In this first interview of the series we speak with Transhumanist party leader, Dr. Amon Twyman. Creating what will be a regular pattern within this series of interviews, we seek information on the earliest stages of the party's development, the personal experiences each interviewee has encountered, their hopes for the future, and their personal views on certain subjects.
I'd like to thank Amon for his time taken to answer the following questions, and invite readers to submit follow up questions via email at:
The closing date for follow up questions is 12:00 mid day on Thursday 14th January 2016
1 - Who is Amon Twyman?
I’m 43 years old, born and raised in New Zealand after my parents emigrated from the UK in the 1950s. I trained and worked as a cognitive and decision scientist before moving into consulting, and also have a background in the arts (mostly electronic music and performance). I’ve explicitly considered myself to be a transhumanist since reading “Mind Children” by Hans Moravec in 1994, and am particularly interested in the transition from our contemporary world to a better future made possible by advanced technologies.
2 - What were the first steps of the Transhumanist Party? What made you suddenly think ‘Britain needs a Transhumanist political organisation’? When and how was the idea born? (Did you research to see if a similar party with likewise goals already existed)?
I’d been interested in the idea of a transhumanist group with practical and political concerns since being a co-founder of the UK Transhumanist Association. The earnest pursuit of such a group started in 2010, leading to the creation of Zero State and later the Institute for Social Futurism (ISF). Later when I and others heard of Zoltan Istvan’s US Presidential bid (which was obviously not a serious bid but rather a media awareness campaign), it seemed that we had a choice between carrying our ideas forward under the Transhumanist Party banner, or having someone else do it who was perhaps not as familiar with traditional transhumanist concerns. The only party of note with similar views in the UK is the Pirate Party, and that Party is not committed to a transhumanist worldview at heart, which is our core concern.
3 - Having recognised the lack of, and need for the Transhumanist Party, what motivated you to commit yourself to providing that presence, and why did you think you were the right person for the job?
Initially there was a lot of debate about the need for any such party, and a lot of people are still having that debate. Quite a few people point out that think tanks (policy institutes and similar organisations) are a more traditional route toward transhumanist activism, and one that seems more likely to be effective than direct political action in the near- or medium-term. The thing is that I don’t disagree, but I also believe that complementary approaches to garnering influence should be taken simultaneously. In other words, as a community we need to work toward a transhumanist future via all channels available to us.
More generally, I believe that the transhumanist community needs to work toward developing influence now, simply because we’re going to need it in future. The world is changing rapidly, and the change trends we see are often nonlinear, interconnected, and not always good. In 10-25 years we are going to need a strong transhumanist voice to address these trends in ways that many people with intrinsically anti-transhumanist worldviews would not approve of, and it is too late to start building an influential organisation at the point when you actually need it. We need to start building it now.
4 - How did you produce the political transhumanism group and at what stage in its development did you stop referring to it as a group, but as a political organisation?
As I briefly mentioned above, Zero State (ZS) was the first politically transhumanist group I founded, in 2010-2011. That was probably the turning point, as before that my affiliation had been with non-political groups such as the UK Transhumanist Association (later known as Humanity+ UK), and ZS was formed as a political network rather than a single group, per se. ZS exists to explore the idea of functionally autonomous, self-governing communities acting together as a kind of virtual “State”, and many of its ideas and initiatives naturally carried over into the nascent Transhumanist Party in early 2015.
5 - Have you found in the early stages and even today, that you have been required to reprioritise or reschedule your personal life? If so how have you and your family adapted to the changes?
Yes, very much so. The main thing has been coming to terms with the necessary logistics of managing an organisation as it grows… I’m naturally a sociable person who is interested in both practicalities and ethical details, so unsurprisingly I had tended to have a lot of one-on-one conversations with people about various issues. Unfortunately the moment an organisation starts to scale up, however, that rapidly becomes untenable. It becomes critical to deal with groups, manage time well, keep time and space aside for personal matters, and to delegate effectively.
All of that is easy enough to say, but can be quite a learning process in practice, particularly when the organisation is not one that can pay anyone’s wages, and unpaid volunteers often feel that a running conversation about the nature of their involvement is something necessary. It’s tricky, but we’re learning how to get the balance right! The answer, so far, seems to be small, flexible teams with an open, collaborative spirit, allowing everyone to have their say within their own small working groups.
6 - Whilst considering your involvement in the development of the party in those first stages did you have any thoughts about the long term possibilities and your continued involvement? If so what were your thoughts?
My initial intent is to build a solid foundation for the party as a viable long-term proposition (whatever “long term” means in the early 21st Century!). I personally am committed to remaining involved for 25 years (until 2040) in whatever ways seem appropriate over time, because this effort is very much in line with everything I stand for as a person. I expect that we will see tremendous transformations across society and humanity in that time, and the party will presumably change and evolve accordingly.
I personally see the party as a broad organisation, potentially capable of many more things than standing candidates in traditional elections. We will be doing that of course, but we will also be working vigorously to develop a kind of “mutual support network” for those who share our values, to help them work toward a transhumanist future in whatever ways they can. For example, we intend to support direct technical approaches to alternative governance, getting governance decisions out of central government hands – transferring it to local communities and individual citizens - where that seems possible and the ethical thing to do.
7 - Were there times in the early stages or even recently where you questioned whether it was all worth it? How did you stay motivated?
I think that’s the nature of the thing; it will always feel challenging by its very nature (i.e. a struggle against societal inertia to foster positive change), and that does take some getting used to. For me personally, the two big challenges have been getting used to the logistics of dealing with far more people than I have time to talk individually with (as I mentioned before), and the matter of Zoltan Istvan’s US presidential bid.
That last matter was an unfortunate one which divided opinion, and the party only made one succinct public statement which still stands as a matter of public record. For me personally, it was hard because I found myself unable to support the position of the person who had popularised the idea of a “Transhumanist Party” in the first place. Since that struck at the heart of my original reason for being involved, it naturally caused a moment of doubt. The answer, I’m glad to say, was provided by our established focus on principles rather than personalities: It was clear what our party principles demanded, and by being consistent in applying those principles I could help build a strong foundation for the party. Once I saw that principles and our founding vision were more important than any given person within the movement, it was easy to see past the momentary difficulty and remain motivated.
8 - Where do you see yourself in relation to the transhumanist party in five years time?
By that time, my period in office as party leader will have run its course, so I’ll be stepping down unless there is some specific work which requires me to stay on in this role, and that’s what the party membership wants. Any role that moves things forward suits me, but my priority is to ensure that the party has a strong initial foundation and momentum.
9 - It has been one year since the birth of the Transhumanist political party. What were your original six months, one year, five year and ten year goals you set, and are you happy with the party’s current status with relevance to those plans?
Just to clarify, let me lay out our timeline so far: In summer 2014 Zoltan Istvan began promoting his media campaign attached to the idea of a US presidential bid. In Christmas week 2014 an initial group of would-be party founders started talking about the idea in the UK, taking the idea of such a party seriously (rather than as a simple banner under which to run a media campaign). By Spring 2015 we had emerged as a formal organisation, and the beginnings of a global network of groups was forming. The party was registered with the UK Electoral Commission in Summer, and our first Party Day (at which formal policies were voted into place) was held in October. Those milestones were all set as goals in advance, and now - one year in - we will be announcing our five- and ten-year goals early in the new year. Such goals were not set formally before now because we wanted to take membership views into account, rather than having our policy and long-term goals determined solely by a small group of self-appointed people. Ours is a party that values and draws upon its membership in determining its direction, as long as our founding principles and transhumanist vision are adhered to.
10 - How would your plans for progress change if you knew at the transhumanist party’s birth what you know now?
There’s probably nothing major that I personally would change. So far, it has been a matter of making small adjustments in order to move forward in laying a solid foundation. We’re in this for the long haul, and although we haven’t taken the world by storm yet, we have achieved what we set out to in our first year.
11 - What is the most important outcome for the Transhumanist party and why?
The Transhumanist Party, unsurprisingly, stands for a truly transhumanist future. One in which our society has been completely revolutionised by a combination of principles and technology. There are many issues we could point to as important, strategically or ethically, but eventually, at the heart of the matter, lies the question of governance – how our society makes its decisions, and allocates its resources.
We live in a society whose systems of governance barely make any reference to science or evidence, and which are barely changed since the 18th Century. That must change, so that many other things can change. Political parties as a whole are an outmoded institution which only foster narrow, ideologically loaded, tribal thinking, and so in the long term they must be abolished. The Transhumanist Party would seek to become the last political party, recreating the entire system and abolishing itself in the process.
12 - What was the first decision the organisation made in terms of constitution? Why was this first?
The key early decision we made in writing the constitution was to divide the functions of different parts of the party, enabling us to remain true to our founding principles and vision, ensure that we could not be easily “gamed” by experienced entryists of the sort who typically take over and use small political parties for their own ends, and to create a party in which policy is determined by the entire membership rather than a committee or (worse) a single person.
Basically, we did this by creating three centres of legitimate authority within the constitution. The first was our principles, which all future party policy must be consistent with. The second was the National Executive Committee, which has strong administrative powers to ensure that the party cannot be easily stalled by those who oppose the transhumanist worldview. The third was the Annual General Meeting, at which our membership votes for its representatives on the National committee and (in a manner quite unlike traditional, major political parties) votes on formal party policies. As long as those policies are in line with party principle, then whatever the membership says at AGM, goes.
13 - With several policies now confirmed and published is the party developing in a different way than you anticipated? If so how, and what were your original assumptions?
It may sound odd, but I didn’t personally have a lot of firm expectations about what policies would be voted for, probably because I was trying to avoid making too many assumptions. There seems to be a vaguely left-wing feel to some of our policies, but upon closer inspection the situation is more complicated than that, and I am glad to note that for the most part our initial membership seems to reject simplistic notions of left- and right-wing. We want a new, transhumanist future, and to transcend such simplistic old-fashioned politics where possible.
14 - Have there ever been any merger requests with other up and coming parties? Would you consider such a request should one be suggested, for instance from a single issue party that represents an issue the Transhumanist Party supports? If not, why not?
There haven’t been any merger requests yet, although there have been a number of informal offers of collaboration with other parties and organisations at both the UK and global levels. Such collaboration and networking is a good thing, and we will of course see the party evolve as an organisation over time, but we will not be merging with any other party as long as I remain in the office of party leader.
That may sound like a dramatic statement, so let me explain: The Transhumanist Party is not a traditional political party in the mould of the major parties, and nor is it a single-issue party. It stands for a specific worldview, which is of course Transhumanism. Transhumanism is a worldview that encompasses every possible issue that could affect the future of humanity, and is dedicated to the radically positive transformation of humanity and civilization. Other parties with more modest, near-term objectives will always manoeuvre and reconfigure toward their own smaller goals, but we are focussed on something much, much larger than the stated concerns of any other party. For that reason, if another party seriously wants to merge with us, it should do so by urging all of its members to join the Transhumanist Party immediately, and then formally disbanding. Any party willing to do that would have its structures, resources, and program incorporated into our own as appropriate.
15 - If you could divert entire funds from one budget to any one other budget, what budgets would they be and why?
I’ll speak on this briefly below, but as a Transhumanist I am strongly inclined to see health (and thus longevity) as our number one concern in the short term, and thus would prioritise that budget. Some have said that any increase in health budget should come from the military budget, but the UK’s military budget is already inadequate and our formally ratified party policies support a well-maintained defensive military. As a matter of personal opinion, I would not be inclined to raid another budget so much as to raise revenue by consequencing major corporations who do not pay the tax they owe to the UK.
16 - What are your views on assisted suicide?
On this issue, my personal views are determined by the logic we also see written in our party principles: That activities should not be illegal if there is no identifiable victim, and that the person making any decision is a mentally competent adult. Broadly speaking then, I believe that assisted suicide should be legal where a good case for it can be made. It should, however, be very well regulated, so that people are not being helped to die when in fact they could have been helped in other ways with some reasonable combination of resources and compassion.
17 - What are your views on Britain’s membership of the EU?
Our recently established party policies touch very briefly on EU matters, but they don’t take any stand on whether Britain should be part of the EU. My personal position is that Britain very much should be part of Europe, that it is to the nation’s advantage in many respects, but that the EU as a formal system of governance needs considerable reform.
Broadly speaking, I believe in finding proper balance. Whether we’re talking about individual humans or entire states, too much emphasis on isolationism or centralised control (at the other end of the spectrum) will cause problems. In the middle ground we find a kind of principled network, where nations and even local communities have a degree of autonomy and control over their own governance, but on certain matters they benefit from ceding that autonomy to the larger network. Business people and military strategists will be the first to tell you that Britain needs Europe, but popular tension about the EU stems from a fear of being “ruled from Brussels”. Britain needs to remain in Europe, but Europe needs to draw an abundantly clear and principled line on where its powers end and local governance begins.
18 - What in your opinion is the most pressing issue that needs addressing? How do you feel about the manner in which the issue is currently been addressed and how does the Transhumanist party think it could be tackled with more effectiveness and efficiency?
Earlier we discussed the primary long-term goal of the party, and I talked about a need to change the nature of governance itself to reflect 21st Century realities. At the same time however I mentioned that there are many more specific issues that will catch our attention along the way, which will drive us to reform governance, and some of these are indeed more pressing than others.
When I think about the issue which should seem most pressing to a transhumanist, I cannot help but settle on the question of longevity. To be blunt, keeping people alive should be our first priority. From there, we can work to improve everything else in their lives. Longevity is not currently treated as a single or even indeed serious topic within mainstream science and medicine, for the simple reason that society traditionally draws a distinction between medical technology which will restore health, and that which could actually make an already-healthy person live longer or better. Research budgets and priorities in the UK are set by funding councils, which for the most part get their money from the taxpayer, courtesy of the government. The government has the power to compel funding councils to prioritise longevity research, and that is exactly what should be done.