Posted: Wed, May 15, 2013 | By: Transhumanism
[In Zoltan Istvan’s remarkable new novel - The Transhumanist Wager - the lead character, Jethro Knights, struggles to promote transhumanism in the USA, despite violent resistance from religionists and conservative politicians. After a Silicon Valley cryonics lab is bombed, he abandons his dream of homegrown transhumanism; instead, he moves the philosophy “off-shore” - aka “SeaSteading.” Below is an excerpt that explains this decision]
Every few weeks for the past eighteen months, Dr. Preston Langmore had requested a meeting with Senator Gregory Michaelson. He was always brushed off by Gregory’s secretary, who first told him maybe; then yes; then no; or said the senator would be busy that week; or asked, How about next month? A dozen times that happened. Then one morning, surprisingly, Langmore received a call from Gregory’s senior aide and was told the senator had free slots all week.
Langmore, who was working in Washington, D.C., replied that the next day would be excellent. Lunch at the Beldio Plaza. Chefistas. 12:30 P.M.
“The senator will be there. Thank you,” said the aide.
Langmore’s hopes jumped. Perhaps Senator Michaelson wanted to discuss lowering the anti-transhumanism pressure. Maybe he even wanted to work together with life extension and human enhancement scientists now. It could be an invaluable break in the overall goal of the movement, to not have to constantly fight and sneak around the colossal NFSA, which had created the most oppressive research environment in American history. If they could restore some federal funding to multidisciplinary sciences, which cross over from transhuman research to standard medical research, everyone would gain. Even a fraction of the budget of the NFSA could transform the transhuman movement and its industry. Why any nation would spend 500 times the money on its military over its science was not only asinine, it was also tyrannical.
The moment Senator Michaelson sat down at the restaurant, forty minutes late for his lunch appointment, Langmore knew nothing like that was going to happen. Gregory wasn’t the same person he remembered—the good-looking young man who disarmed people with his charming smile and debonairness. He was now a darker, more bitter breed, motivated by forces far out of Langmore’s reach.
“Dr. Langmore, I wanted to speak to you, in light of your being the informal go-to man of the transhuman movement in America. I’ll just be blunt here because I have no time for lunch. The actions of the NFSA are in their infant stage. We are categorically not going to allow the transhuman movement to succeed. The ideas you people possess and the research in which you’re engaged is out of control, totally mired in ugly, society-harming, science fiction fantasies. Your movement’s morality is corrupt and evil in my opinion, and also in the opinions of many of the nation’s top leaders. The already enormous budget of the NFSA is being doubled, effective immediately, ordered by the U.S. President. Like the War on Drugs, there will be an official ‘War on Transhumanism’ announced formally in the coming weeks. We are going all out on making the practice and science of transhumanism illegal. Harsher strategies inside the NFSA are being drummed up. New laws will be implemented in Congress. New mandates will be issued by the President. Everything is being finalized right now as we speak. We are going to destroy your scientists, their establishments, their lives, and their reputations. Leaders like you and Jethro Knights will be out of a job and made into outlaws very quickly.”
Langmore appeared stunned. He looked around erratically as if he were being watched or filmed. This couldn’t be happening, he thought. What the hell was going on?
“Are you kidding me, Senator?” Langmore finally blurted out.
“Do I look like I’m kidding, Dr. Langmore?” Gregory’s eyes were icy.
“How can you say or do this? It sounds like the Inquisition. A war on transhumanism? By the U.S. Government? Isn’t that taking it way too far? To make it criminal—in the land of the free? What’s next, a deliberate transhumanicide?”
“I want to give you a clear message. I want you to let Mr. Knights and the other radical leaders in America know they are to abandon their organizations and disappear from the movement. And that your scientists are to work for the good of the country as a whole, to eliminate common diseases and improve healthcare for the masses. From here on out, the mention of transhumanism, the changing of society through human enhancement and life extension, and the quest for immortality and God’s powers via science, are going to be forbidden by federal law. I’ve woken up to your group’s ambitions and see them for what they are: unbridled evil. If we left the world up to you and your colleagues, the best qualities of the human race would disappear, and the remaining parts would morph into something monstrous. The next century would be a calamity beyond our worst nightmares.”
Langmore stared at the senator, speechless. This was beyond the U.S. Constitution—way beyond. Langmore was thinking about what Jethro had said two weeks before; that religious America could never give birth to a transhuman world. Their kind would have to leave and find somewhere brave and novel where transhumanism could genuinely prosper.
“In ten days, we’ll formally announce the War on Transhumanism,” continued Gregory. “I encourage you and your scientists to be very quiet from now on and to irrevocably change the direction of your research—or to be out of a job, on a criminal list, and possibly arrested. I’m here speaking to you because we do not want a fight. We want this transition to go smoothly and peacefully. We would prefer all of you to give up and rejoin us and the status quo. But we’ll take to the streets and drag you all off to prison if you people won’t change quietly and quickly. Our nation has put up with your immoral movement and ideas long enough.”
Gregory rose from the table and began to walk away.
Langmore cried after him, “You can’t do that, Senator. We haven’t done anything wrong. It’s totally unreasonable and utterly unconstitutional.”
Gregory stopped and turned around slowly. “Watch me, Dr. Langmore. This is the final warning for all transhumanists.”
Two days later, over dinner in Palo Alto, Preston Langmore explained to Jethro Knights and Zoe Bach what Senator Michaelson had told him. The trio sat in Jethro’s office on the tile floor, their half-eaten tapas dishes in front of them. Langmore’s message was sobering. Zoe reached over and squeezed her husband’s hand.
“He really means it,” said Langmore. “I confirmed with my people that money is actually being diverted from U.S. Defense accounts into the NFSA. Huge amounts. Billions. Discussions at the top levels took place weeks ago. New directors and secret police are being hired by the hundreds, many of whom are registered members of Redeem Church and other powerful religious groups around the country. Senator Michaelson has met with the U.S. President three times in the past week, which is unprecedented for him, my sources say. Apparently, the potential social dangers of transhumanism—especially those from genetic engineering, neurotech, cryonics, and artificial intelligence—are getting ready to be trumpeted publicly as totally destructive to any future democratic society. It sounds crazy. What do you think?”
“I think Gregory Michaelson is an ass,” said Zoe, storming. “He’s filling the shoes of the other WASP politicians who founded this country and have led it for centuries. Those idiots are always the same—inexcusably late to the party. Abolition of slavery, civil rights, women’s liberation, the LGBT movement, transhumanism. See a pattern yet with these guys?”
Jethro grinned at his wife, grateful to be in love with her. He stood up, stretched, and walked briskly to the coffee machine. He poured himself a cup, then turned around and said, “Gregory is just a tool. He’s in Reverend Belinas’ back pocket. And we’re being used as scapegoats for religious conservatives to consolidate power.”
“Probably all true,” muttered Langmore.
Jethro walked back and sat down, crossing his legs. His brows appeared heavy, but his eyes were intent. He looked like a sea captain staring at a distant storm, carefully plotting a new course. Outside, a powerful gust of wind caused nearby trees to rustle, and many leaves dropped to the ground. Zoe watched him carefully and felt the energy in the room change.
“You two are the most important people in my life,” said Jethro. “So I want to tell you this first. It’s something I realized over a year ago, and have privately mentioned a few times to you both. I believe I’m now ready to declare it to all transhumanists after hearing that news.”
Zoe and Preston didn’t have to search Jethro’s face for answers. They already knew what he was going to say. They also knew it would change their lives forever. It was about Transhumania—his chosen name for an autonomous transhuman nation. Every time Jethro was dogged and stifled by America and the world’s short-sighted conservatism, he dreamt more vigorously of creating and founding such a utopia—a lasting panacea for transhumanists. It would be a mature evolution of the movement, he believed. A place far away from the reticent world, where radical scientific progress and the search for immortality could go unheeded.
“It’s no use here anymore,” Jethro said. “I’m utterly disillusioned with our progress in this klutzy, religion-addicted country. We’ve done well, for sure. We’re putting up a good fight. Transhuman Citizen has spread everywhere. We have members and supporters in every major town and city. But America is a bureaucratic mess full of twisted legalities, conservatism, and religiosity that does nothing but slow us down. Ultimately, it keeps us unproductive.
“The inefficiency across the land is so thick that, in all honesty, I doubt we can stay here and still pull off our dearest goals: immortality, scientific freedom, transhumanism. Even if the NFSA doesn’t get stronger, it would still be a steep, uphill battle. But now, with the rearing ugly head of a much larger beast, being better funded, and turning us into criminals using police-state scare tactics, it’s just going to get worse. A lot worse.
“The entire mission is just not working here fast enough. It’s in severe jeopardy. We need bigger funders on board, but they don’t want to come on until they see a place where their money can actually translate into scientific progress. Progress that gives them a better shot at living substantially longer—decades and centuries longer. We need a real place dedicated to just the transhuman mission, where that is all we work on and all we do. Where we can really be citizens of our mission. A bona fide nation for transhumanists: Transhumania.
“The scientists we currently support, the small research clinics we’ve founded, and the university centers we fund are just drops in the ocean of what needs to occur to reach our transhuman goals in our lifetimes. So much more needs to happen. And it must happen now, while we still have time. Before we get too old. Before the world mutilates itself more and slides into a second Dark Ages.”
“Are you leaving us then?” Zoe asked, her question loaded. “To go find this place? To go start Transhumania?”
“Yes, my love. I must,” Jethro answered, tenderly. “I’m going to officially announce that the leadership of Transhuman Citizen is leaving America and will restart somewhere new when it has found a proper home.”
“That’s a massive undertaking, Jethro,” Langmore said. “Think of all you’ve worked for here, all the progress. And what if they chase you?”
“They won’t chase us. They’ll consider it a victory if we leave. In a way, they’ll be right. We don’t belong here—not right now. We are marginal, scattered, fragmented. We are under their thumbs all across the country, always on the lookout, always berated, always rebuked. In so many unmistakable ways, we are living within their Judeo-Christian-inspired framework: under their laws; on their real estate; in their school systems; using their bank accounts; paying their taxes; getting news from their media; having them sanction our marriages, our deaths, our children’s births.
“Their management and regulation of our lives spans the total spectrum of American experience, from their obtuse Imperial Measurement System, to their irregularity-strangled English language. From their lobbyist-ruled government bureaucracy, to their consumer-oriented religious holidays like Christmas. From their brainless professional sports jocks cast as heroes, to their anorexic supermodels warping the concept of beauty. These are the people who made sugary colas more important than water; fast food more important than health; television sitcoms more important than reading literature. They made smoking a joint in your home a crime; going out in public without your hair tinted an embarrassment; and accidentally carrying a half-filled bottle of baby formula on an airplane a terrorist act. Do you realize 85 percent of Americans still say ‘God bless you’ after someone sneezes? And that ‘In God We Trust’ is on every U.S. dollar in circulation? Or that ‘One nation under God’ is recited every day in the Pledge of Allegiance by millions of impressionable kids?
“From our first day alive on this planet, they began teaching society everything it knows and experiences. It was all brainwashing bullshit. Their trio of holy catechisms is: faith is more important than reason; inputs are more important than outcomes; hope is more important than reality. It was designed to choke your independent thinking and acting—to bring out the lowest common denominator in people—so that vast amounts of the general public would literally buy into the sponsorship and preservation of their hegemonic nation. Their greatest achievement was the creation of the two-party political system; it gave the illusion of choice, but never offered any change; it promised freedom, but only delivered more limits. In the end, you got stuck with two leading loser parties and not just one. It completed their trap of underhanded domination, and it worked masterfully. Look anywhere you go. 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. In the end, there is no way out for anyone.
“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 away for comfort, obedience, and trinkets. It’s unequivocally absurd.
“Gratefully, Transhumanists 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. Yet, unfortunately, we’re still really just U.S. citizens, subject to their cultural, commercial, and religious colonialism—which includes virtually zero lack of rational futuristic vision or support for our transhuman causes.
“Ultimately, that’s why I feel Gregory is correct: we represent a huge disruption to their Judeo-Christian society. Their culture was designed to amass and preserve power to protect its conservative heritage, its nesting way of life, its consumer-addicted, Hollywood-inspired babies—all so they can remain wrapped up comfortably in their god’s hands. We want to amass and preserve power to protect our lives so that no god or group of irrational people could ever hold us in their hands. It’s so utterly different.”
Zoe interrupted Jethro by saying, “But no one will leave America to go somewhere else unless that place rivals America in terms of opportunity and possibilities. Including me.”
Jethro readjusted himself and knelt before her.
“Of course, my love. That’s why I must build this new transhuman nation. I must amaze you all. I must convince you that it’s the most remarkable and thrilling place in the world to be. I must make you want to go there. The jobs, research possibilities, and the atmosphere must be astounding—with fantastic pay, ultramodern facilities, and amazing collaboration between respected colleagues. I need to make it so people yearn to be there. So they don’t want to miss it. So they refuse to miss it. These are people you can’t buy, but have to convince through a multitude of reasons, including their rationality, their professional ambitions, and most importantly, their transhuman dreams.”
Langmore interjected, “Hopefully, mostly their transhuman dreams. It is, after all, their existences at stake if nothing becomes of the movement. What do you think, Jethro? How much more time do you think we need before we get close to a technical immortality for humans with our science?”
“Eight to twelve years, with enough funding. More years of experiments afterward to eliminate perils, unwanted side effects, and dead ends. In less than two decades, however, we could be at the doorstep of a reasonably waged, ongoing sentience. A place where transhumanists could easily make it into unlimited lifespans. So many of these breakthroughs are almost ours. I see and read about them all the time. Bobby Fitchenson in Maryland with his neurotech advancements. Jeannine Bernine in New Mexico with her super stem cells. Our own Phillip Maston with his genetic therapy miracles. But they could all be deeply stifled, or even lost, if this research is outlawed over the next few weeks or months. That’s for sure. The NFSA must know that. Reverend Belinas and the top officials must know how close we’re getting, and how momentous some of these advances are for the human species.”
“But you’ve said it yourself before,” Langmore said. “The full-blown Transhumania plan will cost many billions of dollars. To build those facilities, to buy an island or miles of land, to start construction on that scale, to start a real transhuman nation—that would take a thousand times more resources than we currently possess.”
“Of course. It’s farfetched now, Preston. We need so much more in funds. And the wealthy investors and donors who could realistically make it happen must believe in its success before they give to it. They voice it every time I speak to them. Yet, it’s important to come to a conclusion here—that we’re moving. That we’re starting down that road. That we’re implementing a radical new strategy. We are leaving to find and build Transhumania—the transhuman nation.”
Jethro stood up, walked over to a large world map on his wall, and observed it.
“Preston, I need you to help me do this, to convince and lead your colleagues and the other groups to join me in creating this nation—this awe-inspiring vision of our future.”
Jethro turned to Zoe, and painfully looked at her. “My beautiful wife, I need you most of all. To allow and encourage me to follow the path that you know I can’t turn my back on.”
Image #2 - Zoltan Istvan