Technoprogressivism assumes that technological developments can be empowering and emancipatory so long as they are regulated by legitimate democratic and accountable authorities to ensure that their costs, risks and benefits are all fairly shared by the actual stakeholders to those developments.... At its heart technoprogressivism is simply the insistence that whenever we talk about "progress" we must always keep equally in mind and in hand both its scientific/instrumental dimensions but also its political/moral ones.
This passage has provoked some interesting criticisms and replies.
I proposed that "[t]echnoprogressivism is a stance of support for such technological development in general, and for consensual human practices of genetic, prosthetic, and cognitive modification in particular." But, keeping in mind what I already described as the technoprgressive insistence that both instrumental and political dimensions of progress always be taken into account, one reader asked whether this "support" of democratically legitimate development, then, always requires "that risks and benefits will all be fairly shared" in fact?
He went on to say: "This assumption is certainly false. We can and should aim towards increasing fairness, but in at least the short-term, the world will obviously remain substantially unfair. Is technoprogressivism in favor of technological development even under these real-world conditions?"
I'm not sure why a commitment to fairness would seem to imply as well a commitment to such perfectionism. I accept the pragmatic commonplace that one should not let the best be the enemy of the good.
Also, since "technoprogressive" denotes a diversity of sympathetic perspectives it would have to accommodate "suboptimal" outcomes from particular perspectives as a matter of course.
It's true that I wrote that technoprogressives champion a "fair distribution of costs, risks, and benefits" rather than simply a "fairer distribution," but this was not because of any perfectionism so much as because the appeal of the fairer seems to me to be entailed already in a commitment to the fair...
But even more than this, from a rhetorical and behavioral standpoint, it seems to me that settling for "fairer" in this formulation would seem to signal or justify a complacent or resigned acceptance of too much substantial unfairness.
My interlocutor continued: "There are at least some kinds of technological development I would want to see even if the world remained at the same level of fairness as it currently is, and even if these developments didn't affect fairness at all. Stronger, there would be at least hypothetical cases where I would favor making a small sacrifice in fairness to secure a huge gain in beneficial technological capability. (Say, one more woman will be unfairly discriminated against in the work place and at the same time 20 million people will be cured of cancer who would otherwise have died of the disease -- I'd say it would be hard to say no to that.)"
While I concede the possibility in principle of situations in which extraordinary instrumental benefits might justify marginal diminishments of fairness, I do not concede that this is anything like so commonplace a situation as to justify weighting instrumentality over fairness as a general principle.
I think that those who imagine themselves unduly inconvenienced by the impact of widespread commitments to social justice might complain that this results in a pernicious diminishment or deceleration of instrumental progress, but I think such claims are almost always overblown and deeply suspect.
Of course, from moment to moment we inevitably and reasonably make these sorts of trade-offs all the time. One certainly weights the value of instrumental progress over political progress occasionally, just as occasionally the converse is true. But generalizing from a particular case in which the focus might be on instrumental over political empowerment or vice-versa to a principled weighting of the one over the other is a trickier matter for which one would need to step back and answer the questions: just who benefits? just who is asked to sacrifice?
And such discussions italicize the very tendencies that compel technnoprogressives toward a more tight coupling of instrumental/political senses of progress in the first place. What, finally, does it really mean to speak of some abstract instrumental benefit garnered at the cost of specific political benefit? If some are willing to sacrifice justice -- usually conspicuously the justice enjoyed by somebody else rather than themselves -- all to secure more of some generalized instrumental power, then surely these same calculations will subsequently articulate the sociopolitical distribution of that consequent instrumental power itself?
To weight the instrumental over the political in general will usually amount to outright dismissiveness of political progress in practice as anything but a secondary or even completely incidental consideration.
Such a general weighting also seems to me to misunderstand the extent to which these two registers of progress are historically interdependent. This is especially true in relatively democratic societies in which greater fairness incubates wider participation in the collaborative effort of research, innovation, and oversight that eventuates in instrumental progress in the first place.
My reader went on to complain quite reasonably that "[w]e wouldn't say no to a bit more fairness even if it didn't bring better technology. Why say no to better technology even if it doesn't bring more fairness?"
My hesitation to make my formulation more symmetrical here is because I think in circumstances in which substantial unfairness prevails better technology seems dangerously likely to consolidate or exacerbate this unfairness. I certainly would not "say no" to better technology that failed to secure more fairness so long as it didn't still further diminish fairness or ameliorate the effects of unfairness.
But, again, one wants to be sensitive to the reasonable fears, suspicions, and criticisms of those who know all too well that technology augments power and that the relatively more powerful are prone to retroactively justify their abuses and get away with them or to sustain their utter indifference to such considerations altogether. Because I have a strong commitment to political progress I am especially sensitive to general formulations that might denigrate or undermine it.
I am not at all convinced by claims that a strong commitment to political progress demands a substantial diminishment of the instrumental progress to which I am also strongly committed. However, I will say I am convinced that formulations championing instrumental progress that are insensitive to the political dimensions of progress render the case for instrumental progress less compelling for wide audiences and in ways that probably do indeed frustrate that instrumental progress.