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Zoltan Istvan: Why Are We Not Investing in Anti-Aging?

We have a healthcare system that does not believe that the normal human lifespan can or should be extended.

On December 20th, 2017, Zoltan Istvan, an American transhumanist activist, candidate for California Governor, and 2016 presidential candidate joined Merion West’s Erich Prince to discuss his current Libertarian gubernatorial bid, his presidential ambitions, and why the federal government is not in the business of supporting anti-aging.

Thank you for joining us again, Mr. Istvan. Would you like to begin by providing an update, since you were last with us in August, regarding your campaign for Governor of California as a Libertarian? 

Absolutely. The campaign continues to grow, and we continue to try to penetrate a voter market in California that is not the most friendly to Libertarians. I see it growing. I’m trying to grow the Libertarian voter base through pushing science and technology, and the transhumanist aspect of my political campaign. I’ve had some crazy opportunities. I’ve spoken at the World Economic Forum, the Global Futures meeting in Dubai, and I’ve had a couple other events that I’ve gone to. Every week we have something going on. I’m quite pleased.

As I recall  from our last interview, your promotion of universal basic income was an important part of your campaign. We recently had an article that was rather critical of universal basic income. The fiscal critiques of the policy are well known, but I’d prefer you to respond to one of the philosophical criticisms of universal basic income. Edward Ferrara, the author of the Merion West op-ed, wrote: “It seems to me that collecting money from the government doesn’t make people especially happy or fulfilled.”

This reminds me of another quotation from the late New York Senator, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who once stated: “In an industrial world that has not yet come to terms with leisure, men without work are deprived of an essential condition of human dignity.” I know the ideal might be to get people to work, but is there a possibility that when the government makes a habit of giving money, there’s something lost in the promotion of a culture of work?

Absolutely. Just to clarify, a lot of people refer to the kind of idea I’m promoting as universal basic income. I very specifically call it a “federal land dividend.” The reason it’s very different is because, in fact, of some of the issues you brought up. Something we need to understand is that the United States government is holding on to about one hundred and fifty, maybe one hundred and eighty, trillion dollars of federal land that is mostly empty and mostly not doing anything. That land belongs to every single American. If you divide the net worth of that land by every single citizen, you get about half a million dollars to every single head. That means every infant, every seven year old, every forty year old that’s in the workforce. So what I am proposing is that we take that federal land, and instead of keeping it in a trust for generations, we start monetizing the land and handing out the money to people. Then we will not have things like poverty, and people will be able to afford private health insurance.

The idea with the federal land dividend is that we can literally reduce social security; we can eliminate welfare. We can do all these different things; we can shrink the government with it. While it is very similar to universal basic income, it’s really just taking land that the people own and making the government sell or lease it. In my opinion, I think leasing is the best bet. Let’s give that money back to the people. Imagine if you had half a million dollars when a check showed up because that land that was supposed to be a trust now is being put to use. That would change your life.

It’s not about luxury. It’s not about getting people not to work because I think people should work. I think if you don’t work and you want to be lazy, you don’t deserve to have nice things. As an entrepreneur, I’m a stickler for saying:“Look, get a job and don’t be lazy.” I don’t accept laziness; it’s not part of any government that I would want to run. At the same time, the amount of land the government is holding, I want it to be privatized to some extent, and I want to get that money from that. I think every American deserves that check or lease payments; my federal land dividend basically gives leasing payments out for an indefinite amount of time. So everybody would get about seventeen hundred dollars per month from it. It’s a nice little bump to your normal job income.

I want to ask you a couple questions about transhumanism. Before that, however, I’d like to ask you about how you see the future of the Libertarian Party when it comes to presidential politics in 2020, in the aftermath of the Gary Johnson campaign of 2016.

As you may know, I have ambitions to run in 2020. I already plan to do it. I’m in the middle of my gubernatorial run, but in California there is no way that a Libertarian could get into office. The idea here is to do well and continue to push libertarian values into California politics. I am really setting myself up for a much more involved run in 2020 for the Libertarian Party’s presidential nomination.

We’re familiar with your run in 2016 within the Transhumanist Party.

It’s going to be a similar run. I’m going to advertise less science and technology, and more core libertarian values. I think in the environment after Gary Johnson, there’s a good chance for a Libertarian presidential candidate to rise up and maybe even join the presidential debates. I think it’s really dependent on how Trump does with the economy. If the economy continues to do well, all these other things fall off the cliff because even a lot of my liberal friends are saying: “Wow, it is really nice to have the stock market hitting new highs.” Of course, we’re three years away from that sort of thing. A lot can happen, including a recession. If that happens, then they’re going to nail Trump. Then a Libertarian will have a very good opportunity to walk into the door and try to make some ground in the 2020 presidential election.

We’ll see what happens with the economy. Right now, I am not a fan of Trump by any means. However, he is doing a great job with the economy, and that’s something that really matters a lot to the majority of Americans.

When you say that you are not a fan of President Trump, which of his policies do you most disagree with?  

Immigration is huge. I come from an immigrant family. I think we need to open America up and allow people who want to work to come here and make this country strong. So I have a very different view [from the President] on that.

I support this federal land dividend, which ultimately comes back to this idea of automation. Trump says we’re losing jobs because people are coming over the border. That’s not actually the case. We’re losing jobs because technology is finally catching up with the world, and automation is going to replace more and more jobs. Especially at the lower and mid-levels. This is the stuff that will be hitting in 2020 very hard. We will no longer be able to pretend it’s an immigration issue.

Also I would plan to push very strongly science and technology issues. Trump has not even filled half of the science positions that should now be occupied. Trump will not address any of these issues because it doesn’t appeal to his Bible Belt support, which is very religious. I’m a secular person. I love science and technology.

I’m going to go for science and technology issues. I am going to go for immigration reform. I am try to unite America, and not polarize it further and further. I think America should be a nation that stands arm and arm together, whether you’re Republican, Libertarian, or Democrat.

Going into the Transhumanism a bit, to what degree do you believe it is the responsibility of taxpayers, some of whom might object to life extension for religious reasons or otherwise, to fund anti-aging research? 

I’m going to be honest. I don’t think taxes are good. I’m not going to say “taxation is theft,” but the reality is that I want to have fewer taxes built into the system. I am also upset with Trump’s plan. I’m one of those people because I’m involved in real estate. That’s how I made my money. I get hit by having second, third, or fourth properties by his tax plan. I’ve become actually quite angry about some of these tax issues recently. He talked about “simplifying the tax plan,” but he hasn’t simplified it at all. It hasn’t really given any money back to the middle class, or a very small amount.

What I really need is perhaps a standard, straight tax. Everybody across the board pays eleven or twelve percent. Maybe even use some of this federal land and sell it off to corporations in order to help pay so people don’t have to pay taxes.

The federal land dividend doesn’t have to be about providing a basic income. It can also be about providing all government services, so people don’t have to pay for them. People can get to a zero tax rate. Not just the poor, but I mean everybody. That’s something that I’d like to see. With taxes, I’d like to eliminate them over time.

In that world that you’re imagining, is it, thus, solely up to private organizations to lead the charge in the transhumanist technologies that you favor? 

Yes, when it comes to funding. I think what’s very important here is that there needs to be a cultural revolution in terms of how we support this radical technology and radical science. As I said before, I think the government needs to come out and be forthright and say “aging is a disease.” Aging is something that can be overcome with science, nobody likes to see a child die from disease or a parent of old age because we have these issues. Aging should be seen like a disease as other diseases are seen.

The reason I mention this is it sounds a little wacky to your readers, but we have a healthcare system that, right now, does not believe that the normal span of life can be extended or should be extended. Whereas transhumanists, their number one agenda is  to get rid of all disease, all aging, and essentially overcome our biological bodies and the way we die. While that sounds pretty radical, I can assure you these are technologies that billions of dollars are being put into here in California and other places around the world.

We have a very conservative government that doesn’t want to even think about those things. In terms of private enterprise doing that, I think they should be entirely responsible for that. We also need a government that’s on board. Let’s encourage this; let’s give incentives. I like that there would need to be fewer taxes for life extension companies or anti-aging companies.

Right now, our government does not support this, and the reason is because all 535 members of Congress and all judges believe in an afterlife. There’s absolutely no reason to try and extend life beyond the normal lifespan. We transhumanists are secular. We want the life now; we don’t want to lose loved ones. I lost my father this year. I lost my brother-in-law. Everybody loses somebody . We wouldn’t have this if the government would just be more supportive of trying to help science and technology move forward:  especially radical science and transhumanist science.

I was wondering if you could respond to a critic of transhumanism, Francis Fukuyama. He was part of George W. Bush’s Council on Bioethics between 2001 and 2004 and a professor at Johns Hopkins. To quote a piece authored by Dr. Fukuyama in 2009: “The first victim of transhumanism might be equality. If we start transforming ourselves into something superior, what rights will these enhanced creatures claim? What rights will they possess compared to those left behind?”

Could you address this lingering concern in the minds of some people. If life extension technologies are limited: A. Who gets them? B. Is it possible that, in a world where some people have access to these technologies and others do not, there might become a two-tier hierarchy between the haves and have nots? 

This is where I become sort of a soft Libertarian because I do not want to be the person who is responsible for creating a dystopia on planet Earth between the haves and the have nots. We already have an inequality problem of great proportion. It could become so much worse if, for example, only the rich have machine hearts. Then they eliminate heart disease entirely making them live thirty to fifty years longer. The rich already live twenty five years longer on average, but they could make it so it’s sixty or seventy years.

I think at some point there might have to be either government solutions or mandates to ensure that everybody has access to some of this technology. Otherwise, you’re very quickly going to create almost a different species. There are technologies that are likely going to be here in the next ten years: 3D printed organs, robotic hearts, augmented limbs, which can lift five times what any normal human can lift. These are all things that are on a five or ten year horizon. 

If not everybody has access to that, the distinction between people will vary so dramatically that there will definitely be a revolution. Definitely something bad would happen. So more than ever, I think government needs to step in and say “Well, how can we make it so everybody can have a chance at this?”

I guess the good thing is that I have very strong libertarian-leanings, but I understand that, at the same time, we don’t want a civil war. So we must create a system where we share some of this technology, especially when it comes to healthcare. 

That’s about all the time we have. Would you like to make a last pitch to potential voters in the California race?

Basically, I come to this race as a normal guy. I have a family, my wife is a doctor, I have two young daughters. I have emerged as one of the world’s most visible face of transhumanism.

This movement is literally growing so quickly each month. It’s probably on the same trajectory as the movement of environmentalism. You’re going to wake up in ten years and transhumanism will have three or four billion adherents. This is a very good thing because it means that people are going to live longer and better through science and technology.

I do believe that transhumanism will probably eclipse libertarianism. I am leading a movement that I believe can really change the world and give the kinds of answers that the American people can chew on, really say “Hey, this is something is different.” I am not talking about the same thing as everyone else: infrastructure this, social security that, or tax this.

I am talking about making people a lot healthier lives. The number one priority is to make it so people can live a lot longer. I am, of course, pushing the normal set of Libertarian values along with it. If you’re interested in somebody who’s actually talking about something very different and real change, I can promise you that transhumanism is real change. I am going to do everything I can to bring the movement into the political sphere so we can live a lot better and healthier lives, while thriving in this 21st Century.

Thank you, as always, for taking the team to speak with us, Mr. Istvan.

Thank you for having me, Erich.

Erich J. Prince is the editor-in-chief at Merion West. With a background in journalism and media criticism, he has contributed to newspapers such as The Philadelphia Inquirer and The News & Observer, as well as online outlets including Quillette and The Hill. Erich has also spoken at conferences and events on issues related to gangs, crime, and policing. He studied political science at Yale University.

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