Zoltan Istvan, thank you for joining us.
Euvie: Zoltan Istvan I think is the correct pronunciation, am I right?
Zoltan: It’s however you like to say it, it’s pretty complicated. Even I don’t [00:01:30] pronounce it properly. You did pretty good with it, that’s all fine. Thanks for having me.
Mike: Yeah, thanks for joining us. We’re calling you from Vietnam. As we’ve done our research we’ve found that you’ve done some National Geographic stuff on bomb digging, and you’ve spent some time in south-east Asia. Why don’t you tell us a bit about that?
Zoltan: Sure. I used to be the communications director of WildAid in Cambodia which, at the time, was their largest country. They had about 1,000 people. About 15 employees [00:02:00] but literally 1,000 soldiers that were working for the government as well as just lay people. What they did is we were trying to protect endangered wildlife, we were trying to stop poaching. The Cambodian government had got involved and actually allocated a huge amount of their soldiers to help us stop wildlife poaching, which was great.
As a result, I had spent a huge amount of time in all of south-east Asia. [00:02:30] Also, years before on my sale trip, I had left my boat in Singapore and also did a number of trips through there. I’d been all over. Yeah, the bomb digger story for National Geographic Channel was one of my favourites and that was done directly in Vietnam, in the DMZ – demilitarized zone, for your audience. That was on basically trying to recover unexploded ordinances that the American government had dropped on the country. It was a fascinating story because there’s a lot of humanitarian elements of farmers [00:03:00] now digging up bombs to sell the metal. I loved it all there and I loved the food, and I really loved the people too.
Mike: That’s pretty incredible. I was just watching the National Geographic at the part where he’s digging for the bomb and you’re up really close, you’re like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, stop, stop.” You run away. That was crazy. Your adrenaline must have been going.
Zoltan: I was. First off, not only being just a Buddhist nation but they work with these unexploded ordinances all day long. [00:03:30] They’re pretty used to what they know what they see. I see anything around, anything shiny, I just assume it’s some type of bomb or landmine. I was freaked out. That was one of the instances that we actually got on film but there were a number of times when we had something similar like that happen when it wasn’t on film. By the end of seven days of filming that episode, I was so freaked out. Really, I was on pins and needles, because any time you had to go off the path [00:04:00] you’re totally worried about landmines, you’re totally worried about anything just blowing up.
The bottom line is the American government dropped literally millions and millions of tons of this type of weaponry, and about 10 to 15 percent of it goes unexploded. Even now, there are hundreds and hundreds of thousands of unexploded bombs in the jungles in Vietnam. All that just can sometimes take a nudge and it can explode, something like that. It’s a pretty scary story [00:04:30] and I had a great time doing it. It was a great story and did actually a lot of good, because a lot of donations were made once the video came out.
At the same time, for me, it was one of the most important stories I’ve ever done because, afterwards, I came back and dedicated my life to transhumanism because I was so scared after working seven days in the DMZ with these farmers digging up these bombs.
Euvie: Right, I guess after that you started thinking, “How can I backup my brain in case this kind of thing happens and my [00:05:00] physical body gets all wrecked, so I can restore it into a mechanical body from a backup.”
Zoltan: Yeah, no, really it was the incident in Vietnam. Just to back up a little, I had been about four years with National Geographic and, I don’t know exactly how much, but a large portion of that was in conflict zones. I would consider, at that point, that kind of story still a conflict story in the sense that you were really worried about your safety all the time. It’s pretty nerve wracking to be a journalist in conflict [00:05:30] zones. I did a couple wars, Kashmir Pakistan war, the Kashmir war between India and Pakistan. It just takes its toll on you. What happened was Vietnam was at the very end of four years of doing a lot of pretty dangerous stuff and I had this one incident where I almost stepped on a land mine, my guide pushed me out of the way.
I’ve been a transhumanist for years before this, but that was the moment when I said, “You know what, I’m going back to America. I want to dedicate my time and my [00:06:00] life to trying to live indefinitely and pushing science and technology forward as a way to do that.” I actually, after that Vietnam story, never travelled again for journalism. I went back to America and began writing my novel the Transhumanist Wager, and dedicated more to the field of science. Vietnam was a very critical point in my life, that week, when I was discovering these bomb diggers.
Mike: Wow. You took off from Vietnam [00:06:30] and went back go to the States and you started to get into transhumanism. That’s at the point that you wrote your book. Can you tell us a bit about the book?
Zoltan: Sure. Nothing was so overnight, but I had been a transhumanist, essentially, since I had been in my early 20s when I was studying philosophy at college. It took a while to get into my head that I should actually do something directly for the movement, even though I was very supportive of it. I think the Vietnam story was somewhere where I was around 28 or 29 years old, [00:07:00] or maybe 30 at that point. Then I returned to the United States and, actually, I had a couple of different things happen before. I had a real estate development business that I worked with. I was already beginning to write articles specifically about technology.
I was continuing to write for the National Geographic website. Then I began my novel, which was the Transhumanist Wager. That took a full four years to write. It’s a very philosophical book. About 20, 30 percent of it is pure philosophy. [00:07:30] It’s a novel following the protagonist Jethro Knights and his main mission in life is to overcome death, biological death, using science and technology. He’s a complete atheist. It took so long to write the book that I really worked my way through the philosophy. Then when I released it, luckily the book did really well. It became a number one best seller in philosophy on Amazon, as well as science fiction visionary.
It made its rounds around the community and, to some extent, launched my [00:08:00] career as a futurist. This is now two, three years ago, and ever since then I’ve been advocating for futurist issues and transhumanism and, especially, science and technology to make us live longer, to make us live better, to make us live healthier. Ultimately, that’s landed me here as the founder and the US presidential candidate of the Transhumanist party, where I’m not taking it to a political level and really trying to change the political spectrum with my ideas and [00:08:30] with the philosophy of transhumanism.
Mike: We just watched Joe Rogan’s episode with you last night and that’s when we first heard about you running for presidential candidacy. That’s been a few months ago, how has it progressed since your interview Joe?
Zoltan: First off, the interview with Joe is excellent and really did help a lot, because he’s such a popular guy and he has such a very different audience, too. One of the main things with journalism is not just hitting the same audience you usually hit, but to try to hit new [00:09:00] audiences to gain more people learning about transhumanism. I declared my candidacy very early in the presidential race. As I’ve mentioned in my articles, my candidacy, there’s no chance of me winning the presidency. A lot of is just a method to try to not only further establish the Transhumanist party, which is a political non-profit that is, like any other third party, like the Green party or Libertarian party, we’re trying to grow bigger [00:09:30] so that one day we might actually win an election.
Also, not only just the presidential race but also people in Congress and people in local government. It’s been very good in terms of our publicity and our media coverage. We have a huge amount of people. I was just interviewed toady with the Daily Beast, which is a major publication about parts of my presidential candidacy. It’s going good in that terms, but it’s also very difficult because, as you know from any third party in America, [00:10:00] there’s virtually no chance of winning. If you’re not Republican, if you’re not Democrat, it’s very hard to get a foothold in the door. We’re doing our best to use the party as well as my candidacy as a means to spread transhumanism, which is essentially this techno-optimistic message that, “Hey, science and technology is very beneficial to the human race and can help us all.
I’m not 100 percent sure where the end result is, whether the Transhumanist party will actually [00:10:30] become large enough, at some point in the future, to win an election. Certainly, it can win on the local level, but it’s hard to know. The two-party system in America is so set in stone that it’s sometimes pretty daunting.
Mike: I was thinking, as a transhumanist, it seemed almost a polar opposite ideology to be getting involved in politics and want to change the system from within the system. I suppose from the perspective of PR and spreading the message, it makes a lot more sense.
Euvie: [00:11:00] Yeah, because transhumanism is a very exponential ideology where you always have to be open to rapid changes and lack of regulations definitely helps those rapid changes. The current political systems are very heavy on regulations and are very linear. I don’t know if you saw that article that Peter Diamandis wrote about that recently, but he’s essentially saying that the political systems of today will very likely not survive the singularity or even the pre-singularity time, because they’re very linear.
Zoltan: [00:11:30] Yeah, no, I definitely agree with Peter there. I would be very surprised if, in 25 to 35 years, we still have such a really heavy and concrete two-party system. Part of the reason is that democracy is going to become much freer when we all have access to vote on our iPhones. Not just voting but the access to immediately change things. [00:12:00] I’ve written an article for Vice Motherboard where I have a column on this idea, it’s called the Transhumanist Future of Politics where democracy can be real time. You can say something like, “Hey, we should have a universal based income.” Then, “Okay, everybody in the next week, vote on it around the world.”
Because everybody is so interconnected, you can decide something almost immediately. That’s a system that is quite different than the one where we have now, where it’s so much in fighting in Congress. It takes months and sometimes [00:12:30] years to get any kind of bill passed. Then, all of a sudden, when it does get passed someone can veto it or all these other things. I’m thinking that technology is going to really the way politics acts. The thing is that it’s not going to change it, of course, by 2016, and probably not even by 2020 or 2024. I have ambitions to run again when hopefully the party’s a lot bigger. Maybe then, I’ll have a better chance.[00:13:00] Certainly, I think within 15 or 25 years, when we probably no longer have iPhones, we’ll probably have brain implants that act in exactly the same way. We may not even speak spoken languages anymore because we’ll just think these things. They already have telepathy was launched last year. There’s a whole bunch of new types of technologies that are going to change the way we think, the way we communicate, and also the way we deal with voting in politics. If it can be that much more efficient, you can expect that the [00:13:30] existing political systems are either going to have to completely adapt, which is very unlikely because they’re just lumbering and slow, or we’ll just have new political systems appear and, perhaps, even virtual states.
I do advocate, to some extent – I’m running for the United States presidency and I love America and all these other things, but I realize that 25, 35 years down the road it’s very possible we could just have an earth with no national borders, with no multiple currencies, with [00:14:00] no languages because everything will be translated immediately with brain waves like Google Translator does. We’ll just be much more one, I think, with one another. In that sense, that could really transcend the kind of conflict that we always have with politics or the bad taste that we have with it, where it’s so hard to get anything done and nothing ever really moves forward it seems. I’m pretty optimistic that, yeah, technology will absolutely change politics in the future.
Mike: It’s hard for me to [00:14:30] wrap my head around the idea that we could actually change the political system as it is. It just seems so mired in the way things have always been done. Watching movements like the Occupy Wall Street Movement, what’s your take on that sort of maybe revolutionary perspective in politics, especially the apathy that young people have as far as getting involved in a political system that doesn’t really represent them to begin with?
Zoltan: I was pretty supportive of the [00:15:00] Occupy Movement. Not necessarily so supportive of all the ideals, because it was a little bit all over the place, but what I was very supportive of is the idea that there was this group out there doing a movement, any movement. Revolution is somewhat always necessary, especially in a democratic society, to move forward. It’s the youth that always has been able to change us. It’s important that they stand up. I was a little bit sad that they didn’t go further with it, that it didn’t become something more like the 60s where [00:15:30] there really was a culture that developed and took over.
That could be a part of the failing of this system that we live in now. In my novel, the Transhumanist Wager, I talk a lot about this idea of baggage culture, which is this idea that culture is getting heavier and heavier and heavier. It’s almost impossible to throw it off. As a result, it’s exactly what governments and corporations and all these other people want, because you’re so totally entrenched in the system. [00:16:00] That said, I don’t think governments and corporations are going to be able to keep up with the technology. I think, on the other hand, there’s this idea of what the internet has done and what bio technology will do – for example, telepathy and mind reading and bionics and robotic hearts will do. It could literally change the fabric of what it means to be a human being.
I’m optimistic that, over the long haul, there will be some substantial changes in the system that will give people more ability to feel like they’re represented, [00:16:30] more ability to feel like there’s value in their voice. At the same time, I think it’s going to take some real effort. Maybe the Occupy people didn’t push hard enough, maybe there wasn’t enough demonstrations, there wasn’t enough really rallying behind the concept and pushing forward. It’s very important, if you’re trying to do something revolutionary, that you follow through with it and you don’t give up and you absolutely just insist [00:17:00] on making the changes.
Mike: That’s pretty brave to say as someone who wants to get in politics. Even just looking you up in YouTube and seeing the headlines from your talk with Joe Rogan. There was one about, “Kids should do psychedelics,” and, of course, you were misquoted there. It must be difficult to talk about these kind of things, but, then again, I wonder if your view in politics is more of a small stepping stone to what you think [00:17:30] we will become in the future. Your involvement seems like just a push for awareness more than a real attempt to be president one day.
Zoltan: The truth is that it is a push for awareness. I would love the opportunity – and I’ve discussed even with my wife some of the possibilities that could happen, that could really shoot me to national attention where, all of a sudden, it becomes something possible. [00:18:00] There are always methods. All of a sudden, you get launched and then you’re there on the national stage and you can actually maybe have a real chance. At this point in time, it really is about awareness. I do have the luxury of saying some radical things.
It’s not just radical things. What I think I really have the luxury of saying is saying the things that are on my mind. For example, in the interview today I was asked about some of Rand Paul’s ideas on [00:18:30] drugs and stuff like that. I’m going to get misquoted and I’m going to get bashed in the press, but it’s nowhere near what could happen if Rand Paul did that, where he could lose all his popularity through saying one wrong thing. I still have the luxury of saying a lot of what’s really in my heart and trying to say the best thing I can for society. That’s a very funny zone to be in, because you’re just popular enough to be able to do that, but you’re not popular enough to be able to sink the ship. [00:19:00] It’s a very nice place to be in, actually, because you can still write truly opinionated and editorial articles and say things and get away with it – and still be your honest self.
I do feel like a lot of the politicians that get to these higher places of power and popularity, they’re basically just losing themselves because in order to win you really need to appease the most amount of people, and that’s [00:19:30] a very dangerous place to be in because it challenges your own set of integrity. You’re like, “I want to say this but, at the same time, I want to be elected in.” Luckily, I’m not dealing with that too much and I have a lot of the luxury of just being totally honest to what I feel and what I believe and can say it. I’m hoping that more and more people listen and I act as that outside voice in saying, “What if we did it this way, the Transhumanist way or this more sketchy way? It seems a little bit radical but it might just be [00:20:00] actually better for the people.”
Anyways, I’m in a wonderful place and I actually love it because I can still voice my opinion and know that I can continue without actually being that slaughtered. That Mark Dice thing that you had mentioned where I had said something about, “Drugs are good for kids,” they really misquoted me. From a journalistic point of view, that is almost absurd. I absolutely did not say that and they know that. That’s digital media these days, you can twist anything around.
Mike: Yeah, I suppose.
Euvie: It’s clickbaity.
Zoltan: [00:20:30] Yeah, it’s clickbait. He does well, he’s a popular guy because of those kind of titles.
Mike: I’m actually curious, you don’t have to talk about this if you don’t want to, but I’m curious about your views on psychedelics because you did seem to be in support of it.
Zoltan: Sure, sure. Funnily enough, the Daily Beast article – I think should be out tomorrow – asked me about all these questions, because it was about nootropics. I have done psychedelics. I think for experimental purposes, [00:21:00] they’re absolutely wonderful to do. As a general rule, the Transhumanist party and myself hold a decriminalization process for the entire drug industry. We just don’t think, unless you’re doing something violent or hurting someone, you should be going to prison for doing any types of drugs.
That doesn’t mean that I’m allowing hard drugs and that we would support something like that – certainly, there should be some rehabilitation and stuff like that involved [00:21:30] with people that have addiction problems and what not. Honestly, supporting a multi-billion-dollar prison industry in America, which is something like 5 or 10 times larger than any other country in the world and a lot of them being drug users, is absolutely asinine. It’s crazy. We could spend that money on education, especially when a lot of these people haven’t actually even committed violet acts.
Eventually, I’m going to be writing here, probably in the next month, a full editorial piece on my views on how we can [00:22:00] entirely end the war on drugs and take it to a place where we encourage some experimentation with drugs and where we try to take the real mean stuff or the hard stuff, and get people off it or get them to a point when they can actually, say, have a better feel for where their life is going and they want to stop on their own rather than just sticking them in prison and spending tons of money.
Regarding marijuana and some of the [00:22:30] other things, like psychedelics, at least some of the milder psychedelics, it’s amazing that we have made it illegal. I think people grow through these experiences, just like you have said. I grew through my experiences, too, when I was in Costa Rica and I walked out into a field and picked mushrooms, then had some of the most amazing experiences of my life – experiences that have stayed with me for a massive amount of time and also, been critical to how I [00:23:00] philosophically view the world. The idea that you can know that your mind can change just from trying a drug really shows you how not only volatile the world is, but also how not objective it is. When people want to defend their values, defend their religions, defend their ideals, you need to take a step back and say, “Whoa, we could have more peace if we just realized that everything can change very quickly, even just through a simple mushroom or something of that nature.”[00:23:30] I think we could find a lot more peace if we would just take a step back and say, “Maybe experimenting with substances is okay.” After all, it’s a very transhumanist idea. I think most transhumanists have experimented with substances and they feel it’s part of self-improvement, which is what transhumanism is all about.
Mike: Yeah, absolutely agree with that.
Euvie: Did you see that article recently, I can’t remember which publication it was but it talked about that they found the real cause of addiction and that it’s not [00:24:00] actually drugs that cause addiction but mental problems and loneliness and abuse. When people don’t feel like they’re whole, they resort to drugs. They tested it on mice and they put mice in isolation and gave them drugs. Of course, the mice became addicted to drugs and then they put mice in a social situation where they were very comfortable and they could run on their little wheel and exercise. They found that the drug addicted mice stopped taking the drugs and the other mice [00:24:30] didn’t even try the drugs. It’s a problem of just feeling alone and not supported by your community, rather than just the drug being there.
Zoltan: I remember seeing that headline, didn’t read it. Your summary of it was great. I would not be surprised that that’s exactly the case, because alcohol is very similar to that. Not that many people drink when everything is going great. Alcohol, I think, is one of the most addictive properties we have. When things are going bad is when people start to drink. [00:25:00] I wouldn’t be surprised to find something just like what you said happening. I also think it’s important to know that, in the future, when we have brain implants and we have other types of technologies around us, for example, just in our living room we’re going to have cameras that are helping us to turn on the TV just by thinking it and looking at it, stuff like that… Some kind of alarm on the refrigerator that won’t allow us to eat all the chocolate ice cream.
These kind of things are coming. [00:25:30] We already have all these crazy apps on our iPhone that keep us healthier. Now, everyone’s wearing these wearable technology things where they monitor your heartbeats and other things like that. Eventually, we’re going to be a society that’s very monitored. That will be very good. For example, if you have an addiction to cigarettes and you say, “I’m going to go get one,” your phone might beep at you and say, “Hey, Zoltan, don’t do that.” I don’t smoke but you know what I’m saying, it could be something like that.[00:26:00] The point is that once we have all of this technology around us, it will also help us to not do things the bad way but, instead, to do things the good way. I’ve written before – iPhones will be flying in probably two or three years, meaning they will be these better angels of our nature sitting on our shoulders telling us what to do and what not to do, based on what we think is right. At some point, we’ll have this sense that [00:26:30] drug use or addictions or things that we do that are wrong will be stopped ahead of time, just because something has reminded us not to do it. I also think for that reason alone, it will end.
I just was telling some of the journalists today that the greatest thing about driverless cars, for example, is that there’s going to be no more drunk driving accidents. There’s still, I think, 100,000 deaths a year from drunk driving accidents. Can you imagine [00:27:00] with driverless cars? No one’s going to be drunk anymore. This is the way that technology is going to help us eliminate this negative idea of what substance is and, hopefully, we’ll be back to the Timothy Leary age where, “Hey, substances are something to grow on, something to experiment with, something to enjoy,” as opposed to this idea – when you think of alcohol, you think, “I have two young daughters, I don’t want them drunk driving. I don’t want anyone else drunk driving them.”
It’s great to think of how technology, especially through things [00:27:30] like driverless cars will empower us, rather than put us in these very dangerous positions where, still, hundreds of thousands of people die.
Mike: I think a lot of us could really use the experience of a couple of mushroom trips to regain that empathy that is pretty easy to lose in modern society. That’s how it’s definitely helped me is taking mushrooms and realizing there’s this old capacity for empathy that I’ve almost shut off, [00:28:00] and that just reopening it every once in a while is a really good thing. It allows me to connect and helped in all kinds of areas in my life. I wish that more people would let themselves have that experience.
Zoltan: For me, a lot of it – especially as an aspiring politician – is really just about saying, “Wow, we’re spending billions and billions and billions of dollars on this thing for these people. They don’t really need to be locked up. More importantly, we could be spending those billions [00:28:30] and billions and billions of dollars on education or on infrastructure or on new technologies that can eliminate heart disease or cancer.” Instead of a war on drugs, we need a war on cancer, we need a war on heart disease. These are things that really, truly effect people in the most horrible way.
You can see it, people die from this stuff. That’s where my agenda is is where I want to put, instead of some these frivolous things where we spend [00:29:00] war on oil, far off lands nobody ever goes to, or war on drugs, let’s spend it on the things that really matter. Everyone knows someone who’s died from cancer, everyone knows someone who has heart disease. These are things that really matter and we can change the way America deals with its citizenry just by saying, “Enough of this nonsense, let’s put the resources and the money we have into the things that really can make a difference in our daily lives.”
Mike: Do you believe it’s the younger generation that is going to [00:29:30] be the catalyst for this kind of change?
Zoltan: Here we run into the greatest conundrum of life extension science that I can think of. The idea that science and technology is really great, it’s making people live longer and longer, but the problem is that the politicians that have been stifling America for so long are going to live longer and longer, as well, especially since they have some of the most resources and money to put into their own health. This really presents a challenge for politics, because [00:30:00] you can have these senators and these people stay in office forever. They continue to hold their very same viewpoints, especially from my atheistic viewpoint, they can hold their religious ideals.
They will say, “Drugs are bad forever,” because that’s just what they’ve been thinking for the last 70 years. Unfortunately, because of life extension medicine – which I completely support – they are going to now live to 150 years and still probably be in office. That is a real problem. I think, in this way, we might [00:30:30] have to actually think of having some kind of term limits on the amount of time that certain people – and maybe age limits – that people can stay in. Recently, I had advocated for making sure that a broad base of different types of jobs reach into Congress. Currently, it’s something like 40 percent of Congress is made up of attorneys and attorneys have a very specific mindset on how to deal with the world.
Unfortunately, attorneys in the real world only [00:31:00] make up around seven percent of the population. There’s a huge discrepancy between these people running our country and the actual amount of them that are on in America. I would like to see plumbers, I would like to see construction workers, I want to see writers, I want to see journalists, doctors, I want to see everyone represented equally for whatever population the represent in America. I think the same thing should be in age groups. The same thing should be – and I mention this in my novel, the Transhumanist Wager – the very same thing [00:31:30] should be in gender.
It amazes me that we have about a 50/50 population in America and it’s still something like 85 percent of Congress is men and 15 percent is women. It should be half and half. The same thing should happen with age groups. That way, we can have a truly representative society of what really is going on to make some of these decisions. Imagine, for example, if we had a bunch of 25-year olds in Congress. They would probably be very active with environmental [00:32:00] causes, they’d probably be very active with ending the war on drugs, they’d probably be very active with saying, “Why are we fighting all over the place around the world? Let’s stop this, let’s concentrate on thing that matter – education and stuff like that.”
It’s important that we actually try to make some of these steps forward. I have advocated for changing the laws such that it says, “We really are a real democracy,” as opposed to something [00:32:30] where you have a bunch of mostly old white males who are attorneys leading the country forward. Frankly, they’re all religious and they’re not going to stop doing what they’ve been doing for the last 50 years. That doesn’t move America forward, that’s just going to give China and all these other emerging nations a chance to come up and beat us both in economics and in cultural ways. I really think there needs to be a big change in the way that we choose the people [00:33:00] that run our government. If we can have a much greater spread of people, youth, of different types of gender, just different political viewpoints, we’re going to be a lot better off in the long-term and much more representative of what the country might actually want.
Euvie: What if we have, say, a direct democracy where people can vote in real time on issues, like you mentioned before, and, in that case, do we even need so many politicians? [00:33:30] If people can decide what should happen, then do we need all these guys sitting in an office discussing things all day and making decisions for us?
Mike: Yeah. To me, if you’re a transhumanist and you believe in the potential of the singularity and all of these things that could happen – artificial intelligence and upgrading our bodies and all of these things that, to most people, would seem fantastical and, “Not in 100 years,” that’s the thing I hear the most. To me, as someone involved in this kind of thing and seeing the way young people are, the way they’re [00:34:00] not involved in politics, it seems more impossible to me that we will continue to be running a centralized government than it does that we could be Gods in a couple of decades.
The idea that all of these technological advances are happening and we’re still going to vote every four years on a guy to represent us on all these issues, it just seems impossible. We already have the ability to vote decentralized. It’s a very simple technology. For us to still operate [00:34:30] on this democratic system that’s hundreds of years old and operating on technology that’s even older, it just seems so hard to believe. I’m curious as to why you believe that it will even be an issue with religious people being in politics decades from now.
Zoltan: I’m not saying it’s not going to, it’s just, unfortunately, it’s going to be a slower transition than I think. Also, just going back a little bit to my novel – just so your audience knows – [00:35:00] the novel sets up the clash between religious and older people who want to keep the nation the same versus the new technology and the new people who want to change it with some of the ideas you’re suggesting. Unfortunately, as I pointed out in my recent articles on attorneys and Vice, where I’d advocated for a law that says, “It should not be allowed to have 40 percent attorneys, it should only be allowed to maybe have 10 percent.” [00:35:30] The idea is that as long as they’re in charge and making the laws, they’re going to probably make it impossible for this type of change to occur, unless enough people actually revolt in ways like the Occupy Movement and stuff like that and they just stop working, they literally shut down society.
Unfortunately, that’s hard, because people are so apathetic to some extent. Hopefully, if you get enough journalists and enough people writing about these things and complaining about these things [00:36:00] and talking about these things, hopefully there’ll be some incremental steps towards a lot of these issues that we want. Like I said, I absolutely agree with you. We have the technology right now to do away with the electoral system, period. We could go right to straight democracy where everyone votes and everyone votes with a 24-hour period and it’s on their phone or whatever it is, it’s some booth, where your voice actually is something that is directly tied [00:36:30] to the change that’s happening.
Unfortunately, that really requires a massive shift and there haven’t been that many massive shifts in the country’s history, because, when you talk about actually messing with the constitution, it’s like, “Wow, it takes so much to actually do that.” America was set up to be a very laborious type of system that could be changed only so slowly. It was done this way because they put in these basic [00:37:00] tenants of freedom, these basic tenants of liberty and all these other things, and it was wonderful 200, 300 years ago. For the most part, it’s remained wonderful. The problem is now, as technology… I mean, when the fore fathers established the country they had no idea that there would be internet, that there would be video conferencing, that we would be Skyping, you would be in Vietnam and I would be here instantaneous.
That’s just the beginning of it. We’re at the very tip of the iceberg here. In 15, 20 years, it could just be us communicating via our minds and hundreds of millions of people doing [00:37:30] the same thing. The constitution itself is absolutely going to need to change as technology becomes quicker. This is one of the main reasons I actually have formed the Transhumanist part and decided to run for the presidency is to try to tell people, interject my opinion into national politics, and say, “Listen, I don’t think people realize how quickly things are changing.” For example, artificial intelligence. I wrote an article on this. It’s obviously whoever gets artificial intelligence [00:38:00] first is going to have such a militaristic advantage over every other nation on the planet that they could literally change the landscape of international politics probably overnight.
Therefore, every single country has to work as quickly as possible to be that first person. Whoever has the first artificial intelligence can then stop all the other artificial intelligences from developing. It makes it this global arms race. Again, nobody’s talking about this. Hilary Clinton is certainly not, [00:38:30] nor is Jeb Bush, nor are some of the other leading candidates, because to talk about it is so thorny, so difficult, that it would literally wreck their campaigns. What they’re still talking about is the same thing we’ve been hearing for the last 50 years, “America needs a new dream. We’re going to make social security last forever. We’re going to lower your taxes or make it so that the poor people have more to eat and all these other things.”
A lot of the stuff they’re saying is wonderful and it sounds very noble and very honourable, [00:39:00] but they’re forgetting a key element – that technology is changing so quickly that, in only 5, or 10, or 15 years, so much of the stuff that they want to push forward is not going to make a difference anymore. In a world where we have artificial intelligence, perhaps an intelligence that’s much smarter than any president could ever be, why don’t we go with that? Why don’t we have an artificial intelligence leading us? That presents so many thorny issues. The point of the story is that we actually need to start addressing these things.
It’s not just about social security, or about taxes, [00:39:30] or about how to benefit the nation anymore from an economic point of view. It’s about how far is technology going to absolutely change the entire landscape of human endeavour, and should we allow these things, should we not allow these things? How much should we allow? God, the questions are endless and I can assure you that no major politician is going to address it right now because they’re so thorny and they’re going to get everyone in trouble. Only the Transhumanist party, as far as I know, is the only party [00:40:00] that’s really out there saying, “How are we going to deal with designer babies? Designer babies are here.” I think a few days ago, one of the very first designer babies was born.
It had the ability to already eliminate some hereditary disease. This is very challenging. What if everyone designs to have the same colour hair, the same colour eyes on their baby, or the same sex? We need to address these questions and I have no idea what Hilary or Jeb Bush thinks on these things.
Mike: It just seems more difficult, to me, [00:40:30] to try and make these changes that you’re talking about and make people aware and make Congress aware, it seems more difficult to do that than it would be to just wipe the system and replace it with something better. I know, at this point, that’s what the Occupy Movement was about. I feel like Occupy was more of attempting to reach a tipping point that it never did, but I still feel like we’re very close to that. In fact, I think there could be more issues in the way of some of those technologies [00:41:00] or that would make it more dangerous if we still operated under the current political system. Whereas, if we were able to replace it then it seems like we might be on the path a little quicker if we could reduce that transition period. That’s really what I’m wondering is what is best for us to spend time on? Changing the system from within that doesn’t want to be changed to begin with, or installing a new system?
Euvie: Or, just creating a system outside of the current system, like all these different decentralized technologies like Bitcoin or different platforms [00:41:30] that are emerging all the time. People just switching over to those systems to the point where the old system just atrophies, because nobody’s using it.
Zoltan: I actually advocate for what you just said, approaching it from the outside, developing outside systems. I think one of the most important things from a transhumanist point of view to realize is that transhumanist’s main goal is to overcome biological death with technology and science. What often [00:42:00] happens from a historical point of view is when you change total systems you often have a downside, or a depression, or even some type of collapse of society. I think that’s the last thing we want to have. We don’t want to have such a dramatic change where, all of a sudden, the entire future of the world and all that we had worked for collapses for a couple decades or a hundred years, something like that.
I never have been advocating this overthrowing of what’s happening, only [00:42:30] because I know that capitalism has been, so far, promoting the technological advancements that post transhumanists want and that most people want. The reason we live longer and better and the reason the United Nations let out a report last year that poverty is less than it’s ever been, more jobs than there have ever been, there’s less war going on. Every kind of dynamic or parameter of society has been improving. It’s not improving as much as people want, of course, but it is improving. [00:43:00] I’m definitely for a slow change of the system and I think maybe, as you mentioned with Bitcoin and some of these things, there’s amazing possibilities to slowly change it so that we can make that evolution to a better system that doesn’t necessarily collapse what we have, because you just have to be careful.
Historically speaking, I’ve covered war zones, so I understand collapses. Collapses are devastating. All businesses stop, all money stops, [00:43:30] all food stops, all water stops, all sanitary things like that. War is very dangerous and you have to make sure that whatever system we take on, the transition itself can be very smooth. I certainly want all these changes and I want a new system, but we must also be careful, to some extent, that we don’t ruin the progress that we’ve actually achieved. That means sometimes – this is why, even as an atheist, I’ve said to many people that I look forward to working with [00:44:00] religious people, or look forward to working with people that might even despise transhumanism as a means to just say, “Perhaps it’s better that we, together, try to make these changes, rather than have one entity or one idea take over the other.”
I know that’s difficult because I know a lot of young people, they feel the revolutionary spirit. It’s very important that we don’t… I have a family, I have a house, I have all these other things that I’ve worked a long time for. [00:44:30] It’s Important that we don’t throw it off to such a degree that the world falls apart, and then we find ourselves in the civil wars and battles that we read about in the news, in the Middle East and other places. Society is delicate. I know that from some of the war zones I’ve covered. Stuff that can go from being very organized to very disorganized literally in a matter of days. There must be some compromise and some working together.
I think [00:45:00] what’s really important is that the younger generation keeps telling the older generation, “It’s time for change. It’s time for change.” Eventually, hopefully, they’ll listen and they’ll start making efforts towards that change and we can meet in the middle. That change will happen. It’ll take longer than we want, but it will happen. In 20 year, we’ll all be better for it.
Mike: Have you read Russel Brand’s new book called Revolution?
Zoltan: No, I haven’t. I’ve been meaning to.
Mike: It’s excellent. I definitely recommend the audio book version, because he actually narrates it himself. [00:45:30] In that book he talks about how the income gap is widening so much that we’re on an inevitable path towards revolution because of that income disparity. That younger generation – you mentioned you’ve got a family and a house – people in their 20s and coming up into their 20s, a lot of them don’t even have a hope of getting anywhere close to owning property. This is what Russel Brand talks about is that the infrastructures are already setup. [00:46:00] We’ve already got plumbing, we’ve already got roads, we’ve already got cars. There are certainly some transitions, especially when it comes to food and powering our civilizations, but the infrastructure’s already in place.
My belief is that if we got to a revolution point, it would be messy for maybe a couple of years but with technology and with the intelligence in America, with the infrastructure already in place, we could mitigate a lot of that destruction and what you talk about [00:46:30] in some of these other countries, the war that happens when things get turned over. I think there’s never, in the past, been anywhere close to a revolution that has started from the state that we’re at, where we have such a strong infrastructure to hold in place. I’m wondering if you could maybe comment on that?
Zoltan: To be honest, it seems almost unimaginable to happen here, mainly because the apathy is so deep. However, despite the apathy, I do think [00:47:00] that there is a huge amount of people that would want change. They’re going to make that change happen, it’s just going to be probably slower than I think everyone wants. I think what happens is the younger generation has an idea and it’s probably a very good one, and they want it overnight. Despite that, they’re was some logic in the way that the American government was setup with checks and balances, [00:47:30] where it is difficult to change things. It’s smart, to some extent. I’m a radical and I’ve been a revolutionary. My novel is absolutely out of the table in terms of how controversial it is.
It’s very authoritarian, it does all these other things, it’s very philosophical. When most people think of militant atheism, they think of my novel. That said, I have pulled back and said, “To be realist, how is the best [00:48:00] way to get society to progress forward without hurting the least amount of people? I would like to hurt the least amount of people or stop progress the least amount. Maximize the amount of health and wellbeing and resources to the maximum amount of people. How can you do all those things at once?” Honestly, I’ve come to the perhaps boring point of view that, often, it’s best to work together, [00:48:30] it’s best to compromise, it’s best to take a Kum Ba Yah hand in hand and move forward.
I’ve recently done this with a lot of the religious people that I used to think I would never work with. All of a sudden, I’m debating with them and talking with them and trying to work out plans with them, in order to have a bit more progress and progress that doesn’t change the status quo so that anyone is left at the wayside. [00:49:00] I’m hoping that the older generation will accept that type of dance, that type of progress. I know the younger generation wants to move a lot quicker and I know the older generation doesn’t want to move at all. I think there is a middle ground to us moving altogether. You’re right, there is a lot infrastructure in place and maybe we could just overnight turn the tables.
In fact, that’s one of the reasons why I advocate for certain types of laws being passed. For example, laws where young people must be in government. That way, you actually have a voice that can [00:49:30] go against the older generation and say, “Actually, no. We’re standing against you and we have the numbers to vote against you. We’re going to pass these bills and these bills says these things must take place.” I’m hoping that, through some of these types of ideas that I have presented, we’ll have a much better representative government that speaks more of democracy and speaks more of the youthfulness of our nation as opposed to old hard ways of the wasp [00:50:00] generation and stuff like that. It’s tough, I’m in the middle.
I think you guys are probably younger than me, I just turned 42. I’m in the middle of my age group. I want to see a lot of peace and a lot of progress. I used to be quite a bit more radical, but I’m nowhere near as old as some of those old fogies that are running the country right now. For me, it’s important to try to stay somewhat balanced and to make sure that [00:50:30] we can do this with as little harm to the nation as possible.
Mike: We just had a good conversation with the founder of Adbusters magazine, they spearheaded a little bit the Occupy. They at least coined the term the Occupy Wall Street Movement. We had a lot of questions for him about, “Why do you think it failed? How can we improve the next time around?” He said, “There was never any goal really to begin with with it, it was more of an awareness thing.” [inaudible [0:50:56] is in his mid-70s I believe. He kind of laughs, [00:51:00] we’re like, “We want revolution now,” and he’s like, “Okay, I remember what it’s like to be a kid and think the same thing. It’s not really the way these things tend to happen.”
I think both of you are in the same spot, like, “Let’s do this a little slower, so we don’t have so much collateral damage, so that we can work within these systems and transition smoothly.” The thing that sticks in my head is that I don’t feel like if I go to the ballot box I’m represented very much at all, because with corporate lobbying [00:51:30] these politicians I’m voting for are bought the second they’re in office. There has never in history been a politician who’s won that wasn’t the most funded. That’s the problem I have is I think with the corporate involvement in politics and with how deeply involved they are, I don’t even believe it’s possible because it’s a human system managed by humans and there are just people so deep into it.
I think it’s more difficult to change the political system than it is to invent artificial intelligence, because [00:52:00] people are involved in it. People are slow. That’s my issue with this. I think in my head I’ve come to terms with the belief that we absolutely cannot do it from within the political system.
Zoltan: Most politicians would agree to this, that there needs to be reform for how much corporations and lobbyists can actually influence. It’s a sham and it’s a shame. For decades now, it’s been very clear – [00:52:30] and I mentioned this earlier in this interview – once you get to a certain level of popularity as a politician, your hands basically get tied if you want to continue with the status quo. The way to solve that is just simply to outright pass laws that say, “Hey, a certain amount of money can be donated, forget these super packs or whatnot, period.” That’s all that can be done. You can’t have this extra influence happening, because that extra influence is what changes the entire dynamics of the political [00:53:00] spectrum in America.
Unfortunately, that is so difficult to work through. It’s amazing and it’s very sad that a lot of these changes haven’t taken place yet. I’ll also be writing an article on specifically this topic. If you can be bought, then it’s not good for the people, that’s just the bottom line. You’re going to be bought by the highest bidder and the highest bidder just has the biggest pockets filled with money. Something like that has to change. You need to have people in there [00:53:30] that are in there for their own reasons and those reasons need to be for representing the will of the people. That is so hard to do, I’m not exactly sure why that hasn’t… I know they’ve been talking about reform forever. Even the last 30 years, I’ve been watching politics and they’ve been talking about it. It just hasn’t happened.
Mike: Obama, a couple of years ago running, it was such a feeling of excitement and then, all of a sudden, it’s back to the way it was, [00:54:00] just completely the same. It makes you curious as to how much actual influence…
Euvie: A person can have by being in the system.
Zoltan: Yeah, I agree with you. I was very excited for Obama and I feel like Obama is a good human being and wanted to do the right thing, but I believe that his hands had been tied for the majority of the time that he’s been in office. You come back to this point where you’re just like, “Okay, I’ll do my best,” but, unfortunately, one’s best is just [00:54:30] not even near what one was hoping for. Even watching Ryan Paul and Ted Cruz and some of these other people launching their campaigns, it’s like, “The American dream…” I think they all mean right but I don’t think they really realize once they get into that position what a giant laborious system it is and how difficult it is.
Just because you have your hand on the lever doesn’t mean that you can actually move that ship any real direction except maybe a tiny little bit one direction. [00:55:00] That’s what has to change, that bureaucracy has to be cut in half, then maybe cut even more, and laws have to be changed so that a person can actually get there and say, “We’re going to do this and this is the best way to do it.” Unfortunately, like you said, I was very excited for Obama – and I don’t think it’s that he gave up, I think he wanted to do as much as he could but he found that he was unable to. Literally, his hands were tied.
Mike: Yeah, I completely agree with. I think we’re on the same page on so many things here, [00:55:30] it’s just how we go about it from the standpoint of what gets us there quickest. This whole idea with Occupy and with liquid democracy and being able to have a direct impact, to me, I think we’re asking for the wrong thing with Occupy especially. Everyone’s saying, “Demand change and trying to bring awareness to the 99 percent and the 1 percent.” It was about demanding change as if demanding anything, or asking permission for anything, or any kind of dialogue will actually make anything happen. Of course, it didn’t. In my mind, [00:56:00] it’s kind of like the biggest difference that would make with the Occupy movements and these movements is what the demand is.[inaudible [0:56:08] from Adbusters is releasing a new guide to revolution, it’s like the revolution manifesto. In it, very front and centre, he asks, “What do we want?” That’s the big question, the big focus for his campaigns. To me, I think it’s obvious what we want, it’s how we’re demanding for it. I think demand is the key word here, that’s the problem is that [00:56:30] we’re asking for permission or we’re saying, “Hey, this needs to change.” If that movement, if the key word was, “Install it yourself,” that we can install this ourselves… Look at Bitcoin, no one asked for permission for that, no one said, “Demand the use of Bitcoin.” They just released it and whether the people use it or not, it’s up to them.
It’s actually completely up to them, there’s no asking for permission for that. I think the same thing could go with a new political system, with a liquid democracy or democracy OS. Yeah, in my head, that’s [00:57:00] become the focus recently is how do we install that change ourselves as people, rather than asking for that permission?
Euvie: Or, trying to change the existing system by nudging half a percent of a degree into one direction or another.
Zoltan: I think the best way to do is with some of the new technologies coming out is that you present them, like virtual states and Bitcoin and whatnot, and they catch on because they’re useful. [00:57:30] I think that’s the main thing is if you can come up with useful ideas, then you can change the system of things whether it wants to be changed or not, because useful stuff is what makes the world go forward. I’m a big fan of actually the Bitcoin revolution, mainly because I like to see something that is completely a disruptor and disrupting the entire system and everyone’s saying, “[00:58:00] Wow, in five year could this be our existence?” I have been working with some of the Bitnation people and some of the other stuff like that. They’re presenting brand new ideas.
If it’s functional enough and I think if it makes sense enough, it might catch on. Then you might have what we call this perfect revolution, where everybody changes to something better without actually changing their lives in the sense of nothing has been disrupted, no collateral damage. That’s one of the big [00:58:30] reasons that I really love technology is I actually think that we can get to a point when nobody has to endanger themselves and yet the system itself can change radically, just because it was better for us or more useful and more people chose to do it.
Euvie: What do you think the biggest thing average people can do to influence the advancement of technology and advancement of transhumanism and all these things? I think, as we’ve talked about before, [00:59:00] a lot of young people just don’t really know what to do. Some people are working on advancing these decentralized systems, but what can an average person do?
Zoltan: I think one of the most important things an average person can do is just to use these technologies and to support them. That’s really just the key. If everyone, all of a sudden, started using Bitcoin or whatever, we could change the way the monetary system works very quickly and that could literally revolutionize the world overnight. [00:59:30] All the banks, everything else, would be threatened. There’s an underlying, grassroots, underground message in that you can do that just be enough numbers. Of course, I always advocate for people going into these industries.
That’s the most important thing I think people can do is to say, “I’m going to be a developer,” or, “I’m going to go into somehow supporting these industries rather than supporting advertisement for Walmart, or rather than going into [1:00:00] building more cars or more whatever. If people really love this stuff, go into the field. It doesn’t mean you have to actually be an engineer or you have to be a software developer or something like that, you can even just be a promoter. For example, I’m a philosopher and I’m supporting transhumanism. I’m not involved in the science but I’m still actively there. Everyone can participate in the things they love, there’s so many different angles to it.
That’s certainly another thing. I think the last thing that they can do is really just tell people about it. That’s why I try to do on a [01:00:30] daily basis with transhumanism is I just try to tell people about it: family, friends, people I meet at the supermarket. These are how revolutions start, by just people saying, “That makes sense. That’s an interesting idea.” The more they talk about it, they go home and talk with their families at dinner, all of a sudden, you wake up one day and, wow, the thing you wanted is here. We can make a better world just by talking about it and supporting it. It sounds very simple and yet, in many ways, [01:01:00] that’s all it would take.
Mike: Euvie and I have talked about this a little bit before about how maybe we’re going about this the wrong way in trying to force a change or demand a change or all of these things. Whereas, the technology can just make it obsolete, make the current systems obsolete. New companies, the new start ups that are creating some revolutionary technology, they don’t have to fight to replace the existing technologies, that adoption is just fluid. As long as people know about it, they can switch, it’s just up to them, there’s no barriers. Maybe it’s the same thing with politics and world change, [01:01:30] I hope so.
Zoltan: Yeah, no, I agree.
Zoltan Istvan has a colorful life story. He worked as a war zone journalist with National Geographic, he sailed the world by himself, he wrote a controversial best-selling novel called The Transhumanist Wager, and now writes columns for Vice, Huffington Post, and Psychology Today. Now, Zoltan is running for US president in the 2016 election with his Transhumanist Party.
In this episode, we talk to Zoltan Istvan about his background, how he became a transhumanist, and why he decided to run in the US presidential election. We also discuss life extension and other future technologies, and how they will affect our society and politics. Finally, we talk about centralized and decentralized systems, and debate whether we need a top-down political system in a pre-singularity society.
In this episode of The Future Thinkers Podcast:
- How will transhumanism and future technologies change politics?
- The possibility of virtual states or a global political system
- The value in psychedelic experiences for personal growth
- Zoltan’s opinions on the war on drugs
- Life extension and its benefits and problems
- The possibility of a direct or liquid democracy
- Revolution vs. Slow gradual change
- The impact of Bitcoin and other decentralized systems
Mentions & Resources
- Zoltan Istvan’s website
- The Transhumanist Party
- Zoltan Istvan’s Bomb diggers story for National Geographic
- Zoltan on the Joe Rogan Experience Podcast
- Zoltan’s article in Vice’s motherboard
- Peter Diamandis on linear vs. exponential systems
- The real cause of addiction found
- Kalle Lasn – Adbusters Magazine and #OccupyWallstreet
Mentioned & Recommended Books:
- The Transhumanist Wager by Zoltan Istvan
- Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think by Peter Diamandis
- The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology by Ray Kurzweil
More From Future Thinkers:
- Cyborg Buddha – James Hughes on Transhuman Enlightenment and UBI (FTP025)