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The future of Libertarianism could be radically different

The future of Libertarianism could be radically different


Zoltan Istvan

Internet Culture

Posted on Mar 28, 2017   Updated on Jan 27, 2021, 1:53 pm CST


Many societies and social movements operate under a foundational philosophy that often can be summed up in a few words. Most famously, in much of the Western world, is the Golden Rule: Do onto others as you want them to do to you. In libertarianism, the backbone of the political philosophy is the non-aggression principle (NAP). It argues it’s immoral for anyone to use force against another person or their property except in cases of self-defense.

A challenge has recently been posed to the non-aggression principle. The thorny question libertarian transhumanists are increasingly asking in the 21st century is: Are so-called natural acts or occurrences immoral if they cause people to suffer? After all, taken to a logical philosophical extreme, cancer, aging, and giant asteroids arbitrarily crashing into the planet are all aggressive, forceful acts that harm the lives of humans.

Traditional libertarians throw these issues aside, citing natural phenomena as unable to be morally forceful. This thinking is supported by most people in Western culture, many of whom are religious and fundamentally believe only God is aware and in total control of the universe. However, transhumanists—many who are secular like myself—don’t care about religious metaphysics and whether the universe is moral. (It might be, with or without an almighty God.) What transhumanists really care about are ways for our parents to age less, to make sure our kids don’t die from leukemia, and to save the thousands of species that vanish from Earth every year due to rising temperatures and the human-induced forces.

An impasse has developed among philosophers, and questions once thought absurd, now bear the cold bearing of reality. For example, automation, robots, and software may challenge if not obliterate capitalism as we know it before the 21st century is out. Should libertarians stand against it and develop tenets and safeguards to protect their livelihoods? I have argued, yes, a universal basic income of some sort to guarantee a suitable livelihood is in philosophical line with the non-aggression principle.

However, it’s more of a stretch to talk about the NAP in terms of healthcare. Nonetheless, the same new rules could apply. Libertarian transhumanists believe aging is a negative force—something that we did not invite into our lives. Given that lifespans already doubled in the 20th century due to medicine and technology, and may double again for the same reasons in the 21st century, do we begin to see aging—and even dying—as an unwanted and so-called immoral force against our very lives?

I believe we do. In fact, in my run for the governor of California as a libertarian, a main policy of mine is to label aging as a disease. The classification takes this universal phenomenon and reduces it to exactly what it is: an aggressive force that I do want in my life.

Knowing my arguments, my libertarian friends have asked if I would use government resources to help fight against aging. As a libertarian, I would prefer the private industry to tackle this problem. However, as an aspiring politician in the real world, I understand that when our government and National Institute of Health (NIH) classifies something as a disease, the entire world notices, and often billions of dollars flows into the research to tackle it. I’m not sure about billions of tax dollars being appropriate, but I’m sure I’d want the government stamp of approval—as the people’s stamp of approval—on it, making clear that it’s an important issue.

I think support for some government help with the fighting of diseases is warranted, if only to be symbolic in support. In my opinion, and to most transhumanist libertarians, death and aging are enemies of the people and of liberty (perhaps the greatest ones), similar to foreign invaders running up our shores. Therefore, I think government and libertarians have some interest in stepping in to protect life and liberties in this case, as they would against foreign aggression.

I’d also argue some government help for the space industry is also warranted. After all, not being able to get humans off this planet easily poses a major existential risk in the event of a global plague, major asteroid hit, or some other catastrophic event. In this case again, a coordinated minarchist state effort against a foreign enemy threatening life, liberty, and country could be acceptable—and not too far of a stretch for some libertarians.

In the end, I’m glad I’m running for governor in California, as I suspect the majority of libertarians will be hesitant at looking at the non-aggression principle in this way. And California has a way of allowing these strange ideas to get the green light and grow. And why shouldn’t it? Anything that harms the human being and its ability to thrive is an affront our very lives and values. In the 21st century, we should rise up and use everything within our means to increase the success of our very lives.

Zoltan Istvan is a futurist, author of The Transhumanist Wager, and is a Libertarian candidate for California governor.

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*First Published: Mar 28, 2017, 5:00 am CDT