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Transhumanism is an emergent philosophical movement which says that humans can and should become more than human through technological enhancements. Contemporary transhumanism has mostly grown out of a white, male, affluent, American Internet culture, and its political perspective has generally been a militant version of the libertarianism typical of that culture.

Nonetheless, as I'm cowriting this story with a friend, I see a transhumanist theocracy, still white, male, affluent, but also dogmatic, unwilling to share power with anyone, relentlessly and ruthlessly pursuing the goal of Transcendence (a version of Singularity) in its well-funded research Temples.

Given the Libertarian bent of transhumanism today, is it possible/plausible to have a transhumanist Theocracy in the future?

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  • $\begingroup$ That is the exact opposite of libertarian. I should know, I happen to be fond of the constitution and our nation's values. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 22, 2016 at 17:17
  • $\begingroup$ @XandarTheZenon, this sounds like he kind of debate I wanted to see around the topic. I would love to see your answer on this! $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 22, 2016 at 17:19
  • $\begingroup$ I posted an answer, but it might sound a little bit like a rant. The people on this site sometimes frustrate me, because it often seems like a lot of progressive people who have no idea what they're talking about and disregard everyone else's religous beliefs. Not everyone is like that, of course, it just seems that way sometimes. Then again, I am often considered "extreme" by my liberal friends. (Liberal, not libertarian.) And I'm thirteen :P $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 22, 2016 at 18:19

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The question might actually have two answers:

  1. The Transhumans simply don't care about us anymore

Unless there is an "ecological" reason to fully interact with mundane humans, Transhumans will be operating at a different level of performance and have little want or need to interact with us.

To use an analogy, a fully sentient AI running on a computer substrate will be thinking @ 1,000,000 X faster than a flesh and blood human (the difference in signal speed between the all electrical connections in the computer brain and the electrochemical signals in our own brains), so will be living subjectively 1,000,000X faster than we do. A Transhuman will probably not have that amount of performance increase (unless cyborgized), but will most likely have their brain wiring reformatted to do certain things faster and more efficiently. Pattern recognition is one of the strengths of the human brain, a Transhuman brain may be far better at picking up patterns and discriminating between true and false positives, for example.

Transhumans will have little need to interact with humans, social and political institutions and even economic structures that we have evolved over millennia might be easily gamed and overthrown or supplemented by whatever they choose to use (see the example of pattern recognition and think of how they would be able to play the stock market). Eventually Transhumans will move to gated communities or even migrate off planet to access the massive resources of the Solar System for whatever their own short and long term goals are.

  1. Humans will worship them/hate them

Mundane people will see Transhumans rapidly ascending to dizzying heights. If your co worker was Bradley Cooper from "Limitless" making tens of thousands of dollars a day day trading during the lunch hour, you would probably want to know how he did that and share in the bounty. Or greed and envy would consume you and you would try to determine how you could steal his wealth.

Transhumans will realize this very quickly, of course, and rapidly move to insulate themselves from potentially violent and greedy neighbours and co workers. Soon, people will be glimpsing Transhumans in the executive suite or gliding down Park Avenue in limousines. Some will become fanbois, reacting to these sitings and announcements from "on high" like people react to Elon Musk (or Steve Jobs, back when he was alive). Any bit of information will be obsessively mined for advantage.

Other people will also react like they react to Elon Musk or Steve Jobs, with a dismissive sneer or even a full throated cry of "inequality!", and obsessively mine any information for the detriment of the fanbois and the Transhumans themselves. Worshippers of conventional, pre Transhuman religions will be especially angered since the Transhumans will seemingly have all the advantages without practicing or undergoing any of the spiritual disciplines that religions require. (This is not to say the Transhumans might not have religions of their own, but it would be safe to say Transhuman religion would be as unintelligible to us as anything else they do).

So while you might see a caste system, or define a two tiered society of Transhumans and mundanes as an oligarchy or plutocracy, I suspect that for the Transhumans, they will see the mundanes as a cross between background noise and a potentially dangerous pest, while the "worship" of Transhumans may end up like the "Pandemonium" in the ancient Middle East: the same set of "gods" becomes worshipped by one party and demonized by another party.

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Certainly it is possible, and you as the author of your world can make it happen.

  • Theocracy is the rule of a religious elite based on their religious status and their interpretation of religious scripture.
  • The border between a religion and a secular philosopy is thinner than most people recognize. Most religions have a canon of scripture, faith in divine beings and a concept of afterlife, but there are always edge cases. A firm believer in libertarian anarchism can be indistinguishable from a religious zealot.

It would be a bit more tricky with a recognizable religion like Christianity.

  • Does the religion require believers to improve themselves? No matter how this improvement was interpreted in the past, how do they interpret it now? Mandatory brain implants with "moral guardian" software? Is it a sin to deny your children the latest germline genetic engineering?
  • Does the religion require believers to spread the gospel? Do they believe in vicious sectarian infighting and the suppression of heretic interpretations of their faith?
  • Does the religion believe in different levels of initiation? Members with deeper initiation who have to guide the common flock?
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Absolutely.

While such philosophical movements start with groups that have particular need and agenda to develop it, there is no exclusivity. Anything about transhumanism that turns out to be practical and functional will end up being assimilated by other movements, even ones opposed to its initial adopters.

While religious groups looking for transcendence would probably count as some form of mysticism and such groups generally value personal revelation and experience and see no value in forming organizations with strict discipline, there is really nothing preventing it. Such groups, precisely because the secular matters are of small real importance to them, can be quite hierarchical, pragmatic and even ruthless. All it requires is that having the organization and hierarchy in some form benefits the practical aspects of achieving the shared spiritual goals of the group.

In your case, since the practical aspects involve organizing expensive and complex research well beyond individual resources, having an organization for handling that side as well as making the fruits of the research useable to members would make perfect sense.

And while nothing really requires it to be be dogmatic and exclusive theocracy, it does make sense. The organization would have very specific goals to pursue after all. This would naturally lead to a culture that doesn't value free debate or questioning of leaders within the organization and would see any interference from outside as entirely negative. After all the leaders do know what they are doing since the goals and the methods to be used are part of the definition of the group. And outsiders would, also almost by definition, be unqualified to judge the decisions of the groups leaders as they do not share the goals of the group.

The main difficulty I see is that since dogmatic theocracies are not terribly popular at the moment, most authors will have issues conveying the reasons why the members are loyal to the group. It is very easy to think that the leaders of the group are deceiving the members. Or that the members of the group are somehow wrong or mistaken in being loyal to it. You start making excuses for the actions of the group and its members instead of showing the actual reasons. The other pitfall is of course going too far in the other direction. So while such theocracy is IMHO perfectly plausibly, it might be difficult to make it look so in writing.

But that is beyond this question. Only mentioning it because feeling unease about that might be the actual reason this question was asked.

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I think it is inevitable if you have a "transhuman" class that they would exploit that position. Libertarians are not known for their generosity or commitment to egalitarianism. Most likely they would concoct a passel of rationalizations about how the unmodified humans are moochers or otherwise not worthy of equal treatment. In a lot of way transhumanism or techno-optimism is the genetic entrenchment of inequality. The rich buy themselves immortality and those of us not quite so beloved of God live the lives of mayflies. Libertarianism not only does not mediate that it provides the philosophical basis for us to pretend it is moral.

So no the Libertarian bent of transhumanism would do less than nothing to stop a transhuman theocracy.

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  • $\begingroup$ You obviously have no understanding of what Libertarian people believe. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 22, 2016 at 18:15
  • $\begingroup$ Can you elaborate @XandarTheZenon ? It sounds like a plausible outcome if you start with the tennent of everyone individually pays for the bits of infrastructure the use, as opposed to having public open availability. $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Commented Jan 23, 2016 at 22:10
  • $\begingroup$ Egalitarianism is one of he main facets of libertarianism. Libertarians believe everyone has rights and deserves to be free. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 23, 2016 at 23:57
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I'll point you toward EYE Divine Cybermancy and every Warhammer 40K stories about the Cult Mechanicus. Both fiction treat your subject.

Now to treat the plausibility of it in our world... I'd say "Not any time soon", seeing the state of our technology.
But given humanity need of spirituality, it's a possibility: any kind of technology getting sufficiently complicated becomes undistinguishable from magic, after all. And a spark of impossible made reality can gear people this way.

So, the main question here is more : if this happens will we get an utopia or a dystopia ? It will depend mainly on the effective influence of this cult and the benevolence of its leadership.

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