You know Donald Trump. You know Hillary Clinton. You may know some third party candidates. But you’ve probably never seen a presidential candidate like Zoltan Istvan.
Istvan, 43, founded the Transhumanist Party this year and is running for president of the United States. His new political organization seeks to “implement a Transhumanist Bill of Rights advocating for government support of longer lifespans via science and technology,” and to “lay groundwork for rights for other future advanced sapient beings like conscious robots and cyborgs.”
He is the author of The Transhumanist Wager, a book he claims “challenges virtually everyone” who reads it.
News2Share’s Ford Fischer had the opportunity to speak to Mr. Istvan in an exclusive interview.
News2Share: You’ve formed the Transhumanist Party and are running for president as a transhumanist. What is a transhumanist?
Zoltan Istvan: A transhumanist is someone who wants to use radical science and technology to modify the human being and modify the human experience. There are a few million of us around the world, and our movement is growing quickly.
News2Share: Transhumanism has been around for a long time, but seems to exist mostly in the science and morality sphere. What is your motivation for taking it into the political sphere?
“Radical science and technology must have people that lead it in Washington.”
News2Share: Many who run for office with an ideology outside the traditional party platforms run on a major party ticket. For example, a libertarian may run as a Republican, or a socialist may run as a Democrat. Do you see a future for transhumanist politics in any of the current parties (including other third parties?)
Zoltan Istvan: To gain any traction in government and the legal arena, transhumanism had to go into politics. We are a mostly secular movement, and if the religious people and other movements have political agendas, then transhumanism must also stand up and develop one. That’s why it’s essential to have a political party as well as candidates who run for office—especially the presidency to show what a transhumanist country would look like. We also need lobbying groups and government members spreading the transhumanist philosophy. We must engage in all aspects of life in America and abroad. Radical science and technology must have people that lead it in Washington.
Yes, I think if I ran again, I might do it for one of the major parties. That doesn’t mean I’d abandon the Transhumanist Party, but one must be practical. It takes millions of dollars to get on all the 50 state ballots, and the Transhumanist Party just doesn’t have it. So until that happens, it’s okay to use the other parties and declare myself a transhumanism within a greater political outlook.
News2Share: Polls show that the public finds the Republican and Democrat party candidates very unfavorably. Third parties really need the support of all sides of the political spectrum to be popular. I’ve actually had the chance to ask Gary Johnson (Libertarian Party) how he’d appeal to Democrat voters and Jill Stein (Green Party) how she’d appeal to conservatives. I’ll ask you both. What would be your pitch to unhappy conservative voters?
Zoltan Istvan: I was raised in a Republican household, so I understand the values of being fiscally conservative. I also interviewed over a 2-day process with Gary Johnson to be his VP, so that tells you something about my distrust of big government. However, my wife is an ObGyn at Planned Parenthood, and if women’s right to do with her body what she wants is a deal breaker, then don’t vote for me. But if you want lower taxes and smaller government (and can get over my being somewhat socially liberal), then I’m your guy.
News2Share: What about unhappy progressive voters?
Zoltan Istvan: Transhumanism and my platform spends much of its time advocating for rights of humans to do what they want. That falls squarely in line with progressive views. Many Bernie supporters are millennials, and since I’m young (only 43), you can get policies that he largely supports, with a bit more fiscal conservativism—all with me in one package. However, a main platform idea of mine is the Universal Basic Income, so that will surely endear progressives to me. In fact, I’m the only visible candidate promoting that idea.
“Playing God is exactly what I think a wise and reason-based society should do.”
News2Share: Part of transhumanism deals with the quest for immortality. While increasingly secular, American voters do tend to be rather religious. How do you answer the criticism that you’re “playing God?”
Zoltan Istvan: I’m the first visible “declared atheist” presidential candidate in American history. Playing God is exactly what I think a wise and reason-based society should do. We are sophisticated animals that can use tools to reach outer space and do heart transplants and create gene editing technology. Let’s recreate the human being into something that doesn’t have to die or needs an almighty God with strict rules. We can be our own gods—our own masters.
News2Share: Your platform says you’d like to “Spread a pro-science culture by emphasizing reason and secular values.” Let’s say you’re elected president. Should religious individuals feel threatened by your agenda?
Zoltan Istvan: I don’t think religious people should feel threatened by my agenda. I do want to get rid of fundamental religion, but it’s okay and perhaps welcomed to be spiritual. I think our interpretation of divinity just needs a reset, but it doesn’t need to disappear. And I would allow religious freedoms while firmly emphasizing separation of Church and State.
“LGBT rights and transhumanism are on the same page, but transhumanism is already looking towards a completely genderless existence—or an existence with dozens of genders.”
News2Share: You wrote a piece for Psychology Today that compared the LGBT movement with transhumanism. Can you elaborate on this overlap? Do you believe your ideas will become as popular as support for LGBT rights?
Zoltan Istvan: I definitely believe transhumanist rights will become as important as LGBT rights—or civil rights for that matter. In fact, I think transhumanism will pose a larger barrier to progression of humanity than any other issue in the last 10,000 years. Transhumanism is essentially the merging of biology with machines, and then machines with pure data, and then even beyond that. This is evolution, and it’s the nature of how intelligence operates in the universe. So yes, LGBT rights and transhumanism are on the same page, but transhumanism is already looking towards a completely genderless existence—or an existence with dozens of genders. Transhumanism is much more radical and complex than the LGBT movement. For whatever it’s worth, many transhumanists are LGBT people, so I see LGBT in many ways as the start of transhumanist thinking.
News2Share: Your platform includes “the right to do anything to your body so long as it doesn’t harm others.” This is a basic tenant of libertarianism, which follows the non-aggression principle. Do you agree with the NAP? Do you consider yourself a sort of libertarian?
Zoltan Istvan: I basically agree with the NAP, and yes, I consider myself a left-leaning Libertarian. However, in light of transhumanism’s #1 goal being about not dying, the NAP doesn’t cover that. That’s where the NAP doesn’t work for a transhumanist. A transhumanist believes it’s a declaration of war if someone or some government stands in the way of living indefinitely (after all, that stance kills us). That’s why I think how George W. Bush stopped federal funding for stem cell for 7 years for religious reasons is essentially a crime against humanity. The same thing goes for the Pope and the Catholic policy against condoms (the condom is perhaps the greatest life extension device ever created). Do you realize more Africans may die from AIDS and not wearing condoms (because the Catholic church is against it) than the entire holocaust? There are over 200 million Catholic Africans. It’s a tragedy—all because the archaic Catholic religion can’t and won’t join the 21st Century.
“I believe, like education to kids or the right to a trial when accused of a crime, that the world should aim and insist on providing the option for an indefinite lifespans for all people.”
News2Share: Your platform emphasizes the move toward technology to enhance health and lifespan, which you frame as a “right.” Is it one’s right to pursue these technologies, or is it their right to have them, such that the government must provide it for them if they cannot receive it on their own?
Zoltan Istvan: This is a tough one, however I’m going to say it’s humanity’s right to prove health and tech for everyone in the age where robots do most the jobs—which will be here in about 15-25 years. We are entering a phase where the institutions we once knew—jobs, capitalism, retirement, police, etc—are not going to be necessary, as we will all be so interconnected and there will be so many robots around us, that life will be totally different. So, yes, I believe, like education to kids or the right to a trial when accused of a crime, that the world should aim and insist on providing the option for an indefinite lifespans for all people.
News2Share: If the government is to provide this technology to individuals, does it not “harm others” since other people are necessarily forced to fund it through taxation? If the private sector is to provide these services, then is a person’s access to transhumanist technology limited by their financial resources?
Zoltan Istvan: My goal is to provide these resources from the abundance of material wealth the coming robot age will provide. Robots will be so cheap. They will do everything—wash dishes, cook dinner, drive us places, provide sexual fulfillment, etc. The same goes for technology in our bodies. In the near future (I already have a chip in my hand that starts cars and opens my home door), we will be part machine, part human. Ultimately, everything will be in the domain of radical tech. Some people may have it better than others, but every one will have it far better than even the richest have it now. That’s the techno-optimist future transhumanism can provide.
“We gave up privacy 10 years ago. It’s amazing people try to pretend we can retain it in the age of tech. We can’t.”
News2Share: You advocate “[Encouraging] private industry to develop and support usage of a cranial trauma alert chip that notifies emergency crews of extreme trauma.” Would use of this chip be mandatory? How would you reassure people that being micro-chipped wouldn’t infringe on their privacy, particularly if the government had access to them?
Zoltan Istvan: No, it would not be mandatory. But like a smart phone, only the luddite or the unreasonable would not use it. And privacy–you mean like when we walk out our door and there are cameras all over, at every gas station, or in the supermarket, or apps on our phone following us everywhere, or satellites in the air that can quickly see our facial expressions and track us? We gave up privacy 10 years ago. It’s amazing people try to pretend we can retain it in the age of tech. We can’t. What we can do is use tech to expose the government and keep it sane and honest. We can out fit our every government official with live cameras to follow their every move. We can turn the tables on them with surveillance. But privacy in the real way, we all gave that up a decade ago, and it’s never coming back.
News2Share: Ross Ulbricht, the founder of Silk Road which was used to buy and sell recreational drugs online using Bitcoin, was sentenced to life in federal prison. As president, would you pardon him?
Zoltan Istvan: Yes, I’d pardon him for selling and buying recreational drugs online. I believe in the legalization of all drugs. It’s one of my major policy platforms. End the damn drug war already.
“I want to empty 90% of the people in prisons—only the very deranged or violent should be kept lock up. I want drones and radical surveillance tech to monitor those that get out.”
News2Share: Please flesh out your opinion on sites like Silk Road, criminal justice, and cryptocurrency.
Zoltan Istvan: The only issue with me on sites like Silk Road is the question of whether it’s being used to harm minors. We must protect underaged people–however, adults can do what they please so long as they’re not directly or intentionally harming others. I don’t think selling drugs from one adult to another is harming them. Adults must be responsible for themselves and their actions.
My idea of criminal justice rests on technology. I want to empty 90% of the people in prisons—only the very deranged or violent should be kept lock up. I want drones and radical surveillance tech to monitor those that get out. I want them working and paying taxes, not living off the system and mingling with criminals on a daily basis. I want the saved billions of dollars on prison expenses spent on education. I believe in mandatory college, especially since humans will soon be living to 150. Education reduces crime and makes people happier, so we must aim to give everyone a college education in America. And I plan to make college free to those who can’t afford it or don’t want to.
Cryptocurrencies are brilliant. I’m totally in support. The Transhumanist Party takes Bitcoin donations.
News2Share: A lot of your ideas seem to be based on longer-term technology which likely couldn’t be achieved in one presidency. What goals of transhumanism would you consider practical and hope to accomplish in the course of four (or, if re-elected, eight) years?
Zoltan Istvan: I think there would be three main goals: 1) reduce military and turn American into a science industrial complex. Eight years could go a long way there. 2) Focus on cresting artificial organs, like bionic heart. We could be there with elective upgrades in 8-10 years (a third of everyone dies from heart disease). 3) Create a Transhumanist Olympics. (This could be done in 4 years and would be great promotion of the future and of science).