amor mundi

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

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Ode to the Smartest Guys In the Room

Can we never hope to curtail
how the stale, the pale, and the male
seem only upwardly to fail?

A Singular Fail

So, it looks like Transcendence will make back scarcely more than eleven of the over one hundred million bucks it took to make it. And the AI Daddy in Tech Heaven agitprop has indeed come in at fourth place behind the much cheaper Sky Daddy in Cloud Heaven agitprop of Heaven Is For Real. Reviews and word of mouth have pronounced the flick a stinker -- at any rate that's the word outside the hypenotized robocultic techbro circles responsible for making anybody think this techno-transcendental fart would smell like a rose and who still declare the film original and ambitious though it is palpably neither. Of course, I expected this tired-ass ponderous pseudo-intellectual clap-trap to fail as it deserved to do, but did not expect so catastrophic a fail, I must say, as the numbers for the opening weekend are weaker than those managed by in years past by epic bombs in the genre like Stealth and The Island. Superlative futurology makes for shitty thought -- do you hear me Stanford and Oxford Universities? Superlative futurology makes for shitty business plans -- do you hear me Google? Superlative futurology makes for shitty entertainments -- do you hear me now, Warner Brothers?

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Why Does Justice Scalia Hate America?

Hope it was snark, else so much for the law and order party:
"Perhaps you should revolt." -- Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, quoted by the Knoxville News Sentinel, to a law school student who questioned the constitutionality of the federal income tax.
Yeah, I know they were never really anything but the law means following my orders party.

Salon Calls Transcendence's Bluff

Andrew O'Hehir's review of Transcendence in Salon is smart and snarky and generally splendid:
“Transcendence” is a moronic stew of competing impulses -- bad science meets bad sociology meets bad theology — in which it’s hard to say who looks worse: The naïve techno-boosters like Depp’s Dr. Will Caster (an Ayn Rand character name if ever there was one), wearing round spectacles and spouting clichés about the coming man-machine “singularity” apparently mined from Wired magazine in 1999 [or just as likely, I'm sorry to say, overheard at Google ten minutes ago --d], or the small-minded Luddite reactionaries of the so-called underground resistance, conducting KGB-style assassination campaigns against their enemies... I’m sorry, but “Let’s use machines to cure cancer, as long as there’s no downside” is barely even a thought or a wish, and it’s certainly not a philosophy. Do Pfister and screenwriter Jack Paglen actually believe that there’s some constituency of DIY cord-cutter radical-skeptic types with funny hair who are dead set against medical technology? I’m pretty sure the answer is no, which brings us back to the parsimonious explanation for “Transcendence”: Pfister, who has finally gotten a turn in the director’s chair after many years as Christopher Nolan’s cinematographer, is one of those movie-industry people who is really good at the technical side of the job but maybe not, you know, all that much of a candidate for the chair in Heidegger studies or whatever. Pfister’s former boss, on the other hand, is a dark genius when it comes to infusing his sensory-overload cinema with complicated subtext, with at least a somewhat convincing simulation of depth and ambiguity. (Nolan would never have touched this screenplay with a 50-foot robotic arm.) Actually, no, wait. That sounds like I’m accusing Pfister of being a dumbass, which is totally not the point. You don’t have to be a book-learnin’ intellectual with an expensive education to be an important filmmaker, far from it... Wally Pfister is smart enough to understand, perhaps not quite consciously, that times have changed and the ideological task is now different. (Spoiler alert, this paragraph!) “Transcendence” is constructed to signal an engagement with supposedly important issues, but under the surface it delivers a familiar narrative of gender norms -- the abusive, controlling husband and the hysterical doormat wife -- mixed with a message of militant conformism: If only those crazy radicals hadn’t shot Will Caster with a radioactive bullet, his magic sentient computer would have scrubbed all the bad chemicals from the air and water, cloned the passenger pigeon and restored sight to the blind. Since it’s evidently a very short step from turning off your smartphone to protesting against animal experimentation to psychotic acts of violence, you’re better off sticking with your defined role of spectatorship and consumption and paying no attention to the men behind the curtain.
There is a lot that speaks to me personally in later paragraphs that take a delightful turn to Adorno and Horkheimer, and I do encourage everybody to follow the link for the whole thing, but I also think the excerpt above has both the funniest and most poignant bits. That Transcendence's totally tired and too-prevailing "tech culture" conceits are actually profoundly anti-intellectual and politically reactionary is something that still isn't said enough or understood enough and it matters enormously.

io9 Has the Transcendence Sadz

Everybody knows now that Transcendence has tanked. Crappy movies flop all the time, but this is hardly a tragedy in the larger scheme of the things, except possibly for investors, any more than the fact that equally crappy movies often make hundreds of millions of dollars. That is why it is so very strange to read in io9 the weepy dashed hope declarations of Charlie Jane Anders about the failure of the film -- "What went wrong" she wails in her opening sentence, "it's really sad." She goes on to insist, "you really have to respect Transcendence's ambition." Must we, despite its triteness, clunkiness, and abject failures? With a stamp of the foot she declares of this obviously terrible turd, "it's not... a terrible film," but rather desperately, "it's just not great, and it's not goofy enough to be just fun." Mm hm, it sucked so much and in such slow-witted slow-motion it cannot even manage to be campy, yes, we get it.

Anders bemoans not only the failure of this dumb b-movie but curiously more than that. Her opening wail "What went wrong?" culminates in the enormously odd further question, "Why did the A.I. revolution fail?" Would the success of the film somehow have contributed to the success of the latter "revolution" in some way? And is it really the failure of the latter "revolution" that makes the failure of just another facile (in)action film so very "really sad"? It is truly strange the lengths to which Anders goes to blame the failure of the film on anything she can think of apart from its dumb dull dishrag of a premise. Of the premise itself she insists instead -- even as she contemplates the spectacle of total shit eventuating from it -- on its "timeliness" and its "ambition."

When Anders declares "timely" the notions of a superintelligent computer and of consciousness uploading at the heart of this stinker can she possibly mean to propose that these ideas are new? They are not. That they are soon to be accomplished in reality? They are not. That they even make sense? They do not.

As a fan of science fiction can she really not effortlessly reel off hundreds upon hundreds of speculative stories and television episodes and movies that took up these conceits? Mind you, some of these are quite classic, indispensable parts of the canon. But it has been a hell of a long time since anybody managed to do anything new along these lines, and only rarely do these conceits yield anything good anymore. Rather desperately, Anders declares: "You could imagine a really fantastic movie around just the question of whether the copy of Will's consciousness in the machine is really Will or a facsimile. In fact, there are all sorts of fantastic questions about identity and personhood raised here and there, that the movie never quite sinks its teeth into."

There is not much of a meal there to "sink [your] teeth into" as far as I can see. I mean, truly? honestly? What would be destined to be so flipping fantastic about such a movie premise? I mean, you can spin a fine film around any hoary old conceit you like if your characters and your language are sufficiently evocative, but Anders actually doesn't seem to grasp what a whiskered vaudevillian bit the whole premise of the software copy versus the real self really is. And to propose that there is deeper thinking about "personhood" raised in this tired cliche is so wrongheaded that it actually frightens me a little. I know quite well the skewed priorities and credulous vacuity of full-on fulminating members of the various techno-transcendental Robot Cults who fall for eugenic transhumanoid and digi-utopian singularitarian flim-flammery, but if otherwise sensitive and imaginative people who are fed too steady a diet of tech-CEO press releases and pop-tech informercial techno-booster "journalism" find themselves mouthing much the same platitudes and aspirations this is a truly dangerous phenomenon we are observing. I mean, are you serious: What if we're all in a simulation, man, what is real, WHAT IS REAL? What if people can't tell the difference between you and something impersonating or representing you, man, who are you, WHO ARE YOU? Dude, deep! I'm so high right now.

You will forgive me if once again I refuse to pretend there is anything particularly profound in mistaking a picture of someone for that someone. You will forgive me if once again I refuse to pretend there is anything particularly profound in attributing what has always been the materially instantiated, biologically incarnated, multi-dimensional phenomenon of "intelligence" to artifacts exhibiting little to none of this reality and richness? You will forgive me if again I refuse to pretend there is anything particularly profound in repudiating a progressive understanding of present stakeholder struggle among a diversity of finite peers for an at once reductive and triumphalist futurological theology of destiny as an acquiescence to sooper-machines flexing their ever-amplifying muscles. These are not new ideas, these are not clever ideas, these are not inspiring ideas, these are not progressive ideas, these are tired, dumb, embarrassing, reactionary ideas... and that they are the leading ideas of so many of the self-declared "thought leaders" of the neoliberals of the corporate-military think-tanks or the libertechbrotarians of the SillyCon Valley is something not to be celebrated, but exposed, critiqued, and marginalized into comparative harmlessness.

So disconsolate is Anders in the face of the obvious intellectual, artistic, commercial, and popular failure of the Transcendence bomb that she loses herself for much of her review in an alternate reality in which the once-bandied-about now-mercifully-tabled notion of a Roland Emmerich summer spectacle called The Singularity, written with an intellectual assist from the Robocultic Pope Ray Kurzweil himself, would be the "pro-AI" film "we would be getting" instead of Transcendence. Of course, Emmerich's blockbuster would almost certainly have been a box-office dog as well, these dumb deluded notions do lend themselves to the special off-putting ponderousness and assholery of the Very Small swollen into Bloated Bigness -- a recognition that possibly saved Emmerich from wasting the time and money making it in the first place. Setting that aside, however, mark well the unabashed endorsement of techno-transcendental agitprop implied in Anders' politically portentious "pro-AI" formulation -- did Transcendence fail truly because it wasn't "pro-AI" enough? Can the faith ever fail or only be failed, after all? But think as well about that "we" who could, in a better world, be "getting" this "pro-AI" blockbuster instead of the turkey Transcendence. I will be generous and presume that Anders' "we" consists of the sf-fans who enjoy a good science fiction flick even if its premises are facile or fantastic, I will not dwell too long on the possibly present "we" of presumably fellow-faithful who, in the better world of The Future, pine to be uploaded as deathless, gorgeous, blissed-out angel avatars in Holodeck Heaven under the ministrations of a history-ending post-parental sooper-intelligent Robot God of loving grace and who are consoled in the present world of ignorance, error, frailty, and frustration by the deranging distractions of pseudo-scientific con-artistry and crass consumer acquiescence and infantile wish-fulfilment fantasies they rationalize as "Big Ideas" and "Serious Science."

The title of Anders' review is Transcendence Has Some Of The Dumbest Smart People We've Ever Seen. Given the review that follows, a more self-oblivious declaration can scarcely be imagined. After making lots of noise from the margins for decades, the Robot Cultists have been insinuating themselves into the boardrooms of big corporations like Google, established academic institutions like Oxford, and serious big-bucks entertainments like Warner Brothers lately. The transhumanists and singularitarians and techno-immortalists have long been a revealing symptom in an extreme (and extremely ridiculous) form of more prevailing elite technocratic and technno-utopian assumptions and aspirations, but the libertechbrotarians of corporate "tech culture" who have soaked this nonsense up and taken it literally are now putting real money and muscle into these idiotic visions. The failures we are about to witness -- but, worse, to which we will be subjected and then made to pay for and clean up after -- will be, I fully expect, quite something. From the Bomb to the dot.bomb to this big budget b-movie bomb there are many bombs to come. Grab your popcorn, the show won't be in the theater.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Teaching Day

It's Green Eats day in my Planetary Thinking and Environmental Justice course. Discussions of eating practices can turn out to be quite tense, even at nine in the morning, I find. Although I've been an ethical vegetarian for longer than some of my students have been alive by now, my own environmental politics and teaching tends to stress structural and regulatory interventions rather than individualized lifestyle choices like boutique eco-consumerism and the various vegetarian tribalisms, and yet these food questions turn out to be the obverse face of permaculture practices that have long seemed to me the best face of sustainable planetary civilization. Food justice politics takes us right back into the heart of environmental justice politics, food deserts right back into the crisis of unsustainable neoliberal/neoconservative over-urbanization, anti-vegetarian agitprop right back into eco-feminism, and so on. My graduate seminar is cancelled since this whole week has been given over to critiques of student studio work. And so I will be home a bit earlier than is usual for a Friday and may even have time to be annoyed by the world enough to blog something -- we'll see.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Millions Insured in Republican Heritage Foundation Romneycare Triumph!

As ACA enrollments swell past eight million -- not even counting, mind you, the millions and millions insured through the Medicaid expansion and young people staying on a parent's plan -- we approach that highly entertaining upcoming episode in which Republicans go from years of lying about, actively sabotaging, and voting over and over and over again for the full repeal of dreaded Obamacare to taking credit for the ACA, made all the more entertaining, no doubt, by the spectacle of pundits and Democrats enabling this utterly nonsensical contortion.

The World Future Society's Unfuturist (Me!) Is Back

I have republished and amplified a couple of snarky old posts about the flick Transcendence here for you to enjoy.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Oakland Is Not Fooled

Tweet the Heap: Of Sorites

On Twitteressays

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Queered Science


Cynthia Diaz Is Hunger Striking in the White House Front Yard Because ICE Attacked Her Mom in Her Front Yard

A young, courageous American citizen named Cynthia Diaz has been on a hunger strike in front of the White House to protest the ongoing detention -- in an awful under-regulated private-run prison, as Raul Reyes insists, let us be clear what "detention" is -- of her Mom as undocumented. She tells the traumatic story of the attack on her home by a gang of armed ICE agents and then talks about what she is doing now and how she is feeling. I suspect that most of the people who read this blog will already be well-informed and therefore unsatisfied about America's outrageous immigration politics, but it is going the take the organized anger of those who clearly see the faces and hear the voices of people like Cynthia Diaz who are going to force President Obama to change course via Executive Actions as all else fails, and stop the imprisonment and deportation of undocumented folks in mixed-status families or who have long histories in this country or who have been confined only through the commission of minor offenses, even as we remember that the largest and most stubborn obstacle to comprehensive immigration reform and a permanent end to this ongoing injustice and violence is the racism and cruelty of almost every elected Republican.

American Optimism

Whenever I get accused of pessimism I always take care to look where the guns are pointed.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Long Teaching Day

This morning, from nine to noon, back in the City, in my undergraduate Planetary Thinking and Environmental Justice course we are taking up digi-utopians, geo-engineers, and Viridians -- something of a pet topic with me, as you know, more or less my Futurology Against Ecology schtick -- and then later in the afternoon, from one to four, in my graduate survey of Critical Theory lecture we have arrived at Foucault, which means the carceral archipelago, docile bodies imprisoned by souls, incited to circumscribing self-creations via sexuality, addiction, vocation, and genocidal governmentality. Oh, what fun it is to ride!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

War Criminal Cute

I consider George W. Bush's now-famous, presumably "humanizing," painting practice perfectly continuous with his long-notorious, obviously cruel, incurious, dehumanizing nick-naming practice. Heh-heh-heh.

Afterlife Grudge Match

It's amusing that the saccharine "Heaven Is For Real" and techno-facile "Transcendence" are opening at the same time in movie theaters across America: the two films assume a number of shared essential assumptions and aspirations and enact a number of shared narrative tropes, and yet the faithful and the hopeful to whom these films are being pitched would little likely concede or be capable of conceiving these films as essentially similar at all. On a side note, I personally hope -- and somewhat expect -- both films to die speedily and soon and without much of an afterlife in the consumer hell of blu-ray bargain bins to console them, and for similar reasons.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014


Dwarves killed in Lothlorien were listed in official documents under the heading Galadriel Damage.

Oculus Grift

Turn the lights out, sit closer to your tee vee, and save your money.

Monday, April 07, 2014

The Future Is A Hell Of A Drug: io9 Has A New Manifesto

Annalee Newitz titled the original "Manifesto" defining the Mission of the io9 website Addicted to the Future. It is a curiously apt phrase. There is a very obvious and flatfooted way in which there is no such thing, here in the present, after all, as The Future. And as such one never arrives at The Future, but always only another present. But I have always taken pains to pressure this point further still, insisting that "futurity" is a characteristic of that always aborning present. I use the term futurity to describe the openness of the present onto the next present that arises out of the ineradicable diversity of stakeholders -- and the ineradicable diversity of their histories, hopes, ends, capacities, vantages -- sharing and making the present world. From such a perspective, "The Future" doesn't only not exist, but is a parochialism projected from within a present perspective that forecloses or seeks to foreclose that futurity, substituting for it a linear extrapolation or amplified incumbency. To be "addicted to the future" is to be addicted to the denial of the futurity in the present, it is to disavow the contingency of the present, to retreat into a presence that would abide and in so abiding deny the presence that is opening. I daresay such disavowals and retreats are sufficiently characteristic of addictions that one might declare an "addiction to the Future" a redundancy. Somewhat paradoxically, its parochialism, its reaction, its incumbency renders every futurism a retro-futurism (and not only in the sense Newitz admits, an appreciation of superannuated science fiction visions in the Gernsback Continuum).

"Good science fiction begins with the present," wrote Newitz, and she would have done well to dwell there. All great literature, and that includes the literature that is science fiction literature, is a comment on the quandaries and promises of the present and an effort to expand the diversity in presence we are capable of grasping as part of the present of which we are a part. When Newitz declares that "science fiction... [i]s the storytelling branch of prophesy" I would quibble with that "the" but I consider her larger point that poiesis is prophetic more important. But when Newitz opened up her manifesto warning that the world is "full of people who want to sell you cheap ways of seeing the future," she didn't make explicit the extent to which what tends to cheapen ways of taking up and taking on futurity is to misunderstand or, worse, deliberately misconstrue prophesy as a predictive rather than diagnostic genre -- a misunderstanding and misconstrual that has as one of its most conspicuous symptoms fetishistic references to "The Future."

The profete is in the original Greek an advocate, speaking as an intermediary from an absolutely idiosyncratic presence into the reception of the wider world, a fraught and fragile transaction every artist knows all too well. How very different the futurological pseudo-expert, circumscribing open futurity in the pretense of "trend-spotting," when
[c]ertainly there is no such thing as an historically agentic or otherwise autonomously forceful trend. Trends, let us say, are retroactive narrative constructions, and usually their retroactivity is falsely projected as if from the vantage of a non-existing superior height (as with fashion trends announced by fashion authorities) or from the future (which does not exist and is inhabited by no one at all)...
Is it any wonder that io9 has chosen as it tagline "We Come From the Future" as if "The Future" singularly and monolithically existed as a vantage from which to intimate "its" imminence in the present and bag the rest in advance for disposal?

In that original "Manifesto" Newitz promised "io9 [would be] the visionary watchdog who calls... charlatans on their shit." As attested to by their endless promotion of the work of transhumanoid, singularitarian, techno-immortalist, nano-cornucopiast, digi-utopian Robot Cultists indulging in techno-transcendental wish-fulfillment fantasies and celebratory fantasias about corporate-military elite-incumbents delivering happy gizmo-fetishizing consumers into Holodeck-Heaven or Techno-Treasure Caves or Sexy Hetbot Orgy Pits (and occasionally indulging in robocalyptic disasterbation fantasies for a bit of spice to the otherwise blandly bourgeois and infantile goldgunsgirls libertechbrotarian fare), io9 is a place where one comes to find charlatans peddling futurological shit more than getting called on it.

That io9 has found itself trapped in the gravity well of retro-futurism despite its awareness from the get-go that the futuristic is a graveyard of plutocratic patriarchal colonial cliches derives from its ambivalent embrace of the prophetic as the predictive, the speculative as financial speculation, futurity with "The Future" that is always given over to the marketing and promotional pseudo-science and outright fraud of market futures. It is easy to joke about "rapture fuckers" but The Future is a hell of a drug, and the marvelous raptures of sf fandoms are all too ready to rapture fuck you up if you fail to engage them critically.

I say all this as preface to talking about an updated "Manifesto" Newitz has posted today at io9, called -- promisingly, I would say -- Science Is Political. Such an assertion is absolutely indispensable, now as always, since the defense of science so often takes the form of demands that science "not be politicized" when in fact scientific practices of funding, publication, testing, application, education are thoroughly political, and hence what is needed is their progressive politicization not a fanciful de-politicization which amounts in practice either to a denialism about its political needs that cuts science off from necessary supporters or to an outright anti-politicization that enables elite incumbent norms and forms to stealthily define those politics clothed as neutralities immune from criticism. Or more specifically, as Newitz points out in the piece, "when science is under attack from many political and religious institutions, we can no longer afford to report on the latest research and call it a job well done. To advocate for science is to advocate for a political position, whether we like it or not." I would have to insist once again that techno-transcendental futurisms proliferate faith-based pseudo-scientific sub(cult)ures that are hard to square with "the defense of science" and that nobody who really claims to be defending the ideal of science as rational inquiry can afford to be indifferent to the forms of deception, hyperbole, scientism and pseudo-science, reductionism, triumphalism, reaction, obfuscation, oversimplification, eugenicism, fetishism, narcissism and (self-)promotion that suffuse corporate-military developmental policy discourses, tech company press releases, and pop-tech infomercial spectacles pretending to be journalism. Although I usually enjoy the multicultural literary and cultural criticism and ethnography in io9, otherwise the site endlessly exhibits the political pathologies of tech-talk rather than critically intervening in them.

It is worse than demoralizing that after insisting that science is political Newitz immediately evacuates her discourse of a political perspective, indulging in the usual "false equivalency" and "Middle Way" bullshit apologiae of hacks pretending they are not mouthpieces for the status quo: "Pro-science politics don't divide easily into conservative and liberal. Imagine, if you will, that people from all positions on the political spectrum came together to advocate for scientific research and education. Conservatives advocating for defense and agricultural innovations would rub shoulders with liberals pursuing sustainable energy and environmental reforms." A more cliched bit of genre fantasy could scarcely be imagined. It is true that, say, civic-minded progressives investing in medical treatments to relieve human suffering and militarist fascists dreaming of better bombs to obliterate their foes with will both have their reasons to keep certain laboratories well funded. To pretend that this provides a Royal Road to a science politics "beyond left and right" is the worst kind of nonsense, indeed it is a viewpoint that will almost always conduce to the reactionary politics of incumbent elites.

Newitz may think in pretending otherwise that she is taking a cue from the Donna Haraway who wrote (wisely and beautifully):
I am conscious of the odd perspective provided by my historical position — a PhD in biology for an Irish Catholic girl was made possible by Sputnik's impact on US national science-education policy. I have a body and mind as much constructed by the post-Second World War arms race and cold war as by the women's movements. There are more grounds for hope in focusing on the contradictory effects of politics designed to produce loyal American technocrats, which also produced large numbers of dissidents, than in focusing on the present defeats.
Of course, Haraway's point returns us to the open futurity of the present, but in so doing it does not pretend not to know who the dissidents are. She may be blaspheming, but the Manifesto (which Haraway has moved on from, by the way, in part because of facile blissed-out reactionary technophiliac appropriations of its formulations) remained "faithful to feminism, socialism, and materialism," that is to say, retained a critical vantage informed by real commitments. I daresay Newitz would like to say the same -- her readings of sf multiculture are invigorated by these values -- but it is hard to find those values in her rationalizations for transhumanoid eugenicists, DARPA militarists, and singularitarian financiers. You can't engage in a "quest to build a better tomorrow" without making choices about what is better -- equity or not, sustainability or not, diversity or not, violence or not. And you can't make and live with those choices without making enemies of many Newitz clearly wants to make nice with. By the way, Newitz didn't speak of A quest to build a better tomorrow, but of OUR quest to build a better tomorrow. Who is we, Annalee? I have a sinking suspicion it is the same "We" who want to pretend "We Come From The Future."

"Science" is not a monolith any more than "technology" is such a monolith: that both are practiced by a diversity of stakeholders in the ongoing scrum of historical struggle in ways that reflect the diversity of the situations and aspirations of those stakeholders means that there can be no such thing as a "pro-science" or "pro-technology" politics in general -- and that the designation of an "anti-science" or "anti-technology" politics always demands a greater specificity to become actually useful, too. It is commonplace for especially right-wing politics to clothe itself in presumably a-political or non-political or non-partisan neutralities and generalities. Market libertopians who advocate among the most conspicuously plutocratic authoritarian political philosophies imaginable love to declare themselves "beyond left and right" -- and it is not an accident that the corporate-military interests that identify most conspicuously with technodevelopmental dollars are suffused with presumably a-political daydreams of anti-democratizing elite technocratic decision making and "evolutionary" rationalizations for racist and sexist prejudices. Political progress is progress toward sustainable equity-in-diversity and technodevelopmental vicissitudes are rendered progressive only to the extent that their costs, risks, and benefits are equitably distributed to the diversity of their stakeholders in social struggle that rarely if ever has anything to do with the championing of Science or Technology in the abstract.

I come from -- and I come in -- the present. And what is wanted -- it seems to me -- is not to be "addicted to The Future" but to be engaged in the present. To engage in the interminable struggle to reconcile the ineradicably different aspirations of the diversity of stakeholders who share the present is to do politics, whether technoscientific or otherwise. And when we are dedicated and we are lucky in that struggle, to ensure that the costs, risks, and benefits of prosthetic/cultural change are sustainably and equitably distributed to the diversity of its stakeholders is to do the political work of building a better, more progressive world in the present opening onto the next present. I would like the think Newitz agrees with that -- and she may very well -- but if she does, she hasn't said it yet and io9 isn't demonstrating it otherwise.

"Republican-Extremism Denialism"

Joan Walsh has been really fun to read lately:
You’ve heard of climate denialism and science denialism on the right? Some liberals seem to suffer from Republican-extremism denialism. They can’t take in the extent of the GOP’s reliance on racial politics. And if they blame other liberals for their sins, for making things worse, it gives them a sense of control over their lives. If only MSNBC would stop crying racism, then… Then what? What would change? Would the Republican Party drop its opposition to anything President Obama supports? Would it stop pandering to a base that’s more than 90 percent white? Would it stop lying about Obama wanting to cut Medicare to fund Obamacare?

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Reich's Recipe

Robert Reich:
More than five years after Wall Street’s near meltdown the number of full-time workers is still less than it was in December 2007, yet the working-age population of the U.S. has increased by 13 million since then. This explains why so many people are still getting nowhere. Unemployment among those 18 to 29 is 11.4 percent, nearly double the national rate. Most companies continue to shed workers, cut wages, and horde their cash because they don’t have enough customers to warrant expansion. Why? The vast middle class and poor don’t have enough purchasing power, as 95 percent of the economy’s gains go to the top 1 percent. That's why we need to (1) cut taxes on average people (say, exempting the first $15,000 of income from Social Security taxes and making up the shortfall by taking the cap off income subject to it), (2) raise the minimum wage, (3) create jobs by repairing roads, bridges, ports, and much of the rest of our crumbling infrastructure, (4) add teachers and teacher’s aides to now over-crowded classrooms, and (5) create “green” jobs and a new WPA for the long-term unemployed. And pay for much of this by raising taxes on the top, closing tax loopholes for the rich, and ending corporate welfare.
I agree with both Reich's diagnosis and his recommendations. But in the piece offering up his recipe Reich declares that the recent "McCutcheon" decision demolishing yet another limit on Big Money in political campaigns is a crucial dot that connects to the rest of his account, and I think this is rather wrongheaded. It's not that I disagree that Big Money is anti-democratizing, of course, it's that I think it is quixotic to seek to circumvent Big Money through campaign finance reform efforts that expend enormous legislative and organizational time and energy and yet rarely to never pass and which Big Money always proceeds to circumvent in unexpected ways anyway.

I believe that Reich has already proposed the better remedy in delineating his recipe for ending the ongoing unemployment crisis and re-invigorating our sclerotic plutocratic economy: ameliorate wealth concentration with steeply more progressive taxes. If the richest of the rich have less money to spend they will have less to waste on political meddling, and if they have less chance at arriving at the super-rich stratospheric heights now available to them because expansive tax brackets await them there they will have less incentive to game the political system to accomplish this sociopathic feat in the first place.

Lowering taxes for those at the lower end of the income distribution while at once raising taxes on the rich and especially the richest of the rich, as Reich proposes, amplifies the steepness of this progressivity even more than simply adding brackets and raising the taxable cap for social security would, and I think this makes his proposal more firmly and fleetly democratizing still in its effects -- not to mention the fact that it should make such a proposal more a political winner for Democrats who would campaign on it.

But here's the thing. I happen to think that there are many -- and ever more -- professional economists and policy wonks who would agree with all of these proposals, and also many -- and ever more -- Democratic politicians who would find these proposals very congenial. This is true even in the dysfunctional political world of "Citizens United" and "McCutcheon."

While I recognize the obvious connection of the two, I think the problem Reich's Recipe faces (and hence the great majority of people who work for a living continue to face) is too many Republicans in Washington more than too much Big Money in Washington.

I am the last to deny the reality of Blue Dogs and Corporate Dems and DLC-types, but these are neither definitive nor ascendent in the Obama coalition (which would be the same coalition that elects Hillary Clinton and hence should shape the way she runs and then governs), and I believe that the Democratic Party we have rather than the Democratic Party we might wish for would still be good enough were it to prevail in the Executive and Legislative branches -- and hence soon enough also in the Judicial -- to implement Reich's proposals, or proposals very much in their spirit. Campaign finance reform is the wrong focus here and now, and in fact only squanders attention and energy needed elsewhere.

Nothing matters more right about now than keeping the Senate in the hands of Democrats and making gains in the House sufficient to enable enough scared scarred fractious undisciplined Republicans to be manipulated into voting with Democrats on a case by case basis to give the last two years of the Obama Presidency some room to stimulate the economy and provide more support for those who are precarious and suffering.

Even if, like me, you really want entirely public financed campaigns with the campaign season limited by law to a couple of months and you want universal voting by mail and a national election holiday and instant runoff voting to enable actually viable third parties and you want universal enfranchisement and registration of adults via the information gathering of a national single-payer healthcare administration, even if that is what you really want, then more -- and better -- Democrats is still the best shot you've got to get it. So, eyes on the ball, people.

Friday, April 04, 2014

The Best Campaign Finance Reform Would Be Soaking the Rich

I strongly endorse Alex Pareene's sentiments as people freak out over the Supreme Court's latest demolition of our already utterly ineffectual campaign finance limts:
So, if we think that money in politics is a problem; if we think it creates the appearance of corruption, alienates non-wealthy citizens from the democratic process, perverts incentives for politicians and candidates, and creates an unequal system in which the speech of the rich drowns out the speech of everyone else -- and all of those things are already the long-standing status quo -- we can no longer seek to address the problem by preventing money from flowing into politics. The Supreme Court is clearly not going to meet a new spending restriction that it likes any time soon. Instead of attempting to dictate how the wealthy spend their money, we are probably just going to have to take away their money. If the super-rich had less money, they would have less money to spend on campaigns and lobbying. And unlike speech, the government is very clearly allowed to take away people’s money. It’s in the Constitution and everything. I know it wasn’t that long ago that it also seemed obvious that the government could regulate political spending, but in this case the relevant constitutional authority is pretty clear and there is no room for a so-called originalist to justify a politically conservative reading of the text. Congress can tax income any way it pleases. There is one glaring problem with my plan, of course, which is that Congress is already captured by wealthy interests, and is not inclined to tax them. But all I’m saying is that would-be campaign finance reformers ought to give up on their lost cause and shift their energies toward confiscation and redistribution.
Adding more income tax brackets and taxing capital gains as income and increasing inheritance taxes and raising the taxable cap on income for social security and introducing a financial transaction tax are all things progressives should fight for with exactly the same stubborn incessance of wingnuts reflexively demanding tax cuts for the rich with the idiot fervor generation after generation. Raising taxes does a number of things at once -- funding through general welfare provision a legible scene of informed non-duressed consent to the terms of everyday commerce and enabling the equitable administration of common and public goods not least of these, but also providing a countervailing power to anti-democratizing concentrations of wealth that occur in any case in the rough and tumble of comparatively enterprising societies -- unlike the tax cut mantra of the right, the tax and spend mantra of the left actually does enable the majority of people who work for a living to have nice things and check those who would treat the majority like shit. Given our present and upcoming insanely neglected environmental crises there is about to be a whole hell of a lot of public infrastructure and support that needs paying for, I might add. But more to the point of this post, campaign finance laws almost never get passed at all and when they rarely do they inevitably yield unintended consequences and are inevitably gamed by the rich to their disproportionate benefit anyway. Politicians will never be paid as much as the people they hobnob with and lobbying will always be a lucrative investment, so the best check is a steeply progressive taxation that removes some of the temptation created by having piles of money around without competing luxuries to spend it on and eliminates extremes of wealth concentration as a pathologizing payoff lure.

Long Teaching Day

This morning in the City, nine to noon, in my undergraduate Planetary Thinking and Environmental Justice course, we are talking about "sustainable development" and "natural capitalism," most of the discourse of which I subsume under the rhetoric of "greenwashing" -- any tax cuts for technofixes proposal that refuses to recognize and criminalize the violence of environmental harm or the fraud of externalizations of environmental cost/risk or defers the nationalization/planetization of public goods amounts to a marketing apologia for elite-incumbent corporate-military interests. Later in the day, from one to four, in my graduate Introduction to Critical Theory lecture, we are continuing our turn to the biopolitical, with more Arendt and a whole lot of Fanon (Fanon's characterization of the political seems to me importantly continuous with the natality at the heart of Arendt's, making Arendt's rather ungenerous characterization of Fanon's remarks concerning violence especially curious). Although it has become more common since Agamben to set Arendt and Foucault side by side, and although one finds in, say, Paul Gilroy, an insistence that Fanon is a necessary corrective to Foucault (the catastrophe of colonial administration cannot be rationalized as disciplinarity), I treat Arendt, Fanon, and Foucault as equally indispensable to one another, as it were three legs of a biopolitical stool, and I think it is not yet commonplace to treat all three figures as integral to one another in this way, treating each as providing necessary supplements to both of the others and each as providing goads to expose the fatal limits in both the others in any proper taking up or taking on of the biopolitical turn.


Try not to let the way you're right distract you entirely from the ways you're wrong.

More Faulty Ivory Towers here.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Today's Random Wilde

Each class preaches the importance of those virtues it need not exercise. The rich harp on the value of thrift, the idle grow eloquent over the dignity of labour.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Dvorsky Celebrates Promising Transhuman Future of Corporate-Military Horrors

Robot Cultists pray to DARPA and Google to deliver them eternal life and sooper-powers and treasure piles in "The Future" Heaven, because... science!

As witness Dumb Dvorsky's latest undisguised unapologetic corporate-militarist agitprop in io9. "DARPA's commitment to cutting-edge innovation is unquestioned," Dvorsky hyperventilates like a motivational speaker cum circus barker as he directs his spotlight or his vapid PowerPoint flow-chart.

Among the ugly wish-fulfillment fantasies to which io9s favorite Robot Cultist gives full vent in today's exercise in idiocy is the transhumanism of "enhanced soldiers" to "maintain peak soldier abilities and then restore those abilities as soon as possible after an injury... includ[ing] advanced prosthetics (featuring mind-controlled limbs), neural interfaces, the ability to survive blood loss, and even neurotechnological solutions to treat psychological trauma such as PTSD." Tweak those bad fee fees away future sooper-killers! Yay, Future! Futurological used-car salesman Dvorsky lets us know, "DARPA has already made tremendous strides in this area." To be sure, George, to be sure, tremendous strides.

Shifting sects, our Robot Cultist has good news for the Singularitarians in the house (of worship), too: "DARPA is working on advanced robotics, an artificial human brain, next-gen robotic aircraft... and self-teaching computers." He quips "if anyone's going to build a recursively improving AI it's going to be DARPA," heh heh heh. Get that hack on the salesfloor, there's Big Thinking afoot here! If I've said it once, I've said it a million times, Moore's Law, Manifest Destiny, recursivity, adding more and more blades to your shaver, it doesn't matter, none of these are going to spit out an info-logo-digi-spirit-sooper-brain any more than an accumulating pile of sand grains (or abacuses) would, because intelligence isn't anything like what everybody who keeps saying such things and always being wrong about everything thinks it is. 

Dvorsky's celebration of "incredibly promising research areas" Creating A Transhuman Future (his words, "To Create A Transhuman Future," castigate me for misattribution, ad hominem, straw man caricature, eeevil luddism or deathism or whatever you want, click the link, read em and weep) is introduced by a bleak image of faceless robot soldiers in a landscape of ice and smoke with the Kremlin burning in the background -- how topical! Dvorsky's id would seem to be all over the place -- well, except that it never seems to land on anyplace very nice.

Given all this, I know I should have been well-prepared for the whole obscene lip-smacking contemplation of corporate-military mayhem that followed. And yet, when Dvorsky actually cited Star Trek's "To Seek Out New Life" as the heading of a section indulging dizzy daydreams of clone armies and weaponized plagues, I must admit he surprised me enough to make me want to ralph rather than merely ridicule.

If you follow the link to read this latest atrocity exhibit, do stay for the reader comments. It is impossible to know if the chirpy declarations are in earnest or parodies of reactionary futurological fulminations:
DARPA and Google are probably the two biggest proponents of transhumanizing technology and Digital Intelligence currently operating in the United States. Mainly because they're staffed by folks who understand that the "Singularity" is not an inevitable quasi-kinda/sorta "law" but a self-fulfilling prophecy. Both of them have shit-tonnes of money and want to use it to build a better future by actually putting in the R&D hours to make it happen.
Can do corporate-military techno-elites are coding the Robot God who will end history, because the techbros on staff understand! They're working even now to "build a better future" of remorseless sooper-solders and killing machines, just keep buying the products, consumers, let's "make it happen"!
I feel like capitalism makes the singularity almost inevitable. basically google is working on it now because they have the cash, but if they didn't then somewhere down the line as tech continued to develop via natural unstimulated means someone would eventually think "Hey, we've got all the necessary components for a cybernetic eyeball replacement, I bet people would pay for that."
Yeah, when you really think about it, to expect to upload your brain and live forever in Holodeck Heaven or wallow in a nano-magickal treasure cave in a robot body surrounded by sexy sexbots under the ministrations of a sooper-intelligent post-human post-parental Robot God of loving grace isn't implausible, really, but inevitable! Especially if we get out of the way of capitalism and, you know, let all the libertechbrotarian sooper-innovators and thought-leaders do their Fountainhead thing!
DARPA and Google should join forces and conquer the world.
Past as prologue?
I....wouldn't mind living in that future
So certain are you?

Old Soul: Souley Vegan Found To Be Located in Oakland's Oldest Building

[A] plain, one-story, unnamed building at 301 Broadway near Jack London Square, which now houses a vegan soul-food restaurant, appears to be the oldest building in Oakland and one of the oldest in the region.... The brick-and-plaster building dates from 1857, according to the city's tax assessment maps and a cultural heritage survey conducted in 1982. No other building in Oakland, and only a few in the Bay Area, survived from those days. The rest have burned, crumbled, rotted, collapsed or been razed. Even more astonishingly, 301 Broadway looks pretty much as it did in 1857. With the exception of indoor plumbing, electricity and an occasional fresh coat of paint, not much has been done to the building in 157 years... According to city records, it was built by Theophilide St. Germain and her husband, a French count, as a wine shop. They moved to Oakland in the early 1850s to invest in real estate in the wake of the Gold Rush... Rahman's mother opened Souley Vegan in 2009 after a successful run at the Grand Lake farmers' market, and now has a large following for her candied yams, black-eyed peas and tofu loaf with rosemary gravy. "Although I don't know," Rahman said Wednesday. "After hearing the building's history, I think we need to stock more wine."

Kitten Eidos