Holy Zoltan, Batman!

Zoltan arcade“We didn’t evolve through billions of years to remain animals.” -Zoltan Istvan

Only a troubling amalgam of self-hatred, stunning arrogance, and (I charitably presume) willful ignorance could make the above sentiment possible; only a culture where such dysfunctional traits are widespread yet unacknowledged could interpret the statement as profound rather than pathological.

Self-hatred because it cast our fundamental identity as animals as something to be denied, belittled, and ultimately escaped. Arrogance because it positions humans as qualitatively different from and above all other animals.  And (willful) ignorance because even an elementary understanding of evolution reveals that no species is “more evolved” than any other. It is not as though evolution is a race where some individuals opted to drop out early (reptiles, perhaps?), others made it a considerable distance (chimpanzees, for example), but only one group finished the race (human beings!) and can now claim the prize of shedding their animality altogether.

Zoltan Istvan is the author of The Transhumanist Wager which has been described as transhumanism’s Atlas Shrugged (sometimes as praise and sometimes as criticism). He has allegedly (by Huffington Post at least) been described as a “visionary” and yet at their core his views represent what must be the most common prejudices in the western world: we are not animals, we are above animals, we are more evolved than animals, we can overcome death.

His ideas are promoted as cutting edge and yet they are not radically different than Descartes’ division between humans and other animals (except that for Descartes it was other animals who were the automatons whereas transhumanists anticipate a day when humans are essentially the automatons).  And despite his avowed atheism, Zoltan’s prejudices are similar to those of the Catholic Church which deny our animality, grant us dominion over other animals, and place us closer to God than other animals.

A few recent ideas from Zoltan:

  • In February, he wrote about transhumanism and environmental concerns: “While New York City, Boston and Miami may be partially underwater by 2100, many futurists don’t plan to be around in the flesh by then. And if they are, they’ll have the technology to walk on water.” He elaborates:

    “There are probably zero futurists who feel good about damaging our beautiful planet. However, many of them realize that the benefit of the species’ rapid evolutionary ascent outweighs the harm progress is causing to Earth. Our planet is strong; it can handle climate change and an expanding human population while our species prepares for the transhumanist age. The evolutionary outcome of humanity will be better of by turning a blind eye to Mother Earth.”

  • In April, Zoltan called for “one-time 1 percent life extension tax” which he refers to as the Jethro Knights Life Extension Tax (naming it after the lead character in his novel). In the article, he suggests that “the world can conquer death in about a decade’s time if enough resources are put towards it” and that “no sane and reasonable person wants to die if it can be avoided.”
  • Last December: “the birth of an advanced artificial intelligence will become far more important than the birth of Christ…reasonable people will celebrate AI Day, the real moment in history the savior of civilization was born.”

Zoltan himself acknowledges that it would be easy to dismiss such ideas as science fiction.  It would also be easy to dismiss his articles as well-designed click-bait for sites such as Huffington Post.  And yet the popularity of transhumanism appears to be growing.  The most noteworthy of all transhumanists, Ray Kurzweil, currently works for Google which is not exactly a fringe outfit.

Furthermore, the ideas need not be plausible or even desirable in order for the individuals infected with such ideas to be dangerous; even a fairly sympathetic review of his novel points out “some fascist measures” that are taken by the putative heroes in realizing their transhumanist goals. Evidence that those fascist tendencies are not necessarily limited to the pages of a novel or the minds of fictional characters can be found in a January 2014 article in Psychology Today titled: “When Does Hindering Life Extension Science Become a Crime?” in which Zoltan laments that “America continues to be permeated with anti-life extension culture” and argues that “[s]tifling or hindering life extension science, education, and practices needs to be recognized as a legitimate crime.” To not support radical life extension policy is, by Zoltan’s lights, to “prematurely [end] human lives” and thus “criminal manslaughter”.  Presumably refusing to pay your Jethro Knights tax might invite a harsh punishment.

(Note: for information on the above pictured Zoltan arcade amusement, visit here.)