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Transhumanist author and politician Zoltan Istvan recently published an article with The Maven titled “Transhumanism is Under Siege from Socialism.” In it, he stated, “Transhumanists must favor the free world and free market to make its movement as powerful and successful as possible,” and they must equally “be on their guard against [socialism].”
I disagree — at least when it comes to the free market.
If anything, the transhumanist movement needs socialism if it wishes to survive the enormous social transformation(s) that’ll arise due to proliferated automation.
Although Zoltan and I largely agree on many topics relating to transhumanism, our disagreements derive from our ideological perceptions of the movement as a whole. While I’m a dues-paying member of the Democratic Socialists of America and officer of the U.S. Transhumanist Party, Zoltan is a left-leaning Libertarian who recently ran for governor of California under the Libertarian Party ticket.
And, in this new article of his, our disagreements couldn’t be more clear.
History of Transhumanism
Zoltan correctly admits that “transhumanism is turning left after years of being known as a libertarian-minded movement.” This is because the prominent demographic adopting modern-day transhumanism is the youth, and over the last couple of years, polls have shown that the majority of today’s young people view socialism favorably.
What Zoltan conveniently neglects to mention, however, is that the history of transhumanism doesn’t start with the libertarian Extropians of the late ’80s and early ’90s; rather, its origin story goes back to what was known as Russian Cosmism — a philosophical and cultural movement of the early 20th century. From Nikolai Fyodorov to Vladimir Vernadsky, its members, however few in numbers they were at that time, not only discussed topics such as radical life extension but were also quite socially progressive, believing that a transhumanist future would be post-capitalist by nature.
Yes, a lot of those ideals were introduced to the Western world by visionary libertarians near the end of the 20th century, but after a few decades of growth, the transhumanist movement, as Zoltan reluctantly admitted, is swaying back to its roots. And rightfully so.
Both Zoltan and I have been sounding the alarms when it comes to accelerating automation in the workforce, which will result in mass technological unemployment. In response, we’ve both advocated for variations of a basic income system. But we disagree on the method of funding and delivering that basic income.
Zoltan advocates for what is known as a “federal land dividend,” whereby a selection of federal land would be leased to private businesses in the hopes of figuring out ways to monetize that land and fund a “universal basic income” for each and every person. He states that, in doing so, we’d be giving the land “back to the American people,” but in truth, we’d be handing it over to private businesses, thereby exploiting the land for profitable gain.
I, on the other hand, advocate for funding a “basic income guarantee” through a combination of corporate tax increases and profit sharing. This guarantee would specifically target people living under the poverty line, rather than all people regardless of class status. This would ensure that those who need the income receive higher amounts, as opposed to lower amounts to accommodate millions of people who don’t actually require financial assistance. Not to mention, no extra land would go the way of private property and be exploited for profit accumulation.
To be fair, Zoltan’s plan would also require those businesses to eventually return the land in its original condition. But his faith in today’s business leaders doing the right thing for the betterment of all is a bit naive. He even goes so far as to say, “Ultimately, I believe the so-called One Percent — the very richest of society — don’t desire to leave the rest of the world behind.”
Zoltan justifies this belief with examples of entrepreneurial philanthropy, from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to Mark Zuckerberg’s multibillion-dollar donation to eradicate all diseases by the end of the 21st century. And while I do recognize and appreciate these business leaders’ sense of urgency in building a better future, their altruistic veils are beginning to reveal cracks.
More specifically, remnants of robber-baron capitalism have manifested within their business practices when it comes to workers’ rights. Yes, tech entrepreneurs like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Richard Branson want to eradicate disease and democratize space travel. Unfortunately, there’s one other thing these three have in common: union busting.
From Tesla to Amazon to Virgin Galactic, workers within these industries are being exploited with no relief in sight. Historically speaking, the right to collectively bargain in America was popularized by socialists on the frontlines fighting against child labor, low income, and terrible working conditions during the Industrial Revolution. And now that another industrial revolution is underway, unions are more important than ever.
Musk, Bezos, and Branson all disagree, yet Zoltan believes these business leaders will willingly contribute in a basic income? Consider me skeptical.
In truth, if human laborers being displaced by automation have any chance of receiving a basic income, it’ll come not from business leaders who operate in the interests of capital, but from labor unions that operate in the interests of workers. Whether a basic income is funded via corporate tax increases, profit sharing, or even a federal land dividend, workers will still need someone fighting for their interests.
Those being displaced will need a basic income to keep them financially stable and, if possible, retrained to better serve newer industries. And for those who still have a job, there remains the issue of an increasing wealth gap as the rich get richer and the poor are withheld from a living wage. Clearly, these tech philanthropists have no interest in providing a living wage.
That is where unions should step in. Without them, the free market won’t protect workers (let alone the unemployed). Quite the contrary — as history has shown time and again.
More importantly, however, a basic income system shouldn’t be confused as something that’ll “save” capitalism. As entrepreneurs and economics theorists alike have noted, the proliferation of automation will eventually give way to a future of abundance that is post-scarcity and post-capitalist.
“I think we’re heading towards a world of what I call ‘technological socialism.’ Where technology — not the government or the state — will begin to take care of us. Technology will provide our healthcare for free. The best education in the world — for free.” — Peter H. Diamandis, author of Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think.
Save the Planet, Change the System
When it comes to environmentalism, Zoltan and I appear to agree, when he said it’s “a movement associated with leftist political tendencies,” given the fact that “the GOP outright deny climate change despite much scientific evidence, and our president has recently rolled back environmental regulations — all in a bid to push back against leftists gaining traction in this ever increasing hot-button political and social issue.”
But given his article’s anti-socialist sentiment, I can only assume this observation isn’t to say that leftist environmentalism is on the right side of history; rather, it’s a lost opportunity for the free market and its proponents to lead the environmentalist movement themselves.
Historically, we know that the free market and protecting the planet are practically antithetical to one another. Free-market capitalism couldn’t care less about the planet. Its sole goal is producing capital, even when the environment suffers as a result.
To quote Bill Gates, when it comes to combating climate change and protecting the environment, “There is no fortune to be made.” The free market won’t address coal ash or guaranteed safety to workers in these fossil fuel industries. There has to be regulatory intervention.
Socialized governance when it comes to environmental protection has been a common practice in the United States for the last several decades. We remained a capitalist country, but we weren’t afraid to embrace socialism when it came to the best interests of the commonwealth and our surrounding environment. That is, as Zoltan himself noted, until recently.
Look at China. I’m certainly not a fan of their soft-authoritarian brand of governance. However, when it comes to how they control their mixed economy in relation to combating poverty and climate change, the rest of the world should be taking notes. They’ve abandoned the profit motive almost altogether when it comes to combating climate change, officially declaring them the world leader when it comes to green energy/tech adoption.
They understand the urgency in combating climate change. And they won’t allow the free market to get in the way. Which isn’t to say that private industries can’t be involved or allowed to pursue tech innovations to address climate change. If anything, we should encourage it. The only difference being, under a mixed capitalist-socialist economy, people working in the private sector will be entitled to join a union to protect their interests. The belief that a regulated private sector would stifle growth and innovation is patently bogus.
Friendly competition would still take place — just not at the expense of its workers or the planet. And if that makes you uncomfortable, then you should really start asking yourself where your interests truly lie.
Longevity for All
And finally, we get to the crème de la crème: indefinite life extension. What is, most assuredly, a shared goal between Zoltan and me, the pursuit of a cure to aging (i.e., all age-related diseases) is the ultimate journey of any transhumanist. Not only do we, as individuals, want the chance to decide how long we live, young and free of disease, we also wish this for everybody else.
And yet the United States remains one of the last developed nations in the world without universal health care. We dream of a future where everybody lives for as long as they wish, and yet we completely ignore the desperate cries for affordable health care.
“Socialized medicine” isn’t the devil incarnate. People aren’t dying in lines. And, again, it doesn’t stifle innovation. The myth that medical innovation can only arise under a free market health care plan has been debunked over and over again. Medical innovations have been achieved in countries with different variations of universal health care, from Israel to Cuba.
“I believe that every American should have stable, dignified housing; health care; education — that the most very basic needs to sustain modern life should be guaranteed in a moral society.” — Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democratic nominee for New York’s 14th Congressional District
If the cure to aging were discovered today in the United States, it would most certainly never reach the hands of the poor — at least not legally. Over time, it would eventually reach them, just as any other technological innovation in this country does, like computers and smartphones. But at what cost? How many more people have to die waiting for innovative therapies in the medical sector to reach cost efficiency?
As the tired old phrase goes, “It isn’t rocket science.” If we wish to reach a transhumanist future where longevity science has developed a cure to aging and is equally distributed to everyone at their own discretion, we must first declare health care a right to all. Health care is life, and life is the ultimate pursuit of a transhumanist.
I may not be able to convince Zoltan to abandon his complacency for antisocialism propaganda, but as he admitted, most transhumanists refuse to maintain the capitalist status quo. Socialism isn’t anticapitalism; it’s a transitional stage. It introduces humanity during the final stage of capitalism and offers a peaceful bridge toward a post-capitalist future where scarcity no longer exists.
And if the transhumanist movement aims to be the leader of this revolution, it’ll need socialism to serve as its guiding compass. A specter is haunting planet Earth — the specter of transhumanism.
This article was originally published on Serious Wonder.