What I Learned by Running for President
I’ve been honored to watch transhumanism grow a lot under my candidacy.
Last week, I was included on ISideWith.com, a site that matches users with presidential candidates after answering a 5-minute political questionnaire. Traffic to my campaign soared, since the site boasts 43 million users. There are nearly 1900 FEC registered 2016 US presidential candidates, but only eight of us still running have matching profiles on ISideWith.
It highlights a truth about US politics—that running for president is broadly a contest of media. And if anyone doubts this, the case in point is Donald Trump. If you can regularly and prominently get into the major media, you can be a contender for president. If you can't, then no one knows who you are—even if you have the best ideas or experience out there.
In October 2014, when I formed the science and tech-focused Transhumanist Party and began my run as a presidential candidate, I was quite naïve. I imagined I'd waltz into the American political scene, get my name on a bunch of state ballots, and make a legitimate run for the White House. I never expected to win, but I believed I could challenge and possibly change a widely criticized political system.
I was wrong. The system is nearly impenetrable, bound by rules designed decades and even centuries ago. Those rules are specifically made to keep radicals like me out—even if the two major party candidates are markedly disliked, as they are this cycle. For starters, it takes many millions of dollars to get on crucial state ballots, like my home state of California, where I am neither on the ballot or even a write-in. Those millions of dollars must pay for an army of staffers who peddle door to door to gain the approximately 880,000 signatures needed for an independent to gain ballot access to all 50 states. And getting signatures supporting an unorthodox transhumanist candidate like myself is even more difficult. It can range from $3 to $10 a signature.
To make this crystal clear, let's consider the case of the Libertarian Party, the third largest political party in America. For the first time since 1996, the party's candidate, former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, will be on the ballot in all 50 states. Twenty years is a long time for Libertarians to wait to finally be on all the ballots again. It won't matter much though in terms of votes, since the Clinton and Trump campaigns have received at least as much as 25 times the amount in campaign contributions as Johnson—and I've learned that running for president is largely a matter of resources, not leadership or even charisma.
With such overwhelming odds against my candidacy and tiny political party from the start, I chose to bypass the battle to get on state ballots and instead focus using media to move the transhumanism movement ahead. After all, only very rarely have third parties in America affected the outcome of the elections anyway. Like it or not, you are stuck with an elephant or a donkey-headed leader.
The good news, though, is the internet is making a run for the presidency a good way to get attention for a cause like transhumanism. It may only take five minutes to file a candidacy form with the FEC to run for US president, but the legitimacy in many people's minds is real. Some candidates out there are using this for real good for the country, like the Nutrition Party and its candidate Rod Silva, which is trying to improve the way America eats. Or the Marijuana Party, which wants to legalize pot and end the asinine War on Drugs.
I've been honored to watch transhumanism grow a lot under my candidacy. My main goal all along has been to tell the world that science and technological innovation is coming far more quickly than ever before, and as a nation, we must answer to it with practical and forward-thinking policies. If we don't, it could lead to increased inequality, a blatantly dystopian future, and a severe planetary environmental crisis.
Take the case of genetic editing. China is leading the charge to create designer babies with the tech—including possibly augmenting intelligence and strength—but Clinton and Trump won't touch the subject, instead focusing on sexual harassment and Emailgate. How will they feel in two decades when a new generation of Chinese babies are genetically smarter or stronger than Americans?
Nowhere is the travesty of American politics more clear than in the 2016 presidential debates. Not one major question on climate change, despite it being a huge worry on most everyone's mind. Also, not one question on artificial intelligence, even though my consulting with the US Navy confirms it's one of the most important national security issues of the 21st Century.
On October 19, along with Gary Johnson, Jill Stein, and Evan McMullin, I participated in an online ISideWith debate, where we all addressed the same questions Trump and Clinton were thrown by Chris Wallace in the third debate in real time. It astounded me that no science and technology questions were addressed. Nothing has or will affect the American people more than science and technology. The global average life expectancy has doubled since the start of the last century, and I think it might double again in the next 25 years—dramatically affecting social security, welfare, and healthcare. The internet gave us instant communication in all the corners of the world with all people—making new voting methods possible. And robots are poised to take all jobs by middle of this century—unemploying everyone (probably even the president).
These are not side issues. These are the most pressing concerns in politics—not whether Trump is misogynistic or Clinton lost emails.
For damn sake America, get it together! Those words are the result of my two years of campaigning: disbelief that sane people put up with this presidential game show bullshit. As I told Anonymous a few weeks ago when I interviewed on their podcast: The entire election shitshow is controlled by corporate people in boardrooms and the uber-wealthy. Everything from your media to your voting machines to the shoes you wear to walk outside to vote is part of their creation. You are being led by leaders you dislike and becoming people you don't want to be. That's what American politics has come to. And we all let it happen.
Outside of crowdfunding my Immortality Bus, I have not taken a penny in donations for my presidential campaign. I've made it this way because you can't have honest elections and big money together. On the top of my list for how to make America truly great, is to totally reform campaign finance laws, so that no candidate has an advantage. The second thing to do is reform media coverage. There must be a way to bring minor candidates into the limelight—and not just to sell commercials for media conglomerates, but because candidates have good and new ideas.
Third—and this is a critical—we must include polling of all candidates. I've only been in one semi-poll, an iQuanti report based on Google Trends. It put me 4th in third party candidates. My campaign has been going on for over two full years, with debates, street protests, major media press interviews, etc. And I've only been in just one poll to base my success (or lack of success) on? No wonder the system doesn't change—no one's heard about me, even though I'm a regular journalist in the science and tech community. The government should get in the polling business to make sure third party candidates get regularly polled, so they don't spend all their time and resources trying to establish name recognition.
Finally, if there was one all-important systematic change I'd make to the election process, I'd implement a ranked voting system. This system would allow you to vote third party, but if the vote ended up being meaningless because it wouldn't affect the electoral outcome, it would then go to the next ranked candidate. Tens of millions of Americans dislike Clinton and Trump, but they feel they must vote for one candidate or the other because otherwise they believe their vote will be wasted. A ranked voting system eliminates that.
The 2016 election is not an anomaly. The hate, vitriol, and nausea many of us feel is real. America is a painfully divided nation, and without wide systematic changes in the election process, nothing will change. That change begins with a vote for parties and candidates outside of the two party monopoly America has become. The change also begins by realizing that America is a greedy blind corporate machine, and that like all corporations, the workers can fight back by striking, by protesting, and by making sure their might is felt.
Zoltan Istvan is a futurist, author of The Transhumanist Wager, and the 2016 Presidential candidate of the Transhumanist Party. He writes an occasional column for Motherboard in which he ruminates on the future beyond human ability.