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

Saturday, January 29, 2005

The Future Against Futurity: Some Questions for the Transhumanists

Am I still myself if my self is a project of transcendence? Do my prosthetic practices make me more myself or less myself? Is "transcendence" the transcendence of all limits or only some? If all, what remains of a thing without limits? If only some, which, when, for whom, for what?

When we say of a “trans” that it bespeaks transition from one state to another, are we sure we know enough to know where we are, where we are going, what we want? Are we sure of the “we” that presumably shares these wants and this direction? Does movement always engender Movements?

When we say of a “trans” that it bespeaks transcension, how do we distinguish this from the other priestly promises of knowledge and safety in exchange for obedience that such language has always otherwise brought in tow? What does it mean when conservatives would take up the language of the future, and with such stubborn noise? What does this tell us about the future and about its difference from futurity?

When we say of a “trans” that it bespeaks transformation we have to wonder, don't we, what kind of security or stability can be built on a foundation of rainwater? Is the meaning of technology the end at which it “aims,” and which we could never know until that superlative end arrives, or is it the practices we weave in taking up technologies here and now?

“Trans” derives from the Latin across -- it can denote passage, change, meander, variety... Prosthetic practices empower and disempower, they promise and they threaten, they shake up the familiar and then they become the customary against which we next measure the unfamiliar. We know less about where we are going than any of us care to admit, just as we know less about our own desires than we can admit to.

Prosthetic practices have been an interminable conversation among persons, and it is hard to for me to find many edicts or certainties in this lovely, promising, threatening mess. What happens when we domesticate the pleasures and dangers of futurity in the naturalizing reassurance of the discourse of "the future"?

Futurity is ineradicably a roll of the dice and a project for collaborators (in every sense of that word). The future? Always, I'm beginning to think, only another mirror.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Friday, January 21, 2005

Resources for Writing Arguments

In the process of throwing together my course this term I have managed to place online some documents and notes that I often make recourse to in the teaching of classes in argumentation. Again, since I've been so preoccupied with work and less devoted in consequence than I like to be about blogging, I figure I might as well offer up some of this stuff for your perusal in case any of it strikes your fancy.

The documents are a short statement of basic guidelines that I hand out early in the term in all of my classes, at whatever level, Four Habits of Argumentative Writing, some rather scattered speculations on argument interspersed with what are often helpful bits of advice for writers who are feeling stuck, Finding Your Argument, and then a Peer Editing Worksheet, which models the way I try to inculcate basic critical habits by structurally relating the separate elements of the class to one another.

Comments, questions, criticism always welcome, of course!

Pay-to-Peer

I'm going to be delivering a paper at the Fourth Congress of United States Basic Income Guarantee Network, which is taking place March 4-6, 2005, in New York. My panel is on Saturday, I believe. Here is a short abstract of my talk:

“Pay-to-Peer: How Basic Income Will Support the Emerging Peer-to-Peer Networked Society”

The ease with which content can now be published and circulated via emerging digital networked information and communication technologies has inspired an unprecedented outpouring of creativity. The common wisdom that the protection and extension of copyright is necessary to promote ongoing innovation has been disrupted, probably irreparably, as free content proliferates on these digital networks and as copyright regimes become instead the pretext for the oppressive policing of creative and collaborative work to preserve profits for established interests.

In a related development, as conservative consolidated corporate broadcast media relinquish their traditional function to help educate the electorate and demand accountability in the conduct of the powerful, a vast archipelago of online blogs, columns, and communities of advocacy have suddenly materialized to do so in their place.

The emerging peer-to-peer networked society is creating an incomparable archive of intellectual resources as well as tools to facilitate new practices of collaboration, exchange, and oversight, and I propose that a guaranteed basic income may be necessary to compensate this increasingly socially indispensable work since traditional economic incentives and models seem inadequate to accommodate these developments.

I mean for my argument to complement Marshall Brain’s recent thesis that a guaranteed basic income may be necessary to stave off the social disruption that is likely to eventuate as widespread automation eliminates traditional jobs and concentrates wealth in fewer and fewer hands. Brain argues that a guaranteed basic income will ameliorate the negative impact of current technological developments, and I argue that the same income guarantee will likewise consolidate the positive impact of other current technological developments.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Today's Random Wilde

Like dear St Francis of Assisi I am wedded to Poverty: but in my case the marriage is not a success.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Discipline

Sorry to have so backburnered the blogging the last few days, but I’ve been preoccupied with preparations for the course I begin teaching tomorrow, as well as trying to meet some writing deadlines now that the end of the dissertation is starting to acquire a tantalizing proximity at last.

When the nice folks at the San Francisco Art Institute hired me to teach my “Critical Theory, Network Politics, and ‘New’ Media” course they asked for quite a lot of material for my file, among which a brief statement of my teaching philosophy. This is something I have long known I would have to put together when I finally went out on the job market in earnest, but not something I had taken any kind of a crack at yet.

It was a clarifying little statement to craft, and especially useful for me as it gave me an occasion to try to define in a nicely pithy way just how I conceive of my disciplinary location in the academy. That’s always been a bit of a trying and worrying thing to contemplate, since there seem to me at once few to no Departments at all devoted precisely to the sort of work that has come to preoccupy my own attention, but a profusion of rather incompatible sorts of Departments where bits and pieces of that work seem to be taking place. Of course, to some extent this is the inevitable curse and blessing of any kind of interdisciplinarity, and it remains to be seen if this will finally imply an impoverishment or a profusion of possible destinations for me once my degree is in hand and I’m making my way door to door.

Anyway, here is my current description of my disciplinary location, and how the elements of which it consists fit together:

The focus of my work, both of my writing and my teaching, has been the ongoing provocation of technological development on personal and public life. I teach technocritical theory, both in its technocultural and technoethical aspects. The technocultural dimension of technocriticism documents and interprets prosthetic practices and technocultures as they emerge and transform under pressure of ongoing technological developments and their resignifications. The technoethical dimension of technocriticism undertakes the public deliberative engagement of multiple contending stakeholders to the problems of technological development, and subsumes media criticism, bioethics, neuroethics, roboethics, existential risk assessment and some elements of environmental criticism and design theory.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

MundiMuster! There Are Things We Can Do

[via Code Pink] Before the invasion of Iraq, countless millions of us across the globe came together and spoke out like never before, stating in no uncertain terms our collective mandate for peace, justice, and a rational foreign policy.

On Thursday, January 20, as George W. Bush is inaugurated for a second term, he will no doubt use the day to usher in his ‘mandate’ for never-ending war, greed, and a bullying, unilateral foreign policy.

Warmongering leaders have never kept us down, and the next four years will be no exception. Make January 20th the day you stand up, speak out, and reaffirm your commitment to working for peace and justice. Show your friends, neighbors, and the world that you aren’t in mourning, but rather part of an energized, mobilized and determined anti-war movement.

Count me in. What can I do?

CODEPINK strongly urges everyone who possibly can to run, swim, fly, caravan, shuttle, or two-step your way to Washington, DC on January 20th with a suitcase full of pink to join what promises to be the fun, raucous, peace-loving counter-inaugural activities. As the warmongers party on the inside, outside we’re going to fill the streets of DC with peacemongers as far as the eye can see! (Check out www.codepinkalert.org/National_Actions_J20.shtml#calendar to see the creative actions we’ll be participating in.)

Can’t go to DC? As the saying goes, “Do what you can, where you are, with what you have.” Here are some ideas:

1) Get thee to the protest nearest you and make some serious noise! There is no shortage of folks speaking out against the Bush agenda on the 20th. Protests and rallies are being planned all over the country. Check out unitedforpeace.org to find what’s happening near you, or organize something yourself. Organize? Are you kidding? All you need to make an effective statement is a sign or two, a public place, a couple of friends, and the desire to speak out in opposition to the Bush agenda. Presto; you’ve organized your first protest. Email us at webmistress@codepinkalert.org so we can be sure to help you get the word out about your event, large or small, on our website.

2) Before you protest, pick up the phone. On the 20th, let’s not only flood the streets, but the White House phone lines with our unified message: no endless war and occupation. Call the White House directly and demand a clear exit strategy at 202-456-1111.

3) Not One Damn Dime. It's important to put your money where your protest signs are and shop your values everyday. But on January 20th, CODEPINK is joining people throughout the country who aren’t putting their money anywhere. "Not One Damn Dime” Day is a way for those who oppose what is happening in our name in Iraq to speak up with a 24-hour national boycott of all forms of consumer spending. So on Inauguration Day, don't spend any money. Not one damn dime for gasoline. Not one damn dime for coffee, or for impulse purchases. Nothing for 24 hours.

4) Be visible in your community. At the very least, wear a button or a t-shirt, carry a sign to and from work, put a sign in the windows of your home and car – anything to let your community know what you think about four more years of George W. Bush. You never know how something as seemingly simple as a button can encourage or inspire someone else to action. Some ideas: “Not My President.” “I Say No to the Bush Agenda.” “Another Peacemaker in It for the Long Haul.”

5) Start planning your Sorry State of the Union party to coincide with George Bush's State of the Union Address on February 2nd. This is a great way to get together with your community, get riled up, and start organizing for the coming year.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Is It Ethical to Want to Be Better Than Well?

Martin Striz directs our attention to the Public Library of Science, Medicine, web site which is conducting a reader poll at the moment, asking the question, "Is it ethical for healthy people to use medical technologies to enhance their appearance, emotions, and mental and physical capabilities?"

Good heavens, is this an occasion for the technoprogressive freeping of a poll?

When Martin last checked, "Yes" had garnered a somewhat surprising 58% of the vote. By the time I arrived the "Yeas" had nudged upward to 60%. By all means, technoprogressives, cyborg democrats, prosthetic queers, and all the rest of you advocates for morphological freedom pile right on!

No Time to Blog, But Always Time for Some Random Wilde

The central problem in Hamlet is whether the critics are mad or only pretending to be mad.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Course Description

A week from tomorrow I will begin teaching a new course at the San Francisco Art Institute, entitled "Critical Theory, Network Politics, and 'New' Media." Soon thereafter, students participating in the class will start blogging about the course readings and discussions and whatever other forces might be set in motion by the material. Of course, everyone will be welcome to see what we come up with and to participate via comments, e-mail, links, etc.

Until the course itself begins, I will be posting the syllabus, readings list, and some general writing and reading resources for the course onto the "BloggingTEC: Technology, Ethics, and Culture" blog where we will be gathering online. I thought at least some of this material might interest some of the readers who visit here as well, and so I'll post some of it here, too -- especially since I'm distracted with preparations and otherwise might not have much else to offer up to your attention for a couple of days. Here, anyway, is the Course Description from the Syllabus, which also provides the opening moves for the discussion for the first day of class:


In this course we will focus our attention on some of the ways in which critical theory has tried to make sense of the ongoing impact of emerging information and communication technologies on public life, cultural forms, creative expression, and ethical discourse.

Our conversation this term will take as its point of departure the assumption that the basic categories through which we make sense of individual and collective agency, dignity, and claims of right are transforming under the pressure of emerging and converging digital networked information and communication technologies. Over the course of the term, we will survey a number of canonical and contemporary theoretical and polemical works all provoked by the problems and possibilities of these technological transformations.

To the extent that “new” media really are something new, it is hard to imagine a temperament less suited in some ways to think about these impacts than philosophers and critical theorists. Hegel pointed out that philosophy paints its gray on gray only when a form of life has grown cold. And true to form, even relatively recent and influential “new” media theory often seems quaint in its assumptions quite soon after it has been written.

Typically, when theorists speak of “new” media they mean to describe digital media in particular. And since digital media are in fact still consolidating their hold over the circulation and communication of information today, we will mostly stick to that understanding ourselves. But it is important to realize that there are possibly newer new media always emerging as well for which the enabling technologies, working assumptions, and expected effects are quite different.

There will be important differences in the discussion of media and surveillance, depending on whether one wants to focus on issues of digital encryption or biometrics instead. There will be differences in the discussion of media and intellectual property, depending on whether one wants to focus on copyright or patenting genetic information. There will be differences in the discussion of media and the manufacture of consent, depending on whether one wants to focus on the consolidation of broadcast media, the rise of social software tools and practices, or the mandated use of neuroceuticals on the basis of medical information.

In an important sense the course will be a collaborative performance, and so our more specific focus and problems and interests will depend in a significant measure on your own circumstances, concerns, and on the texts that you yourselves happen to respond to most forcefully. It remains to be seen just what conclusions we will find our way to by the end of the term and the end of this conversation.

In addition to exploring these personal and public lives of emerging media, the course will also provide you with an occasion for further training and practice in the writing of argumentation based on close textual reading, and will be a workshop in critical thinking, reading, and deliberation skills.

The Random Wilde

It is only by not paying one's bills that one can hope to live in the memory of the commercial classes.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Seed Time (A Reminder, for all the Futurists)

Now is the accepted time, not tomorrow, not some more convenient season. It is today that our best work can be done and not some future day or future year. It is today that we fit ourselves for the greater usefulness of tomorrow. Today is the seed time, now are the hours of work, and tomorrow comes the harvest and the playtime. -- W.E.B. Du Bois

Resolution to End the War and Protect Our Troops and Veterans

The Executive Council of the California Federation of Teachers passed this Resolution on January 7, 2005. The arguments are all familiar, of course. Also familiar: the way the arguments will be ignored, the way the disaster will continue to unfold, the way the current illegitimate Administration, its supporters, and the remaining advocates for this outrageous war will continue to congratulate themselves while denigrating their critics as traitors come what may. Nevertheless, here's the Resolution:

WHEREAS the Bush Administration carried out an invasion of Iraq using the pretense that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, and therefore posed an immediate threat to the security of the United States and still no evidence has been found that Iraq possessed such weapons or the capability to deploy them; and

WHEREAS the administration has embraced a new and dangerous path of preemptive war without an imminent threat to the United States that has made us less, not more secure, that has stoked rather than reduced the threat of terrorism and that has put Iraqis on a path to civil war while bringing them no closer to a democratic society; and

WHEREAS the war and military occupation of Iraq have cost the lives of over 1300 U.S. troops, the wounding and disabling of thousands more, Iraqi civilian deaths estimated at over100,000 men women and children, casualties among soldiers of other nations, and the devastation of the entire country; and

WHEREAS we recognize the courage of U.S. military personnel, many of whom are members or family of members of our unions. They have faced extraordinary danger and have made huge sacrifices in this war; we now want them to come home; and bringing them home is the best means of protecting them; and

WHEREAS the Bush administration has used the Iraq war and national security hysteria as a pretext to create a climate of fear at home, to restrict civil liberties, and to attack the rights of workers and unions; and

WHEREAS, the war and occupation have cost over two hundred billion dollars, leading directly to cuts in domestic social and human services, education and even benefits for the very veterans of this and other conflicts, while war spending has lined the pockets of immensely wealthy anti-labor corporations; and

WHEREAS, the Bush administration has announced the wholesale privatization of Iraqi factories and workplaces, and kept in force a ban on unions in the public sector, to benefit corporate investors at the expense of the Iraqi people; and

WHEREAS, the Bush administration has divided us here at home while inspiring fear and distrust among other nations of the world community, and has squandered the unity and friendship our country enjoyed in the aftermath of September 11; and

WHEREAS, five national unions (SEIU, AFSCME, CWA, APWU, GCIU), and numerous state labor federations, central labor councils, local unions and other labor bodies representing millions of union members have passed resolutions calling for our troops to be brought home; and

WHEREAS, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney has asked the labor movement at every level to immediately discuss and pinpoint the important issues, challenges and problems we confront for consideration at the upcoming AFL-CIO Executive Council meeting, and for the national convention in July, and given that the issues of war and peace and destruction of the social safety net are paramount among them;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT the California Federation of Teachers calls on President Bush to bring our troops home from Iraq and reject the philosophy of pre-emptive war without a clear and imminent threat to the United States; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT the California Federation of Teachers calls on President Bush to provide adequate veterans' benefits, adequately protect our current troops, and otherwise meet the needs of returning veterans, and our people in general, to
jobs, education and health care; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT the California Federation of Teachers calls on the National AFL-CIO to demand an immediate end to the U.S. occupation of Iraq, the return of U.S. troops to their homes and families, and the reordering of national priorities toward peace and meeting human needs; and

BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED THAT California Federation of Teachers submits this resolution to the California Labor Federation and to the American Federation of Teachers urging their concurrence, immediate action, and its distribution to all their affiliates for their concurrence and immediate action.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Today's Random Wilde

I can stand brute force, but brute reason is quite unbearable. There is something unfair about its use. It is hitting below the intellect.

On the Radio

My friend James Hughes interviewed me today for his Changesurfer Radio program. The first part of our conversation will broadcast later today, 5.30 Eastern/2.30 Pacific. A second part will likely broadcast next Saturday, same time, same station. Be warned: Preparation was scant, and in any case I have never done anything like this before, so if I come off as a complete rampaging loon or imbecile I just don’t want to hear about it!

UPDATE: Both parts of the interview are already available on the Changesurfer link above. I personally think Part One is conspicuously better than (my part in) Part Two.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Time Capsule

Trolling around the cyberspatial sprawl I stumbled onto this half-remembered snippet, from, get this, the New Year’s Eve issue of Time Magazine, 1984! I don’t know what shocks me more, that I’m still humming the same tune twenty years later, or that I’m still a student twenty years later!
Dec. 31, 1984

To the Editors: I was overjoyed and excited by the medical breakthroughs reported in your story, especially the artificial heart [MEDICINE, Dec. 10]. As a 19-year-old, I refuse to accept "the probability of disease, the inevitability of death" or my "duty to die."

Norman Dale Carrico
Bloomington, Ind.

Cackles from the Balcony (Abu Gonzales Edition)

So, Eric wants to know, can it really be that difficult for even long-compromised Beltway Dem-types to see why "Republicans Condone Torture, Democrats Condemn Torture" is a winner for Democrats?

The Random Wilde

I live in terror of not being misunderstood.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Where’s the Tech?

Lots of rather conventional lefty political blogging here these last couple of days, I realize. I know that people who read Amor Mundi with any kind of regularity do so more for the techno-cultural and techno-ethical speculations than for the more familiar kinds of progressive snark you can readily find elsewhere. But sometimes I blog to vent plasma, you know? Some dance to remember, some dance to forget...

Cherish (Revised)

Love to MY Senator and MY Representative! Romeo and Juliet, they never felt this way, I bet --

REPRESENTATIVES:

Corrine Brown (FL), Julia Carson (IN), William Clay Jr. (MO), James Clyburn (SC), John Conyers Jr, (MI), Elijah Cummings (MD), Danny K. Davis (IL), Lane Evans (IL), Sam Farr (CA), Chaka Fattah (PA), Bob Filner (CA), Barney Frank (MA), Raul Grijalva (AZ), Alcee Hastings (FL), Maurice Hinchey (NY), Jesse Jackson, Jr., (IL), Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX), Stephanie Tubbs Jones (OH), Carolyn Kilpatrick (MI), Dennis J. Kucinich (OH), Barbara Lee (CA), Sheila Jackson Lee (TX), John Lewis (GA), Ed Markey (MA), Jim McDermott (WA), Juanita Millender-McDonald (CA), Cynthia McKinney (GA), John Olver (MA), Major Owens (NY), Frank Pallone, Jr. (NJ), Donald Payne (NJ), Bernard Sanders (VT), Jan Schakowsky (IL), José E. Serrano (NY), Bennie Thompson (MS), Maxine Waters (CA), Diane Watson (CA), Anthony Weiner (NY), Robert Wexler (FL), Lynn Woolsey (CA).

Eleanor H. Norton (DC). (Taxation Without Representation in America, Baby!)

SENATE:

Barbara Boxer (CA)

(I have revised this list to include all who voted to Object to the irregularities of Election 2004, but have not removed the names of those who signed the initial objection but failed finally to vote for it -- since I accept that strategic considerations may have lead some who remain among the Cherished to see to it that their righteous objection register on the Record, that an asterisk burn a permanent cigarette hole next to the Boy King's name in the history books, that the debate occur this time around, but then, the outcome a foregone conclusion, went on dirty their hands in the dirty work of representation in a Repugnican era. Clinton's and Obama's nice words weren't enough, though, to earn my devotion on this awful day in the absence of either participation in Boxer's Rebellion or in the final vote.)

Why Does Saving Social Security Hate America?

Seen via Talking Points Memo: "The president is going to go ahead [with his Social Security privatization schemes]," said Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, a Republican leadership lieutenant. "He cannot afford to fail. It would have repercussions for the rest of his program, including foreign policy. We can't hand the president a defeat on his major domestic initiative at a time of war."

There it is. If Democrats succeed in saving the indispensable and successful Social Security program from the latest onslaught of Repugnican looting, somehow the Terrorists have won. You can set your watch by these brainless thugs, their moves are so damnably predictable.

The Poor Man Testifies

Read the Whole Thing. I am quoting much more than I should here, in the hopes that my always gentle decent father will read it all –- my Dad, whose good heart and good sense I have long quietly counted on and been reassured by and drawn strength from, all now eroding heartbreakingly before my eyes, rather like the slow-motion crumbling of memory under an assault by Alzheimer's, but all this just from his new proximity to too many self-righteous conservative fucks in Lakeland, Florida, where he now lives to the palpable detriment of his soul...
The way that normal, non-hallucinating people of any political persuasion can help the soldiers in the field, the people of Iraq, and, not least of all, themselves, is to appreciate the true situation as best they can, and to demand accountability from our political leaders when the situation is not handled effectively. The true situation is that there is a large and popular insurgency in Iraq, made up of disparate interests, but all drawing their strength from the long-standing popular discontent with the American and coalition occupation, a discontent based on a very understandable dislike of foreign armies, and fueled by the thousands of Iraqis we have killed, intentionally or not, to say nothing of Abu Ghraib - here, 6 months later, almost completely forgotten. This is the reality that was apparent to journalists well outside the "Sunni triangle" last March, as well as to the Marines who first "liberated" Baghdad. True, many soldiers in Iraq have been in places where people were nice and glad to have them, which is great, but misses the main point. Kennedy was shot on a sunny day, but most newspapers didn’t lead with the nice weather.

Appreciate this. Understand that the people killing us in Iraq aren't motivated by Gore Vidal or inspired by Susan Sontag or organized by Michael Moore or in cahoots in any way with any of the right's celebrity piñatas - not literally, not metaphorically, not if you look at it in a certain way, not to any infinitesimal degree, not in any sense, not in any way at all. They do not lead a clandestine international conspiracy of Evil which has corrupted everything in every foreign country plus everything in America not owned by loyal Bush Republican apparatchiks; nor are they members of such a conspiracy; nor does a conspiracy remotely matching that description exist. To think otherwise is, literally and to a very great degree, insanity. It is insane.

And if you really want to help the American war effort, you can join the fucking armed forces and go to Iraq like thousands of others have, and then you can do the best job you can to show them that Americans care about them and want, above all else, for all of our futures to be better and more peaceful than the past, and get paid shit. You will then be my personal hero, really, and I hope you don't get killed or maimed or see or do something that makes you hate everything for the rest of your life, which is a very real possibility. If you, like me, are too much of a coward to risk your life and health on a mission like that, then you can donate to charities which help soldiers (although it is worth looking into where and what kind of help is needed – some places don’t need it as much as others). But the easiest thing you can do is influence the politicians who create the policies – and in some cases the military strategies - which are being carried out in Iraq, but to do this in a useful way you first have to make some contact with reality. Reality is that the situation in Iraq is horrible, the outlook for any lasting peace is grim, and that this has nothing to do with a nebulous, malignant, all-powerful “Left”, and everything to do with the people in power who make bad and stupid policies. You can pull your head out of your ass, stop dreaming up stupid conspiracy theories about how everyone around the world you don’t like is working together to destroy Freedom, and tell them that they need to do a better job. And if they won’t do a better job, the solution is not to get upset at people who aren’t waving their pom-poms or denouncing Saddam single-mindedly enough for you, it is to fire the fuck-ups so we can maybe have some chance at salvaging something from this fiasco.

...And, before you ask: no, I have no clue about how we can improve things in Iraq. I don’t have a single idea for how we can un-shit the bed, and I don’t hold out much hope that this whole bed-shitting episode is ever going to be brought to a lemony-fresh conclusion. I do, however, know who shit the bed, and have some sense of how frequently he shits there. Let’s stop shitting for a start.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Today's Random Wilde

The one charm of marriage is that it makes a life of deception absolutely necessary for both parties.

Senators, Will You Certify What You Cannot Verify?

I hope but don’t dare to expect that at least one Democratic Senator will join the brave and principled Democratic Representatives who are contesting the 2004 election tomorrow on the basis of the rampant, deliberate, systematic disenfranchisement of American citizens, the egregious and disgusting abuses of the democratic process best-documented in Ohio but reported elsewhere as well.

Senators, how can you certify a result you cannot verify? How can you invoke democratic ideals in your speeches if you refuse to defend our embattled democracy itself when the moment demands it?

If you imagine that you can horse-trade your craven silence for favors with unprincipled Repugnicans (ah, to be a fly on the wall to hear the lies and threats that are flinging back and forth across the District right about now!) imagine instead the power you gain chipping away at the faux mandate of an executive who was never elected to office but was always only selected into power by first the deeply compromised judiciary and then the unbalanced hysterically partisan legislative branches....

Stop struggling to partner with these hooligans and fight for the people you represent! Stop struggling to give a figleaf of respectability to their obscenities by observing the forms as they dismantle them around you.

If you have convictions it is time to show the courage of those convictions. Draw the attention of the conservative sleepwalking corporate media to the unprecedented outrages of this election by doing something unprecedented yourselves. Begin to prepare the groundwork for the real fights to come by acting the part of a true opposition party. Do the right thing and America will swell the ranks of Democrats in Congress to reward you next election. Then we can begin again to do the work of democracy aright.

Progress as a Natural Force Versus Progress as the Great Work

Lately, some of my friends and political allies have taken me to task for my eager acceptance of the designation "progressive," and wonder if I can really be so oblivious to the damage that has often been done in the name of progress historically.

True to the instincts hammered into me by my training in analytic philosophy, I will propose to relieve this unpleasant tension by offering up an ad hoc distinction. It seems to me there is all the difference in the world between those who profess to “believe” in progress and those who would work to achieve it.

When progress is imagined to be some kind of “force” that the knowledgeable can discern in history, a natural force in which one can believe with one’s whole heart or to which profess one’s full faith, or, better yet, a force in the name of which one can claim to be some kind of priestly mouthpiece, then it tends to be little more than a self-congratulatory fable that the powerful and their orbiting opportunists tell themselves to deny the part luck has played in their attainment of power and then to justify the bad behavior they typically employ subsequently to maintain it.

This doctrine of progress as a natural force is just one more way in which the powerful add insult to injury. It is one more ruse of the ideology of the “natural,” this time one in which subject populations are re-imagined as and then reduced to developmental “atavisms” along a progressive path that has only too naturally and irresistibly culminated in the attainment of rule proper to whomever it is that calls the shots at the moment.

This “naturalizing” conception of progress figures development as an undeniable force like a typhoon wind, sweeping rulers into their prosperity and the ruled into ruin with an urgency so epic it is hard to discern or judge the merits of the proper players involved. And for those who are swept up in the exhilaration of some particular narrative of natural progress it is likewise difficult to see past the mandate of inevitability it confers, difficult to perceive the winning streak it celebrates as one that can ever come to an end, that the players it extols can ever lose their way, that the forces it documents can ever peter out.

While it is easy to find examples of this kind of naturalizing idea of progress in the crass champions of Empire from the Edwardian English to the Project for a New American Century, I will offer up as a slightly less obvious example something that strikes closer to home (for me, at any rate): the kind of corporate futurists and science fiction fanboys who sometimes like to glibly handwave about the inevitable consequences of accelerating technological development.

I think it is first of all a mystification to say technology in general is monolithically "accelerating" when in fact some developments seem to accelerate, while others stall, others converge, others altogether cease, etc. In my experience, this metaphor of a wholesale developmental acceleration tends to be employed to create an impression of inevitability and irresistibility to whatever very particular parochial political/moral outcome (or, worse yet, some particular "innovative" crap product) some self-appointed "expert" futurist is trying to avoid having to make an actual argument for at the moment.

This ideologically naturalizing tendency is never more palpable in my view than in those who declaim accelerating development to be tire-screeching in the direction of some absolute historical discontinuity -- described in its most explicit and flabbergasting variations as an apocalyptic, transcendentalizing "Singularitary" a la Ray Kurzweil or Vernor Vinge or one of their many online (and only online) enthusiasts, some altogether existential Event about which apparently very little can in principle be said in detail while, nonetheless, into which it seems all sorts of overwrought emotional baggage involving ecstatic hopes and debilitating fears can conspicuously be invested. About these unfortunates I have of course already written on several occasions.

Surely, however shattering or empowering certain technoscientific developments may be, there is little that is inevitable about the forms that such developments will take, or the scope of their impacts, or the vicissitudes in the interaction of relevant technical and normative and sociocultural developmental effects with one another over time. And all of this leads me to an altogether different conception of progress from the naturalizing ideology against which I have been railing and which I believe has inspired much of the right-minded worry of my well-meaning friends.

While it is true that I maintain something like the barest faith that life can indeed be improved for more and more people through scientific effort, the freeing up of popular creativity, and the collaboration of free people, peer-to-peer, for me progress does not so much name this bare belief as it does the work itself in which one collaborates to make the world a better place, a work on which individuals must depend on the participation of their fellows and the attainments of which are always the farthest thing from sure-footed or secure.

For me, “progress” is simply what happens when there is a fairer distribution of the benefits, costs, and risks of ongoing technoscientific developments among all the stakeholders to those developments. “Progress” happens whenever more people have more of a say in the public decisions that affect them (that is to say, when we achieve more democracy), though the participation in a legible scene of informed nonduressed consent (about which I write more here and here) in the context of the equity and diversity of a robust democratic rights-culture (and I am happy to take canonical statements such as the US Constitution, UN Declaration, Roosevelt's Four Freedoms as points of departure in the delineation of the notion of Rights Culture).

When I declare that I'm progressive in a fairly conventionally liberal or social democratic sort of way that’s just because I see sense in the belief that when the social definition of progress is satisfied (the longer, second sentence in the paragraph above, the one about consent, equity, and diversity), the technocultural definition of progress (the shorter, first sentence above, the one about the best and fairest facilitation and distribution of technoscientific accomplishments) is more likely to be satisfied as well.

I think that both the extreme market libertarianism and libertarian socialism that seem so curiously to preoccupy so many discussions of politics online (but which almost never connect particularly well to the ways in which politics subsequently plays out on the ground) are best thought of as skewed and unrealizable extrapolations from the vicissitudes of roughly workable and regularly failing social and liberal democratic practices which industrial societies are struggling to implement and maintain with, one must say, mixed results. It is regrettable that anarcho-capitalist and anarcho-socialist viewpoints are treated so often as pure positions against which we should measure the aspirations and results of actually ongoing efforts at democratization in the world when it seems to me that these efforts are the substance of the political, rather than the philosophical idealizations which declare them merely "mixed" or "compromised" or "debased." And since I have indicated that this is an analysis that applies best to "industrial societies" I think I should also add that so-called "post"-industrial societies are, in my view, simply industrial societies that disavow their industrialization through neoconservative militarist adventuring or/and with neoliberal corporatist financialization, outsourcing, and futurological posturing.

Be all that as it may, I believe that the romantic energies of the radical left were once fired by a vision of progress as a great collective work to make an incomparably better future for all, but that these revolutionary energies were shattered by the many failures, betrayals, and tyrannies of the Cold War era, and by the almost wholesale appropriation of the language of progressive enlightenment by fearful, greedy, and malign reactionaries.

The left has grown suspicious of optimistic developmental narratives that too often have been little more than apologies or cover for the ongoing consolidation of corporate-military power. And the left has been distracted from the real achievements and disenchanted from the breathtaking promise of technoscientific accomplishments by the recklessness, indifference, and pathology of their pathway, as well as by the outrageous hype and provincial perfectionism of too many commercial hucksters peddling panaceas and unsustainable lifestyles.

Too often the technophilic faith in a world "without limits" has translated into the smug assurance that there are profits to be made, and that there will always be others on hand to clean up the mess in the aftermath. Too often the real costs, risks, and burdens of development have fallen disproportionately on those who benefit least from developmental achievements. At any rate, those who suffer most at the hands of development are rarely those who subsequently benefit most from the attainments of development.

The thankless and heartbreaking work of restitution, restoration, and remediation in the aftermath of this ongoing injustice has largely fallen to the left, of course, and it is of a piece with the wider contemporary battle of progressives to conserve the institutional achievements of over a century of social struggle against an onslaught of reactionaries who have recently re-written revolution in the image of a massive looting and dismantling of democratic civilization, such as it is.

This curious inversion, whereby the left has been lured into a dreary conservative defense of the fragile embattled institutions of social welfare and representative governance, while the right is intoxicated with the fighting faith of market-triumphalist revolutionary fervor, has left the left unable plausibly to claim any longer to speak in the name of Progress conceived as the Whirlwind or the Pillar of Fire.

Why look a gift horse in the mouth? I say we leave the ideology of Nature’s Progress to the market naturalists, and grab hold again the reins of Progress conceived as a Great Work.

I believe now that only by championing and securing the emancipatory potential of emerging radical technologies (genetic, prosthetic, and cognitive medicine, renewable energy technologies, nanoscale fabrication techniques, and decentralized media and resource networks), by insisting on their social support, funding, regulation, and the fair distribution of both their costs and benefits, that the left can regain the momentum it lost in the slow turn to the twenty-first century with the loss of its intelligible revolutionary aspirations.

While it is certainly true that the unprecedented dangers and destabilizing impact of ongoing technoscientific change will impose extraordinary risks and costs on all humanity and all species (and disproportionately so onto the relatively more vulnerable and poorer and least represented among us so long as development is driven by corporate-militarist elites), it seems to me that the left needs to embrace technoscientific progress to regain its right relevance in the world almost as much as humanity needs the fair-minded good-sense of the left to regulate technodevelopment for the good of us all and to dispel what will otherwise too likely be catastrophe.

Postscript: Who Our Friends Are

Progress has two aspects, then, one social and one instrumental.

The struggle for more representative governance, more collaborative social administration, greater transparency from institutions and agents empowered to produce and enforce laws, greater fairness in the distribution of the costs, risks, and benefits of public intercourse for all of its stakeholders, the diminishment of violence and compulsion in interpersonal life, the spread of literacy, numeracy, and critical thought, the spread of cosmopolitan tolerance and multicultural celebration, the substantiation of the scene of informed, nonduressed consent, and the global expansion of a more robust rights culture are all components in the social aspect of progress. I think of this social aspect of progress as democratization.

The struggle to increase scientific, instrumental, and medical knowledge, the ramifying accumulation of technological powers, the ongoing technodevelopmental disruption of given capacities, norms, and expectations, and the facilitation through education and access of an ever growing ever diversifying population of collaborators in this process of discovery and application are all components in the instrumental aspect of progress. I think of this instrumental aspect of progress as denaturalization.

Peer-to-peer progressives maintain that any proper account of "progress" will affirm the equal and complementary indispensability of both greater democratization and greater denaturalization to the technodevelopmental social struggle for human emancipation.

We already live in ineradicably technological societies, and our problems are the problems of technoscientific societies. And we ourselves are by now all of us also ineradicably prostheticized. There is no Garden for us to return to on this earth, beyond history, or within our hearts. Any commitment to progressive democratization without a complementary commitment to ongoing denaturalization denies the terms of social struggle as they actually confront us in their material specificity in the technoscientific societies in which we find ourselves. And hence any such “progressivisms” (for example, think about left bioconservative politics, boutique Green lifestyle politics available only to oblivious elites, and most of the New Age and pastoral-luddite anarchisms) are to my mind false progressivisms, amounting usually to little more than conservative, and sometimes outright reactionary, indulgences in nostalgia and complacency.

Since instrumental powers can be deployed to indefinitely many ends, they can facilitate exploitation and exacerbate injustice just as easily as they can serve fairness and emancipate humanity when directed to better ends. As is always the case in antidemocratic politics, any commitment to progressive denaturalization without a complementary commitment to ongoing democratization denies the terms of social life -- its ineradicable plurality, insecurity, unpredictability, interdependence -- as they actually confront us in their abiding generality. And hence any such “progressivisms” (for example, think about market libertarian technophilia and the various neoliberal and neoconservative corporate futurisms) are to my mind false progressivisms amounting usually to little more than straightforward bids for power and profit, either for personal gain or in the service of the elites with whom one identifies.

Peer-to-peer progressives in this technoscientific epoch cannot afford to misdiagnose as “progress” any developmental path or outcome that does not contribute both to democratization and denaturalization, and neither can we afford to misrecognize as "allies" in the social struggle for real progress anyone who is committed only to the one aspect of “progress” over the other. This is not to deny that progressives should surely seize opportunistically upon any event or outcome that can be made to facilitate actually progressive ends, just as we should make common cause with any number of momentary allies in contingent campaigns that facilitate clear, concrete progressive ends. But the exigencies of practical political struggle should never confuse our sense of what any progress worth fighting for finally amounts to, nor how a shared understanding of and commitment to progress in its full progressive construal is all we have to ensure we never lose sight of who our friends are. -- February 13, 2006

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Random Wilde

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

Monday, January 03, 2005

Digital Sociality, Digital Control

On tech-oriented discussion lists I have noticed over and over these curious micro-managerial fantasies of control that pop up especially among the libertarian but also the liberal temperaments that gather there -- dreams of politics in which the terms of literally every interaction are somehow exhaustively contracted in advance, dreams of engineered languages re-invented from scratch to more perfectly say the way the world is, dreams of technical, cultural, political revolutions to make everything clean and new.

People speak with unexpected regularity to a hope that perhaps more fine-grained and flexible information and communication networks and technologies might make it possible for individuals to specify the terms on which they participate in public life to an unprecedented degree. I agree that there are lots of interesting things to think about here, and that what we mean by private life and public life will be transformed in very fundamental ways by emerging digital media and bioremedial networks.

But I suspect that in an important sense all of these dreams and desires originate in a deep misrecognition of the condition of ineradicable diversity and vulnerability at the heart of all public life. This diversity and vulnerability are not at all likely to vanish, nor do I think we can intelligibly want them to.

Forgive a momentary lapse into my more theoryheaded mode, but we are always already immersed in language, in law, in norms, in markets, in worlds constrained by code, by architecture, by design.

And it is because we are thrown into these changeable but also significantly durable worlds that precede us, exceed us, and likely will outlive us that it occurs to any of us to desire to consolidate this feeling of having and strengthening a faculty of "opting" in or out of sociality’s terms in the first place.

Pining for a more perfect, more willful agency that could somehow choose exhaustively the very terms in which it plays itself out in the world bespeaks one’s constitution as a being whose agency cannot be otherwise than it is: significantly interdependent, promising, vulnerable, accident-prone.

All of these dreams of a more perfect "private" control of public life seem to me like pathological expressions of the very systems against which they presumably are revolting.

Who, after all, would feel frustration at the law's exactions if the law hadn't first made them who they are? Before regulation limits choices it constitutes the horizon against which one intelligibly chooses anything. We can and must of course collaborate to improve the laws, reform the institutions, contribute new poetry to language. Law, language, and culture are transformed by our ongoing recourse to them.

But who could opt out of opting without becoming an altogether different sort of being than the one they imagine would be made happier by a more perfect "opting" of the terms on which they engage in sociality?

There can be no private languages. There can be no private laws. There can be no private values.

It's too late for that. To feel limited or threatened in the scope of one’s choice is to be already constituted as a being that chooses in this way, that feels the want of these things in the first place. The desire bespeaks its own belated incapacity to be otherwise.

We make our promises and we make our plans, and then we forgive as best we can the mistakes that must inevitably come after. As Hannah Arendt wrote, plurality is the law of the earth.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Happy New Year

I have high hopes for this new year (a PhD on the horizon at last? a new job? who knows what else?), and although every year is a year you cannot get back and so is precious I'll admit I'm not so unhappy to see the backside of this last one.

What we need round here for 2005 is far less war and far fewer warriors. Badass bullying mammals we may still be, but we are queer prostheticized beings all of us now who have long outgrown the kinds of war-making we can survive and so we simply have to outgrow war as well. And all that goes, too, for metaphorical wars on terror, drugs, poverty, and the rest. War is not the answer, as the man said.

Democratic governments justify their existence through the effective administration to needs and solution of problems, not through foreign conquests and domestic looting (eg, "privatization"). Their task is to establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for common defense, and promote general welfare. Administrations work for us, the people; they are not aristocrats, they derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.

The current neo-con Repugnican hostility to work and love of war are two faces of the same shabby overworn coin. Democrats may seem to be in disarray for now but their real respect for work and workers, and their embrace of the ideal of good government will pull them through. Neofeudalism will not prevail even here in mediocre America, meanwhile Europe and the diverse and "developing" world show manifold signs of leapfrogging past our saucer-eyed slow-moving unearned self-assurance to turn the page and change the story of civilization.

I believe that if democrats, liberals, and progressives in America and across the globe can finally fully embrace the pragmatic experimentalism of secular and scientific culture and the emancipatory potential of radical emerging technologies (nanoscale fabrication, modification medicine, decentralized renewable energy and information networks, etc.) regulated to ensure their development is safe and sustainable, and the distribution of their costs, risks, and benefits fair, then the global left will regain its revolutionary fire after two decades of bemused hesitation and consign the fearful meanspirited complacent premodern theocrats and oligarchs and militarists to the their final footnote.

It's not that I imagine 2005 will be the turn of the tide, and if anything I fear what the current crop of market and religious fundamentalist conservatives will do to social security, reproductive freedom, health, education, and safety standards, scientific and technological development, the dream of rights for all people, and to the fragile lives of the human beings on either end of every American gun. But this can at least be the year when we start to see things differently, when we start to say things differently. For now, ugly battles and modest pleasures and always the work.

Now, everybody go clean up your messes, nurse your hangovers, and gather your energies. My best to everybody. Amor Mundi,