“Human nature is to seek power; we’ve had that since the Stone Age. That’s just part of human behavior. But, as transhumanists, we seek to go beyond that kind of thing.”
achel Haywire is one of the most colorful figures in the transhumanist movement. She stands out aesthetically through her creative projects as an industrial musician, visual artist, and model. But she also sets herself apart through her political views, which are uniquely art-centric in a broader movement stereotyped by tech geeks and science nerds. In her recent run for president as an Independent, she championed an exotic blend of transhumanism, anarchism, and art-soaked libertarianism.
In preparation for my recent interview with her, I spent time trying to wrap my mind around terms like “psychic fascism,” “dark bohemia,” and “homo futura.” Rachel didn’t just coin innumerable terms of this sort; she also inserts them regularly into casual conversation. But poetics aside, she also cares deeply about universal basic income, free speech, and fighting the surveillance state.
I met Rachel at a loft in San Francisco’s SOMA district. After inviting me inside and offering me a vodka cocktail, she turned on her latest album “Alternative Technology”: an industrial rock album with prominent transhumanist themes. “I have really big ideas; I want you to check out my pitch deck,” she sings ironically on the second track, “Optimized.” We laughed about the irony just as we kicked off the interview, discussing her political views, art in politics, and many other “really big ideas.”
Peter Clarke: How does transhumanism fit in with modern American politics?
Rachel Haywire: We have people like Zoltan Istvan running for president. We have people like Andrew Yang advocating for transhumanist polices. And we have transhumanists looking to get more into government so they can influence policies around everything from artificial intelligence to bioengineering. Transhumanism is becoming a catch-all word to get people involved in government and to vote a certain way.
Your role in the transhumanist world seems to be to make it more of a movement. Transhumanism is slowly becoming mainstream. But what on the ground is happening to make it more mainstream, would you say?
My view is to turn it into a cultural movement. We’ve had cultural movements for a really long time, whether it’s the Italian Renaissance, the Beatniks, the ravers, the cybergoths.
Transhumanism has potential as a cultural movement because it focuses on visions of the future. We need to focus on visions, rather than a cut-and-dry this-is-that, which is what we have in technology now. So, my vision for transhumanism is to expand the entire tech industry into something more visionary and creative. I see that as my role.
What role does the actual tech industry play in the transhumanist movement? People who work in tech don’t necessarily walk around calling themselves transhumanists.
There are definitely various factions in the transhumanist movement, but, for me, it is about art; it is about creativity; it is about philosophy; it is about the literary movement and about how we view technology and what we’re doing in the future. So, everyone from Jason Silva to somebody more current—like the podcast Future Fossils. Those people are just philosophers of the future. I think that’s a big thing. But I wouldn’t discount the tech aspect, because we can work together. There are a lot of people on the forefront of technology that are into transhumanist philosophy, and we should all be collaborating.
This brings me to a topic that is very unique to you in this space, which is art in politics. I’m curious about your thoughts on the question: Should artists be politicians? Is this like asking, should a politician be a rock star? Is it a completely different skill set, or how does this work?
We need to make politics entertaining. Politics is the new art. Politics is art. If it’s not some super-partisan, hyper-bureaucratic piece of machinery, it is art. It’s self-expression.
And “self-expression” translates into policies, rather than translating into maybe a musical score?
But then there’s art surrounding it. Because, like, the music I write is about my ideas. My book The New Art Right is about politics and art and merging them together and creating new hybrids. I think that politics needs to become more creative, if it isn’t already. Like there are some people who are very creative with their politics. You see bands, and they have political messages in their music—or they make political art. A lot of it is pretty left-wing. I think we need some other stuff. Maybe more center-right, right-wing, all sorts of different “wings,” making new forms of art and new forms of politics. My goal is expansion. I think that politics are very mundane right now, and we need to bring them to a higher level of creativity.
Andrew Breitbart has that quote: Politics is downstream of culture. And that reminds me a lot of what you’re doing. Do you think it’s fair to say that you’re ultimately trying to change culture?
The first time I heard that quote, I was thinking, “That’s what I was trying to do!” But, by then, he was already dead. But, yes, I feel the same way.
You’ve expressed interest in the government funding transgressive arts. Tell me about this idea.
The transgressive arts is the most important thing for the creative sector in the tech industry right now. You have a lot of people that are sticking to the books and just doing the same type of sponsored art; they’re just getting the same results and have the same programs.
I’ve been in the underground scene since I was fifteen. I’m an underground musician. I’ve ran underground events; I’ve seen a really powerful transgressive current of extremely self-expressive, spontaneous, passionate, powerful people. Whether they’re making music or writing books, they have something they want to get out there. And they’re full of this internal fire. And I think that internal fire is actually what creates civilizations. This is what makes new groups form.
So, I think by funding the transgressive arts, we’re actually evolving society on a physical level. Starting with the imagination of the people—we’re building entire civilizations through this creative movement.
How do you define transgressive arts as opposed to just “arts”?
Pushing the limits. Breaking the boundaries.
Is the opposite of transgressive, say, “corporate”?
No, the opposite of transgressive is banal. Because someone like Marilyn Manson would be a transgressive artist of the 90’s. Or, Kiss was also over the top. But they were breaking boundaries. They were bringing people out of their boxes, making people think of things in a new way. And when you make people think of things in a new way, you’re fighting banality; you’re fighting sameness. You’re creating a new point for people to launch off from, and I think that’s really important for future generations.
Politically, you call yourself an anarchist. What do you see the role of government being?
Well, I want to see different types of governments—alternative types of governments competing with each other as experimental societies. So, I see government expanding to more options, like in the Neal Stephenson book The Diamond Age. I want to see governments become more like stores, so they’re optional and you can choose what government you want to experience. Almost like simulations, you choose what government you want to explore. So, I want to see government expand in a technological way. I want to get away from this centralization that we have.
Do you see any role for regulations, especially as technology gets crazier? Right now, a lot of technology is unregulated; it’s the Wild West. Do you think that it should remain that way?
I think that regulation generally hurts technological evolution, and I’m against it 95% of the time. For example, with the way they’re trying to regulate genetic enhancement and biohacking—I’m very against it. People should be able to do what they want with their own bodies. That seems obvious to me. But I think that cryonics needs some regulation. I think that some horrible things are happening because of the actions of various players in the cryonics industry.
I see a clear divide in the transhumanist community on surveillance. Will this lead to skirmishes in the movement?
Absolutely. We’re having them now. A lot of people have spoken out against Zoltan’s view on surveillance. But at the end of the day, there are more powerful people than all of us combined that are going to have it whether we want them to or not—and we have to understand and cope with that. So we can be under surveillance, which we are, but what about the people who don’t care about what we want? They’re going to be watching us, so I think we need to build our own technology. So, we should fight it; we should push back against it as much as we can. But we should prepare for them having ultimate surveillance and know how to fight back.
A lot of transhumanist movements are becoming more home-grown. There’s Josiah Zayner across the Bay—
I just saw him in the Unnatural Selection documentary. This is the future. People like him are really building what I would like to see.
He’s a good test case for how much government should regulate radical technology.
They tried to bust him for a while. I was worried about it, but I think he won the case, right, from what I heard?
I think he got out if it, yes.
That’s a good sign for people to follow in his footsteps now.
I trust him as a person to not do anything reckless and insane. I do worry about other people, though.
There are always going to be crazies in every movement. That’s not exclusive to transhumanism. The best thing we can do is just set the standard high so they don’t hurt people.
Are you familiar with the Seasteading movement?
Oh yeah, of course—I love the Seasteading movement. I’d like to see it go further. I feel like it kind of dropped off and nothing really happened with it. But I want to see more living cities on the water. We don’t really hear about it anymore, but I hope that we do again.
So, it seems like there are two remaining frontiers. We have the Seasteaders, and we have the folks going to Mars; and that’s kind of it. Are there any other frontiers where people are actually creating revolutionary new governments?
Yeah. There are people that own their own land—I have a friend north of Portland, and he’s starting his own autonomous living community kind of like a temporary autonomous zone. He’s using drones, and he’s using robots. And he’s bringing people to his living compound, and they’re building an entirely new city. And he plans to nationalize it. He wants to turn it into a country. So, he’s starting with this seed, and he wants to declare himself the sovereign king of this land. I think it’s incredible. I’ve seen the grids; I’ve seen the plans. He’s really doing it. It’s very ambitious, but I’ve seen the action steps.
If someone like your friend is successful, are you worried they’ll just become corrupted by power, just like any other government? Isn’t that something we’re just wired to do?
Human nature is to seek power; we’ve had that since the Stone Age. That’s just part of human behavior. But, as transhumanists, we seek to go beyond that kind of thing. So, are we going to be proper animals forever? Not if we go beyond humanity. Maybe—after the next step in evolution—we can live in societies where we’re not power-hungry monkeys.
Last question: What does the ideal world look like to Rachel Haywire?
Okay, so we’re talking about multiple competing governments and simulations. What I want to see is a kind of VR empire of the mind, where people can create their own reality through technology and explore anything that they want. If you want to live as a cyborg, if you want to live as a god, if you want to live as an animal, then you can enter that simulation through virtual reality and explore it. So, the ultimate expansion of the mind through technology.
Picture yourself having a dream or having a fantasy. Imagine that dream or fantasy in technology. Now imagine yourself exploring that dream first person. That’s what I want to see. Infinite simulations that people can explore based on their ideas. I want to grow ideas into a technological form. That’s my vision for transhumanism and the world.
This interview was edited lightly for length and clarity.