amor mundi

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

Saturday, November 22, 2014


Anything wearable is technology, so much of the work of “wearable technology” discourse is to deny most wearable technology is technology.

More Futurological Brickbats here.

Pass A Bill. That Is What Is Required. Who Cares How "Predictable" It Is?

Yes, of course it is predictable that Republicans will lie, obstruct, deny science, behave irresponsibly. Pundits keep acting as though Democrats should somehow circumvent predictable Republican misbehavior rather than calling the misbehavior misbehavior. The commentariat's emphasis on predictability excuses and enables this misbehavior. Even if it is nearly certain that the Republican House won't pass the Senate immigration bill, for example, it actually still matters more that they should and CAN still pass it.

Right and Left, Liberty and Freedom, Empty and Full, Fear and Love

The liberty of the libertarian right is an empty deception: its figure is empty space, its impossible project a control to compensate bottomless fear. The freedom of the democratic left is a public work: its figure is assembly, its interminable project enabling equity-in-diversity as an expression of love.

More Dispatches from Libertopia here.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Why People Who Are Introduced To Me Online Are Often Surprised When They Meet Me In Person

When I encounter an argument I try find something wrong with it. When I encounter a person I try to find something to like about them.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The President's Historic Immigration Speech In Case You Missed It

Waiting for iGun

Is the iGun a thing yet? Libertechbrotarians surely need the phone that is a gun. It could shoot video and bullets. It could be open source and open carry at once. Excellent for piratical state-smashing, entrepreneurial ass-kickery, keeping pregnant ladies and uppity negroes in line and other manly activities.

Perhaps I Should Deliver All My Lectures in Verse

Since all techs are texts,
less their specs than contexts
reveal their sense and substance.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Sue Lowden Was Obviously A Cultural Visionary

Everybody Knows That Already

When everybody already knows about a problem or injustice but nobody actually acts to solve it then nobody really knows it at all.

What, That Surprises You?

Actually, when I expose some outrageous or despicable act it's not because I think you will be "surprised" but because I hope you will act.

Digitopia Realized

The digital utopians crowed we were witnessing a transition from atoms to bits. What we are witnessing instead is a transition from owners to renters, from peers to debtors, from citizens to targets.

More Futurological Brickbats here.


Foresight arises from critical, empathetic, and scientific engagements in and with the present, while "predicting the future" is usually just a short-term sales pitch, a rationalization of abuses, or the reassurance of elites masquerading as foresight.

More Futurological Brickbats here.

Mirror, Mirror

Predicting the future mirrors glorifying the past. Both conduce more to reaction than progress.

More Futurological Brickbats here.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The "Idea Guys"

People love calling libertarians "Idea Guys." It pays to remember that every single libertarian "Idea" is an ad campaign to peddle plutocracy to majorities it harms.

More Dispatches from Libertopia here.

Reagan Ended the Conversation

Over at Salon, Thomas Frank interviews Rick Perlstein on the occasion of the publication of his book The Invisible Bridge, the third of his generally fine examinations of postwar Movement Conservatism (so far, he has focused on Goldwater, Nixon, and Reagan). Frank and Perlstein are longtime friends and I had a feeling that they got more out of their conversation than I could: there were too many underelaborated claims that stalled out or swerved away before making complete sense for me -- especially lots of split-second readings of pop culture references I remember a little differently from my own seventies upbringing, and some sweeping even swooping analogies from the Carter years to the Obama years that demanded much more detail. All this was probably due to the fact that they were taking up conversational threads from other times and places we weren't eavesdropping on that made them make sense for Frank and Perlstein themselves. Be all that as it may, I did stick around through to the end of the dialogue and I'm glad I did, because in the very last exchange of the (published) interview Perlstein said very clearly something I must have thought loosely, morosely a million times, and which I agree has been a terribly tragic thing for America:
Thomas Frank: Is anyone nostalgic for the ’70s?

Rick Perlstein: I am. And for the following reason: If you read my preface, I explain that Americans at the level of popular culture, at the level of grassroots politics, were thinking very hard about what it would mean to have a country they didn’t believe was God’s chosen nation. What would it mean to not be the world’s policeman? What would it mean to conserve our resources? What would it mean to not treat our presidents as if they were kings? That was happening! And the tragedy of Ronald Reagan most profoundly wasn’t policy -- although that was tragic enough -- but it was robbing America of that conversation. Every time a politician stands before a microphone and utters this useless, pathetic cliche that America is the greatest country ever to exist, he’s basically wiping away the possibility that we can really think critically about our problems and our prospects. And to me, that’s tragic.

Vicious Circle

Of course I grasp the many truths of our time that make people cynical. But I also grasp the truth that cynicism is always a prop of the status quo.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Techbros Are Not Geeks

I find it utterly bewildering that the public face of geekdom more and more seems to be becoming venture capitalist skim-scam operations, evopsycho douchebaggery, GamerGate bigots, the anti-intellectual MOOCification of the Academy, and googlediculous soopergenius "thought-leaders" peddling futurological flim-flam. It's bad enough that most "thought leaders" aren't leading anything, but it's pretty plain they aren't even thinking.

I mean, is the unwatchably stale Cheez Whiz of "The Big Bang Theory" really supposed to have its finger on the pulse of some vital cultural phenomenon? Arts and crafts fairs rebranded as Maker Faires, learning annex courses and funding pitches rebranded as TEDtalkfotainments, superfluous duplications of existing goods and services given websites and then branded as a New Economy Tech Explosion, and always everywhere the corporate logos all watching over with loving grace... didn't we already do this dreary disaster in the irrationally exuberant dot.bomb 90s?

Since when has geekdom been so crass, so dumb, so monotonal? Where did all the camp, all the weirdos, all the elven/vulcan-eared librarians, all the dirty fucking hippies go?

I hate to be the one to break it to anybody, but the Federation is a multicultural socialist democracy -- Star Fleet is where they send the stale pale males who can't quite get with the laid back abundance program of their better adjusted fellow citizens.

You know, when I was in High School the only people I could talk about Star Trek and Dune with were theater geeks, and Model UN nerds, and downlow feminists on the pom pom squad in my honors English classes who played dumb for boyfriends they liked to make fun of when they weren't making out with them. Later, my geeks were in Queer Nation, loved John Waters as much as Star Wars, and pored over dusty archives for years dissertating on medieval French poets.

Speaking only for myself, of course, but these days when I am really geeking out to my heart's content it probably means I am reading Nnedi Okorafor, listening to Janelle Monae, or watching a roundtable of social scientists and cultural critics and activists on Melissa Harris-Perry's show. Geekery has never looked or felt or wanted to me to be anything remotely like the white-racist patriarchal corporate-militarist yuppie scumbaggery that is now getting marketed as "geekery."

Of course, every cultural formation is diverse in ways that exceed any parochial vantage on it and is stratified by the legacies and agonies of historical placement. While they often, all too often, exhibited such frailties, for me, geeks have never been about greed or exclusion or reactionary politics or consumer conformity. For me, geeks have been about resisting the forces and forms with which they seem increasingly to be identified in public discourse. The New Geekdom is the old bleak-dumb.

I say, Kol-Ut-Shan! and die techbro scum! (A paradox, you say? Mine is a geekery that thrives on paradoxes.)

Thursday, November 13, 2014

My Twitter Essay on Education As Maintaining A Progressive Rhetorical Infrastructure

Here is what the essaylet looks like as a conventional paragraph:
Part of what progressive respect for education should entail is taking more seriously the maintenance of our rhetorical infrastructure. Progressive governance and social struggle are premised on a host of insights that may be more counterintuitive than we take them to be. It is true that national economies are not analogous to household economies, but is that obviously true? It is true that no individual succeeds in the absence of public investment and collective effort, but is that obviously true? It is true that the same risk-pooling that makes insurance profitable can make general welfare achievable, but is that obviously true? It is true that weather is not climate, but is that obviously true? It is true that saying humans and apes share a common ancestor is not the same as saying humans are descended from apes, but is that obviously true? It is true that outcomes rightly called racist or sexist result from inertial norms and unconscious biases in the absence of conspicuous animus, but is this obviously true? Reactionaries endlessly exploit the counterintuitive character of crucial progressive truths to organize popular resistance to progress. Progressives rarely exhibit an equal interest and investment in clarifying, reiterating, and rendering intuitive these crucial truths. Public discourse often takes up reactionary frames and narratives because progressives fail to maintain ongoing discursive support for ours. My point is not to revive the fruitless "framing wars" -- there are no "magic words" that win elections every time -- but to insist on the value ongoing civic and science education. Too many progressives seem to become bored or discouraged by the prospect of an interminable education of majorities to support the work of progress. Education always requires an unglamourously enormous amount of repetition, returning to basics, re-explaining of what seems obvious. On top of that, it is genuinely difficult to find ways to overturn intuitive commonplaces with even powerful counterintuitive insights. Many progressives are quick to deride reactionaries who ignore or deny counterintuitive economic and ecologic truths but are not quite so quick to clarify these truths themselves. As someone who exhibits these weaknesses myself I understand their lure, but I am ever more convinced of the necessity to overcome them.
I occasionally play around with the longer-form chains and conversations that yield what get called "twitter essays." My Twitter Privacy Treatise is an example of such an experiment. Of course, @HeerJeet is at once the best-known as well as the most consummate practitioner of the twitter essay. This includes great twitter essays about twitter essays, in one of which she made the great point that real-time responses and reactions can impact the way in which such essays make their case -- the way they develop, illustrate, prioritize, and qualify their claims -- and that this may make the twitter essay a better exemplar of the "experimental effort" indicated by the French term from which the word essay derives. The character limit constraining individual tweets reduces the pieces out of which twitter essays are made into forms more reductively assertive or provocatively aphoristic than the complexity of many topics may seem to demand. This challenge can be unexpectedly productive, as it happens, whatever the obvious risks of miscommunication. Given the emphasis of my twitter essay today on making the effort of clearly and concisely formulating indispensable but counterintuitive progressive insights, making that point within the constraints of the twitter-essay demands a performance of the point as part of the process of making it, for example.

Dispatches From Libertopia

Regressive initial distributions of wealth are no less the product of government intervention than are subsequent progressive redistributions of wealth.

More Dispatches from Libertopia here.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Costly Belief

Every belief, even true ones, costs us something. Indeed, what we take to be false, above all, is a belief we take to cost us too much.

More Faulty Ivory Towers here.

Inquiry, Argument, and Style

What distinguishes modes of inquiry from one another is what will count as an argument in each. This is a more a question of style than is generally conceded.

More Faulty Ivory Towers here.

Anything But Not Everything

All theory depends on the paradoxical recognition that anything can be questioned but everything cannot be.

More Faulty Ivory Towers here.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Today's Random Wilde

Nowadays we are all so hard up, that the only pleasant things to pay are compliments.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Better Words Exist

Republicans who manage successfully to deceive the public about the extremity of their actual views or exhibit willingness to game flaws in the election, finance, or media systems as ruthlessly as possible are invariably described by pundits as "smart."

The Poisoned Well

Republican warnings that they will not cooperate with the President should he use his lawful powers to address real problems like our broken immigration system are in fact admissions that they never meant to cooperate with the President and also that they are uninterested in addressing real problems. This is exactly what even a cursory awareness of the Obama Presidency would lead anybody to expect. Pundits and politicos making noises about President Obama needing to offer "goodwill gestures" in the aftermath of the mid-term elections are in effect proposing that he offer pre-emptive and unilateral concessions of a kind to which the Republicans have never once responded by moderating their demands but always instead by veering rightward in defiance of pragmatism, fairness, and sense. The mid-term election wasn't the end of history, it didn't release some collective amnesia gas, it didn't earn public figures a do over erasing their actual public records: It is too late to pretend Obama would "poison the well" by fulfilling a promise everybody already knew he would fulfill to solve a problem everybody recognizes is a problem but which Congress refuses to address as a problem. Republicans have "poisoned the well" against responsible and reasonable governance with six years of unprecedented obstructionism and outrageous extremism, if we must deploy the phrase the Republican Talking Points prefer and which has, of course, been dutifully and deliriously repeated by media figures everywhere since the mid-terms. If the mid-terms have taught us anything it is that Democrats don't win when they are scared to say clearly that they really do believe what majorities also believe about fairness and security and to act on those beliefs. Let the Republicans defy the President on immigration, let them tear away healthcare coverage for millions who have it for the time, let them impeach a President who won two elections by wide margins and who remains far more popular than anybody in Congress. Let them do their worst. Let us be seen fighting them. Republicans never cooperated with this President and they are not about to start now. By "cooperate" they mean "surrender."

Saturday, November 08, 2014

The Political Paradox of Polyculture

America's apparent secular multiculture paradoxically energizes Republicans while enervating Democrats by skewing the lived experience of the stakes of election contests. The right is always fighting the last fight against secular multiculture experienced as an existential threat -- so that even when they win, they feel they are losing in a world against them and leaving them behind. Even fighting structural racism and sexism the left is always fighting within the terms of secular multiculture we affirm (exposing deceptions and hypocrisies, for example) -- so that even when we lose, we feel we are living in a world on our side or at any rate open to our aspiration. America's apparent secular multiculture creates a context in which conservatives are so reactionary they are forced to act like revolutionaries and in which liberals are so comfortable they are tempted to act like conservatives. This matters because electoral politics do matter and it matters both when we lose them and when we lose the sense that it matters when we lose them.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Hey, Where'd All the Eekbola Go?

It's very mysterious how the wall to wall eekbola panic saturation coverage has gone so quiet now that Republicans have taken control of the Senate and squashed the State-level push-back against Republican Governor overreach.

Thursday, November 06, 2014


Futurologists want to be corporate consultants who are taken to be culture critics.

More Futurological Brickbats here.

Shooting Blanks

Futurology is a form of masturbation resulting in neologism.

More Futurological Brickbats here.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Later Today in My Graduate Seminar

Week Eleven | November 5 -- Back to the Future: Design Retrofutures

Designs On Us

Hal Foster, Design and Crime
William Gibson, The Gernsback Continuum
Daniel Harris, The Futuristic
Roland Barthes, The Nautilus and the Drunken Boat

Things Are Fine in California the Morning After

Across the country voters approved Democratic economic and social policies: raising the minimum wage, legalizing pot, rejecting forced-pregnancy "personhood," bond issues for public investments, ending strict racist drug war sentencing, and more. And then, in state after state after state, they voted to be represented by Republicans who demagogue against each of these policies individually and reject the underlying philosophy of science-warranted harm-reduction policy and public investment and support for majorities as a party. Americans should expect much more punitive intolerant austerian plutocratic scientifically unwarranted policy of the kind they explicitly rejected in voting initiatives and then enabled in their voting otherwise.

I think the President's deferral of executive action on immigration and the cowardly flight from the President by so many Democrats combined to depress base voter turnout, made it difficult to connect Democratic candidates with the sort of Democratic policies they affirmed, and turned what we always knew was a bad electoral landscape and electorate into the conditions for a reactionary wave.

Once progressive policy was disjoined from the actual candidates of the Democratic party (this silly season's infatuation with Independent stealth Democrats and fusion tickets without the word Democrat in them feels very different to me this morning after), especially for Democratic base voters in what we all knew to expect was going to be the usual mid-term base voter turnout election. And then all the scared angry old white people signaled their discontent with the black President all the Republicans ran against instead of their actual opponents. A long season of border panics, beheading panics, and ebola panics successfully made a lot of brains fall out, which always benefits Republicans, too.

This was a stupid election and the nation will be more stupid for it, and Democrats contributed their full measure to the stupid.

I hope the President issues a host of executive orders on immigration, environmental regulation, stimulative raising of wages, normalizing relations with Cuba, making racist sentencing even less stringent, and so on. This is the only way anything good happens for the next two years. This will remind Americans what Democrats are supposed to stand for. Republicans will use their majority to go batshit insane in consequence and the inevitable killer clown primary to follow will confirm the Republican brand is all bigotry, austerity, stupidity. One can only hope Republicans will impeach the President again or try to destroy Obamacare again.

Obviously, nothing sustainably good can happen except in the first two years or so of a Democratic presidency with congressional supermajorities behind it. Time to build the base up for Clinton's brief moment in the sun by doing things that are good for the majority of Americans in spite of Republican obstruction and hostility.

I fear that the voices of moderation and deal making and blah blah blah will declare such a strategy unseemly and dangerous. I don't know that we can trust Obama to be passionate enough for the level of resistance demanded by this moment. If Democrats retreat into timidity and muddle I can't say just how bad things might get.

Meanwhile, here in California and in Pacifica more broadly the mid-term elections were mostly marvelous. The rest of idiot America will wallow in still more idiocy, I guess. Glad I live here.