the Center for Deliberative Democracy (CDD) at Stanford and its website contains research papers, events, briefing documents, questionnaires, a downloadable toolkit, case studies, videos and press publications.

The case studies always involve deliberative polling, whereby random samples of people, considered to be statistically representative, convene to intensely deliberate certain issues under the guidance of trained moderators.  They are polled before, during and after their discussions and considerable changes in content and quality of opinion are often found.

Currently the main proponent of the concept is James S. Fishkin, director of the CDD.  He and others present a series of videos that will give the reader a good idea of the theory and current practice of deliberative democracy.

In his 1985 book ‘Is Democracy Possible?’, last updated in 2014, John Burnheim presents a much more profound approach, based on rethinking the current social and political structures quite radically.

He envisions the obliteration of the state, promotes the concept of decentralisation and introduces the idea of ‘demarchy’.  I quote:

In order to have democracy we must abandon elections, and in most cases referendums, and revert to the ancient principle of choosing by lot those who are to hold various public offices. Decision-making bodies should be statistically representative of those affected by their decisions. The illusory control exercised by voting for representatives has to be replaced by the chance of nominating and being selected as an active participant in the formulation of decisions. Elections, I shall argue, inherently breed oligarchies. Democracy is possible only if the decision-makers are a representative sample of the people concerned. I shall call a polity based on this principle a demarchy, using “democracy” to cover both electoral democracy and demarchy […..]

The whole tendency of demarchy is to replace the rigid legal electoral and administrative procedures of state democracy, which tend to standardize and atomize people, by flexible, responsive, participatory procedures that permit and foster maximum variety.

The whole last chapter is devoted to this concept of demarchy.  He lists four conditions for its realisation:

a) The first condition of demarchy being possible is that the society in which it is to be instituted be reasonably democratic in its social attitudes. While recognizing that people may differ greatly in particular abilities, the demarchist does not believe that there is any group of people whose capacities entitle them to a position of special or wide-ranging power in the community. At the base level choices made by people of no special ability are likely to be reasonable provided they are based on sound knowledge. They may need expert advice, but the judgement about whose advice to take is appropriately made by lay persons.

b) The productive technology of the society must be ample to provide a good deal of time and resources that can be devoted to public debate and decision-making.

c) People must value the opportunity for effective participation in matters that interest them and be prepared to leave other matters to those who have those interests, provided they are satisfied that the system is fair and effective.

d) People must be anxious to avoid rigidity, bureaucracy and concentration of power. They must want to avoid giving power to the state if other social mechanisms will produce common goods reliably and fairly.

The book is too full of ideas to do them justice here.  One particular gem that i want to include, because it is the expression of an essentially transhumanist view: “What human nature is is a matter of what human beings can do.”

The whole topic of Deliberative Democracy and this book in particular offer plenty of food for thought, and i highly recommend incorporating these ideas in discussing and developing a foundation for transhumanist politics.

3. Participism

As the name implies, this concept attempts to allow for determination by the people through active participation in both political and economical processes.  These two branches are known separately as parpolity and parecon; their main proponents are Michael Albert, Robin Hahnel and Stephen R.  Shalom.  Instead of discussing these features here suffice it to describe them in the words of the authors.

In a short interview Shalom describes parpolity as

A type of direct democracy, using a system of nested councils. Everyone would be a member of a primary council, which would be small enough for face-to-face decision making and for real deliberation. Decisions that affected only or overwhelmingly the members of one of these councils would be made in that council. Decisions that affected more than the people in a single council would be made in a higher-level council that would consist of delegates from several lower-level councils. There would then be additional council layers as needed to accommodate the entire society. […..] There are other aspects of the Parpolity model—such as the High Council Court, a mechanism that attempts to protect the rights of minorities without (like the US Supreme Court) becoming an instrument of minority rule.

On parecon Hahnel says:

Parecon is a proposal or vision for how to accomplish economic functions consistent with classlessness, self-management, solidarity, equity, diversity, and ecological good sense.  Parecon is not, however, a blueprint, but is rather a formulation of some critical attributes a few key aspects of economics need to have if we are to accomplish desirable aims. Beyond those critical attributes of key aspects, there is, of course, room for great diversity […..]

And what are parecon’s key aspects? First, workers and consumers self-managing councils, where self-management means people have a say in decisions proportionate to the extent they are affected by them […..]

The next key feature of parecon is called balanced job complexes. This names a new way of dividing tasks among jobs. In a participatory economy, you do a job, so do I, and so do all others who are of age and able to do work that contributes to society. More, we each choose a job that we wish to do […..] we define jobs so that each one includes a mix of tasks that convey, overall, roughly the same degree of empowerment as other balanced jobs convey to other workers […..]

The third defining feature of a participatory economy is a new norm for determining how much of the social output each member of society receives […..] people should get a share of the total social output in accord with the duration, intensity, and onerousness or socially valued labor that they do […..]

Finally, the last key aspect of parecon and the hardest to be brief about, is called participatory planning. This approach to allocation replaces markets and central planning, each of which directly violates central aims and values of parecon and each of which also generates class division and class rule […..] Very briefly, workers’ and consumers’ councils, which were mentioned earlier, cooperatively negotiate economic outcomes, without incurring undue costs in time allotted and in a manner conducive not only to self-management, but to the most informed choices possible. The procedures involve making proposals, assessing them, and refining them, all in light of steadily improving indications of true and full social and ecological costs and benefits, until arriving at a plan.

There are several books by each, Albert and Hahnel, and one by Shalom available at Amazon, as well as a graphic book titled Parecomic by Michael Wilson about the concept and about Albert in particular.  A very rich source is the media group Z Communications, cofounded and coedited by Albert.

Deadlines prohibit me to deeply review all the material, but it certainly should be included in the discussion of our topic.

4. Others

There are many other ideas for improving the performance of current systems, more than i have space here to address.  But i want to mention the work of Roberto Mangabeira Unger. In his idea of Empowered Democracy he emphasises the need for social experimentation and wants to see it given room within current polities in the expectation that once underway it will lead to progressive change.  Much of his work can be viewed on and downloaded from his website.

J – Polystate

Even though Amon Twyman uses the term, as mentioned, to categorise ZS, i could not find any further references to it, except last year’s eponymous book by Zach Weinersmith.  This is one of the most interesting ideas i have come across, especially in the transhumanist context as it deals with political constructs based in virtual spaces.  Under the assumption that politics will be increasingly migrating into virtual spaces, as many other activities like business and the media already have done and are doing, i have approached the book from the perspective of looking for solutions not only for developing political theories and performing certain political functions such as voting, but for governance itself.  However instead of internal political structures and functions it concentrates on problems of interstate relationships.

Weinersmith introduces these three concepts:

  1. Anthrostate – “A set of laws and institutions that govern the behavior of individuals, but which do not govern a behavior within geographic borders”.
  2. Geostate – This is a political entity defined by the fact that its governance usually extends over a fixed geographical area. This includes almost all current nation states.
  3. Polystate – “The polystate is the collection of anthrostates in a hypothetical human society”.

The central topic of the book is the anthrostate, and the relationships of multiple not necessarily compatible anthrostates within a polystate.  Weinersmith assumes reasonably that the internal structures and functions as well as their underlying ideologies can vary wildly.  About the concept itself he says: “I am not a proponent of this idea or a detractor”.  The idea of ‘government of choice’ is not a new one.  It is known under the concept of panarchism, first introduced by Paul Émile de Puydt in his 1860 paper ‘Panarchy’.

Unfortunately i let myself be misled into thinking that anthrostates as well as polystates are based within one or several geostates, probably because it is never explicitly stated that a polystate indeed is based within its own geographic area, and because ZS, the one polystate mentioned earlier, is obviously based within many geostates.  Indeed at location 605 is this quote: “WS-1 [a hypothetical polystate] does not claim any territory”.  But there are several other quotes i could list that seem to indicate that polystates can indeed have their own territory.  This conflict is never really resolved.

Much of the book deals with relations between anthrostates, exploring ways in which problems resulting from incompatibilities in for instance economical, criminal, electoral and taxational laws can be resolved, including warfare.  Under current conditions no geostate would cede authority in these matters or tolerate these conflicts within its territory.

As initially mentioned many transhumanist parties have sprung up across the globe, all aiming at participating in national elections except for one: TPV (transhumanist party virtual).  This can not be a true party until it finds a state, such as an anthrostate, within which it could compete.  However the two virtual states mentioned are not prepared for electoral democracy, and may not ever decide to be.  As i know of no other virtual state that is, most likely because an established legislature would not have the power to implement any of the above mentioned policies within the territory of any geostate, and therefore would under current conditions be of limited utility, the whole issue remains hypothetical.

Indeed Weinersmith has described his book as a thought experiment, and as such i find it to be a good source of ideas.  In a recent interview he refers to the “discretization of experience”, by which he means the increasing variety of choices for customers afforded by technology, which he extrapolates, very reasonably, to include choices for customers of government.  In his book however he takes this idea to the point of having for instance an anarchist, a communist, a liberal and a fascist sharing the same house (possibly even the same apartment?) and living under different governments and laws.  This shows the inherent weakness of the oxymoronic concept of virtual reality.  There are only two ways in which it can be achieved:  subjectively, by induced amnesia so that the subject is not aware of any reality outside the one he experiences, which is the model assumed by simulation theories, or objectively, by transitioning from physical existence into virtual existence as software while maintaining awareness of the existence of physical reality.  Unless one accepts the esoteric concept of involution according to which the physical plane of existence emerged from the astral, and that in turn from the causal one, all nonphysical realities always remain rooted in the physical.  To live within a computer its physical machinery must be maintained, protected and energised.  The same is true for a virtual polystate, and sharing it with an IS militant would sooner or later lead to conflict not only between anthrostates but also involving the not so virtual reality of physical swords and bombs.

In conclusion it seems clear that Weinersmith does not offer or try to offer any real solutions to the problem of what used to be subcultures multiplying and consolidating in virtual spaces and reconciling their differences with the physical basis within which they operate.  That will have to be, and is being, done by emerging virtual states, parties and other political bodies themselves.   As for the objective of developing political structures congruent with transhumanist thought, he takes no position here.


Even though the presented constitutes a very limited sample, there is certainly no shortage of ideas, and there are some more elaborate models, out there that can and should be used in discussing and developing theories that will be coherent within a transhumanist framework.  Transhumanist parties and their theoreticians have a big task ahead which is alleviated by agreement on common principles while giving room to accommodating different national conditions.

But i have been encouraged by seeing how many good brains have been working on these ideas for years already.

On this optimistic note i will leave the reader with an interesting historical observation published by the Center for Systemic Peace.

Global Trends in Governance

Editor’s Note:

The author of this chapter has chosen to abide by his personal style which includes customised spelling, neologisms, minimal capitalisation, and other peculiarities, which may appear to the reader to be mistakes.


The article above features as Chapter 7 of the Transpolitica book “Anticipating tomorrow’s politics”. Transpolitica welcomes feedback. Your comments will help to shape the evolution of Transpolitica communications.