Transhumanism and 2016 Presidential race

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Many adjectives have been used to describe the philosophy of transhumanism, but ‘political’ is not usually one of them. But say this to Zoltan Istvan and he’ll give you a very different perspective. He’s a science fiction author, a former journalist for National Geographic, and now he’s the Transhumanist Party 2016 presidential candidate.

Yes, you read that correctly, there’s a political party devoted to transhumanism that’s trying to make its way to the national scene. To be sure, it’s a memberless party—a fact that Istvan emphasizes to offset criticism from other transhumanists who point out that government science entities, such as like the National Institutes of Heath (NIH), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), are prohibited from funding political parties and campaigns.

But why run in a presidential election where the best case scenario that one can hope for (assuming that the Transhumanist Party can even get on the ballot in key states) is placing fifth, behind the Democratic, Republican, Libertarian and Green candidates? Istvan’s answer to me when we chatted recently was that he wants to get transhumanism on to the public radar screen. He seeks to bring the science research needed to advance transhumanism to the attention of Millennial generation voters so that they’ll support massive restructuring of the federal budget—manifesting mostly as increased funding of science and medical research paid for by decreasing funding of the Department of Defense.

If this kind of talk about revolutionary budget changes reminds you of Bernie Sanders, you’re getting the right idea. In our chat, Istvan noted that he’d love to become “the Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump of transhumanism”, simplifying his key issues to such a degree that he risks being inaccurate with terminology and scientific detail to the point of irking scientists. But the prize for doing this, Istvan says, is that he’ll attract numerous followers who might be put off by the careful, nuanced, policy wonkish talk of Hillary Clinton and other mainstream candidates, and that creating a pop-culture connected with science would be good for the country.

The Transhumanist Party is about science successfully competing against all the trivial things out there that dominate America’s mindset, like the Military, Football, the Church, and Hollywood. I want science and reason to dominate America. I don’t like the military, football, religion, or Hollywood. I like celebrity scientists. I like Noble prize winners in Chemistry. I like Bill Nye. I like nonreligious people.

What is transhumanism?

Transhumanism is the idea that it is possible and desirable to enhance the human condition through application of science and technology. There is nothing inherently political about it and transhumanists around the planet adhere to variety of political viewpoints. In the United States, transhumanists vote for Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, and other parties based on numerous issues that don’t necessarily related to their life philosophy, or religious views.

“Transhumanism is a positive philosophy about the future based in optimism, rational thinking, and the application of science and technology,” says technology entrepreneur-inventor-futurist Peter Rothman, who served five years as editor of h+ Magazine, a transhumanist publication and opposes politicizing transhumanism. “We seek to live longer, stay healthier, and become smarter and even more physically fit. We want to develop tools and technologies to help ourselves and others do the same.”

Such technology can include a range of developments, such as gene therapy, genome editing applied to mitigate the aging process (and along with that degenerative diseases), and bionic organs and limbs and various implants that could enhance human capabilities rather than merely replacing capabilities lost to  disease or injury.

Recently, Genetic Literacy Project highlighted the work of Bioviva, Inc and its CEO Elizabeth Parrish who is undergoing two different gene therapies in hopes that they will slow the aging process along the way help in treatment of degenerative disease. That’s an example of transhumanist work, even if Biovia doesn’t use the term transhumanism. Essentially, anybody who favors progress in science and its application to make humans more capable and longer-lived is a kind of transhumanists, but some people identify more overtly with transhumanist philosophy. American artist and designer, Dr. Natasha Vita-More and her husband, Max More, for instance, are both public figures in the transhumanist movement advocating for radical changes of humanity through the implementation of technology. Back in 1983, Vita-More authored the Transhumanist Manifesto, speculating about possibility about radical life extension and since then has used her artistic to create images of how humans may look in decades and centuries to come as a result of genetic and other technologies. Max More is the CEO of the Alcor life Extension Foundation, which administers cryonic treatment (preservation of the human body or head by vitrification just after legal death in hopes that future technologies will be able to reverse the cause of death).

Vita-More has spoken extensively about the dangers of growing misunderstanding of transhumanism among the general public, a problem that may stem largely from the numerous fields of technology development that feed into transhumanism by offering possible routes for the human condition to change radically.

Alongside the real-life technological developments, transhumanism also shows itself in popular culture. One example is the BBC America hit science fiction TV series, Orphan Black, which over the last four years has presented visions of a human enhancement-minded culture and human-altering gene therapy that are imaginative, but increasingly in line with today’s state of the art science.

David Warmflash is an astrobiologist, physician and science writer. Follow @CosmicEvolution to read what he is saying on Twitter.