Tips for Transhumanist Activists
Michael Anissimov :: August 2003
This document will be presented as a bullet list of tips. Let's go!
What you were doing before you became a transhumanist probably isnt the best way to be a transhumanist activist (see definition of "transhumanist activist" at the end of this page). It would be too large of a coincidence to take seriously. You can't expect to have been an ideal transhumanist activist all along, even if you're a scientist working on what is widely considered to be the prerequisites of transhuman technology. In other words, if your life patterns dont change substantially after you become a transhumanist, then you probably dont actually understand transhumanism. Becoming a transhumanist, being thoroughly exposed to the literature and arguments, has the potential to confer life-changing knowledge to an individual. (Although the sensation of "hey, my life has changed" is not what transhumanism is about! The idea of transhumanism would be just as important if it shocked nobody.) The ideal success story of transhumanism might be a slightly apathetic, yet scientifically literate layperson encountering these radical new arguments that they recognize as convincing, and quickly transforming into a motivated, productive, role model transhumanist. (Those who already started out as motivated and productive should become super-motivated, and super-productive; why not?) Anything less is a sort of failure. If you want to be a transhumanist activist, be one.
Transhumanist concepts are far less valuable locked in the minds of individuals too timid or lazy to share their thoughts or go forward with their transhumanist beliefs. Therefore, timid individuals must transform themselves into enthusiastic, assertive individuals. Unprincipled individuals must transform themselves into principled individuals dedicated to approximating their ethical and professional ideals. Considering the blatant humanitarian relevance of transhumanism to our world and future, those in the know have the obligation to share their knowledge with others, and doing so will necessitate acquiring different attitudes, moods, thinking strategies, and lifestyles than we started out with. Anyone intellectual enough to become a transhumanist activist has probably gone through trials for their ideas before, and is already aware of the importance of holding steady to meaningful philosophical ideals. (Being true to themselves, basically. If you aren't a transhumanist, this obviously doesn't apply to you at all.)
Use your True Name. Lots of the networking between transhumanists is on the Internet. In the wonderful land of the Internet, people often use aliases in lieu of real names, like Pixichik261 or DarkVegeta26. Sometimes folks use the aliases and nothing else, making it impossible for their online cohorts to know their true names. 99% of the time, actions like these are unnecessarily paranoid and put up walls between themselves and their transhumanist collaborators (yes, if your mother would lock you in a closet if she discovered you were a transhumanist, then fine, keep your name a secret). Cyber-stalkers are largely an urban myth. If you are afraid your friends, employers, or relatives will Google you and find all about your weeeird interests, then take consolation in the fact that many people have many exotic interests, and yours probably arent uniquely bad from their point of view. If all your friends, employers, and relatives are boring people, and have boring interests of their own, then maybe they will be interested in someone with unusual interests. If they are scared by unusual interests, then its not likely that theyre nerdy enough to be randomly Googling your name.
If you are the kind of person who is shy about giving out their true name, then it isnt likely youre going to be writing extremely controversial statements anyway. Its also not likely that you have a webpage with your name on it, so people wont find that by Googling. If you are really afraid, then get your name out on the web in relation to a bunch of other things that you want to be associated with. If transhumanism is important enough to you, yet you are still worried, then you will take the time to create chaff so you can still use your real name on transhumanist mailing lists. Getting it out there is important because it shows others that you are taking up a certain extra degree of accountability and responsibility for what you say, plus, if you say anything really interesting, people will be able to mentally associate it with your actual name.
Take your potential future life as a transhuman more seriously than your life as a human, yet take your life (and goals) as a human more seriously than the average human takes their life. But don't take anything (especially yourself) too seriously. If it turns out that you get to live for bazillions of years as a transhuman superintelligence, then your human life is not a big whup in comparison. (Yes, I'm saying it straight.) This should be immediately obvious, and a major philosophical revelation from the viewpoint of the thinker, more meaningful than hypothetical realizations of the nonexistence of God or the discovery of ones true biological parents. However, the fact that a transhumanist realizes this does not mean that the main goal suddenly becomes staying alive until transhuman technologies come to pass, or having sex all the time or whatever, because theres a good chance they wont. We might destroy ourselves entirely before they do. Yet there is no turning back, and no quantity of Fight Club-style antics will revert humanity back to the Pleistocene.
The primary goal should actually be minimizing the likelihood of existential (global, severe) disaster. The desire to protect humanity from harm should be a goal unto itself, but some of the desirability will derive from the opportunity of living a future life as something beyond the human. Once we actually become more than human (in the physical-cognitive sense, not the moral superiority sense), in the intelligence and compassion department especially, theres a good chance well reach a point where holding back death and existential risk forever become relatively easy, so we can all get settled and focus on having true fun in our lives. Reaching this level as soon as possible should be absolutely critical from the viewpoint of a human aware of the abstract possibility.
I shouldnt need to review Kurzweil, Moravec, Drexler, or Yudkowsky in order to emphasize the profound opportunities we could possess as transhuman individuals. Maybe youve read major chunks of their work already. There are a few central points worth keeping in mind, though. One is that even a tiny improvement to the human condition, through a simple but functional implant or a new medicine that simply works reliably, is a step into a space of prosperity that zero humans in the past have had the opportunity to experience. Atlantis is a myth; we are experiencing the best of history and technology right at this moment. The smartest, healthiest, and happiest humans live here today, and will live in the future (hopefully!) Each new advance is a qualitatively unique gift that we give to ourselves and to humanity. Pay special attention to those who suffer the most; those in Third World countries. How can they be helped with transhumanist technologies?
You actually have to get involved in transhumanist organizations to be a transhumanist. Transhumanism is just getting started; it doesnt quite qualify as a bandwagon in the sense that journalists usually mean it. People dont just become transhumanists because their friends are doing it and they think the social atmosphere is cool. Transhumanism itself doesnt have much of a culture, and not enough people subscribe to the philosophy for the peer encouragement aspect to have any real pull. This means that most people who are currently transhumanists came upon the decision independently, not including help from the authors of the books they have read. (Although very few authors endorse transhumanism explicitly, readings in philosophy and science tend to point towards the possibility of improving ourselves beyond disaster-prone H. sapiens.) Dont wait to contribute to transhumanist organizations - you can have the greatest impact at the beginning, while most others still dont understand it, and while the opportunity to exert true leverage is still presenting itself.
The only real transhumanists are transhumanist activists, and donors to transhumanist organizations. Everyone else is just part of the bandwagon. Im not targeting those who are only vaguely familiar with transhumanism and still in the process of testing the water, so to speak, but those who have already read the arguments and understand the serious importance of transhumanist goals. Transhumanism just isnt one of those things one reads about for a few hundred pages and thereafter considers it to be somewhat important or interesting but not immediately practical, its one of those things that someone reads about and quickly experiences as a profound realization. (Again, the realization is not the central point, just a side effect that human brains experience after understanding sufficiently shocking or important knowledge. The same thing happens in science all the time.) We owe it to ourselves to take action as a result of that realization, not lock it within ourselves, constantly feeling that the time isnt right. Taking action should mean real action; writing, organizing, engaging in continuous dialogue, phone calls, community building, reaching out, contributing, encouraging; actions that anyone with a collective cause sees as desirable!
It seems like part of the problem is that people are setting odd criteria for their definitions of real action. For one, many people are still stuck in the fantasy that the Internet isnt a channel of communication thats really real, or that it isnt a medium that reaches hundreds of millions on a daily basis. Because we read books about scientists, engineers, and technologists, we may feel were falling short if were not taking part in actually creating the technology. But you have to start somewhere. Not everyone has a technical degree. Not everyone has fundraising experience. This is okay. Many nontechnical people can have just as appreciable an impact as the scientists and policymakers, if they have the intelligence and committment. Its the people speaking out for transhumanism, actually getting the message across, that make it possible for potential donors to see the value in these technologies aside from just as engines for profit. These people are not always engineers.
It is extremely unlikely that you are in any danger of seeing things too narrowly or becoming an imbalanced person due to transhumanist thinking. If youre intelligent and open-minded enough to become an transhumanist in the first place (yes, I know it's self-referential), then theres a good chance that youve already had a life full of unique interests, friends, and experiences (have you not?) Heck, you may even be a "well-balanced person". Even if you arent, it's very likely you have enough common sense to avoid becoming a cultish fanatic in the (for example) Scientologist or Raelian sense. Transhumanism is light-years away from the true lunatics, and our default skeptic sensibilities begin to work against ourselves when we doubt ourselves irrationally (if you doubt yourself rationally, then by all means, do so.) The impolite accusations of Luddite articles and books are merely mudslinging; biotech is not "the new religion", the Singularity is hardly like a "rapture", and so on. The foundations of 99% of transhumanist ideas lie with science and reason. Keep in mind, the philosophy of transhumanism is the philosophy of the people actually creating and managing the technology. We understand where technology is going, a rough rate of their improvement, the benefits they would offer if fully developed, and the risks they present far better than the average person. Less than 1% of transhumanists "advocate technologies blindly", and even less "worship technology", in the sense accused by numerous Luddite articles. If anything, transhumanists are more cautious than many others in advocating potentially dangerous technologies, visualizing the specific dangers and even creating organizations devoted to addressing them.
Weve spent most of our lives as the intelligent skeptics, always questioning, always doubting unless there was sufficient reason to believe. At some point in our lives, our beliefs probably matched up with a good-sized portion of the population. Perhaps there was the comforting sense of knowing that most scientists and technologists shared our worldview. Now that this skepticism and intelligence is leading us towards something outside the mainstream, were being put to a new challenge. There arent as many popular figures sharing our worldview as before. But now is not the time to stop! If you have any confidence in the reasoning process you were using all along, if youve learned anything from the books youve read, its to stay on track with what you believe, and share our beliefs with others, regardless of how many people display skepticism or distaste. Transhumanism is a fringe philosophy because there are many who do not understand it yet, but once people do understand it, the opportunities are limitless, and as transhumanists, its our responsibility to extend that understanding to the rest of humanity. (Yes, I know it sounds like prosletyzing, but scientists make a goal of extending their understanding to others all the time, and there is nothing cultish about that.)
However, if you are the type of person who joins a philosophical-technologic movement thinking of it as a social clique, and pick up the knowledge mainly through osmosis rather than careful study of the literature, then there is indeed the possibility that you are seeing things too narrowly. Even more likely, however, is the possibility that you will come across to someone outside the movement as an idiot, damaging the credibility of transhumanism and transhumanists. Dont do it! There's just no need! Put the effort towards the reading, get some of your ideas down on paper, and become an independent transhumanist thinker. Also, think very closely about what youre saying if you ever get in contact with the press! As a negative example, ever heard what Mike Deering had to say on the Singularity?
Even if our species wipes itself out or gets taken over by fundamentalist overlords, that doesnt make transhumanism one iota less important. Futurist philosophies arent important solely because what theyre based upon is likely to come to pass. Even if they are totally unlikely to come to pass, the very idea creates more rational individuals (and helps prepare us for any potential technological threats.) Also, making something more likely to come to pass is just as important as having something come to pass in the first place. Giving up is just like saying I dont feel like Im winning at this game, so I refuse to play. "Winning" and immediate gratification is not what its about! The goal is improving the standards of living for everybody, and opening up new choices, and no other avenue I'm aware of surpasses transhumanisms ability to do this.
Our future survival and prosperity demands that a considerable number of intellectuals adopt transhumanist thinking. Luckily, it seems like they are already starting to do so. Transhumanist themes already underlie much of todays popular media. But thats not an excuse not to do anything! The positive effect you can have, no matter how tiny you suppose it is, is still likely to outweigh the benefits of other activities you might be focusing on. Dont give up! Dont be lazy!
(For examples of why transhumanist ideas are so likely to be important to humanity's future, see the Transhumanist FAQ.)
Please, write something. This ties into the dont be lazy part. Chances are that you absorbed most, if not all, of your transhumanist ideas through texts on the Internet. Contribute to those texts! Its your responsibility to make the movement something greater than it was than when you found it, and getting the ideas out in the form of writing is the best way to do that. Getting even a single essay on the Internet is likely to have a greater effect, impacting a greater audience, than even daily conversations with your co-workers and friends. Why hold yourself back?
If youre having trouble getting inspirations for writing topics, then try a bit harder - the problem isnt the subject matter or the audience, the problem is your imagination and lack of discipline. If youre having trouble getting the writing spirit, then start with whatever it takes - posting to mailing lists is a good incremental step. But posting to mailing lists is no substitute for getting stuff out on the Great Wild Web. All your intelligence is practically useless to these causes if Google doesnt show it exists. It may make you feel good, but others arent benefiting from it in the way they should be. If you want to become a decent writer, start now. After two years of practice, my writing is only moderate-to-decent, but theres a good chance that you can already do better! Dont keep your great ideas locked up inside your head. The world wants to hear them!
Last and most important: being a transhumanist doesnt make you any better than anyone else. Dont use harsh, insulting, unkind words to describe people who disagree with your views. Wrong should be the strongest qualifier you need for the purposes of most arguments. Using words like stupid, ignorant, and daft smack of elitism, and reflect negatively on the speaker, only making it clear to everyone that their brain is firmly stuck within the pathology of name-calling and tribalistic thinking. If we must use some sort of adjective to describe the people we think are our opponents, then Luddite should do. Whenever possible, confront arguments, not people. Never attribute to malice what can be explained solely by ignorance. Dont think in terms of "us vs. them". The main enemy is existential risks, not Luddites.
We want to help mankind into an era of eternal happiness and life. We want to "guide" humanity into an era where the verb guide does not imply superiority or greater worthiness in any way. The future is not a hunk of meat, a sports car, or prospective mate to fight over. Its not even recognition from our colleagues, contributions to a scientific field, or the display of our high intelligence. The future is a choice between two great attractors, extinction at the hands of destructive technology, or universal prosperity and complete expansion into the universe through the agency of self-reinforcing benevolent technology. A death of a few million would be horrible, but the complete death of humanity and a future which consists of nothing but dead matter would be more horrible yet. Were one humanity, all in the same boat, and we should think in exactly those terms morally. If the future isnt a happy place for everyone, including the Amish, then its a future we shouldnt want.
Good luck to everyone on being a successful transhumanist activist! Please consider investigating these transhumanist organizations:
Immortality Institute - a grassroots movement
concerned with bootstrapping and advocating life extension approaches until
the prospect of indefinitely long lifespans becomes real, and non-consensual
death is eliminated.
Singularity Institute - working to create smarter-than-human intelligence, because transhuman intelligence could be better, faster, and more benevolent than any number of human researchers or politicians.
World Transhumanist Association - umbrella organization for transhumanists, organizes transhumanist chapters and discussion groups worldwide, and throws a high-quality annual conference.
Note: Being a transhumanist activist means you care enough about transhumanism to talk about its ideas with people besides other transhumanists, and you give a portion of your money to transhumanist organizations, and youve at least tried writing up an idea so you can contribute it to the community. Dr. James Hughes of Trinity College, Executive Director of the World Transhumanist Association, would be the archetypical example.