On the road with the Transhumanists: Some early thoughts

The Immortality Bus in Richmond, VA. Zoltan Istvan and supporter Roen Horn.

This was originally published on my Tumblr on Dec. 17, 2015

I spent a couple days on the road with the Zoltan Istvan presidential campaign, learning more about their particular paradigm of tranhumanism, asking questions, and getting to know Zoltan, whom I have widely criticized, including on this blog.

We had never met in person, but many of my sources have characterized his campaign as a misrepresentation of the goals and history of the transhumanist movement. That, combined with his sheer obliviousness about racial, disability and inequality issues inherent to the kind of emerging science we’re dealing with, has always rubbed me the wrong way. I just don’t like self-serving bloggers who twist science and established philosophical ideas into something they simply aren’t.

Luckily, I had the chance to get to the bottom of these issues, after I accepted an invitation onto the bus. He told me he needed “more girls” to come aboard. Well! I said, that is ridiculous, and “I will not be tokenized,” but I’ll come on your bus — as a reporter.

After two days of driving and a good night of whiskey drinking, Zoltan and I still disagree on a lot. And I will continue to be critical of his support of wildly inappropriate ideas (like eugenics, the quest for immortality, and an AI commander in chief), but we’ve come to a mutual respect for each other, I think. He is, like most white men, unaware of his privilege and they way he projects himself — and I told him as much. He thanked me. (This may have been pandering…)

Zoltan is not as egotistical as he comes off in his writing. In fact, he seems to me to be a very ambitious nerd, with a deep and impressive understanding of how to work the media, which is, like, 90% of what matters if you want to impact policy. He is, like me, a child of Hungarian-American culture and background. Raised in Southern California. Raised Catholic (like all my cousins). I mean, for everything I learned about him, we might as well be related. Although, he doesn’t speak Hungarian as well as I do. (I tested.) But he’s tenacious. A father, a husband, a hobbyist. His children are both girls, under five, and his wife works as an OB-GYN for Planned Parenthood. He likes sailing and writing and being active in nature.

He doesn’t want to just sit in a lab all day. I think that if he did go out to those communities who would be the most disadvantaged by ethically questionable innovations falling into the hands of under-regulated pharmaceutical companies and learn about those peoples’ concerns, he could possibly be a great advocate for positive, rights-based science policy.

As I see it, he has already re-evaluated some very sticky positions he held less than a year ago. Maybe it’s a growth period for him. Or maybe he’s trying too hard to make everyone happy and he doesn’t actually believe in the changes he has allegedly made in his beliefs. It was too short a time on the bus to tell.

Anyway, I haven’t decided what (if anything) I will write about the experience, but I did record a really fascinating interview for a forthcoming episode of the podcast my friend Cori and I are working on, Fake/Fake/Real.

Also, I did make a .gif, so at least it wasn’t a wasted trip.


Originally published at itslexikon1.tumblr.com.