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Zoltan Istvan Foresees the Ultimate Race War – Legacy Humans Versus the Cyborg Swarm
Transhumanism is the quest for total digitalization. If the movement succeeds, there will be no escape
True revolutions aren’t peaceful transitions of power. They usually culminate in waves of bloodshed. The old has to be purged, and because the old never wants to be purged, that means violent suppression. Most often, whoever has the most sophisticated technology is victorious—with few exceptions.
The emerging transhumanist revolution, still in its nascent phase, may be no different. The former journalist and largely overlooked Transhumanist Party presidential candidate, Zoltan Istvan, is fairly certain of that outcome. In a November 2020 interview with Quartz, he was asked where the world will be in fifty years. Istvan predicted Armageddon:
A great transhumanist war will occur between those who embrace radical technology in their bodies and those who don’t. Many will be affected by this time, and some will call it the end times. Those that side with technology and AI will win.
Most transhumanists would never admit this in public, or even to themselves. They lack the moral courage to do so. The painfully obvious is too much to bear.
Istvan is simply looking at the technological Singularity—that Great Merger of man with machine—and following it to its logical conclusion. In his 2013 novel The Transhumanist Wager, he envisions a fanatic Christian sect attacking transhumanists to stop runaway “progress” in its tracks. In the end, that’s the justification for war.
When you consider the totalizing vision most transhumanists offer—an inescapable digital grid controlled by AI, with humans jacked into it like flesh-and-blood hardware components, each one lost in his or her own virtual delusions—it’s hard to see how the anti-tech zealots are the bad guys. I guess it goes to show you, diversity ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Remember how hard it was for nakedfaces to live side-by-side with maskholes? Or more recently, for anti-vaxxers to coexist with jab-blasters? That’s just a foretaste of what’s to come.
If a subset of humans were to actually enhance themselves so radically as to become a new species, and then arm themselves with futuristic weaponry, competition for space and resources could get real nasty, real fast.
In a real sense, the Great Transhumanist Race War is already locked and loaded. Much of what we consider transhumanist technology—cognitive enhancement, brain implants, bionic limbs, etc.—is being funded and developed by the military before making its way to civilian use. Humanity isn’t just being wired for digital enlightenment. Some are being wired for war.
Any sales pitch is always sugarcoated, though. For the moment, we hear gangly tech freaks talk about their quest to transform the human race in terms of “civil rights” and “morphological freedom.” Most underdogs toe the line until they get the upper hand. Should transhumanists gain just a fraction of the techno superpowers they’re striving for, those powers will likely be used to subjugate their primitive kin.
The same thing happened with the spear, the sword, the gun, and the atom bomb. The highest earthly powers have always used every tool at hand to establish and maintain control over lesser powers and the masses more broadly. The same dynamic holds with the rise of surveillance technology, data extraction, and propaganda devices—all of which are neatly bundled into the smartphone.
In most cases, the direction of control goes from top down. As we’ve seen in the rise of technocracy in both the West and the East—from Silicon Valley to Singapore—the big fish eat the little ones. Why would advanced cyborg tech be any different?
You Will Be Assimilated
In his Quartz interview, Istvan describes what true human-machine symbiosis will look like in fifty years. It’s safe to say many people would fight to the death to avoid such a future. From the transhumanist perspective, it’s their loss. As Istvan sees it:
The world will be run by AI networks and networks of quantum intelligence. Nations will have ceased to exist as independent physical entities because they will be online and have all merged as one. Humans may exist, but they will be off the AI grid, and contributing very little to progress and what is happening in the world.
In other words, we legacy humans will be dead weight, piddling around in our old-fashioned meat suits. If we’re really as feeble as Istvan believes, the coming “transhumanist war” will be nothing more than an extermination campaign. According to the Myth of Progress, this succession is “inevitable”:
Economies won’t exist either, except those of people who didn’t choose to merge their brains with AI. But the real scale of intelligence will all be done in the online clouds and around the universe as quantum intelligence. ...
Those humans who join AI and merge their brains directly with machines won’t work, but will live in virtual worlds freely.
These lazy uploads will have it made in the shade. As with the Christian mythos, the price of admission to this roiling digital hell will be your soul:
If you are uploaded to a cloud, you won’t have to earn a living. You will give up some control of your life, and that will be your payment into this world to exist. …
Communication will be only through thoughts. … There will be no eating, no breathing, no drinking, no using the bathroom. The flesh will be gone, paving the way for the exploration of how intelligent we can become.
Imagine a know-it-all avatar rubbing math equations in your face—forever:
Love in a romantic way will cease to exist. We will only be willing to communicate with the nearly all-knowing AI that we are connected to—which, in fact, is one with us. However, this AI will be connected to everyone else too, so we will always be interconnected in a sort of hive mind. ...
[T]he real goal of this new world [is] as much power and intelligence as possible. We must conquer the universe.
This digital deity will not just expand around you. It’ll cut right through you, then upload your ghost.
Transhumanism is a techno-religion, but it’s also a theory of evolution. As such, the core principles are power and dominance in the name of survival. In fact, in his Three Principles of Transhumanism, Istvan takes the idea of the “selfish gene” and makes it personal:
A transhumanist must safeguard his own existence above all else.
A transhumanist must strive to achieve omnipotence as expediently as possible—so long as one’s actions do not conflict with the First Law.
A transhumanist must safeguard value in the universe—so long as one’s actions do not conflict with the First and Second Laws.
Apparently, “safeguarding value” doesn’t involve preserving ancient traditions or our inherited human bodies.
It’s not obvious how one goes from such extreme selfishness to a final absorption into a digital “hive mind,” but the idea has parallels in Darwinian theory. According to this view of life, evolution produced altruism and cooperation to enable cohesive groups to survive. From within the evolutionary framework, these benevolent impulses only serve to empower a given group to out-reproduce and out-compete lesser groups and solitary individuals.
This is how ants came to enjoy such a massive proportion of the planet’s biomass. On the human level, it’s how imperial armies absorb smaller states. In recent centuries, it’s how urban superorganisms have altered entire landscapes on every inhabitable continent, devouring whole ecosystems. To borrow a concept from James Poulos, this is the morality of the swarm.
In the near future, supposedly, this will be how a vast blob of uploaded human minds will outsmart and outmaneuver the “ape-brained meat sacks” who scurry before its advanced weaponry. It’s all about survival by any means necessary.
Meat Sacks on the March
Looked at carefully, this narrative has little to do with actual evolution, which is a gradual, meandering progression from one species to the next. In the evolutionary process, older forms are oftentimes conserved alongside the new. That’s why conifers continue to thrive beside flowering plants. It’s why sharks still swim beside the dolphins.
What transhumanists propose—the rapid transition from organic human beings into a cyborg cesspool, whose brains are fused to AI like insects stuck to flypaper—is something very different. This is not the Archaeopteryx morphing into a bird over millions of years. This is a meteor crashing into the earth, wiping out the dinosaurs in an instant.
Istvan foresees the rise of an all-knowing, all-powerful AI that absorbs most human brains and wages war on the remainder. Whether this war is offensive or defensive—for legacy humans, it doesn’t really matter. Unlike evolution, this is neither gradual nor natural. The transhuman shift will be sudden and completely intentional. It will not be “evolution.” It’ll be the revolution to end all revolutions, beyond which humanity ceases to exist as Homo sapiens.
Chauvinism, coupled with technology, drives the beast. This sci-fi conquest is a gang of early humans clubbing the last Neanderthal to death. This is Rome snuffing out the Jews at Masada. This is the Spanish conquistadors wiping out the Indians. This is China crushing Tibet. This is American storm troopers bombing Arab Ewoks back to an even stonier Stone Age.
The Great Transhumanist Race War would be ancient history repeating itself with bionic exoskeletons and murderous drones.
On the other hand, it could be that in the coming decades, transhumanists will be surveying the wreckage of their shattered dreams. Perhaps those who don’t die from infections in their brain implants will be functionally retarded from all the nootropic drugs they gobbled to enhance their intelligence. Maybe their AI Super Computer God will turn out to be nothing more than a pocket calculator with attitude. It’s quite possible the Singularity is just another wacky pipe dream like cold fusion or the perpetual motion machine.
With any luck, transhumanists will find themselves stranded on the desolate shores of their overblown ambition.
Still, whenever an expert says “We’re building machines that will destroy you and everyone you love,” you’d better listen. That doesn’t mean you should sell the family farm and head for the hills to build bunkers, though. Not just yet. If anything, we should crush this genocidal dream while it’s still babbling in the crib.