About a book: The Transhumanist Wager by Zoltan Istvan

Zoltan Istvan is running for president this year, as a member of the Transhumanist Party.

He has some reasonable ideas amidst the stuff that you know will keep him out of serious running. On the one hand, he wants good education for everyone, a flat tax and a has a Libertarian stance on recreational drugs. On the other hand, the party platform has stuff like phasing out jobs for humans, creating rights for cyborgs and stressing secular values.

If his novel, The Transhumanist Wager, however, is more of the platform manifesto it seems to be, he'd be a bit on the dangerous side for the world.

The novel itself paints a picture of a futuristic, science-based capitalist near-Utopia that really is not all that far off. People will live forever in good health thanks to medical procedures that renew our systems and a change in telomerase rates (that's something SENS is actually working on in real life — I've written about them here before) and the introduction of mechanical implants.

The nation that develops this technology, Transhumania, exists because some of the world's great scientists, under the direction of American movement leader Jethro Knights, are forced out of their own countries for their views on transhumanism, the idea that humans can evolve into something greater.

The anti-transhuman movement is driven in large part by religious groups in the U.S., and in particular by Reverend Belinas, a megachurch leader with deep political connections. He advises the president and many members of Congress, as well as some of the country's wealthiest individuals.

The world's top powers get together and decide to put an ultimatum on Transhumania, but Knights goes before their leaders and demands their surrender. The powers eventually kidnap Knights, but he escapes thanks to some of Transhumania's inventions and a chip implanted in his neck. When the top nations attack Transhumania, it turns out the defense systems are so complex there are barely any injuries on Transhumania's side; meanwhile, redirected rockets are responsible for the allies hitting each other's ships, killing thousands.

At this point, Transhumania puts its military might to work, letting all the countries know which symbolically powerful landmarks will be wiped out so that people can be cleared away. Knights' forces then destroy religious and political landmarks, from the Vatican, Mecca and the Western Wall to Parliament, Buckingham Palace and the White House.

Once the centers of superstition and power are wiped out, the reasoning goes, science can take over.

After this attack, Knights launches into a speech that feels as long and overwrought as John Galt's 98-page monster in Atlas Shrugged (it's not nearly that long, but sometimes it feels like it). Join us and live forever, Knights says, or we're just going to leave you behind. You're to be well-educated and productive, or we might as well just kill you and have you stop using our resources. There are too many people; decide which side you'd like to be on.

The book ends with some medical science at work; medical science that we're headed toward in real life. Morgan Spurlock saw some of it in Season 2, Episode 2 of "Inside Man" (see him talking about it a little bit here).

There's certainly some validity to transhumanism. We're not ready for it in our current generation, I don't think; it requires allowing everyone to rise on their own merit, turning ego only to improving oneself without allowing for competition. The kind of empathy transhumanism allows is evolutionary, not individual — we're not out to save all lives, just the lives that will help advance humans.

But read the book. Get educated. For as alarming as the anti-religion, anti-nation bits are, there's a new perspective that a growing population is finding worthwhile.

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