The Transhumanist Wager
by Zoltan Istvan
Futurity Imagine Media LLC (2013), 298 pages
In order for me to fully comprehend this book, I am forced to look at it from different angles. As a work of fiction, it is a thought provoking story- One where the heroes and the villains are hard to define. On the one hand, there is an increasingly growing group of futuristic thinkers, called Transhumanists, led by radical philosopher Jethro Knight, that believe the world should embrace scientific life enhancement procedures, such as stem cell therapy, artificial intelligence, and cryogenics etc., with the goal of humanity reaching omnipotence.
On the other, there are the Fanatical ultra-religious groups and the government, which declares these scientific procedures and the Transhumanist philosophy evil- the antithesis of all that God stands for. The Transhumanists wish to be left alone to further their experiments, with the goal of lengthening life-spans until death is a thing of the past, with the new “super-humans” combining their consciousness with machines in order to live forever as “Omnipotenders”!
I will call this Science-Fiction, or even a Philosophical Thriller, although Transhumanist Philosophy is a real philosophy, with a combination of scientists, philosophers and artists who essentially wish to live forever, and believe that science is the answer. I can see how religious people, and governments would become alarmed by the Transhumanist philosophy, which brings me to the second lens that I must view this through. That would be from the viewpoint of one who is afraid of any group that puts forth an elitist, classist, totalitarian manifesto.
In the story, the Transhumanists, a great majority of them the brightest scientific minds in the world, leave their host countries and build a floating city outside of the jurisdiction of any meddling governmental forces. While the frightened religious groups and the Governments of the world have attempted to stifle the Transhumanists by force, in turn, the Transhumanists, through scientific military advances unseen to this point destroy the armed forces of the world and proceed to strip world leaders of all wealth, and imprison or kill them using robotic killing machines and highly evolved weaponry. The new Transhumanist movement then takes over the world’s governments, and proceeds to tell the world’s population essentially that they can live if they follow the line of the new government of Transhumania.
This is basically the age old story of the oppressed becoming the oppressors in my view, making it difficult to know who to cheer for; I personally felt no loyalty to either side, and would have felt the same no matter which side became the victor. I suppose this reaction on my part stands as testament to the story’s originality, as I am used to there being some form of good and evil which would help me to choose who to root for. Not so with The Transhumanist Wager! As the story progresses, it becomes increasingly more difficult to discern between good and evil or right and wrong. What I found compelling was the idea that the world’s scientists, when banding together, are capable of bringing the world to its knees utilizing their high IQs, with the results being a world ruled by science and logic-devoid of religion and democracy.
The story is packed with equal parts action and adventure, futuristic science, and some excellent philosophical discourse. As fiction, it is a chilling story of things that may be in our future, given the current debates concerning medical experiments with stem cells and cloning. As a book of real ideas, this book is downright scary. At one point, Knights and some of his administrators are going through applications from non-Transhumanists for free life-saving medical procedures being offered monthly to “deserving” people. In order for a person to be deemed worthy, they must write an essay that describes why they should get the advanced procedures. One applicant stated that she had 5 children by 3 fathers, is unemployed and living in a trailer park. She has been diagnosed with cancer, and asks for the life-giving medical technology. After reading the application, a bio-engineer asks
“Isn’t there a way to screen idiots like that from the applicant pool? What a waste of our time. Send her six feet of rope to hang herself” “Negative” said Jethro. “The cost of the rope isn’t worth it.”
This form of description of the “useless” poor is ubiquitous throughout the book. As a Science Fiction/ Thriller, I would give this book 4 out of 5 stars, simply due to the imaginative story line, and philosophical questions posed by the story. If the speeches of Jethro Knights that are placed throughout the book were not so long and repetitive, I might have given it 4 ½.
On a personal level, I can’t help but think that this book contains elements of the philosophies within Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, Hitler’s Mein Kampf and Francis Galton’s writings on Eugenics. When I viewed The Transhumanist Wager Through this lens, I would come to the conclusion that the ideas espoused within the book are extremely dangerous, and I would hope that people like Jethro Knights will never wind up with a position of political power, because history has shown us where this road leads. I recommend that this book be read, mainly because as a novel, it is entertaining; the scientific and medical advances that are a major part of this story are very much in our immediate future, with the current ethical and moral debates taking place over the past decade. This is a subject that everyone should be aware of, as it will ultimately impact the world, whether philosophically, spiritually or medically.
I can honestly say that this is one of a very few books that I have read, where I found most of the characters to be lacking any traits that would coerce me into taking their side. Simply put, this was a story of one oppressive leadership destroying, and then supplanting another oppressive leadership. While the ending is decidedly a happy one from the author’s viewpoint, I am inclined to believe that it is at the cost of the free will of billions of people. This was an interesting read, yet controversial and depressing as well.
out of 5
Watch a video discussion between the author and other technologists discussing the book, and their views on Transhumanist Philosophy.