I was jubilant the US Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of gay marriage. Events that lead to more freedom and equality are positive progress.
However, what doesn’t seem to be making the news is the fact that marriage—especially to many young people—isn’t as attractive as it once was.
There are a number of reasons for this. People want to focus on their careers, not spouses. Getting married and having a traditional wedding costs a lot of money (besides, around 40 percent of those who wed will go through at least one divorce in their lives, causing potential harm to their ideals, children, and finances). Finally, having kids out of wedlock is becoming more socially acceptable.
But there’s another reason that is increasingly relevant. It has to do with transhumanism.
In the transhumanist age of extended lifespans, where many people will live beyond 100 years of age, the question of being married until “death does us part” has real consequence.
In America most marriages last about a decade. However, it’s safe to say that plenty of those marriages that do last much longer are not entirely happy or fulfilling. Fear of being alone, apathy, and finances often bind the reluctant wedlock yoke. But I believe the primary reason people stay married when they’re not happy is religion. Some Abrahamic religions treat divorce as sin (thereby potentially jeopardizing one’s afterlife if you get divorced). Especially in America where some 80 percent of the citizenry is Christian, faith plays an influential part in promoting marital union.
Traditional family life and the institution of marriage as we know it will face the largest disruption it’s ever gone through
Social, financial, and religions pressures aside, the deeper philosophical question of the transhumanist age is: Are people really willing to marry for the rest of their lives when those lives may be hundreds or even thousands of years long? This is especially a pertinent question when it’s almost certain coming technology will allow us to radically change who we are in the near future, both physically and mentally.
In a world of indefinite lifespans, the marriage commitment takes on a whole new meaning and level of commitment.
America and many parts of the developed world are losing their religion, however, which certainly will contribute to less social pushing for matrimony. A recent Pew Research Center study found that many young people increasingly possess no religious leanings at all. In just a few decade’s time, if this statistical trajectory holds, younger generations may broadly prefer not to ever marry.
And who can argue with them? Within 15 years, some of the so-called classic advantages of marriage will be gone. Many people will have robot house nannies, driverless cars, and automated stoves that cook for us. In 20 year’s time, we may also use artificial wombs (ectogenesis) to grow babies, and use our own stem cells to provide genetic treatments to build the perfect child. A spouse will simply not be as necessary in the transhumanist age as it once was.
Naysayers will argue that only a wholesome, traditional family can produce good, well-rounded children. But that’s deeply wrong. In 15 to 20 years time, cranial implant technology will enable humans to overcome many of their idiosyncrasies and bad behaviors—making a new generation of very wholesome and exemplary children. In fact, going to college may be replaced by downloading higher educations into our brains.
Even morality may be built in by personal avatars that are always looking over our shoulder for us, not dissimilar to what Abraham Lincoln called the “better angels of our nature.” In just over a decade, traditional family life and the institution of marriage as we know it will face the largest disruption it’s ever gone through.
And sex? Well, that can and will be better and more pleasurable with the rise of transhumanist technology. Already, scientists are working on pure, outright stimulation of the erogenous zones in our brains. Stimulating this part of ourselves will be easier, on-demand, and disease and pregnancy-free. Of course, the coming world of virtual and augmented reality will also offer endless amounts of physical experimentation via haptic suits to satisfy one’s lusts, too.
Another thing sure to make people—both young and old—wary of marriage in the future is the growing promise of gender-identity choice. In the transhumanist age, we are not stuck being males or females, but whatever version we want—maybe even something between or combined. Transgender surgery is catching on and people can change themselves as they see fit, or they can do it just for kicks and new experiences. In fact, most of the modern medicine, surgery techniques, and tech are already here today or coming soon—complete with augmented penises, vaginas, and other sexual body parts that we can replace or modify.
But the bigger transhumanist steps of gender and identity will come when we begin uploading our minds into machines, and people must decide what their avatars will be like. Surely, many people will experiment with other sides of themselves they always wondered about. Think of uploading as an anonymous masquerade party, where you can be anything you want, and then be something else later that day. People may change their genders daily, depending on who they interact with or how they feel.
All this radical tech and change the human race is about to undergo means one thing: marriage is heading the way of the dinosaurs. So instead of celebrating our rights of matrimony for gay people or trying to privatize it for tax and liberty reasons, maybe we should also begin endorsing the phasing out of marriage from society’s mindset.
Of course, that doesn’t mean we won’t have intimate relationships that are deep and meaningful. It just means that the multi-millennial-old institution of marriage—began by our ancestors to transfer inheritance in the form of dowries (often weapons and livestock)—has increasingly less relevance today. In the meantime, we’ll come up with new ways to create legal structures to protect relationships and those we love in a deeply litigious society. In nearly every instance of legal companionship, a simple notarized document giving permission to a partner can serve where a marriage certificate once did the same. In the future, this legal procedure won’t be physical, anyway, but notaries and permissions will be done by large database scans of retinas, fingerprints, and DNA samples on your smartphone or chip implants.
Even though I’m a happily married man with two kids, I’m all too aware of how society, the government, and especially religion has sold people on the concept that love needs to be institutionalized and consummated by legal marital vows.
In my opinion, that’s all just another level of control someone or some entity is trying to put over me and others. If one is in love, then they need no controls. Love just is, and for two people in love, it manifests itself every day. And if it doesn’t, then it’s no longer love. Society can operate on a new social structure that incorporates other versions of social bonding, ones that also support a strong, caring, and connected society. This includes stepping away from all-holy monogamy, and implementing a larger mindset about what constitutes relationships.
For the record, I’m not saying let’s throw away marriage. But let’s stop society and government from promoting it like it’s the only way to love and exist.
In the transhumanist age, it’s time to leave behind closed-mindedness. In our relationships with others, we should instead look not with our biases and bigotry, but for what a person we care about can do for us, and what we can do for them. That person may be a human, a cyborg, a robot, or even a computer program. Whatever it is, frankly, is not important. It’s what it does and how it does it. And if it does good, honest, and meaningful actions, then that’s plenty upon which to build love, intimacy, and a successful future.
People may change their genders daily, depending on who they interact with or how they feel
In fact, soon, the next civil rights debate of love and marriage will probably involve whether we can wed the coming generation of intelligent robots and avatars, which may be nearly as smart as us in a decade’s time. This brings up larger questions of different legalities. It also brings up polygamy. Is being wed to two robots at the same time more socially acceptable then marrying two human spouses? Will the US government support tax breaks of marrying robots as it does for humans (as President, I would advocate for this)? Will divorce laws be different for the machines we wed—assuming they’ll agree to wed us at all. Will divorces be governed by communal law of common law? Do we need consent to marry a machine? We surely don’t need any to fall in love with one.
The coming transhumanist age is indubitably thorny. The onslaught of radically technology in our lives is challenging the very institutions and ideas we have built society upon. However, I hold much hope that technology will continue to allow us to live longer, better, and freer. Whatever happens, we shouldn’t remained mired in past practices that once served society, but no longer do in such a positive or functional manner. We must look forward and search out new ways of living that grant us improved livelihoods.
Zoltan Istvan is a futurist, author of The Transhumanist Wager, and founder of and presidential candidate for the Transhumanist Party. He writes an occasional column for Motherboard in which he ruminates on the future beyond natural human ability.