The Transhumanist Party
By Amon Twyman
Transhumanism has historically been an effectively apolitical movement, focussed on technological improvement of the human condition. While some political obstacles to that goal have been recognized, Transhumanists’ political views have traditionally covered a broad range, making the emergence of a unified Political Transhumanism seem highly problematic. A paradigm shift appears to have occurred in 2014, with the establishment of the Transhumanist Party in the USA by Zoltan Istvan. Subsequently a number of related groups have rapidly appeared around the world, in an entire new movement dedicated to the idea of Political Transhumanism, with the Transhumanist Party as its primary vehicle in any given country.
This chapter will consider the relationship between that movement and Transhumanism as a whole, what character the nascent Transhumanist Party appears to be developing, and the question of possible long-term strategies to transform the politics of the Twenty First Century.
A Unified Political Transhumanism
Transhumanism is an intellectual and cultural movement to expand human capabilities through technology. Transhumanism integrates numerous ideas and ideologies under one umbrella, and that diversity can make it difficult to trace a singular origin to the movement. Although earlier uses of the word “transhuman” and similar concepts have been noted (reaching as far back as Julian Huxley and even Friedrich Nietzsche), the general consensus seems to be that Transhumanism as a modern movement began with the ideas of futurist F.M. Esfandiary (AKA F.M. 2030) at the New School in 1960s New York.
From there, there was a slow emergence of groups in the UK and California which gave rise to the Extropy Institute in the late 1980s, and later an explosive proliferation of organisations and sub-movements owing their growth to the internet. The movement now comprises tens or even hundreds of thousands of members, a number of wealthy patrons, and a wide array of factions and specialist interests. The one consistent idea at the heart of it all, known as the “Central Meme of Transhumanism” or CMT, is that we can and should improve the human condition through technology.
Politically, the movement has historically been highly diverse, with that diversity only increasing with the growth of the movement. Certain popular currents of thought come and go, such as Libertarianism being very popular in Extropian circles in the 1980s and 1990s, but there has never been a point at which being a Transhumanist has strongly implied having a particular political outlook. That diversity has occasionally led to assertions that Transhumanism is inherently apolitical, and in some quarters it is (with Transhumanists often preferring technical over political solutions to problems), but we must note that a diversity of political opinion and a lack of it are not the same thing. There are indeed many Transhumanists with political interests, and although they often differ in those interests they certainly agree on the core impulse of Transhumanism.
The existence of significant (if diverse) political opinion on the part of Transhumanists reflects the fact that many of them recognize that their technological aspirations may be hindered or even blocked entirely by political opponents. There has however never been any serious attempt to unify Transhumanists behind a single political effort, ideology, or framework in order to deal effectively with that opposition. The resultant diversity has historically made the emergence of a unified Political Transhumanismseem highly unlikely. To look at that another way, any unified Political Transhumanism could only represent aspects of the wider Transhumanist movement, and never the entire thing. Such aspects would not just include the occasionally incompatible philosophies which comprise the Transhumanist movement, but also traditional political (e.g. Left/Right) divisions between individual Transhumanists. Any decision as to which aspects of Transhumanism to emphasize could be made deliberately, or allowed to emerge via some process, but in either case there inevitably would be some bona fide Transhumanists who quite rightly felt that the party did not represent their views.
Possible responses to this situation fall into three categories. First, a person could simply say that this is a non-issue, as a political variant of Transhumanism strikes them as irrelevant or undesirable in some way. Although that is a valid point of view, we might note that it is one that politically-empowered opponents of Transhumanism (such as lobbyists on behalf of conservative religious groups) would be very happy to see all Transhumanists adopt.
The second category is the favored response of fanatical ideologues throughout history: To declare that there is no problem because only one variant of Transhumanism is valid, and all others are not worthy of the name. Putting my own belief in the power of diversity aside, I think it suffices to say that any Political Transhumanism that started out by alienating most Transhumanists would probably not have a high chance of eventual success.
Finally, one might suppose that we could “square the circle”, integrating the various disparate strands of Transhumanism in some manner that preserves difference and yet creates an effective, united front. Any such approach would seem to require that two conditions are satisfied. The first condition is that any approach or ideology consistent with the CMT must be assured a fair chance of at least partially informing policy adopted by Transhumanist political parties, if there is to be any plausible claim to universality by those parties. The second is that when making their decisions, those parties cannot be expected to wait for or please every other person and group calling themselves Transhumanist, since that would lead to deadlock and bland policy which fully satisfies no-one within the movement.
Given these conditions, I would argue that the ancient model we need to follow is not the analytical “squaring the circle”, but the altogether more forthright “cutting the Gordian Knot”. In other words, rather than attempting to carefully balance the concerns and preferences of myriad groups (a nigh-impossible task under even the best circumstances), a Transhumanist political party should boldly move ahead and do as it must. The only caveat – and the one thing stopping this from being the “fanatical” second option already noted – is that all Transhumanists must always have the option of getting involved and shaping policy. No Transhumanist could be excluded from the party on the basis of beliefs that are compatible with the CMT and the existence of the Party itself, no matter how unorthodox they may be.
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