How did transhumanism become the religion of the super-rich?
Once upon a time there was an obscure mailing list. It only had about 100 people on it, yet in this digital village was arguably the greatest concentration of brain power since fifth-century Athens. There was Hans Moravec, pioneer in robotics; Eric Drexler, pioneer of nanotechnology; Eliezer Yudkowsky, father of the Rationalist movement; Max More, father of modern transhumanism; Nick Bostrom, founder of Long-Termism and the study of Existential Risks; Hal Finney, Nick Szabo and Wei Dai, the inventors of cryptocurrency; and Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks. Together they developed a transhumanist worldview — self-transformation, genetic modification, nootropic drugs, AI, crypto-libertarianism and space exploration. It’s a worldview that has become the ruling philosophy of the obscenely rich of California.
It all started in Bristol, England. There, a young man called Max O’Connor grew up, and went to study philosophy at Oxford. But Max wanted more, more excitement, more life, more everything. He changed his name to Max More, and moved to California, where the future is invented. His dreams took root in the soil prepared by Californian transhumanists of the 1970s. Many of them were members of an organization called L5, dedicated to the colonization of space by a genetic elite — its members included Timothy Leary, Marvin Minsky, Isaac Asimov and Freeman Dyson, and its magazine was named Ad Astra — which was what Elon Musk named his school for SpaceX kids in 2014.
Max was also inspired by Robert Ettinger, an American engineer who argued that humans would soon become immortal superbeings, and we should freeze ourselves when we die so we can be resurrected in the perfect future. While doing a PhD at the University of Southern California, Max got a job at the Alcor Foundation for cryonic preservation, and in 1989 he started a magazine with his fellow philosophy grad, Tom Morrow, called Extropy: Journal of Transhumanist Thought. ‘Do you want to be an ubermensch?’ the first issue asked.
‘Ubermensch’ (overman or superman) is the German word used by Friedrich Nietzsche to describe the individual (male or female) who has overcome all obstacles to the perfection of him or herself…