[ISF] The Jewel and the Lotus

The following post is from the Institute for Social Futurism (ISF). Although its concerns are essentially philosophical, they inform many practical realities for organisations in our network over the coming year and beyond.

If you’re looking for a quick punchline, this is perhaps not the article for you, but you could try skipping to section 1: The Jewel and the Lotus.

0. The Desert of the Real

Over the last few years, we have been developing a network of organisations which share a positive attitude toward technological change while being mindful of the serious challenges the world faces today. The idea is for that network to develop connections with like-minded others who wish to usher in a new paradigm for our society, based on a combination of science, technology, positive values and principles. During that time there has been a natural process of weaving together the ideas and views of many people, and that process has been driving the emergence of a worldview which we call Social Futurism.

Aside from the usual logistical issues of a growing movement, I have become aware of a strong need to reach beyond the complicated tangle of inspirations and concerns which have brought us together, and clearly articulate a single core idea underlying this nascent movement. To momentarily put aside our many assumptions and preconceptions, and examine the deepest ideological nexus which ties them all together. Having done that, we will be able to move forward sure in the knowledge that we are all working toward a common goal, no matter any differences in our philosophies, affiliations, or methods. In short, I have recently felt the need to cast a radically skeptical eye over everything we collectively believe and are committed to, throwing out all unnecessary assumptions in the hope of discerning a single common axiom. It seems to me that any such axiom must be extremely simple and incisive, akin to Descartes‘ “Cogito Ergo Sum“.

The key to this inquiry is to put aside every claim or belief which may not be true, or which can in any conceivable way be countered or argued against. We are of course very much in support of science and greatly value its utility, but no scientific fact can ever be our central axiom, as scientific facts must by definition be potentially disprovable by new evidence. Our common focus must be more akin to a steadfast attitude or conviction than a mere observation that could change at any time. Chinese and Indian philosophy traditionally saw the observed world as composed of myriad relative “facts”, apparent phenomena and distinctions which could change just as easily as a viewer’s perspective, and such schools of thought (particularly Taoism and Buddhism) consistently warned against identifying too closely with ephemera. The traditional Eastern view is that all identification with any apparent fact (perspective, observation, expectation, philosophy or ideal) would cast a “shadow” consisting of everything contrary to that position. Like Descartes, initiates of these religions were urged to let go of every conviction that could be doubted (both the Buddhists’ and Descartes’ conclusion was that everything could be doubted except the existence of Mind), and simply live in the world as they found it. We could learn a lot from the minimalism of this stance, encouraging activists to use the myriad facts of science and the world as necessary, but to embrace a common identity rooted only in a single, fundamental, undeniable axiom. That kind of strong shared identity would enable us to rest assured that we are all “on the same team”, no matter what disagreements we may have over any details, which would be a thing of great practical and strategic value to the movement as a whole.

A recent Western echo of these ancient Eastern ideas is particularly relevant to techno-social concerns in the early 21st Century, and to the future of our movement. In 1999, The Matrix presented such philosophical concerns about the nature of reality, along with issues involving technology and social control, in a very popular action-adventure entertainment format. The movie drew not only upon traditional Eastern thought, but among a great many other things the writings of French Postmodernist philosopher Jean Baudrillard. Baudrillard said that we are surrounded by simulacra or simulations which no longer refer to any underlying reality, such as news stories which reflect consumer demand and media manipulation rather than any deep truth. He further claimed that in this ultra-mediated environment, actual reality (i.e. unmediated, unmanipulated things-as-they-actually-are) is now extremely hard to find. We see things almost entirely through the lens of culture and technology, now. This notion of reality as an increasingly hidden, deserted place was summed up in Baudrillard’s phrase “the desert of the real”. The idea that we live in some kind of mediated bubble of false reality while an authentic reality exists “outside” is the central theme of Gnosticism, found today in the work of people such as Science Fiction writer Philip K Dick (both Gnosticism and Dick’s ideas were also prominent in The Matrix).

At this point you may well be asking what all these wild and wonderful ideas have to do with advancing technology, social progress, or indeed the real world. It all boils down to the intrinsic nature of the Transhumanist urge; to go beyond all that we have known in order to become more than human. To transcend the traditional limitations of the human condition. It is no accident that Transhumanists are regularly accused of being “neo-Gnostics”, because the idea of extending human life and health beyond current limitations is indeed reminiscent of the ancient heresy, albeit expressed in a very new way. This is a touchy issue, as Transhumanists are generally at pains to distinguish their technological hopes from ancient religious dreams, despite their clear common origin in simple human yearnings for a greater or happier existence. We should note that it is not as simple a matter as some people calling Transhumanists ‘Gnostics’ and Transhumanists themselves uniformly rejecting the idea. Not only are many Transhumanists open to spirituality of various types, even including nuanced (usually secular) interpretations of Gnosticism, but the “accusers” are often sympathetic to both (neo-)Gnosticism and Transhumanism (and therefore presumably trying to draw attention to what they see as a good thing). Perhaps the best example of this is Erik Davis, in his 1998 book “TechGnosis: Myth, Magic, and Mysticism in the Age of Information” (to show the close interrelatedness of all these ideas, we may note that Davis is a scholar professionally interested in the works of Philip K Dick).

The thing that Transhumanists, Gnostics, and the heroes of The Matrix have in common is a pointed and total disrespect for the limitations of a world which pretends to be the whole of reality, but which is in fact only a subset of all that is truly possible. In other words, we Transhumanists are inherently driven to reject any convention or ideology that tells us to be content within our limits, to know our place. Instead, we seek to venture beyond those limits into the “desert of the real”, and in doing so take responsibility for directing our own evolution. I must stress that this need not imply a hedonistic, individualistic flight from communitarian responsibilities, when the very act of transcending limits makes it possible for others to follow our example; and for the whole of society to thus evolve and progress beyond its former limits.

In short, we feel that we could be more, that we could help others in the process, and that no-one has the right to impose their arbitrary limitations upon us. We would explore beyond the safe havens of the world as we know it, and out into the desert of the real… into the darkness of possibilities. This rejection of the world’s distinctions and limitations is the one and only thing that can unite our diverse movement. That movement already includes many people who do not consider themselves to be Transhumanists, and that will only become more true over time, but the common impulse that unites us is clear: To sweep away the old world that stands between us and a much better future. A person might oppose this impulse for whatever reason, but they cannot argue it to be false in any way. It simply is.

1. The Jewel and the Lotus

We have discerned the idea that lies at the heart of our movement’s many manifestations (i.e. not just Transhumanism and other forms of Futurism but all truly modern and progressive activism, and any number of related philosophies, arts, and sciences): That our salvation lies beyond the limits of the world as we currently understand it… and that by transforming ourselves we can transcend those limits. In short, that we can and should remake the world and our place within it. Paradoxically, this idea is truly ancient, and yet its combination with technology makes a powerful new revolution in human affairs possible.

At this point, we should take a moment to note a parallel between the advice offered for individual living by religions such as Taoism and Buddhism on the one hand, and the necessary way forward for any modern activist movement on the other. Followers of the ancient Eastern ways are encouraged to live in the present moment, rather than dwelling unduly on the past or future. This reduces identification with transient things, and thus reduces the suffering caused by regret over the past or anxiety over the future. Interestingly, any truly revolutionary movement would do well to heed the same advice, since the act of relinquishing the past and future (i.e. memories and expectations) is tantamount to rejecting limitation by those things. In other words, to focus on the present and to reject all unnecessary limitations are two sides of the same coin.

Having identified this central idea, our next question is of course how to simplify and condense its expression, to maintain its clarity for ourselves and communicate it easily to others. Traditionally this is the realm of symbols, or simple signs that stand for (and easily summon) complex sets of ideas. In keeping with the ancient Eastern philosophies mentioned earlier, I have settled upon two key symbols with a somewhat oriental flavour: The Jewel and the Lotus. In this section I will explain these two symbols, and their potential value.

It is common to depict an incisive axiom as a blade or sword, as in the cases of Occam’s Razor or Alexander cutting the Gordian Knot (indeed the very word “incisive” implies both clear, rational analysis and the act of cutting). In ancient Indian writings there is mention of a sword known as the Jewel of the Desert, and that strikes me as a particularly apt name for an axiom which refers to the Desert of the Real. This “Jewel” is our central idea – an article of faith which unites our emerging movement – and it can be expressed as follows:

Act Now and Be Free

(Nunc Agere et Liberi)

The only reality is action in the moment, and the bonds of the unreal demand to be cut. In other words, the individual and any movement for positive change must always focus on what they can be or do now, and all apparent limitations conjured by tradition, convention, history, hope or expectation with no solid basis in the reality of the present must be cast aside without hesitation. If an obstacle can be overcome, it should be. If a limitation can be transcended, then transcend it. This is a point of view which should come naturally to Transhumanists, Gnostics, all opponents of arbitrary and unwanted limitation, and all those who would sweep away the old to make way for a better future. It is often said that you can best know a thing by looking at what it opposes, and in this case we are utterly opposed to entrenched limitations which only exist out of a sense of history, social convention, or “natural order” rather than having something clearly positive to contribute to the future of humanity. We must tear down all such false limitations in our bid to remake civilization.

Beyond this central philosophical matter, as mentioned earlier I have become acutely aware of logistical issues that naturally arise with the growth of any movement. I won’t go into the details of these issues, except to say that they boil down to a question of resources: How to get the resources we need, and how to use the ones we have well. Perhaps the most pressing resource issue has been the question of time and communications. A lot of people have something to say or ask, but we simply cannot respond to every such contact in a centralised way. Instead, the network must scale up in such a way that local groups can handle initial contact in most cases, and important messages can be passed through the network as appropriate, meaning that no single part of the network is overloaded with messages from everybody. In order to make my own part of the network more manageable and to set an example, I will be restricting my personal engagement to the activity in eight official channels. I can no longer guarantee any response to any communication outside those channels, which are outlined briefly below.

If every part of the network were to operate in a similar manner, maintaining a small number of recognised and well-maintained collaboration/communication channels, then the result would be something like a mosaic of decentralised activity, a fractal heterarchy or holarchy. A symbol for the network (and any given node within it) which I find to be appropriate and appealing is the lotus flower. The lotus is essentially a memorable image which represents a centre connecting multiple channels or aspects. The lotus is also a symbol common to the various Eastern philosophies mentioned earlier, although a rose would be the equally appropriate counterpart traditional in the West.

Others are free to organise themselves as they see fit, of course, but the specific eight channels which I will personally be focussed upon, going forward, are as listed below. In each case I will only be working with a relatively small core team, rather than attempting to manage all functions of these wider organisations directly. Such functions represent my “close neighbours” within the network, that I collaborate with but am not directly responsible for. If we all operate in this way – with clear cooperative links but limited personal workloads – then we will be maximally effective as a network.

I am currently in the process of reorganising the core teams and preferred communications channels for these groups, and will link to further information and full contact details for all eight channels from here on Friday January 22nd, 2016. In the meantime you can still contact these groups as before.

This post has covered a number of complex and subtle ideas with an unfortunate but necessary brevity, where any of these could be the departure point for long conversations in and of themselves. My objective will have been met, however, if you remember the symbols of the Jewel and the Lotus. That the Jewel of the Desert is simply a determination to stand squarely in the reality of the moment and cut through the proliferation of illusions, distractions, and false limitations which we are constantly told to embrace and respect (or at least take seriously). And that the Lotus is merely a reminder that while remaining focussed and effective, you always have the option of being connected with others in a movement toward something greater.

[ISF] The Jewel and the Lotus

Zoltan Istvan does not speak for the Transhumanist Party

EDIT: Please note that the first paragraph below has been expanded slightly, to make it perfectly clear who the author is, and in what official capacity this letter has been written.

My name is Amon Twyman. This is an open letter to the entire Transhumanist community, written in my capacity as Party Leader of the Transhumanist Party (a registered political party in the UK), coordinator of the Transhumanist Party Global umbrella organisation, and founder of multiple associated groups. It is important to note that in the UK the Transhumanist Party is an officially registered and fully constituted political party, which operates in accord with a clear set of internal rules which are consistent with UK law. Our membership count has grown rapidly, in the few months since the party’s inception. The following statement is primarily made in my capacity as the leader of that party, reflecting both my official responsibilities to that party, and the due processes of that party.

I feel that it is now necessary to address an unfortunate apparent schism within the Transhumanist movement, and show the way forward toward a positive, constructive, intelligent solution to the problem. In other words, a solution which captures the intended spirit of Transhumanist thinking. In short, I feel that I must address the question of Zoltan Istvan. His role in relation to the Transhumanist Party, and in relation to the movement as a whole, and the mixed reactions to some of his more notable recent actions. It is not my intention to support or condemn any individual, but instead to offer perspective which will help us all move forward as a unified movement.

The Transhumanist Party is a rapidly growing, worldwide movement of organisations, some of which explicitly use that name (or some version of it) while others do not. It is effectively a network that represents the primary manifestation of Political Transhumanism, which is in turn an important current within the broader Transhumanist Movement.

The strength of the Party is the same as the strength of the wider Movement of which it is a part: Cooperation, and a sense of unity which paradoxically arises from an acceptance of diversity and pluralism. In other words, the Transhumanist Party – worldwide – is thriving because we understand that our members do not all have to believe exactly the same things in order to be on the same team and achieve common goals. The same goes for Transhumanism as a whole. The Party is just one aspect of Transhumanism, and Transhumanism as a whole thrives when we understand it to have many facets, all reflecting and supportive of each other.

I think this is important to understand, and sometimes visual metaphors can cement understanding, so you may wish to think on it this way:

Imagine a large room or chamber, effectively hidden (for now) from the eyes of the wider world. That chamber constitutes our entire movement, every aspect of Transhumanism as it currently exists. The chamber is filled with candles, each representing an aspect of the movement, a person or group or idea. There are small and large candles, candles standing alone and others in clusters, some larger than others. When they are all allowed and encouraged to shine together, their collective light might stand a chance of being seen from outside, and the world may come to see. We should not wish to extinguish any of the candles, or to imagine that the light of any single candle can ever shine brightly enough on the world to bring the changes we want to see. If we do not all shine together, we might as well not be shining at all.

Recently we have heard a lot of disgruntled mumblings about schism, and disunity within the movement. Most of this is just idle internet noise, but real issues and differences have flared up. Once such issue has involved unilateral statements made by Zoltan Istvan, ostensibly on behalf of the Transhumanist Party. People have increasingly been asking what right Istvan has to make such proclamations, and some worry that he is bringing the movement as a whole into disrepute, despite being a particularly bright-shining “candle” himself. I would like to take this opportunity to briefly sum up the situation, once only and as a matter of record.

Zoltan has a spectacular drive, sense of personal ambition, and ability to connect with mainstream media. We as a movement could all learn well from him, and intend to do so. But while his efforts gives him a unique opportunity to “brand” Transhumanism for a wider audience as he personally sees fit, he does not have any moral authority to do so. His implicit claim to moral authority comes from his claim to be founder of the Transhumanist Party, but the fact is that he is no such thing. He created and popularised the idea, to be sure, but he deliberately chose not to build a real party. He has explicitly rejected all real party-building, due process, and even democracy itself. There is a real party in the UK, and serious party organisations developing in Europe (supported by TP Global), and even a real party beginning to form in the U.S. – but Zoltan is not even a member of that U.S. Party. The simple fact is that he has his own small media group, which does what he needs to do to run a media campaign, and that’s it. Therefore, Zoltan has no mandate to speak on behalf of any other Transhumanists in terms of policy or anything else. His opinions are his own.

Now, I do not mean to imply that’s a bad thing. It’s a spectacular thing, and more of us should be doing it. But it does not make Zoltan anything more than a particularly effective advocate for the Party – one whose service the Party will always be grateful for. His personal organisation is a fraction of the size of the larger groups he inspired, but which are not under his personal control. His personal focus is on longevity, which is a great hook in media terms, but longevity technologies are only one aspect of real Transhumanist Party policy being developed… and which is not being developed autocratically by a single person, but in collaboration with multiple established Transhumanist think tanks, and in accord with rigorous, democratic due process.

Last but not least, unfortunately Zoltan has created the need for a statement like this, by starkly announcing that the Transhumanist Party believes various things which are violently incongruent with the beliefs of many bona fide Transhumanists. That would be OK if these things were true policy established by some valid process, but they simply are not. This unfortunate rupture has forced those of us working to build real Transhumanist Parties around the world to assert a positive, cooperative message, which we now extend to all Transhumanists and like-minded people:

We want to work as a fully cooperative part of the broader Transhumanist Movement, and will soon be working to extend our media and activist reach far beyond the traditional confines of that movement. We accept all the diverse branches of the movement as valid (or at least potentially so), and vigorously welcome healthy difference of opinion. That difference enriches us, rather than divides. We are already in full support of and in friendly relations with all the major Transhumanist organisations, and so would ask that everyone understand that there is no schism. There is just one Transhumanism, in its multi-faceted, argumentative, free-thinking glory. The Transhumanist Party is not defined by the views of even its most energetic advocates, but by due process (which you can shape by getting involved, whoever you may be), and its guiding mission is to support and carry forward the Transhumanism which already existed before the Party did. In other words, to support you.

You – all those people who we help and who choose to help us – are our mandate. Our due process ensures that it is a valid, and fair one. Zoltan Istvan’s views do not define the Party, and so there is no schism. There is just potential, whether you are politically-inclined or not. I feel that this is a message which every Transhumanist should intuitively understand and support.

Actions speak louder than words. Support an official, due-process driven Transhumanist Party organisation or indeed any active Transhumanist organisation of note, and we are on the same team. We want, and will achieve, the same things. Together.

http://transhumanistpartyglobal.org
http://transhumanistparty.org.uk

Zoltan Istvan does not speak for the Transhumanist Party

The official Transhumanist Party blog

This is the official blog of the Transhumanist Party (a registered political party in the UK) and Transhumanist Party Global, maintained by Dr. M. Amon Twyman, Leader of the UK Party and founder of TP Global.

Posts in this blog fall into five categories. You can browse posts in each category by clicking the title links below, or clicking the menu button at the top-right of your browser window.

1. Transhumanist Party (Category: UK)

This category consists of posts about Party news, events, and other announcements from the UK. You can find links to a variety of Transhumanist Party resources at http://transhumanistparty.org.uk.

2. Press Release (Category: Press Release)

This category is for official press releases from the Transhumanist Party in the UK.

3. Transhumanist Party Global (Category: TPG)

In addition to Party news from the UK, this blog offers news from affiliated organisations around the world, acting together as one movement under the umbrella of Transhumanist Party (Global). Posts in this category have the label [TPG] in their titles.

4. Guest-written posts (Category: guest)

You can use this category to search for insights from guest writers affiliated with the Transhumanist Party worldwide.

5. Social Futurism & the Zero State (Category: ISF/ZS)

The Transhumanist Party is connected to a growing web of like-minded organisations, which can be broadly characterised as “Social Futurist” or “Techno-Progressive” in nature. Some of those organisations were predecessors of the Transhumanist Party, while others are its current partners. All of them have the opportunity to tell us about their viewpoints, plans and achievements in this category.

This category is also a place where you can read posts from the Institute for Social Futurism, which is a think tank associated with the Transhumanist Party, exploring the relationship between social justice concerns and the radical transformative potential of modern technology. Posts in this category have the label [ISF] in their titles.

The official Transhumanist Party blog

Don’t mistake elections for political change!

I felt moved to write this post after seeing an article about the futility of Transhumanists standing in elections. As it happens I have already written a chapter addressing questions of strategy for the developing Transhumanist Party, but thought I’d lay out the essentials of my vision for the Party’s future here.

Some commentators seem to believe that there are only two ways to develop political influence in Western societies. The first is to influence decision makers through policy institutes, and the other is to become decision makers by winning elections. Six months ago we considered these two routes with regard to UK politics, and decided to pursue both simultaneously. Thus, Transpolitica and other friendly think tanks would explore the near-term possibilities of influencing established parties, while we would also establish the Transhumanist Party with a view to direct influence in 15-25 years time. I have said on a number of occasions that I expect Transhumanist Party influence to be negligible for at least ten years, but that groups like Transpolitica could potentially achieve real results in that same time frame.

There is a third way forward however, and it is the direction I believe the Transhumanist Party should be most heavily invested in (in the UK at least). Before explaining what I have in mind, first I would like to briefly lay out my own view of electioneering (from the Anticipating 2025 chapter mentioned above):

When it comes to traditional political party activity, we can see the most scope for modest medium-term success in nations where parliaments are elected by a proportional representation system, such as Germany. The examples of movements like the Pirate Party, Syriza and Podemos make this clear, whereas in “first past the post” systems (such as in the UK) it can easily take twenty five years to become the third party, even with radical and unexpected success. To my mind, traditional political attempts in the United States and Russia are little more than publicity drives (which is most certainly a thing of value in itself) because the systems in those nations allow for no real third-party influence. In effective single-party states like China there is no real potential for an independent political party at all.

Clearly, I do not believe that we are going to win the hearts and minds of the British electorate with an explicitly Transhumanist message any time soon (or in fact ever). Alexander Karran has noted that in his own electoral campaign the problem wasn’t so much people opposing Transhumanism, as not knowing or even remotely caring what it is. Of course we Transhumanists know that the big issues are going to come crashing into people’s lives whether they care or not, and part of our mission is to increase understanding of the issues, but at the same time we must ask ourselves a question:

How do we solve the problem of an uncaring electorate?

The Transhumanist Party exists for a reason, and it isn’t just to promote ideas like longevity. Our reason for existence is to help build a new societal model that can make the most of massive impending technological change. We may not be able to make any difference, but we must try, just in case it turns out that we could have made the difference between a society which thrives on the new technological opportunities, and one which descends into a downward spiral of missed opportunities, fearful knee-jerk reactions, and authoritarian control. Given that challenge, we cannot simply shrug and accept people’s lack of understanding as an insurmountable obstacle. Instead, we have to think like Transhumanists, and treat the situation as a problem to be solved by technical means.

We expect technological change to continue accelerating, and almost certainly spill over into massively disruptive societal change. We’re seeing some of that change and disruption already. It may be the case that as people feel that change and disruption more and more viscerally, then they become dramatically more open to our message. We must remain engaged via traditional democratic channels in case that happens. But at the same time, we should not be pinning our hopes on such eventualities, and should instead be focussing on direct action which we think is much more likely to make a positive difference regardless of public opinion. Political parties can be powerful organisations regardless of their ability to win elections, and we live in an age where societal problems can be solved by powerful organisations regardless of whether they so much as dip a toe in electoral waters.

In addition to a traditional political platform, then, we also need to encourage the establishment of a technological platform. A gateway for technological solutions to societal problems, composed of tools developed privately and publicly, and officially recognised by the government as a valid way for communities to make their own decisions and manage their own resources.

True Technocracy, or, the Big Society for real.

You may have heard the terms “Technocracy”, or “the Big Society”. Technocracy can refer to either a historical U.S. movement to bring an engineering approach to politics, or more recently to the kind of ‘technical’ governance applied to economic crises in European nations such as Italy. The Big Society is a term invented by UK Conservative Party strategists which was basically a cynical ploy to make dramatic social funding cuts sound like a good thing, by painting a romantic picture of communities rallying around to solve communal problems (the reality, of course, being the evaporation of government funding and communities being left to fend for themselves with only cute rhetoric to pay the bills).

What if we were to take these ideas seriously? What if we could engineer a situation in which our local communities were not simply ruled by specialist ‘technocrats’ or abandoned to a mythical Big Society, but instead given the opportunity and support to manage their own affairs using the best technological solutions available? Of course some things (such as defense) would still need to be organised on a national level, but we now live in an age where a lot of issues could be addressed by local communities directly, in a decentralised and highly democratic manner. By championing and working toward the creation of that new system we would naturally be aligning ourselves against the old system, bureaucratic 19th Century politics, and indeed the entirety of party politics. Our goal would be to build a system of direct local governance that makes party politics redundant, spelling the effective end of all parties including our own, and which effectively ends the age of the political class as we have understood it for the last three hundred years.

That could never work… could it?

Transhumanists talk about things like Technological Singularity all the time, but often forget to stop and think about the massive social disruption such ideas imply. Political parties haven’t existed forever, and to imagine their day will never pass is simply myopic. The big question we must ask ourselves here is what alternative forms of governance will be enabled by an explosion of technological possibilities over the coming decades. Such a wave of change is inevitable, barring disaster on the scale of a nuclear war or total environmental meltdown. Given such levels of change, the real issue is not whether local communities can manage their affairs with the latest tools better and more flexibly than an antiquated central government can, but whether we as a nation are able to muster an orderly transition to a new governance framework before it is too late… and a very disorderly transition sweeps over us all.

I envisage a kind of governmental network spanning the UK, ensuring that certain standards and common procedures are followed, but generally letting the regions use the latest technologies to create a true Big Society in their own preferred way, making decisions that reflect local desires in ways that a national parliament never could. Most of our policies will inevitably focus on the benefits of specific technologies (such as automation-backed Universal Basic Income, and NHS genetic screening leading to longevity treatments), but our party’s focus as an organisation would be on creating a platform through which people could use those technologies to manage their lives and communities without referring to central government or political parties most of the time. We would obviously not create the platform out of whole cloth, but instead work to draw together collaborators of many different types who are already developing all sorts of technological tools that people need to hear about.

The final step, however, brings us back to electoral politics. Any platform that truly gives people the power to manage their own affairs will be proscribed by government if the technology intrudes upon governmental authority. Aswell as helping to build the platform, and helping people understand how they can use it to directly make things better for themselves, it would be our task to arrange legal sanction for this new way of doing things. To return to our original two routes, we could do that by winning elections and rubber-stamping the new model ourselves, and/or influencing other parties to do the same. If establishment politicians can see that the world is changing and that they have a choice between making history and being left in its dustbin, I believe they will come to help us simply so as to not be left behind.

Elections are not political change, so much as gateways toward it under ideal circumstances. Those ideal conditions are rare indeed, and with accelerating technology we have the opportunity to make real change happen directly.

Don’t judge the future by the standards of the past. Join the Transhumanist Party!

Don’t mistake elections for political change!

Working toward a new paradigm

This is an update on progress from the Transhumanist Party, but not a dry technical report. Instead, this is the first in what I intend to be a new style of message, combining news of our activity with the bigger picture of the world situation. After all, we have not created a political party as a hobby or an exercise in vanity, but out of a deep dissatisfaction with the state of things and a thirst for change.

1. Volunteer teams now active

To start with practical matters: The party now has a “backbone” of volunteer teams starting to develop, and they are engaged in the first step of assessing what they need to do, and how they need to do it. All of our teams are organising their initial goals around our first Party Day in October (more on that below). If you would like to help the party at this stage, you can do so by volunteering (send an email to contact@transhumanistparty.org.uk letting us know your interests & skills), or by joining and/or donating.

2. Anticipating 2040, Party Day 2015, and voting for policy @ AGM.

It has been decided that most of our activity will now be geared toward a special weekend event on October 3rd-4th. On Saturday 3rd we are involved with the organisation of Anticipating 2040: A roadmap to sustainable abundance? This is a public, one-day conference focussed on themes central to the aims of the Transhumanist Party. The following day will be an event for party members and invited guests only, and will include a part of the day devoted to our first Annual General Meeting.

More details will follow soon, but at this stage it is important to note a crucial feature of the planned event. The TPUK constitution requires that official party policy must be presented in the form of proposals to be voted on by the membership at AGM. Provision will be made for absentee voting and online attendance by party members where at all possible.

For now, all you need to know is that details of the proposal process will be announced inside the next month, so if you have any thoughts on what Transhumanist Party policy should be then you are strongly encouraged to start making some notes and discussing them with other supporters. If your ideas are submitted and supported in AGM voting then they will become official party policy. If you don’t submit anything, then your ideas will remain nothing more than that as far as the party is concerned. We hope you will choose to get involved.

3. Ten years on: New paradigm required!

I would like to end by taking a step back to look at the bigger picture, and think about what we as a party stand for. In order to do that, I’d like to reflect on a little personal history.

Ten years ago today, terrorists killed fifty two people in London, wounding and traumatising many more. I live in London, and was sitting on a tube train when the first blasts occurred that morning. I was among around two thousand people evacuated from the trains and encouraged to catch buses to our destinations instead (at this stage we had not been told of the terrorist attack, but many of us had our suspicions). My workplace was in Tavistock Square, and I arrived moments after the notorious suicide attack on the bus there. Suffice to say that it was a day that I and many others will never forget.

The decade since has shown us a thing or two about the society we live in. It is most emphatically not a rational place, geared toward intelligently engineering a better future for ourselves and our loved ones. It is, in other words, not the world Transhumanists want to live in. We could still build that world, but sitting back and allowing things to run their course will not take us to the destination we desire.

For example, Islamists are still among us, with a large number of young Muslims having recently left the UK to fight for Islamic State. We are constantly told that these people are themselves victims, and that they should be excused, helped to return safely, re-educated at the State’s expense. It is apparently impolite to note that these are the explicit supporters of a murderous, theocratic, totalitarian ideology who have demonstrated an ability to follow through on their words with action. After ten years, we should have learned that ignoring and apologising for totalitarians in our midst is utterly unacceptable. Anyone who is serious about a triumphant Transhumanist worldview must understand that militant theocracy is its antithesis, and such a thing can never be ignored for the sake of being politically correct.

The other half of this equation is equally instructive, however. The very reason we even have this problem (of homegrown Islamic terrorism, and of other, innocent people who consequently feel persecuted for simply being Muslim in Britain) is the track record of governments who will not flinch at creating suffering for profit. We invade other countries despite a complete absence of appropriate evidence or rationale, thus creating opposition abroad and at home, because it serves the interests of certain industries. Our governing class (including all the major parties) has a common philosophy of governing for the benefit of vested economic interests, rather than the needs and desires of the British people. In short, these are governments that will drop bombs and dismantle social support without blinking if it will make a profit for their most influential friends.

This is not a rational society. It is not one governed by people who have some vision for making things better for as many people as possible. Even the most idealistic of contemporary politicians lacks true vision or determination to make deep, positive change happen. Over the last ten years we have started to see where their philosophy will take us, and it is not a place where any Transhumanist should want to go.

Transhumanists want to build a better world, geared toward more noble ideals than mere profit, constant attacks on less powerful countries, or the appeasement of authoritarian theocrats for the sake of appearing tolerant. We want a world in which such things will come to seem hopelessly antiquated, and we will work toward exactly that.

Working toward a new paradigm

The last political party

This is an update on progress from the Transhumanist Party in the UK, focussing on the question of policy. Another post on recent practical developments can be found here.

Two kinds of policy

I have already briefly mentioned the question of Transhumanist Party policy elsewhere (see this blog post, and this book chapter for more detailed analysis), where the bottom line was that Transhumanist Party policy in the UK is not decided by one person, unilaterally. Instead, policy is developed by the party membership as a whole, and votes to confirm official party policy are held at our Annual General Meeting. We believe that this is necessary in a modern, ethical, democratic organisation. Of course we can make educated guesses about the likely broad strokes (Universal Basic Income, more funding for science, evidence-based policy, defense of augmentation rights and so on), but the point here is that we are building a serious organisation, and if you want to help determine its platform then you should get involved now.

Such slow, ethical, democratic foundation-building doesn’t make for snappy headlines, however, and despite being necessary does not really reflect the radical nature of the Transhumanist program. After all, we stand for nothing less than total transformation of the human condition and society. As it happens, there is another way of thinking about Transhumanist Party policy which goes to the heart of who we are and what we stand for.

A new platform, and the last political party

Traditional political processes are obsolete, at best. They are quite simply unfit for dealing with the challenges of the 21st Century. More to the point, our political systems are often corrupt, and set up with all the wrong motivational incentives. In short, the system is broken, and the need for an alternative is becoming increasingly urgent. Of course others can see that too, but Transhumanists are particularly well-placed to see the bigger historical picture: That our civilization can no longer be well managed by political parties and other systems developed in Seventeenth Century Britain. It’s high time for a new evolutionary step.

Transhumanists are as a rule wary of traditional party politics, and rightly so. We look forward rather than back, and seek direct technical solutions rather than to get dragged into the more pointless rituals of contemporary society where we can help it. After all, we want to solve the big problems, not merely “play the game”. The Transhumanist Party is no different, and that’s why we should think not just in terms of specific policies decided upon at AGM, but the bigger and more revolutionary picture that they fit into.

That idea, essentially the context all of our policies fit within, is to switch society over to using new tools to make its decisions and allocate its resources in the most intelligent and compassionate manner possible. To create a new platform not just in the sense of a policy platform, but also a technological platform through which all decisions which could be made directly by citizens, human experts and software, would be. Our more specific policies (and those of other parties who are on the right side of History, collaborating with us in this effort) would shape the nature of that platform. I hope that non-governmental organisations will join the effort too, both charitable and business-oriented, to help us build a powerful and uniquely modern platform for decentralised governance of the UK, and technological empowerment of its citizens.

The eventual goal would be to entirely phase out the current political system, which has been a powerful engine in our civilizational development, but which has now led us to the brink of financial, ecological, and military disaster. Over time we would attempt to use Transhumanist Party influence to sanction the decentralization of government, having its functions transferred to more modern, rational institutions where appropriate. Eventually the entire traditional political class could be dismantled or at least radically transformed, and political parties abolished… including, of course, the Transhumanist Party.

This desire for the Transhumanist Party to make itself and all other parties obsolete to pave the way toward a better, more rational mode of governance is why I refer to it as the last political party. A vote for the Transhumanist Party is a vote to end pointless, circular, tribal and exploitative patterns of “governance”, and inaugurate a new political age to complement the new era of technological possibility unfolding across our culture.

The last political party

Holacracy and the Transhumanist Party

EDIT: The post below raised some questions, and apparently some minor misunderstandings which I would like to briefly address. If you haven’t read the post below already, I would recommend doing so before reading the note which follows at its end.

Holacracy and the Transhumanist Party

The Transhumanist Party represents a new branch of the Transhumanist movement, and as such is now taking the first steps in a long journey. Here at the beginning, we have the opportunity to consider how our movement will be organised, and what kind of character we want it to develop. We have a lot to think about, and work toward.

One such issue confronting us is whether to operate according to traditional managerial models (often characterised as hierarchical, sometimes accurately), or something more decentralised and agile such as Holacracy. Holacracy (see here and here for descriptions) is a recently popular form of Holarchy, which is to say a non-hierarchical, recursive organisational model structurally reminiscent of a hologram or fractal.

What does that mean in plain English?

Simply, that we must ask ourselves whether the Transhumanist Party should have traditional “bosses”, or a more experimental and communal style of decision making.

The best answer to that question isn’t obvious. On the one hand, clear leadership, vision, and lines of responsibility are important – and that’s without even considering that certain traditional things like Party Officers are required by law in countries like the UK. On the other hand however, we do need to be flexible, resilient, innovative, and to strongly encourage grassroots initiative within the party. We can’t have a leaderless free-for-all, both as a matter of pragmatism and law, but we also cannot have micromanaging “party chiefs”, or everybody sitting back and waiting for permission or instructions. As is so often the way of things, we must find a way to strike an intelligent and practical balance.

How do we balance leadership and flexibility?

Here in the UK, the Transhumanist Party has settled on a solution. Basically, the party as a whole runs according to a constitution with features required by UK law and the necessities of clear leadership, but each of its six administrative departments operates as a semi-autonomous, Holacratic organisation.

The first thing to note is that the party is required by law to have a traditional party constitution and Party Officers responsible for certain key functions, and we have found the development of that structure to be very useful. The constitution both makes it clear how we will fulfill our legal and financial obligations, and additionally draws the line within which activity may be legitimately considered to be on behalf of the Transhumanist Party. We have taken care to develop a constitution which balances a few simple core principles which define the party, a National Executive Committee to handle administrative matters (more on that in a moment), and a voting membership to develop party policy. This gives us a party that is well prepared against any disruption or “mission drift”, but which at the same time puts many traditional leadership decisions in the hands of its regular members rather than a small group or single leader.

As innovative as this is, it still falls within the broad category of “traditional” management models. The constitution does, however, divide the party into six departments, each led by one of the Party Officers. That division of the workload is partly pragmatic, and partly required by law. Those Party Officers (along with elected members’ representatives and additional non-voting advisors) collectively form the National Executive Committee (NEC). The key thing to note here is that the six departments are effectively semi-autonomous organisations falling under the umbrella of the Transhumanist Party, each of which is required by the party constitution to maintain its own core operating document, and that’s where the possibility of Holacracy arises. That’s because Holacratic organisations avoid relying on a vague, hierarchical sense of authority, replacing it with a constitution which makes their operating procedures clear.

The six departments, and “circles”

The six departments are as follows: (1) Party Secretary’s office, (2) Treasury, (3) IT dept, (4) PR & Campaigns, (5) Fundraising, (6) Nominations & Liaison. At the moment these are just very small volunteer groups – single people in some cases – but we intend to make this framework the basis of all party activity as it grows and develops. Right from the outset we have been keen to encourage a high degree of grassroots initiative (“just do it!”), but are aware that all initiatives must eventually be the responsibility of one department or another, otherwise the party would be wide open to disruption by those acting in our name but who do not share our goals or values, or have our best interests at heart.

The answer seems to be that each department operates as a Holacratic organisation, with its own constitution making it clear how that organisation operates. In a Holacratic organisation the emphasis is not on leaders issuing instructions, but rather on small, overlapping teams of volunteers (called “circles”) which have their members’ roles, goals, and responsibilities clearly defined. This means that volunteers know what is expected of them, but they don’t have to wait for permission or instructions to do anything. Instead they should simply get on with creatively exploring their role, secure in the knowledge that no boss will intervene unless they have broken the explicit, written rules of the circle.

The closest thing each circle has to a boss is a “lead link”, which is one person tasked with ensuring a good flow of information and potential collaboration between the team and other circles, both within and between departments (not to mention other organisations outside the party). The lead link is the person within each circle who is primarily responsible for ensuring that the circle as a whole is acting in accord with the departmental constitution, just as each member of the circle is expected to operate in line with the written terms of their role.

A long journey ahead

From now on, the Transhumanist Party will act as a Holacratic organisation in this fashion. Each department will maintain a public constitution which presents its operating rules, recognised circles, and the volunteer roles self-determined by those circles. People will be able to see what’s going on by reading each department’s constitution, and contact circles directly to get involved. Those six public documents aren’t ready yet, but as soon as they are links will be posted here and on the Transhumanist Party website.

It is our hope that by doing things this way, we will be able to maintain a strong, coherent vision and goals, and yet still have a party built out of agile, innovative networks of teams ready to face the challenges of the 21st Century.

Keep watching this blog for updates, to find out how our journey progresses!

EDIT: A note on criticisms

I’ve heard the suggestion that the organisational model proposed in this post is “pseudo-Holacratic” (which may or may not be a bad thing depending upon your view of Holacracy), and that it implies a lack of trust in volunteers. I do not believe that such criticism reveals any true problem, for the following reasons:

1. Legal realities

The simple fact is that political parties must operate within the legal framework of the countries that host them. In the UK, this means that certain functions are mandated, and the resultant core structure must to some extent be centralised and hierarchical. For this reason, no legally recognised UK political party can be run as a single, entirely Holacratic organisation of the most ideal type.

In my personal opinion that’s actually a good thing, but my reasoning on that count is another topic for another day. Suffice to say that my personal preference is to balance competing extremes in most situations, rather than aim for solutions that embrace one principle so utterly that they completely reject other, equally important principles.

2. True Holacracy and True Scotsmen

There does appear to be some temptation for people to imagine that Holacracy is entirely non-Hierarchical, particularly in some hypothetical “pure” form. This is simply not true, since even the most avidly Holacratic enterprises invariably exist to work toward pre-existing high-level goals. Thus the a priori goal has effectively been set in a centralised manner, and it is only implementation of such goals that gets ‘farmed out’ to Holacratic circles within the organisation. Therefore, even the most “pure” form of Holacracy is effectively a kind of hybrid system rather than being entirely “flat” or “headless”.

3. Loose decentralization, not dogma

It must be stressed that TPUK will not be operating according to the dogma of any external organisation, so each of the party’s departments will only be “Holacratic” in the strictest sense to the extent that they choose to be, independently. More generally, the party encourages a kind of loose decentralization in which certain high-level goals are identified in accord with the Party Constitution, but then the various departments (and the groups within them) work toward those goals as they see fit. I have chosen to characterise this loose arrangement as ‘Holacratic’, and any disagreement anyone may have with that is their business.

4. Trust and political practicalities

Finally, the idea of having a Party Constitution and structure which does not offer total trust to new volunteers by default has been criticised as suggesting a state of intrinsic mistrust. It has been suggested that special mechanisms could be introduced to gauge levels of trust in certain volunteers, supporters or party members before entrusting them with the ability to change certain things within the organisation.

On the face of it that sounds reasonable, but there are at least three issues to address, here. The first is that, ironically, the introduction of trust measurement only exaggerates the mistrust which some might imagine to currently exist. Secondly, it is another sad but simple political reality that activists cannot all be trusted immediately, because some of them may be hostile entryists or simply incompetent. Thirdly, we have enough safeguard against problematic behaviour within the Party Constitution itself, so any additional mechanisms are entirely up to the various departments and circles to decide upon as they see fit. In short, if something is allowed by the Constitution then people are welcome and trusted to do it. If people cannot act in accord with the Party Constitution, however, then they are simply not welcome within the party.

5. Summary

The bottom line is that we have practical realities to deal with, and the model proposed above is the most effective balance of traditional pragmatism and an idealistic “grass-roots” approach to organisation. As mentioned in the post proper, other Transhumanist Parties may not choose to follow the TPUK example, and that is entirely their business. The advantages and disadvantages of the approach we are taking should become clear soon enough.

Holacracy and the Transhumanist Party