amor mundi

Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Clinton Winning, White Guys Whining

Honestly, if you really just a more just and less corrupt world you should be organizing to get people in o ffice who will raise taxes on the rich and invest in social support for the precarious... leave the fixation on boring predictable rich and famous people hobnobbing together on the charity circuit to the gossip columnists where they belong.

Dance Unto Death

Christ, 51.

Monday, August 22, 2016

One. Wrong. Move.

Oh, dear. And it's not even September yet.

Facticity

Sunday, August 21, 2016

How Many Likes Does It Take To Get To The Summit of Techno-Pop?

The way tech-talkers follow me on twitter when I use their favorite words and then unfollow me a day later when they realize I use their favorite words critically is actually quite hilarious.

Fraudsters Aren't Fabulous

Tech billionaires like Thiel, Musk and Branson hawking immortality, robot gods and Martian escape hatches aren't glamorous Bond Villains, people, they're tacky techno-televangelists.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Let The Horse Race Commence!

Trump didn't apologize for ANYTHING and so, of course, pundits are acting as if he apologized for EVERYTHING.

The Utopium Conceit

Friday, August 19, 2016

Body Shaming Trump Is Trumpian Not Anti-Trumpian Politics

I admit with some shame that yesterday I had an initial guffaw at the naked Trump statues... but it didn't take long for me to feel uneasy and then gross and then frankly enraged about them. "Humiliating" Trump because he has an aging flabby body is hardly a relevant critique of him and policing unrealistic bodily norms through proliferating "unflattering" public Trump monuments seems obviously more damaging and constraining than liberating. I am disgusted by Trump's body shaming of other people, and I am disgusted by sexist attacks on HRC's appearance in particular... I don't think this is a matter of turnabout is fair play, I think it is about exacerbating an American disgust with the aging vulnerable "imperfect" body. This disgust is about self-hate and denial, and it is compensated by cruelty, conspicuous consumption, and acquiescence, all of which enable Trumpian politics. Leave it to self-described anarchists to imagine it is some radical intervention to notice that boastfulness is an expression of insecurity rather than confidence and then use that commonplace to police body norms in ways that fuel fascism.

Trump has all the best horcruxes.

Watch out for that one.

You aren't bold just because you're loud.

You hear that, Dale?

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Bunkers Without Their Guns

Upgraded and adapted from an exchange with Jim in the Moot:

He begins by quoting from the recent post, then goes down memory lane a bit:
Democracy's definitive insistence on accountable authority. . . is. . . misunderstood. . . by [those]. . who mis*identify* state forms with a violence that precedes and exceeds them. . .
Dale,

You wrote, more than 7 years ago,
Look, people, we know all this already. The Moral Majority was never a majority. Multiculturalists won the culture wars. . . America is becoming day by day by day an ever more diverse, secular, urban, pragmatic, convivial multiculture. Please make a note of it, get used to it, and act accordingly.

(via http://amormundi.blogspot.com/2009/03/america-is-diverse-secular-urban.html )
That may be true (particularly trend-wise), but unfortunately it seems that **most** of the folks in this country who are officially charged with pointing and discharging the state-sanctioned puff-bangs[*] against targets both domestic and foreign, puff-bangs ranging in size from hand-guns all the way up to nukes -- i.e., the cops and the military, are anything but "convivial multiculturalists".

As always, Jim's a good no-nonsense critic with a finely honed bullshit-detector, and with a dauntingly good memory! I replied:

"My point about those who mis-identify the state with violence was directed at anarchists. I am far from denying the vulnerability of law and policing to violence, abuse, and organized exploitation. I just think there is nothing anarchists add to such critiques that liberalism hasn't understood for centuries at this point, and that by focusing their ire at the state itself as the indispensable site of the most organized violence they fail to grasp that the state is also the indispensable site of the most organized non-violence.

"Nor am I unaware nor would I diminish the fact that there are bigots and dangerous characters in the military and in our police forces. How could anyone fail to grasp the reality of that problem at this point?

"But the visibility of abuses and the wide circulation of long-understood reform proposals to ameliorate these abuses are going to turn the tide. De-militarization of the police, community policing models, representative policing, continued de-patriarchization of the military (women and queers rising in the armed forces, recognition of and crackdowns on rape culture, etc.), ending the drug war, getting commonsense gun safety regulations, banning military style weapons and private arsenals, eliminating for-profit prisons, shifting budgetary priorities from jails to education and housing... all of this is in the wind now.

"Far from seeing a worsening here, I am hopeful. In part, demographic diversification and secularizing is the driver here (and of backlash-formations needless to say, as well) but the phenomenon I addressed years back in my posts about winning the culture wars is also connected to this. I still think I was right and think with every passing year the evidence and the resulting force of the American left's victories in the Culture Wars are more palpable.

"Of course, assholes will always be among us and assholes will asshole in their variously catastrophic ways. I just see this as a more hopeful than dreadful story. At any rate, it is something where there is work to be done where the work can make a difference for the better, and that is all anyone can really ask for. New problems will raise their ugly heads soon enough. Environmental racism and climate disruption is a big and growing worry for our remaining years, but the Archie Bunkers with guns are dying off into a more or less manageable marginality in the diversifying, secularizing, planetizing REAL Real America."

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Tim Kaine and a Star Trek Enterprise Made of Butter

Seen on Politico. You're welcome.

Readerly Confessions

My whole life long, from raw youth right up to my present half-century, I have experienced freedom most giddily in moments when I ignored a deadline to read or re-read a book entirely for pleasure.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Way We Live Now

The robot vacuum cleaner that spread dog shit over an entire apartment feels like the go-to metaphor for just about everything.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Democracy, Civitas, and the Rite To Have Rights; Or, Why I Will Not Relinquish Democratization To The Tech-Talkers Or Other Fauxvolutionaries

Saturday, August 13, 2016

American Scheme


Too much of American culture is simply an inability to distinguish optimism from fraud and liberty from cruelty.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Techbrofashionistas Acting Like Their Crappy Consumer Fandom Makes Them Sooper-Scientists...



Also, every futurologist.

Ru Paul: "I'm A Realist"


From E. Alex Jung's great Vulture interview with Emmy-nominated RuPaul: 

What do you think about what's going on with Donald Trump and the Republican Party?

When you break it down, this is about mankind moving forward and the people who are resisting that forward movement. When a butterfly makes a metamorphosis from being a caterpillar, there's a violent exchange between caterpillar and butterfly. And what we're witnessing is this violent exchange and a rejection of the movement forward. It's so uncanny, and it's so clear that that's what's happening, even as it relates to what's happening around the world, with these horrible tragedies. There are people who are rejecting the forward motion of mankind. And they don't want to be present for what's happening because they don't want to change, because change would mean they'd actually have to look at themselves and go, "Who am I? What am I? And how do I relate to this world?"

[snip]

What do you think about Hillary Clinton and the Democrats?

[Laughs.] I fucking love them. I have always loved them. And let me just say this: If you're a politician — not just in Washington but in business and industry, you have to be a politician — there are a lot of things that you have to do that you're not proud of. There are a lot of compromises you have to make because it means that you can get this other thing over here. And if you think that you can go to fucking Washington and be rainbows and butterflies the whole time, you're living in a fucking fantasy world. So now, having said that, think about what a female has to do with that: All of those compromises, all of that shit, double it by ten. And you get to understand who this woman is and how powerful, persuasive, brilliant, and resilient she is. Any female executive, anybody who has been put to the side -- women, blacks, gays -- for them to succeed in a white-male-dominated culture is an act of brilliance. Of resilience, of grit, of everything you can imagine. So, what do I think of Hillary? I think she's fucking awesome. Is she in bed with Wall Street? Goddammit, I should hope so! You've got to dance with the devil. So which of the horrible people do you want? That's more of the question. Do you want a pompous braggart who doesn't know anything about diplomacy? Or do you want a badass bitch who knows how to get shit done? That's really the question.

How would you describe your political ideology?

I'm a realist. Drag says, "This is all bullshit." Drag says, "You're playing a role, and I'm here to remind you: Don't get it twisted. I'm not buying it. I understand what's really real, and what's really hood, and I'm living my life that way." I see politics the same way. Everybody's playing a role. And don't try to make me believe that you are what you say you are. I can see behind that mask.

Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth. -- Oscar Wilde

There is no gender identity behind the expressions of gender... gender is performatively constituted by the very expresssions that are said to be its results. -- Judith Butler

I believe that telling our stories, first to ourselves and then to one another and the world, is a revolutionary act. It is an act that can be met with hostility, exclusion, and violence. It can also lead to love, understanding, transcendence, and community. I hope that my being real with you will help empower you to step into who you are and encourage you to share yourself with those around you. -- Janet Mock


Paper Books and Paper Ballots

It's not luddism, techbros, it's appropriate tech.

Skeptics Snared By Futurism

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Distributing "The Future" -- Re-Reading William Gibson's Aphorism

The future is already here, it's just not evenly distributed. -- William Gibson
I added a few more points after sleeping on this twitter-essaylet:

As usual, these observations turn out to owe rather more to Hannah Arendt than they do to William Gibson, but the provocation of the turn of phrase is his for good.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Governator Happened

The last election circus I lived through ended with goddamn Arnold Schwarzenegger as my governor.

Bewarable Technology Never Quite Fits.

Been a while since I pitched a futurological brickbat through your windoze.

Two Week's Warning...

...teaching resumes in two weeks, three courses this time around, one at Berkeley, two in the City, one grad, two undergrad... All of them are versions of courses I've taught before, but are crying out for radical re-thinks in places... Getting butterflies in my stomach already, and trying to brute force myself into a morning person (two of my courses demanding three hour lectures beginning at 9 am!) since in any extended time off I inevitably drift into becoming a person of the night, curled in the silent dark around a book till dawn, with Eric and the cat sleeping comfortably nearby...

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Reminder

Every time you are asked to trust a robot or algorithm with a decision you are actually being asked to trust programmers and owners you don't know to decide for you. Don't let technobabble distract you from the actual actors on stage.

ADDED (From the Moot to this post): The trigger for the posted observation was a headline that flitted by my twitter stream, "Should you trust a robot to decide who should live or die?" or something like that... and although the article was congenially skeptical and critical blah blah blah it seems to me the framing invests robots with agency/responsibility in a way that displaces the indispensable focus of critique away from the people who are responsible for the threats and problems at hand. It is only apparently critical when tech talkers take a break from the usual promotional/self-promotional aria of infantile wish-fulfillment fantasizing about robot gods solving all our problems for us to make a "faux balanced" disasterbatory gesture instead... on the other hand...! concerning bad robots or ubergoo robocalypse or whatever. Both positions occupy the hyperbolic space uniquely nurturing of futurological nonsense while distracting attention from... actual things actual computation actually does and the actual people who fund, code, maintain, own, use these actual things in problematic ways. Arguing with techno-transcendentalists hardened me against such rhetorical tactics, but it is interesting to observe the way mainstream corporate-military tech-talkers who might very well find transhumanists as hilarious as we do nonetheless replicate so many of the go-to strategies of hardcore robocultic interlocutors of yore...  

Monday, August 08, 2016

The Democratization of Expertise

Upgraded and adapted from the Moot to the post The Pathologization of Donald Trump is this interesting and possibly ongoing exchange between me and my friend (and long-time Friend-of-Blog) Jim Fehlinger. Those who decry my inability to debate those with whom I disagree without being disagreeable should note that these disagreements are pretty stark and yet the conversation seems to me pretty respectful and illuminating. No friendships were harmed in the making of this episode. (To understand the title of the post you have to read all the way through to the last paragraph, sorry not sorry.)


Hey if it's [he refers to profiling] good enough for the CIA, then surely it's good enough for public thrashing out for the sake of an informed electorate. We can only hope that idiosyncratic and poorly-supporter outliers, like Shkreli's (non-psychological) "diagnosis" of Hillary Clinton will be subject to the critical scrutiny and skepticism they deserve. That's all you can do, in the public forum of ideas. Declaring the whole subject "out of bounds", and shutting it down in the name of politeness, or "political correctness", or ideological squeamishness, isn't going to make the world a better place, IMHO. The risks of putting a madman into a position of power are too great, don't you think?

As I said at the beginning, Trump is demonstrably and repeatedly deceitful, reckless, bigoted and uninformed. I think the risks of putting a serially lying, intemperate, bigoted ignoramus into a position of power are too great. I don't see how anything is gained by non-experts "diagnosing" him from a distance as a "madman." ...I've indulged in this sort of thing here over the years all too often, I've called the GOP and the Robot Cult "crazytown" and "batshit crazy" and all the rest more times than I care to recall for all the good it did my arguments against them.

... Well, I myself have never, as far as I can recall, used the word "crazy". I prefer to use the precise clinical categories, and only when I really think they're applicable (rather than as a form of rhetorical hyperbole). ... 

Fair enough. As I said from the beginning, I have been convinced by reading and hearing from folks who have diagnosed conditions that the many stereotypes and errors circulating about mental illness and disability make glib recourse to the topic in discussing public figures contributes to their precarity. I guess I see why this seems like "political correctness" since it is about treating vulnerable people as actually real and their concerns as actually shared by us all, but it also seems one could frame this as an effort at straightforward correctness.

By the way, I am not too keen on the popular mythology of "profiling" as criminological typologies of The Criminal Mind... which seems to me to justify rather reactionary monsterization of menacing criminals as crime rates descend and is often stratified by racist and sexist prejudices that enable and rationalize police abuses. This is not a topic on which I am an expert, though, and it seems there are people of good will who focus on lots of competing facets of these practices.

Again, I do think there are moral judgments to be made about character in our politicians and in the upbringing of children and so on... I just think they should not masquerade as scientific or clinical diagnoses when they are not made by those with the credentials and context to offer them up. When it comes to the pathologization of public figures by non-experts who don't have relevant personal knowledge, I certainly have not "shut it down" or declared the topic "out of bounds" ...I have simply expressed some of the criticism and skepticism we both agree arguments should be subject to when they are offered up to public scrutiny. As I said, this is a practice I have long engaged in myself and have come to see as erroneous and damaging to vulnerable people who are already dealing with enough, so I hope any undue harshness will be seen as directed by me toward myself. I don't mean to seem disrespectful or judgmental about it.  


I guess we'll have to "agree to disagree" -- I doubt if either of us is going to change the other's point of view. As I mentioned earlier, though,the toothpaste is completely out of the tube on this (just search "narcissistic" or "borderline" on Google or YouTube). You may deplore this; I think it's a **good thing**, for people who need to know what the hell is going on with the difficult people they have to deal with

Well, clearly part of our dispute is the question whether amateur diagnoses of actually unknown celebrities helps anyone know "what the hell is going on" as a matter of fact -- and there are good reasons to think this enables some to abuse vulnerable people they think of as "difficult" when in fact that may simply be different in ways that should not matter or are better dealt with through good manners and a professional HR department in an organized workplace. But the topic is complex, no question.

This is actually a facet of a bigger issue -- the "democratization" of what, until the Web came into existence, were "professional secrets".

In terms of "toothpaste out of the tube" I agree this is a different and important issue. I personally think the democratization of expertise should be about making access to training and credentialization equitable and then assuring the exercise of expert authority is accountable rather than insulated from consequence. I think the wikileakification of resistance discourse overgeneralizes secrecy as the problem of power -- a view consistent with anarchist attitudes and principles actually avowed by many of the participants and admirers of these Anonymous-to-Assange would-be insurgents. I don't want to seem to deny the importance of anti-secrecy -- black budgets are unconstitutional for a reason (though few seem to care in practice) and proprietary knowledge production in the academy has facilitated its demolition (ditto) -- but just as I don't want to smash the state but to democratize it, I do not wish to smash expertise but make it accessible and accountable. I'm such a square.

Futurological Flattening


Sunday, August 07, 2016

Futurist Authority and the Toppling of the Ivory Tower

Upgraded and adapted from the Moot, my friend and friend-of-blog "JimF" quoted from a piece by "mathbabe," Cathy O'Neil, The Absurd Moral Authority of Futurism:
Yesterday one of my long-standing fears was confirmed: futurists are considered moral authorities... [A]n article entitled "Microsoft Pitches Technology That Can Read Facial Expressions at Political Rallies" ...described a new Microsoft product that is meant to be used at large events like the Superbowl, or a Trump rally, to discern “anger, contempt, fear, disgust, happiness, neutral, sadness or surprise” in the crowd. Spokesperson Kathryn Stack, when asked whether the tool could be used to identify dissidents or protesters, responded as follows: “I think that would be a question for a futurist, not a technologist.” Can we parse that a bit?. . . I’d like to point out that futurism is male dominated, almost entirely white, and almost entirely consists of Silicon Valley nerds. They spend their time arguing about the exact timing and nature of the singularity, whether we’ll live forever in bliss or we’ll live forever under the control of rampant and hostile AI. In particular, there’s no reason to imagine that they are well-versed in the history or in the rights of protesters or of political struggle.
Yeah, I read that piece when links to it deliriously proliferated on my twitter feed yesterday. Definitely I agree with her point about the profound staleness, paleness and maleness of the "discipline" of futurism. That's a point I used to hammer quite a bit here, years back, a critique that eventually condensed into the hard diamond of an aphorism: "The futurists have seen The Future... and it is a white penis." But apart from that important point, I would reiterate once again that futurism is best understood as a public relations and marketing genre masquerading as a kind of policy analysis or even analytic philosophy and that this, too, makes it utterly inapt as a source of guidance in public or personal deliberation. One might as well be guided by late-nite infomercials or televangelist scams. And I mean that analogy more literally than many people seem to realize. For the reasons why, and for the most concise but fully elaborated version of my critique of reactionary futurology, let me recommend, as usual, the piece published in Existenz: Posthuman Terrains and Futurological Discourses or, if your tastes run more to the polemical, either The Unbearable Stasis of Accelerating Change or An Open Letter to the Robot Cultists.

Setting all that aside, I would add that there are interlocking causes and contexts for the disastrous investment of the futurological with scientific and ethical authority when futurism is a pseudo-scientific moralism deserving nothing but rejection and ridicule. This is just a quick sketch, but among these contexts are: first, a general American anti-intellectualism coupled with privileged insulation that has fed serial dysfunctions of this kind throughout US history; second, the bankruptcy of Anglo-American analytic philosophy as a paradigm (futurology is in many ways the zombie apocalypse of that paradigm, I hear in "less wrong" and "existential-risk" the grunts of a discourse too dull to discern its death) after the eclipse of pragmatism and given the endless know-nothing reactionary assaults against the "postmodern relativism" and "politically correct multiculturalism" of continental thought; third, the breakdown of the academy as a source of reliable expertise in the grip of the neoliberal pincer attack of an ongoing looting, digitization, precarization of public higher education and the treatment of the profitably disinformational think-tank archipelago as an intellectually equivalent force to that embattled academy; fourth, the emergence of pseudo-disciplinary spaces like "bioethics" and "design" (and yes, "future studies" in their many variations, among these, if I may say so, too often "digital humanities") that rationalize tech sector abuses while pretending to autonomy from them, and so on.

ADDED: By the way, when I bemoan the looting and dismantlement of the academy this is not to say that I am unaware of or indifferent to the fact that the academy has never been an equitable or innocent space -- far from it. The academy has never been but should be a source of reliable and clearly communicated knowledge to help guide public deliberation over our shared problems as well as a space of intellectual exploration and provocation available to every interested citizen as well as an ongoing experimental space for practical, creative, critical conviviality, ramifying hopes, histories, strategies outward into our diverse secular republic and distressed planet. Such an Idea of the University remains urgently necessary even though it has never been realized and the ongoing demolition of the academy renders that realization ever more distant and tenuous. That is all that I am saying. The authority attaching to the deceptive and hyberbolic PR narratives of corporate-military futurism is just a symptom of the reactionary toppling of the ivory tower. Making debt-free higher education available to all, making knowledge production arising from the academy freely available to all, connecting intellectual life to worldly concerns and the academy to the community of which it is a part, protecting free inquiry and expressivity in the academy from the pressures, prejudices and parochialisms of elites, incumbents, and fashions would not just topple the ivory tower into a ruin but transform it into a beacon. 

Why The Weird Aversion To Press Conferences?

Why does everybody hate your hateful self? Why do you keep lying about how you destroyed America with your private e-mail server? Why does everybody hate your hateful self? Why do you keep lying about how you destroyed America with your private e-mail server? Why does everybody hate your hateful self? Why do you keep lying about how you destroyed America with your private e-mail server? Why does everybody hate your hateful self? Why do you keep lying about how you destroyed America with your private e-mail server? Why does everybody hate your hateful self? Why do you keep lying about how you destroyed America with your private e-mail server? Why does everybody hate your hateful self? Why do you keep lying about how you destroyed America with your private e-mail server? Why does everybody hate your hateful self? Why do you keep lying about how you destroyed America with your private e-mail server? Why does everybody hate your hateful self? Why do you keep lying about how you destroyed America with your private e-mail server? Why does everybody hate your hateful self? Why do you keep lying about how you destroyed America with your private e-mail server? Why does everybody hate your hateful self? Why do you keep lying about how you destroyed America with your private e-mail server? Why does everybody hate your hateful self? Why do you keep lying about how you destroyed America with your private e-mail server? Why does everybody hate your hateful self? Why do you keep lying about how you destroyed America with your private e-mail server? Why does everybody hate your hateful self? Why do you keep lying about how you destroyed America with your private e-mail server? Why does everybody hate your hateful self? Why do you keep lying about how you destroyed America with your private e-mail server? Why does everybody hate your hateful self? Why do you keep lying about how you destroyed America with your private e-mail server? Why does everybody hate your hateful self? Why do you keep lying about how you destroyed America with your private e-mail server? Why does everybody hate your hateful self? Why do you keep lying about how you destroyed America with your private e-mail server? Why does everybody hate your hateful self? Why do you keep lying about how you destroyed America with your private e-mail server?

Saturday, August 06, 2016

The Phony Radicalism of Presidential Politics

ADDED: It is also curious to observe those who grasp and affirm the force of this point as it pertains now in the context of the general election alternative of Clinton against Trump, but who did and do not grasp its pertinence in the context of the alternative, during the primary contest, of Clinton against Sanders.

To the extent that a presidential campaign is a public job interview rather than an occasion for fandoms to exhibit and enjoy the enthusiasms of membership, it seemed to me that Clinton was as obviously the better choice over Sanders as she is over Trump. As a democratic eco-socialist feminist anti-racist queer I always had quite a bit in common with the subculture of Bernie enthusiasts. Not to open old wounds, but I will admit that what seemed to me the too slow investment of his class politics with an intersectional critique of a kind that has to be foregrounded in any American-relevant class analysis, coupled with the campaign's early and ongoing dismissal of Obama coalition voters in the South, and then the abusive non-representative but noisy minority of racist, sexist brosocialists his campaign did little to discipline undermined my feelings of solidarity considerably, whatever our shared radicalism otherwise.

But for me the larger point is that I have simply never been particularly interested in treating the primary campaign as a symbolic space to harangue people about ideal outcomes and indulge in purity cabaret. (Admittedly, as a college lecturer by profession who teaches critical, political, and cultural theory to an audience greater and more abiding than I manage to reach in my online efforts I have a very real space in which to lecture and engage people about ideal outcomes, which is rare and very lucky for me.)

I view the presidential primary as a vetting of candidates mostly as a professional matter, to gauge their personal knowledge, flexibility, incisiveness, and thoughtfulness under pressure and in their more well-considered published positions as well as the fitness, diversity, reach, and pragmatic effectiveness of their campaigns as organizations. I don't think there is much of a contest on any of these grounds now -- nor then. HRC is politically to my right by all appearances, a bit more so than Bernie was but less so than her monsterologists and his sanctifiers would have it.

Be that as it may, HRC is a Democrat on the partisan left -- whatever my disagreements with and worries about her -- and to the extent that partisan reform politics and real-time stakeholder problem-solving politics are indispensable if inadequate to the work of progress toward sustainable equity-in-diversity, then HRC's elevation to the presidency (an actually-existing Constitutionally defined position in real governance whether you approve of it or not) is to be appreciated and her qualifications over her actually-available rivals to the position seem to me pretty obvious.

But... let's say your political focus is a larger or more radical one for which HRC remains a disturbing symptom. Let's say you have concerns about the ongoing anti-democratizing militarization of public life. Or let's say that you are worried about the ongoing consolidation of the unitary executive in the context of legislative dysfunction in the context of general partisan/geographic polarization in the context of the eclipse of white-racist patriarchal extractive-industrialism in the context of a diversifying, secularizing, planetizing America.

As it happens, I completely share such concerns. I've been writing about them here, not to mention discussing them in classrooms, for years. Nevertheless, I regard as incoherent at best and frivolous at worst the choice to express such concerns, let alone to pretend to do work to address them, primarily or even entirely through ineffectual and symbolic "presidential" politics, rather than educating and agitating to change understanding and laws at a local level while at once organizing for better representatives at the state and congressional levels.

The unitary executive won't be dismantled by the executive, especially so long as congressional obstructionism and dysfunction leaves fewer and fewer avenues available for functional governance but those smuggled through the war-making powers of the commander-in-chief wreathed in the terrifying mass-mediated glory of celebrity qua pater patria.

Similarly, the military-industrial complex won't be dismantled so long as war is profitable and Defense remains the primary space in which an assertively "market-based" economy stealthily does its economic planning. It sure would be nice if our congress-critters would actually take their responsibilities for war declarations and budgets seriously as presently they obviously do not, refusing even public debates and hence on-record stands on by-now generationally-ongoing and amplifying and ramifying military conflicts -- though the record is pretty dismal all around, it is worth noting that the Clinton's vice-presidential nominee has taken public stands on this issue -- and in the long term it is pretty obvious that it will be Congress and not the President who rectifies the dangerous unbalance in the separation of powers in a time of wars without end. As far as the executive is concerned, given the work of the cabinet, it seems that supplementation of belligerent military threats and actions with multilateral diplomacy and diversion of military spending into green investment to subsidize a green economy are both ways to aid in the likely multi-generational work to dis-inter democracy from the military-industrial complex.

Not to be unkind, but none of this involves the ineffectual tantrums (zOMG Impeach Obama!) in the face of real crimes and atrocities nor wish-fulfillment fantasies (Look, a "World Peace" Birdie!) of total spontaneous dis-invention or domestication of the armed services scarcely more realistic than levitating the Pentagon via meditation (much as I might approve of that gesture as a form of performance art or might enjoy participating in it as a form of partying) that pass too often for presidential politics.

It is worth noting that the Obama administration and HRC's tenure as Secretary of State engaged explicitly in both of these very efforts -- very imperfectly, convulsively, in the context of complex historical vicissitudes, making all the while many mistakes and committing what seem to me unacceptable and even criminal acts against civilians -- that is what HRC's "Smart Power" and "Green Superpower" rhetoric are all about, and they should be recognized and welcomed as such even as we remain enormously aware and critical about their implementation -- a criticism that should recognize the contexts at home and around the world pressuring, often beyond recognition, these efforts at implementation.

Again, I share such concerns but I insist that we recognize how long-term and compromised their effective address will be as a matter of fact. And since Americans are all beneficiaries of imperial war crimes and ongoing exploitation of manufactured precarity (from slavery to Native American genocide to the Monroe Doctrine to Pacific colonization to world war to military-backed globalization to "Tech"s digi-financial fraud and managed climate catastrophism) the fraught complexity and infuriating pace of this necessary address means that we are and will remain complicit in horrors hard to square with a sense of self we can live with -- and this in turn will invite denialisms that amount to complacent acquiescence to evil and ineffectual perfectionisms that amount to pre-emptive surrender to evil. It is not enough to see clearly what is wrong, one has to do something about what is wrong with the tools at hand and the tools that can be made, for as long as it actually takes to do it, however hard it is, however heartbreaking.

Whether or not you approve some notion of revolutionary politics as the right level to pitch collective efforts to make historical change adequate to our shared problems, it should not be that difficult to recognize that anybody calling a presidential election, let alone a primary contest over a party presidential nomination, a "Revolution" is peddling embarrassing nonsense. To fall for a revolutionary marketing of partisan politics is hard to distinguish from falling for a revolutionary marketing of a soft drink or handheld app: It is a recipe for disappointments accumulating into disaster.

Don't choose a political candidate so you can wear a tee shirt that makes you feel like you are the Revolution, choose a political candidate who can do the job on offer in a way that is most compatible with your values and understanding in the context of the limits of partisan governance such as they are. And if your values and understanding cannot be compassed within the present limits of partisan governance, then do not confine your politics to making choices constrained by those limits, supplement (and I do say supplement, not substitute, because that which is inadequate may still be indispensable) those politics with education, agitation, organization, expression to change the terrain of the possible and important in which legislation plays out. Let partisan politics do the work that partisan politics can do, participate in partisan politics to facilitate its best work... and then do more.

The Pathologization of Donald Trump

ADDED: None of this is to deny that Trump (or me, for that matter) is clinically diagnosable nor that were he so diagnosed this would be relevant to his professional qualification for the presidency (that would depend on the diagnosis), but only to notice that nobody diagnosing Trump to disqualify him has, as far as I can see, both the qualifications and the therapeutic context to be doing so. Also, I do think that there are character, temperament, and moral standard tests for the presidency that are actually being expressed through some of these pathologizations and I may agree with the substance of those assessments were they translated back into terms of character, temperament, and moral standards. It is hard to say because the discourse of pathologization itself muddied the assessments, even while the scientificity and clinical neutrality of the form of the discourse is deployed precisely to produce an aura of clarity and objectivity where contestation and subjectivity are palpably in play. One thing that is clear is that there are lots of people living with diagnosed conditions who are widely misunderstood and vulnerable to mistreatment and it is easy to see how they are hurt by a national dialogue ridiculing Donald Trump as a crazy man when it should be quite enough to point out instead that he is a bigoted, belligerent, bullying, breathtakingly ignorant man incapable of doing the difficult job he is applying for and in fact actively disdainful of most of the people in whose name he would be doing that job.

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Sexism and the Hillary Monster

You can despise Hillary Clinton because you think she will be too hawkish in her foreign policy or too corporatist in her domestic policy. I have been an unambiguous HRC supporter this whole election who has worries on both of these scores myself. I just don't personally think she was demonstrably more of either of these than Saint Bernie Sanders if one paid attention to pesky things like published positions or, you know, voting records. And I cannot for the life of me see how anybody in their right mind could find in such assessments a comparative justification for a vote for the palpably unhinged, pathologically lying, grotesquely belligerent, horrifically cruel, unapologetically bigoted, worrisomely authoritarian Donald Trump or any enabling of his possible ascension to the most powerful position on earth by sitting out this election. But setting all that aside for the moment -- for those capable of setting aside the Hillary Monster at all and its attendant derangements, which is a different thing from legitimate critiques and discomforts -- it does seems that a person of the barest feminist conviction or even basic fair-mindedness will admit and abhor the flabbergasting and infuriating extent to which the HRC mythos as "unlikable" and "untrustworthy" has been shaped by assumptions and frames that are unambiguously sexist.

Futurology Is Crappy Late-Nite Infomercials As Religion

Upgraded and adapted from an exchange with my friend JimF in the Moot, this paragraph dips into the anti-futurological well that has been the life of this blog for over twelve years by now, themes which have been eclipsed for nearly a year by an idiotically annoying primary contest and the GOP hijacking by killer clown Donald Trump (in the context of a distressing illness I don't really talk about very much but which has been rather preoccupying). 

I must say one of my favorite futurological genres -- it usually fancies itself deeply Philosophical (you can feel the capital letter) or, you know, "bioethical" -- consists of some extended wish-fulfillment fantasizing but prefaced by stern and Very Serious admonitions of the form: "many think that having magical powers, wealth beyond the dreams of avarice, or eternal youth would be terrible, but I bravely insist these daydreams would be awesome." These brave slayings of "naysaying" dragons do a kind of meta-marketing double-duty: investing the corrupt, sclerotic, fraudulent, unsustainable, predatory for-profit status quo with avid emancipatory fire while at once investing the compulsorily cheerful, drearily dull day-dreamer with the presumably daring, can-do, go-getterific zeal of the champion of our age, the entrepreneurial innovator and/or Thought Leader, that stale, pale, male exemplar of upward fail. Needless to say, this daring adolescent onanistic PR exercise is usually coupled with a selective skimming from some highly qualified and incompletely understood research result which is thereupon amplified beyond recognition, re-narrativized as a stepping along the road to some techno-transcendental aspiration, and then slapped with a prediction (cheap sustainable superabundance, cures to all diseases including "aging as a disease," artificial super-intelligence, total control of matter) with an arrival-time snugly close-enough-to-tap-into-greed too-distant-to-demand-accountability, say, In! Twenty! Years! Although this entirely content-free advertorial ritual offers up zero scientific merit, policy substance, theoretical insight, pedagogical clarity, or progressive change to point out any of these dimensions of the scam is to invite charges of negativity, luddism, post-modern relativism, political correctness or, hilariously enough, hostility to science.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

More Proof We Live in the Mirror Universe

My bestlife will be forever unavailable to me because Joseph Schmidt cannabis infused truffles don't exist in this timeline.

William Burroughs On Peter Thiel

What follows are the first paragraphs of a short story, provocative essay, philosophical reflection, string of vaudevillian bits by William Burroughs entitled "Immortality."

The landscape of this piece is populated with figures from b-science fiction flicks and disintegrating paperbacks glimpsed in fragments by insomniacs staring at screens and reading in bathtubs: vampires, clone armies, mad scientists, time travelers, dream assassins... The whole hellish hallucination, a snapshot of the American cultural imaginary deployed as a wrench in the works, is a triptych: It begins with a condemnation of capitalism as a pyramid of pyramid schemes rationalizing evil predation (there are vampires everywhere in this section), goes on to declare that the paranoid defense of a false and facile notion of coherent selfhood drives the possessiveness that enables this predation and fraud (clones throng this section), and concludes by proposing an embrace of open futurity against parochial PR projections of the future that foreclose empathy and possibility (time and space travelers take the stage here).

This concluding proposal -- which Burroughs identifies with an embrace of "the magical universe" in which beliefs are permanently susceptible to refiguration and warranted not only by the powers they can confer of prediction and control but by the ways in which they can be invested with meaning, beauty, solidarity otherwise -- is close kin with Nietzsche's proposal of philosophical truth-telling as an affirmation that resists ressentiment, just as the deconstruction of self in the second part of the piece aligns with the moral project of the Freudian unconscious, just as the jeremiad against selfish exploitation with which the piece begins (and which is excerpted below) is nicely illustrative of themes in Marx. I assign this piece in my undergraduate Critical Theory survey course both at the San Francisco Art Institute and at UC Berkeley -- a course which makes the argument that Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud are three threshold figures taking us from the philosophical life of the mind and its contemptus mundi to the post-philosophical project of critical theory in which, in the Marxian phrase, "the point is to change it."

I think I have read and taught this piece by now something like thirty or forty times and I think it one of Burroughs' great aesthetic accomplishments. It is so short that I usually begin my lecture by simply reading the story like some demented grandfather in an armchair at a sick child's bedside. It takes about fifteen minutes or so. In my lecture I regularly go on to pair it with excerpts from another short piece by Burroughs "On Coincidence," which provides helpful elaborations on its themes, and of course poses new perplexities too. Both pieces are anthologized in a collection called The Adding Machine. It surely goes without saying, but I will add that there is much more happening in the piece than I have mentioned, including quite a lot of mischief designed to nudge some readers into a state somewhere between paranoia and serendipity while cruelly reading for filth those who cannot accompany him on the journey.

Anyway, I also think the piece gets to something profoundly true and profoundly hilarious about the evil, if one is inclined to put it that way, of Peter Thiel and the current brouhaha over plutocratic parasitic blood transfusion as a route to techno-immortality. Long-time readers of the blog know, of course, that I have been ridiculing and rampaging against the anti-democratic robocultic Thiel for years. Those who are interested should click on "The Superlative Summary" on the sidebar and scroll down to the entry "Peter Thiel" for a taste of what I mean (the aftertaste, I warn you, is highly unpleasant).
"To me the only success, the only greatness, is immortality." -- James Dean, quoted in James Dean: The Mutant King, by David Dalton
The colonel beams at the crowd . . . pomaded, manicured, he wears the satisfied expression of one who has just sold the widow a fraudulent peach orchard. "Folks, we're here to sell the only thing worth selling or worth buying and that's immortality. Now here is the simplest solution and well on the way. Just replace the worn - out parts and keep the old heap on the road indefinitely.
"As transplant techniques are perfected and refined, the age -- old dream of immortality is now within the grasp of mankind. But who is to decide out of a million applicants for the same heart? There simply aren't enough parts to go around. You need the job lot once a year to save 20 percent, folks. Big executives use a heart a month just as regular as clockwork. Warlords, paying off their soldiers in livers and kidneys and genitals, depopulate whole a reas. Vast hospital cities cover the land; the air -- conditioned hospital palaces of the rich radiate out to field hospitals and open -- air operating booths.
The poor are rising in mobs. They are attacking government warehouses where the precious parts are stored. Everyone who can afford it has dogs and guards to protect himself from roving bands of parts hunters, like the dreaded Wild Doctors, who operate on each other after the battle, cutting the warm quivering parts from the dead and dying. Cut-and-grab me n dart out of doorways and hack out a kidney with a few expert strokes of their four-inch scalpels. People have lost all shame. Here's a man who sold his daughter's last kidney to buy himself a new groin -- appears on TV to appeal for funds to buy little Sally an artificial kidney and give her this last Christmas. On his arm is a curvaceous blond known apparently as Bubbles. She calls him Long John; now isn't that cute?
A flourishing black market in parts grows up i n the gutted cities devastated by parts riots. In terrible slums, scenes from Brueghel and Bosch are reenacted; misshapen masses of rotten scar tissue crawling with maggots supported on crutches and cans, in wheel-chairs and carts. Brutal-as-butchers practitioners operate without anesthetic in open-air booths surrounded by their bloody knives and saws.
The poor wait in parts lines for diseased genitals, a cancerous lung, a cirrhotic liver. They crawl towards the operating booths holding forth nameless thin gs in bottles that they think are usable parts. Shameless swindlers who buy up operating garbage in job lots prey on the unwary.
And here is Mr. Rich Parts. He is three hundred years old. He is still subject to accidental death, and the mere thought of it throws him into paroxysms of idiot terror. For days he cowers in his bunker, two hundred feet down in solid rock, food for fifty years. A trip from one city to another requires months of sifting and checking computerized plans and alternate routes to avoid the possibility of an accident. His idiotic cowardice knows no bounds. There he sits, looking like a Chimu vase with a thick layer of smooth purple scar tissue. Encased as he is in this armor, his movements are slow and hydraulic. It takes him ten minute s to sit down. This layer gets thicker and thicker right down to the bone -- the doctors have to operate with power tools. So we leave Mr. Rich Parts and the picturesque parts people their monument, a mountain of scar tissue.
As L. Ron Hubbard, founder of scientology, said: "The rightest right a man could be would be to live infinitely wrong." I wrote "wrong" for "long" and the slip is significant -- for the means by which immortality is realized in science fiction, which will so on be science fact, are indeed infinitely wrong, the wrongest wrong a man can be, vampiric or worse.
Improved transplant techniques open the question whether the ego itself could be transplanted from one body to another, and the further question as to exactly where this entity resides. Here is Mr. Hart, a trillionaire dedicated to his personal immortality. Where is this thing called Mr. Hart? Precisely where, in the human nervous system, does this ugly death-sucking, death-dealing, death - fearing thing res ide? Science gives only a tentative answer: the "ego" seems to be located in the midbrain at the top of the head. "Well," he thinks, "couldn't we just scoop it out of a healthy youth, throw his in the garbage where it belongs, and slide in MEEEEEEEE?" So h e starts looking for a brain surgeon, a "scrambled egg" man, and he wants the best. When it comes to a short - order job old Doc Zeit is tops. He can switch eggs in an alley.
Mr. Hart embodies the competitive, acquisitive, success-minded spirit that formula ted American capitalism. The logical extension of this ugly spirit is criminal. Success is its own justification. He who succeeds deserves to succeed; he is RIGHT. The operation is a success. The doctors have discreetly withdrawn. When a man wakes up in a beautiful new body, he can flip out. It wouldn't pay to be a witness. Mr. Hart stands up and stretches luxuriously in his new body. He runs his hands over the lean young muscle where his potbelly used to be. All that remains of the donor is a blob of gray matter in a dish. Mr. Hart puts his hands on his hips and leans over the blob.
"And how wrong can you be? DEAD."
He spits on it and he spits ugly.
The final convulsions of a universe based on quantitative factors, like money, junk, and time, would seem to be at hand. The time approaches when no amount of money will buy anything and time itself will run out.
This is a parable of vampirism gone berserk. But all vampiric blueprints for immortality are wrong not only from the ethical standpoint. They are ultimately unworkable. In Space Vampires Colin Wilson speaks of benign vampires. Take a little, leave a little. But they always take more than they leave by the basic nature of the vampire process of inconspicuous but inexorable consumption. The vampire converts quality -- live blood, vitality, youth, talent -- into quantity -- food and time for himself. He perpetrates the most basic betrayal of the spirit, reducing all human dreams to his shit. And that's the wrongest wrong a man can be................