Book Review and Recommendation - Zoltan Istvan: “The Transhumanist Wager” -

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Book Review and Recommendation - Zoltan Istvan: “The Transhumanist Wager”

Posted: Thu, May 09, 2013 | By: Transhumanism

by Joern Pallensen

The few books I read tend to circle around values. Two such books, among the very best I’ve ever read, are Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the art of motorcycle maintanance, and We by Yevgeny Zamyatin.

Just yesterday, I finished reading Zoltan Istvan’s “The Transhumanist Wager“, and I emphatically tell you: This is a book of the same, highest quality, – a must-read. It really deserves a much deeper and extensive analysis than I can – or will -present here, but at the very least I wish to express my deepest admiration and respect.

This essay was first published on Joern’s blog, HERE 

According to Amazon book description, this philosophical thriller has been called “revolutionary” and “socially dangerous” by readers, scholars, and religious authorities, and at Goodreads I learn that it is Scorned by over 500 publishers and literary agents around the world”.

That, in itself, says nothing about the quality of the book, but it kinda makes you want to read it, doesn’t it, especially if you are a rebellious character like myself..

Essentially, it is a head-on, uncompromising, revolutionary and – if necessary - militant attack on the brainwashing bullshit of religion and societal rules and etiquette.

I am tempted to call it “devilishly” intelligent…

Diagnosing the patient:

“America is a nation of submissive, dumbed-down, codependent, faith-minded zombies obsessed with celebrity gossip, buying unnecessary goods, and socializing without purpose on their electronic gadgets. The crazy thing is that people don’t even know it; they still think they’re free. Everywhere, people have been made into silent accomplices in the government’s twisted control game”.

“What seems worst of all, though, is that even the leaders don’t recognize this. The greatest danger of the whole mess is that all this Western-American conditioning has been on autopilot for centuries. Nobody is in control of it anymore. It’s a mindless goliath wandering the Earth, devouring lives, erasing potential, and following its every whim— regardless of how irrational, obscene, uneducated, enslaving, or backwards its actions are. The American Dream has become a death sentence of drudgery, consumerism, and fatalism: a garage sale where the best of the human spirit is bartered”

Transhumanists, according to Jethro Knights, the book’s main character and hero, think differently:

“We don’t belong to that feeble-minded populace. We don’t accept their rules and mandates as the gold standard of civilization and experience. We have seen their trap for what it is, and now have a very different mindset than the typical American“.

That, of course, is debatable. There is a lot of truth in it, but even transhumanists have different mindsets, and not all are as uncompromising, relentless and Libertarian as Jethro Knights. Where exactly I see myself.., – well, – I’ll tell you some other time.., just keep in mind that Jethro Knights does not represent all transhumanists, probably not even the majority. – For an overview, click here

The morality of Transhuman Citizen..


- not by democracy, decency, altruism, kindness, or notions of humanity and mammalian love— and especially not by that petty, archaic concept of religion.


My guess is that even transhumanists will object to such rhetoric. We can all agree on a common goal to overcome death, but sacrificing democracy, decency, altruism, kindness, etc. in the process ???

I warn you, however, not to be fooled here, and before turning your backs on the Transhuman Citizen, let me say this: Jethro Knights makes no false claims, – rather he is  presented negatively as someone who shuns no means to reach his goals, but in reality – if you ask me that is, - he is way more decent, altruistic and kind  than any lying, self-righteous religulous.. ***, – (tempted to use strong words here..), – who would have us believe that religion has a patent on morality. It has NOT, and neither has society. In fact:

“It’s all this social properness and political correctness that’s made so much of the human species imbecilic and nonfunctional. It’s almost as bad as religion”.

“Your preachers, politicians, educators, and cohorts have lied to you for so long, from the day of your birth onward. They have conditioned you to obey and follow the status quo of your long-standing societies and its mores, tricking you into believing that by remaining one of them you are following the best, most righteous path. But it is not the best, most righteous path— it’s an ignorant fool’s path. It’s one that leads to death, and also one that leads to overall mediocrity and a personal state of reduced power. I implore each of you to leave that fraudulent path behind, to revolt against it, to think totally for yourself, to strive for your individual power, to embrace transhumanism and our inevitable evolution as a transcendent species.

We should, therefore, “rather than foolishly getting lost in the complexity of etiquette, begin accomplishing whatever real task is at hand.”

Zoltan Istvan
Zoltan Istvan

Defending religion and the status quo, Jethro knights’ main adversary, Reverend Belinas, warns us:

[The Transhumanist] …strives to think and reason just like a computer. He wants his dreams to manifest in programming code. He is a hater of humankind, of our beating hearts and the warm blood flowing in our veins. I warn each of you now, when the Antichrist reaches his full form he will not be a human being. He will not be a beast with horns. He will not be mere flesh. He will be cold, metallic, and entirely artificial— composed of microchips, electrical impulses, and software. The Antichrist will be the first, fully self-aware machine— a totally synthetic intelligent consciousness. Anything that uses unbroken, infallible logic will, by its nature, attain pure evil. And that ghastly thing, that great wickedness, will instinctively and relentlessly strive to destroy the human race and all life in the universe until it is the sole remaining entity”.

Yeah, right, – now compare that to the mass sentencing of an ‘eternal punishment of suffering’ of those who don’t worship Jehovah, Jesus, or Allah and follow their rules

In addition..

“all people and their governments have been sanctioning and carrying out formulas of mass murder for centuries. Every time they accept anti-science laws instead of pro-science laws, every time they embrace restrictive religious attitudes instead of freethinking human enhancement attitudes, every time they pay for trillion-dollar wars abroad instead of funding trillion-dollar wars at home against cancer, heart disease, or old age, they are prematurely ending the lives of their fellow human beings. Premeditated or not, their participation constitutes a quantifiable contribution to an ongoing global humanicide. The truth is undeniable. All but transhumanists are guilty executioners of their fellow humans’ precious life hours.”

The central thesis of The Transhumanist Wager is that


the essence of its mission…


As for its philosophy,

Teleological Egocentric Functionalism“Teleological— because it is every advanced individual’s inherent design and desired destiny to evolve. Egocentric— because it is based on each of our selfish individual desires, which are of the foremost importance. Functional— because it will only be rational and consequential”,

- I would again warn against being out of hand judgemental. Think about it: “Righteous” and self-aggrandizing people often turn out to be the very opposite of what they pretend to be. In the same way, maybe, just maybe, “TEF” is far more noble than you may think, – far more noble than it presents itself..

This book is a brilliant, albeit deeply provocative, MASTERPIECE that impels you to question your personal moral imperatives, – if you have any, that is, and are not among the feeble-minded.. – It is a MUST-read ! – It is also extremely entertaining.

Any serious criticism ?.. – Well, – the book’s frontpage is ugly and boring..

This essay was first published on Joern’s blog, HERE 

Watch and listen to interview with Zoltan Istvan on Singularity Weblog: Zoltan Istvan: The Transhumanist Wager Is A Choice We’ll All Have To Make


I find this review amusing in its defensiveness.  It seems to be written as though I am expected to be upset, or even morally outraged, by the book.  On the contrary, I expect to find the book as described to be a breath of fresh air.  IMHO, the transhumanist future can’t get here soon enough—bring it on!

By Kennita Watson on May 09, 2013 at 12:07pm

Kennita, - you said:

[This review] “seems to be written as though I am expected to be upset, or even morally outraged, by the book”

That is spot on. I do expect most people, including transhumanists, to be upset and morally outraged by the book”, and yes, that is exactly why I warn against being judgemental too soon. Read the book, then I am pretty sure you will know what I’m talking about, or you could listen to the interview on Singularity Weblog, where “Socrates” reads a few passages, that upset him. - I totally understand why this book is being called “socially dangerous”, but my own opinion is it is socially LIBERATING, - a breath of fresh air as you say, and I am very pleased with your comment, which itself is a breath of fresh air smile

By joern pallensen on May 09, 2013 at 5:46pm

Hi Kennita,
Thanks for the comments. It’s true, Joern’s review is slightly defensive. However, every morning I wake up and there are new hate emails in my inbox regarding the supposedly dangerous ideas of my novel. I’m not sure who these emails are coming from, but they are making me slightly defensive too, especially as I interact on social media, etc. So I do understand his position.

I’m very glad readers are out there like yourself who consider it a breath of fresh air. And I very much agree with you that the transhumanist future can’t get here soon enough.  smile

Wishing you well, Zoltan Istvan

By Zoltan Istvan on May 09, 2013 at 6:00pm

You can read my somewhat less deferential review of Istvan’s book on Amazon.

Back in high school I had an English teacher in my junior year named Juanita Ellis. One day Mrs. Ellis told the class that every generation of teenagers thinks it just invented sex. As I recall, she said this to give us 16 and 17 year old youths some perspective on the class’s reading assignment, possibly “Romeo and Juliet.”

That recollection came to mind when I read Istvan’s novel. He writes like he just invented transhumanism, when some of us started to think about these ideas, and to live with their consequences, before he was born.  I welcome him to the party, but a lot of us got here long before he did, and he might have a few things to learn from his elders.

As for the idea of a “transhumanist wager,” I basically agree with it. But then, what can you do in the here and now to operationalize it? Istvan on his website writes:

“If a reasoning human being loves and values life, they will
want to live as long as possible—the desire to be immortal.
Nevertheless, it’s impossible to know if they’re going to be
immortal once they die. To do nothing doesn’t help the odds
of attaining immortality—since it seems evident that everyone
will die someday and possibly cease to exist. To try to do
something scientifically constructive towards ensuring
immortality beforehand is the most logical conclusion.”

So suppose you put on your agenda for next week to “do something scientifically constructive towards ensuring immortality”? You wake up Monday morning, groom yourself, have breakfast - and then what?

Transhumanist Wager—->  ??? —-> Immortality!

In other words, what keeps the Transhumanist Wager from turning into something like the business plan of the underpants-stealing gnomes in that famous “South Park” episode?

By Mark Plus on May 09, 2013 at 7:23pm

I am 16% of the way through Zoltan’s book on my Kindle and I am loving it. I think it is just what transhumanism needs. Transhumanism has plenty of scientists and philosophers, too—I welcome this novelist!  I hope transhumanism inspires more artists, poets, writers, musicians…

By Giovanni Santostasi on May 10, 2013 at 2:03am

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