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Zoltan Istvan Headshot

Death Threats, Freedom, Transhumanism, and the Future

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Last week, I published a guest post at Wired UK called It's Time to Consider Restricting Human Breeding. It was an opinion article that generated many commentary stories, over a thousand comments across the web, and even a few death threats for me.

Frankly, the article itself is quite gentle and exploratory. The intro reads: Given the number of children that starve each day, dwindling planetary resources, and the coming transhumanist era, it might be time to consider restricting human breeding, argues futurist Zoltan Istvan in this guest post.

The way the conservative press assaulted and twisted the article out-of-shape--everyone from National Review to Life Site News to PJ Media to The American Catholic to the Acton Institute--you'd think I had suggested we kill children, not save them from starvation and give them a better future, as the article seeks to do.

What disturbed me the most about the bitter commentaries was the misinterpreted idea of freedom by so many people, most who I'm assuming have not visited authoritarian regimes or reported on war zones like I have. Here in America, we live in a society that is filled with cherished liberties. We can visit most any beach and dig our toes in the sand whenever we want. We can go to the movies and be entertained. We can shop at Walmart and acquire the trinkets offered.

However, beyond the surface, those liberties are always limited. We can visit the beach, but swimming in the ocean may or may not be allowed depending on whether lifeguards have blackballed the water. At the movie theaters, we can only see what films are offered, and we can't yell "fire" while watching any of them. At Walmart, we'll need money to buy things or we'll be arrested if caught stealing.

No one has perfect freedom, no matter how much we'd like to pretend we do or how sacred we hold the concept. Freedom is always a question of how many liberties we possess and can actually exercise. Moreover, in a tediously litigious society such as America, losing or gaining any major freedoms is increasingly rare. Significant reforms of freedom in the 21st Century (and the very end of the 20th Century) have rarely occurred outside of technological necessity. This is because if you move noticeably outside the social and legally accepted norm, you're likely to get both sued and paraded around the world in social media (and possibly mass media too). Such is living in a democratic nation with over a million lawyers, 300 million cell phones, and a half billion social media accounts, like Facebook or Google+. The guarantees are no longer just death and taxes, but litigation and internet infamy. The world is increasingly being decided on twitter, and later in court if you're still not happy and have the time and money to pursue it.

Whether that's good news or not is up for debate, but beyond question is how difficult it has become to lose our democratic freedoms in the 21st Century, which continue to grow globally every year according to UN reports.

Adding to this inertia on the evolution of freedom is the ever-expanding Wall Street and the tight leash the Federal Reserve has it on. A significant portion of the country's net worth and success revolve around tradable security markets--and they do not withstand chaos or uncertainty well. Government, conglomerates, and those in power are always on careful watch to not see a swan dive of the market, as we did in 2009, where entire fortunes were lost, major companies disappeared, hundreds of thousands of families lost homes, and Occupy movements threatened civil stability. Neither the government nor its people can afford to gain too much freedom or power--or to give it away. Society and its modern civilization is a delicate balance of moving forward wearing the tight yoke of progress. Achieving prosperity involves sacrifice. That sacrifice is taken from your sense of freedom, like it or not.

Change is coming, though. In the next 25 years--the coming transhumanist era-- technology will allow us to do things we thought we could only imagine before. The near future will be wrought with unique enterprises: downloading our minds into computers, using artificial wombs (ectogenesis) to give birth, and utilizing life extension medicine which will allow us to live past 150. Each one of those advances will significantly challenge the major social institutions--marriage, child rearing, and religion, to name just a few--that currently influence our lives.

To my conservative critics and death threat-toting commenters, that was also the point of my Wired UK article--that coming technology will chip away at institutions many people erroneously believe are forever. They are not forever, though. In fact, the earth is already shifting below our feet. With almost biblical fervor, science and technology are allowing quadriplegic people to walk. It's making the deaf hear. It's giving amputee soldiers limbs again. But that's just the beginning. In 10 years time, those bionic limbs will be better than any Olympic athlete weight lifter has. In 20 years time, half of your neighbors will likely have one--because they will be far better than organic limbs.

But advancement isn't always benign. Technology is also allowing people to have eight babies at once, such as the Octomom. In fact, eight babies at once is nothing. In the next ten years, someone might have 20 babies at once if they want, given how many eggs the ovaries can produce. Obviously, as technology changes, so should laws. And naturally, so should our concept of freedom.

To all those out there who subscribe to pursuing liberty, as I do, please take a look around and ask yourself if you really understand the nature of it. You'll likely find as I have, that freedom is partially a misnomer, largely constructed on what we make of it and the limits of our own vision and capacity. In the 21st Century, prepare to have concepts of freedom, privacy, identity, sexual orientation, ethnic heritage, political orientation, and spiritual perspectives dramatically challenged and forever changed.

Soon, we'll look in the sky and drones will drop off our pizzas. Implanted chips will monitor our children's whereabouts and their health. And satellite cameras will know our every move, every second of the day--and all of it will be saved in a data base for easy examination. Freedom. Not so much anymore. Privacy. Basically soon to be gone.

In the future, transhumanists, Artificial Intelligence machines, cyborg beings, hive mind entities, and digital avatars of ourselves may not even value freedom much. They may value cooperation and pursuit of advancement more, and the power and well-being that comes with that.

To the luddites and conservatives who are skeptical and afraid, I can only say: Try to get used to it. It's our future. It's evolution. A better version of freedom rests in embracing technology and science, and using it to advance the individual and the species' evolution. Freedom is no longer some high school kid being inspired by Atlas Shrugged. Freedom changes with time and evolution of technology. Don't hold it hostage to 20th Century philosophers, historical events, and ideals.

So the next time you read a controversial opinion article, instead of talking about "lynching" the author or what "gauge" shotgun you're going to use when you shoot him, maybe present a better idea to solve the problems he's trying to address. After all, my article was about this: Over 50 million kids starved to death on planet Earth in the last 30 years. And 15% of kids go hungry in America, the supposed wealthiest country in the world. Society can do better than that. Much better. Technology, an upgrade of our morality, and a more open-minded approach can help.

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