Transhumanism—the burgeoning field of merging people with machines and synthetic components—is under siege by socialism. In the 1980s, when transhumanism first got started in California by libertarian-minded philosophers, few considered the political and economic ramifications of the movement. It was, after all, a movement heavily steeped in science fiction with little real-life technology to show. Today, with genetic engineering, artificial intelligence, and brain implants that can nearly connect us to the web, the movement is starting to affect every aspect of society. And those on the far left want to make sure the movement is advantageous for them.
Whether a social movement is embraced by the left or right can ultimately determine its course. Take environmentalism, for example, which has over a billion adherents. It’s decidedly a movement associated with leftist political tendencies. In fact, many leaders in the GOP outright deny climate change despite much scientific evidence, and our President has recently rolled back environmental regulations—all in a bid to push back against leftists gaining traction in this ever increasing hot-button political and social issue.
With its main goal of trying to stop biological death with science, transhumanism is growing quickly around the world—and could one day rival the environmental movement in scope and impact. Partially funded by Silicon Valley billionaires like Peter Thiel, Mark Zuckerberg, and Larry Ellison, transhumanism offers a view of the world that nothing is natural and everything is possible. But like all powerful social change, a challenging question remains: Who will be able to afford the technology?
While reputable formal studies don’t exist, the transhumanism movement seems to be growing quickly in size, especially on Facebook and in social media. Over 100 internet groups exist, some with nearly 20,000 people each. Most of the recent growth in transhumanism seems to be coming from the youth. Over a third of Americans are under the age of 35, and a large majority that are voting age identify as independent or Democrats. It’s for this reason, that transhumanism is turning left after years of being known as a libertarian-minded movement.
As a 45-year old transhumanist and former political candidate, I try to make my work and writings a bridge between the elder academics who started transhumanism and the youth where most of the growth of the movement appears to be. Despite my personal libertarian leanings, I try to incorporate all sides of the movement into one space to maintain cohesion. I’m not sure it’s working well, as I’m increasingly seeing a more pronounced tug-of-war to define transhumanism’s direction and social values to veer hard left.
Take bioethicist Alex Pearlman’s recent story on the front page of Medium. It was titled: The Misguided Idiot’s Quest for Immortality: A diatribe on the folly and privilege of the Transhumanist movement. Like the title suggests, it assumes transhumanism is for the rich, and is therefore basically anti-society. Pearlman doubles down on the biggest question left-leaning transhumanists ask: How will we keep the rich from hoarding all the best technology for themselves and leaving the rest of society behind?
It’s a valid question, though it smells of 20th Century robber baron talk. In the 21st Century, tech billionaires are sometimes known as much for their money as their humanitarian deeds. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is an example. So is Mark Zuckerberg and his wife’s multi-billion dollar donation to eradicate all disease by the end of the century.
Ultimately, I believe the so-called One Percent—the very richest of society—don’t desire to leave the rest of the world behind by taking radical transhumanist upgrades only for themselves. I think many young superrich are partially humbled by their successes and want to spend vast amounts of their wealth to make the world better. Many successful tech entrepreneurs I know—most who are fun-loving geeks at heart—are ultimately altruistic, and not personalities that obsessively want to always outdo their neighbors. Many seem almost guilty of their newfound wealth, and some of them make a point of sharing it through visionary nonprofit programs in order to give something back to the world.
Despite this, one look at liberal media, and it’s easy to see that transhumanism and its wealthy patrons are getting a bad rap. Journalists—many who are science lovers themselves—often accuse technology leaders of steering humanity into a dystopian future. Reading much of the negativity about transhumanism that now comes out frequently, it’s easy to see that many of the article’s journalists support increased big government and even believe capitalism might be outright philosophically wrong.
The real threat of transhumanism succumbing to socialism is not that it turns left, but that competition and free markets is rooted from the creation and distribution of its technology. We need healthy competition in any endeavor humanity pursues—something the 20th Century geo-political climate and the fall of the Soviet Union taught us all too well. In the near future, though genetic engineering, neural augmentation, and bionic organs and body parts, we may not all be born equal—or even be the same fundamental species. However, to remain on equal footing in the world, we must stand behind the advancing field of transhumanism with its historical impulses of liberty as a topmost concern. Socialism has a long, violent history of precisely not doing that—of strangling emerging social movements—so transhumanists must be on their guard against it. Transhumanists must favor the free world and free market to make its movement as powerful and successful as possible.
Author: Zoltan Istvan is a futurist, technology speaker and was the 2016 US Presidential nominee of the Transhumanist Party
Header Photo: Zoltan Istvan, endorsed Libertarian Party candidate for California Governor 2018, argues that technology and science must be free of government interference at a debate in Sacramento State University while surrounded by Democrat gubernatorial candidates