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

Thursday, March 31, 2005

The Dead, They Linger

Terri Schiavo died quietly in a Florida hospice this morning.

The person who Terri Schiavo had been ceased to exist fifteen years before, according to the testimony of her husband and many who knew her as well as the best determination of credible doctors and scientists.

The memory of Terri Schiavo will make its home in the lives of the people who actually knew her in profoundly meaningful ways for many years to come.

And no doubt the public figure of Terri Schiavo will likewise continue to resonate into the future, condensing into a few flashes of ineradicable imagery what are in fact the endlessly complex and emotionally fraught quandaries of bodies and lives rendered newly questionable in their limits, capacities, and social intelligibility by ongoing and emerging technological developments.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Today's Random Wilde (David Horowitz Edition)

"I do not approve of anything that tampers with natural ignorance. Ignorance is like a delicate exotic fruit; touch it, and the bloom is gone."--Lady Bracknell, in The Importance of Being Earnest

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

The Random Wilde ("The Queen Is Not a Subject" -- Redux Edition)

A couple of days ago I posted another Random Wildeism, which I noted parenthetically was a personal favorite of mine, “The Queen is not a subject.” A friend wrote to express his perplexity at this choice, and so I thought I’d add a bit of back-story to explain my appreciation.

Wilde had once famously bragged at a dinner party that his wit was so ready and so capacious that he could say a supremely witty thing on literally any subject at any time, and so people loved throwing random topics at him out of the blue to try to catch him out. Inevitably, he managed something relatively clever to say (as this recurring MundiMotif amply attests, after all).

But one evening some meanspirited dumbass witwoud (I imagine him a Bush-Voter precursor type) called out the topic “The Queen!” knowing that on this of all topics most successful witticisms would be impolitic, and so Wilde would be stymied into silence and embarrassed however he responded.

Wilde’s comeback was instantaneous and withering: “The Queen is not a subject.”

The aphorism was positively perfect in every way. Not only did it evade the dilemma Wilde’s antagonist had set for him altogether, it included an inoffensive pun that demonstrated Wilde’s wit in any case, thereby satisfying the rules of the game in spite of everything.

Considering the circumstances of Wilde’s later life, martyred by appalling hypocrites for a rare lapse into earnestness, it seems to me this phrase manages to be one of the few witticisms that includes being prophetic along with being pithy among its virtues. Wilde, possibly the world’s very first queen in an important sense, oracularily delineated his own dilemma to come.

Given the extended meditation on the status of the “subject” in queer theory, this phrase also makes Oscar Wilde the fledgling discipline’s perfectly perverse and queerly legitimate founding father (just in case the essays in Intentions hadn’t already garnered him that status).

Anyway, that’s why this otherwise apparently only modestly witty Wildeism remains one of my favorites.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Conservative "Votes for the Voiceless"

David Brooks claims to discern as the main difference between conservative and progressive bioethics that only one is properly moral in its concerns while the other is largely blind to the values dimension of policy.

This is of course exactly as outrageously false and, frankly, stupid as it was when it was circulated a few months ago in its guise as the fantasy of the conservative "Values-Voter" whose morally righteous hatred of gay people presumably mobilized millions to vote palpably against their own stated interests in November. Well, I guess it distracted Americans from noticing that the Election had been stolen again long enough for the media to cough up some good celebrity trials to do the job, so, who knows, maybe it can work again via Terri Schiavo to take some stink off of the unspeakable Delay, the Iraq Debacle, and the popular revolt against the Republican looting of Social Security.

Here's the case Brooks makes, in a nutshell:
The core belief that social conservatives [have]... is that the value of each individual life is intrinsic. The value of a life doesn't depend upon what a person can physically do, experience or achieve. The life of a comatose person or a fetus has the same dignity and worth as the life of a fully functioning adult...

The central weakness of the liberal case is that it is morally thin. Once you say that it is up to individuals or families to draw their own lines separating life from existence, and reasonable people will differ, then you are taking a fundamental issue out of the realm of morality and into the realm of relativism and mere taste.

I think it is in fact safe to say that in Bush's America "[t]he life of a comatose person or a fetus has the same dignity and worth as the life of a fully functioning adult."

That is to say, not very much.

Conservatives adore claiming to speak for nonpersons (especially fetal not-quite-yet persons, and stubbornly vegetative no-longer-quite persons) who cannot speak for themselves. What better way of multiplying their own voices in a world where sprawling majorities of actual people simply disagree with them, than to claim that their voice stands for countless voiceless voices as well as their own?

The ethical case that drives progressive policy and bioethics is one that foregrounds and consolidates individual consent. Consent is morally thick as concepts go, quite as richly and vibrantly saturated with experience and dignity and quandary as the more mineral mode of "life" the conservatives seem to prefer to concentrate their attentions on.

To denigrate the morality of consent as "the relativism of mere taste" is to confess a complete moral blindness to the way we actually want to do morality here in democratic civilization these days. And it follows as night does day that those who denigrate consent so often go on then to denigrate the dignity of actual democratic citizens with whom they happen to disagree. Notice how often "erring on the side of life" will require a violation of the terms in which citizens with whom conservatives disagree choose to live their own lives.

It's not like this result is a coincidence, you know.

Conservatives pretend to extend the dignity and status of citizens to nonpersons, and in so doing inevitably evacuate actual citizenship of that status. In ascribing "dignity" so uncritically it is conservatives who stretch morality as thin as the skin of a soap bubble. Of course, it matters little to conservatives that their own morality is so thin, for they prefer the dictates of authorities claiming to speak for God, or Tradition, or Homeland, when all is said and done, to the more contingent contentious verdicts of their own best worldly and reasonable deliberation.

Morphological Freedom and the Conservatism of "Recovery"

Why does it so often seem that those who would "err on the side of life" in so doing are impelled to denigrate consciousness and violate consent? It sometimes seems as if the advocates of "choice" are the only real defenders of personal lives.

People live lives different from the lives of snails. Personal lives are uniquely lived in the webs of meaning and thought and conversation woven by public beings, lives that reverberate with choices, with desires, with injuries, with deeds.

All the while the dread armies of the conservative so-called "culture of life" seem to defend life in some more vegetable or mineral mode, always best exemplified by organisms who have not yet arrived among the community of poets and peers, or of those who have already departed from the scene.

Technoprogressives maintain that technological development has become a revolutionary force, that it undercuts the normative weight of claims made in the name of the "natural," and that consensual genetic and cognitive modification are prosthetic practices of self-creation that are likely to be this generation's contribution to the ongoing conversation of humankind.

I use the term "morphological freedom" to describe the ways in which consensual prosthetic practices are enlarging the scope of freedom, even while they derange our expectations, demand new responsibilties, and introduce unprecedented possibilties as well of injustice, violation, and harm.

There is quite alot in the ongoing hysteria provoked by the long-dead but occasionally still-agile body of Terri Schiavo that troubles me (apart from the obvious disgust with conservative hypocrisies it has mobilized, worries about American anti-scientific benightedness, concerns about greedy politicians usurping the rule of law, et cetera), but I want to think out loud a bit more about how the prejudices being aired so passionately at the moment are occasioned by the sense of an emerging technoconstituted morphological freedom weaving its way into our cultural life, making new demands, holding out new hopes, and altogether confusing our sense of what we properly have a right to expect from human experience.

It is well-known that many bioconservatives claim to fear that new technologies will "rob" us of our humanity. But it has always seemed to me that the "essence" of our humanity, such as it is, is simply our capacity to explore together what it means to be human in the first place. Surely no sect, no tribe, no system of belief owns what it means to be human. Humanity can be denied by violence, degraded by poverty, diminished by tyranny, but it cannot be robbed because nobody owns it.

Since I believe that consensual prosthetic practices of self-creation are indispensable contributions to the conversation we are having about what humanity is capable of, it can come as no surprise to discover that I likewise believe it is the ones who would freeze that conversation in the image of their pet platitudes who look the most like thieves today.

Similarly, I share the concerns of many "disability" activists that there is something quite pernicious in the liberal discourse that claims that if Terri Schiavo had a real "chance at recovery" they, too, would demand her "life" be preserved. These activists are rightly suspicious that the idea of "recovery" in such arguments mobilizes what is in fact a highly restrictive normative concept of the sort of lives that are "lives worth living" -- a concept that denigrates many differently-enabled people who, whatever their struggles or sorrows, have lives with dignity, joy, and value worth affirming and supporting the same as anyone else.

I strongly agree with the clinicians whose thorough examination of the evidence locates Schiavo's body with the dead rather than the disabled, and in any case I affirm the necessity to respect her own decisions as these have been best ascertained by a number of courts where matters of the care of her own body are concerned. But it is clear nevertheless that the figure of disability is circulating here in ways that would have to matter to disability activists as well as to advocates and scholars of morphological freedom.

There are many disabled people who will seem superficially similar to Schiavo to an untrained eye, after all, and whose lives are routinely dismissed as "not worth living" in consequence. Disability activists fight fraught heartbreaking battles to champion the rights and standing of such people every single day. As I have written before, it is especially interesting for me to note the extent to which so many of the differently-enabled depend on ongoing cyborgization and prosthetic practices to find their ways to more enriching lives on their own terms: communicating through computer interfaces, locomoting in motorized conveyances, and engaged in sometimes lifelong bioremedial procedures of extraordinary intimacy and profundity.

From the perspective of morphological freedom it seems to me the standard of "recovery" is always worrisomely conservative, naturalizing some contingent standard of proper health as more desirable than indefinitely many alternate possibilities. Morphological freedom is precisely never a matter of any coercive imposition of a normative body in the name of a moral standard of "health," but is an embrace of genetic, prosthetic, and cognitive modification practices in the name of a proliferation of ways of being properly and meaningfully in the world.

What it must mean to respect the differently-enabled as the actually fully-real people they are is to respect them and support them in their differences whenever they affirm the value of these differences on their own terms, just as it must likewise require the best provision of prosthetic avenues for rewriting their bodies and lives in the image of their own desires, also on their own terms.

To take up a different example that concerns some radical technophiles, even from the standpoint of resuscitating vitrified wards awaiting advanced medical treatments the issue may not usefully be thought of best in terms of a "recovery" of information, memory, or function, but as the constitution to the contrary of adequate (in both the subjective and objective senses) narrative continuity in a subject to support her ongoing personal practices of informed, competent, intelligibile, self-determinative consent as well as the public scene on which those practices depend.

The process of "life" in bioremedial technocultures is one of ongoing practices of genetic, prosthetic, and cognitive modification in pursuit of personal meanings, responsibilties, and pleasures that are quite as likely to strain against the imposition of a normative conceptions of "wellness" as anything else.

To the extent that the rhetoric of "recovery" impels us to misrecognize some manifestations of diversity as disability technoprogressives would seem well rid of it. And to the extent that technoprogressives will sometimes affirm the desirability of "better than well" healthcare provision this would seem to encourage a repudiation of the discourse of "recovery" as well. The distinction of therapy from enhancement on which so much contemporary bioethical discourse depends, is rendered either altogether obsolete or at any rate radically historically contingent in such technoprogressive bioethics.

This is not a recommendation of morphological relativism, since for one thing one can still prefer one's own path of self-determination for communicable reasons. And to an important extent the public provision of the resources that enable prosthetic practices of self-creation also demands the maintenance of intelligible standards to ensure democratic accountability, fairness, security, and meaningful deliberation in that provision.

The key for me is a shift in the focus for such standards from a moral(istic) concern with health/beauty/righteousness into an ethical concern with the meaningful consent of peers with whom one may or may not identify morally in the slightest.

Morphological freedom prevails to the extent to which discernible differences among peers arise from consensual prosthetic practices of self-determination or self-creation, rather than being imposed or unduly durressed by conditions of exploitation, violence, or ignorance (any of which might broadly mobilize responsible intervention).

Medicine is taking us on a path from recovery to creation, with all its pleasure and danger, but our language has not yet managed to keep up. The heartbreaking and hysterical public spectacle of the dead prostheticized body of Terri Schiavo attests to our perplexity and our present distress. There are many such spectacles to come.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Raising The Tone

The Schiavo Circus relentlessly grinds on. My rage and disgust and despair are so overwhelming that it is actually prompting lots of productive dissertating just as an escape from the horror and madness into my own little discursive sandbox. Given how palpably close my deadlines are at this point, that is not such a bad thing, I guess. Anyway, in a somewhat unexpected turn, a couple of folks I respect quite a lot posted positions over on the Cyborg Democracy blog that sympathize with a rather generous interpretation of the religious conservatives in the present "Passion of the Terri" as a defense of disability and respect for the wishes of the family.

James Hughes posted a reply to their concerns with which I agree very strongly, and his reply in turn provoked some thoughts of my own. There are, as it happens, real conversations that it would be valuable to hold in the aftermath of the distress and heartbreak of experiences like the one Schiavo's family has undergone. But conversation is hardly the word to describe the monstrous ugly and damaging thing scabbing over this trauma in America today.

In any case, here's what James said:

Her CT scans are up on the web. Her brain is completely necrotized and liquefied. She feels nothing, thinks nothing and is not awake in any meaningful sense.

She died 15 years ago. It’s a travesty to keep the body hydrated.

Nor is this a bad precedent for life extension. In fact, it is the reverse. The legal principle... here is that a person's wishes about their end-of-life treatment be respected. The courts have heard testimony for ten years from the parents accusing the husband of malfeasance, and from the husband explaining that his wife would not want to have lived this way. The courts are only respecting her wishes as communicated through the husband. They have never found the parents' increasingly biazarre arguments credible.

I've written elsewhere that once there is a technology that can reconstitute a damaged brain that we will be obliged to keep a person on life support until we can use it. Michael Schiavo took his wife to California to use the most advanced brain stimulation technology available in the world in 1990, after her collapse. To no avail. He has carried out what we would have expected of him.

Now the fight is between those who think the dignity of life requires consciousness, and those in the Christian Right who think fetuses and the brain dead oblige our respect...

The responsibility for the feat of making politics out of a withdrawal of treatment decision that is made dozens of times around the industrialized world every day can be laid squarely on the Christian Right. A network of Christian Right foundations have bankrolled the Schindlers' lawyers and advisors, and Christian Right Republican strategists seized on the issue as a way to underline for the public that the Democrats were the party of "death" and moral relativism. The Democrats, not being prepared to make bioethical arguments, have generally ducked. They also were confused because the generally left-wing disability rights lobby has been dominated by a group insisting that Schiavo is just "disabled." The disability extremists don't believe the disabled should ever be allowed to remove themselves from life support because such decisions are always under pressure from an ableist society.

On the other "side" are those who see this case as a defense on our right to control our own lives and dying, and of an argument about what is valuable about life, simply "living" or being conscious. Most bioethicists, lawyers, philosophers, nurses and doctors on this side are liberals, but fortunately polls show that 66%-85% of Americans agree that Michael Schiavo should be able to act in his wife's interest, and that we would not want to be kept as potted plants ourselves.

Finally, there is the outrageous statement this makes about resources. The "culture of life" side only cares about a right to health care or disability rights when we are fetal or permanently unconscious. Otherwise, we are on our own. So yes, this is political, but its not because of the Left. Its because of the outrageousness of the Right.

I agree with almost everything James says here. Two points he makes that I want to dwell on at greater length, though, are his claims that (a) liberals have hesitated to make bioethical arguments because they worry that these will play to the charge that the left is somehow "moral relativist" and (b) that "extreme disability activists" are arguing that Schiavo is disabled rather than dead.

First off, very quickly, the idea that liberals are accused of "moral relativism" because of their commitment to deliberative and democratic processes, the weighing of testimony and evidence, a respect for the ability of experts to respond effectively to critical interrogation and demonstrate evidenciary grounds for their claims, seems to suggest that only religious fundamentalists blindly following orders and demanding comparable obediance from everyone else qualifies as "moral righteousness." The result of such an attitude is precisely what we find here: zealots with guns attacking clinics and hospices and trigger-happy politicians itching to release the armies of the night.

Second, and this is infinitely more ticklish, I think it is a profound mistake to condemn disability activism in any kind of blanket way, especially to the extent that the urgency of their positions in the current political environment derives from the astonishing extent to which they are embattled at the moment.

It is obscene of course for the religious right to claim their media manipulations of the dead body of Terri Schiavo constitute a "championing" of the "disabled" when they attack the actual legitimate legislative accomplishments and efforts of the disability movement at every turn.

And it is likewise obscene to claim that these attacks on the wishes of Schiavo herself in these matters as the courts have best but imperfectly ascertained would be defended as an expression of a "commitment to life."

But the repudiation of critical intelligence and choice in the name of an affirmation of dumbed-down sensation and endless accummulation is of course the hallmark of the death-cult "Culture of Life" of our gun-loving pollution-loving war-loving wire-hanger-loving ignorance-loving STD-loving secrecy-loving patriarch-loving Repugnican conservatives in America today.

I happen to agree with the disability activists that there is something quite pernicious in the liberal discourse that likes to say that if Schiavo had a "chance at recovery" it would be they, not Republicans, who would champion her.

These activists are rightly suspicious that the idea of "recovery" here mobilizes a highly restrictive normative concept of a "life worth living" that denigrates many disabled people who, whatever their struggles, have lives with dignity, joy, and value worth affirming and supporting.

In other words, even if I agree that James is absolutely right to locate Schiavo's body with the dead rather than the disabled, it is also clear that the rhetorical figure of disability is circulating here in ways that would have to matter to disability activists.

There are disabled people who are superficially similar to Schiavo to the untrained eye, after all, and it is interesting to note the extent to which so many of them depend on ongoing cyborgization to find their ways to more enriching lives on their own terms, communicating through computer interfaces, locomoting in motorized conveyances, and engaged in sometimes lifelong medical procedures of extraordinary length, depth, and profundity.

The differently-abled should surely be ferocious allies of CybDemites and other technoprogressives.

That so many are not (yet) suggests to me that we haven't yet gotten our language right and our positions clear.

Morphological freedom
is not a commitment to a coercive imposition of a normative body in the name of "health" but precisely an embrace of genetic, prosthetic, and cognitive modification practices in the name of a proliferation of ways of being in the world.

Part of what it means to respect the differently abled as the people they are is to respect them and support them in their difference whenever they affirm its value on their own terms. Part of what it means is also to provide prosthetic avenues for rewriting their bodies and lives in the image of their own desires on their own terms.

It is endlessly tricky juggling our value for morphological freedom, and assessments about the proper distribution of limited health-care assets in the service of the general good, and best ways to responsibly affirm consent (a category which implies both accurate information and competence -- qualifications that are necessary even while they invite abuses of the spirit of the principle itself).

Of course, by way of conclusion here, disability activists on the left are in any case quite right to point out that Republicans are after all the ones struggling to defund the Medicaid on which Schiavo's body depends, are eliminating lawsuits of the kind Schiavo won, and show every sign of denigrating the actual culture of hospice workers who are caring for Schiavo and so many numbers in the midst of distress, diminishing funds, and so much widespread ignorance spreading ever wider.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Friday, March 25, 2005

SciAm Bitch-Slap

[via "Libertyordeath"'s dKos Diary] Precious, righteous snark in a lab coat, snippeted from the April edition of Scientific American:
Okay, We Give Up

. . . In retrospect, this magazine's coverage of so-called evolution has been hideously one-sided. For decades, we published articles in every issue that endorsed the ideas of Charles Darwin and his cronies. True, the theory of common descent through natural selection has been called the unifying concept for all of biology and one of the greatest scientific ideas of all time, but that was no excuse to be fanatics about it...

Why were we so unwilling to suggest that dinosaurs lived 6,000 years ago or that a cataclysmic flood carved the Grand Canyon? Blame the scientists. They dazzled us with their fancy fossils, their radiocarbon dating and their tens of thousands of peer-reviewed journal articles. As editors, we had no business being persuaded by mountains of evidence...

Good journalism values balance above all else. We owe it to our readers to present everybody's ideas equally and not to ignore or discredit theories simply because they lack scientifically credible arguments or facts. Nor should we succumb to the easy mistake of thinking that scientists understand their fields better than, say, U.S. senators or best-selling novelists do. Indeed, if politicians or special-interest groups say things that seem untrue or misleading, our duty as journalists is to quote them without comment or contradiction. To do otherwise would be elitist and therefore wrong.

Tremble, snake-handlers of the Red, Red Vegetative States! The Reality-Based Community is getting feisty at last!

Today's Random Wilde

It is only the superficial qualities that last. Man's deeper nature is soon found out.

Posthuman Beat

[via Pete Miser] Scent of a Robot: Pete Miser rhymes roboethics y'all. Thanks, Jamais!

Borg Queen

[via fafblog!] Okay, quite apart from always appreciating me some good righteous snark in a good political cause, am I the only one actually, you know, turned on by Medium Lobster’s Boschean conjuration here?
As all truly informed gayologists know, the Gay convert others to their massive, hive-like collective by implanting the young with gay nanobots, which reproduce and take over the brains of the young, inevitably transforming right, proper, heterosexual brains into diseased Gay brains, infested with bacterial bath houses and camp subcultures.

Gay nanobots? Cyborg queer hive-mind collectives? I’m sorry, but… Hot!

Freeware Scoop

[via Gizmo Richard] The 16 Best-Ever Freeware Utilities Quibble with the choices all you wanna, but you can’t beat scrounging around a bag full of free goodies that are actually good.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

More Random Wilde

It often happens that the real tragedies of life occur in such an inartistic manner that they hurt us by their crude violence, their absolute incoherence, their absurd want of meaning, their entire lack of style.

Cackles from the Balcony

Eric and I definitely plan to take up Randi Rhodes' suggestion from earlier this afternoon that henceforth the so-called Red States be denoted as the Vegetative States.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

MundiMuster! Revoke Frist’s Medical License

[via Liberal Oasis] [L]ast December, Bill Scher of the consistently fine Liberal Oasis blog encouraged his readers to contact the Nashville Academy of Medicine and request that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's medical license be revoked, because he violated the AMA Code of Medical Ethics when he deliberately and cynically spread damaging misinformation about HIV transmission and condom use.

And now, "once again," writes Scher, Frist "has violated his pledge to 'be honest in all professional interactions,' 'advance scientific knowledge' and 'maintain a commitment to medical education' by claiming to make a superior diagnosis than Terri Schiavo’s doctors by watching a few video clips."

Follow the link to Liberal Oasis, where Scher has obtained the official Nashville Academy of Medicine grievance form from the Academy’s Executive Director and provided an easy automagic way "[t]o file an ethics complaint, download the form, follow the directions," whereupon you need to "have it notarized, and return it to the address at the bottom of the form."

The Random Wilde

Death is the only thing that ever terrifies me. I hate it. One can survive everything nowadays except that.

Richard Rorty, World Federalist

I was combing through Richard Rorty’s Philosophy and Social Hope, looking for a passage to mulch into an awkward pause in my dissertation, when I came upon this passage which pretty much makes a fellow World Federalist out of him. I must admit I’ve always had a warm spot in my heart for Rorty, who often seems to me to conjoin an enjoyably insufferable authorial ethos with a social democratic political ethos in a way I find it hard not to identify with in the strongest possible terms.

The passage that drew my attention (despite being one that is hardly insufferable at all) is this:
The absence of a global polity means that the super-rich can operate without any thought of any interests save their own. We are in danger of winding up with only two genuinely global, genuinely international, social groups: the super-rich and the intellectuals, that is, the people who attend international conferences devoted to measuring the harm being done by their super-rich fellow cosmopolitans.

How can such cosmopolitan, jetsetting intellectuals help increase the chances of a global egalitarian utopia? I suspect that the most socially useful thing we can do is to continually draw the attention of the educated publics of our respective countries to the need of a global polity, which can develop some sort of countervailing power to that of the super-rich.

Of course, there is a rather resigned and awfully patronizing edge in this diagnosis (which is, by the way, from a piece almost a decade old now), which could use a bracing corrective or at least complementary dose of bottom-up social-software enabled WorldChanging sustainable democratic experimentalist politics. But there are days when I think the converse is exactly equally true.

(I should note that elsewhere in the essay from which I scooped the quote above Rorty actually explicitly despairs of efforts to reform and buttress the United Nations -- campaigns to which the World Federalists are explicitly devoted. But it is Rorty's hope rather than his despair that interests me most here.)

Anyway, others who might find the World Federalist Movement as attractive as I do should check out their website, and Americans especially should delve deep into the Citizens for Global Solutions site which is an offshoot affiliated with the former, or possibly even represents an overall refurbishment of WFM.

(I have to admit I hope this CGS –- which is certainly doing fine work, and whose website is plenty snazzy as these things go -- isn’t some attempt at an overall makeover for WFM, since “Citizens for Global Solutions” has something of the bland uneasy vacuity about it as do those amorphous “Green” thinktanks that end up being sponsored by Exxon-Mobil when you look more closely, where “World Federalism” has the more portentious utopian zing and programmatic specificity of “abolitionism” or “suffragism” to my ears.)

Monday, March 21, 2005

Today's Random Wilde

The emotions of man are stirred more quickly than man's intelligence; and... it is much more easy to have sympathy with suffering than it is to have sympathy with thought.

Out the Know-Nothings!

[via the Gadflyer] Paul Waldman has made a crucial proposal.
I propose that every Republican politician be asked this simple question: Do you believe that the earth was created less than 10,000 years ago? In other words, is everything we have learned about the age of the universe, our planet, and the life thereon nothing but an elaborate hoax?

They'll have two choices. First, they can acknowledge the truth, and offend their most rabid supporters. Or they can say they do in fact believe the earth is less than 10,000 years old, in which case they will have proclaimed for all to see their antipathy toward the very notions of science and rationality.

Or they might take a third path – trying not to answer the question. They shouldn't be allowed to get away with that. Here's a sample question journalists can use as a follow-up: "Did you take biology in high school? Are you familiar at all with the mountain of evidence in support of evolution? Do you know about these things called "fossils," that, for instance, show earlier stages of human evolution? OK – so if you know about all that, are you saying it's all a hoax?" ...

If you think the earth was created less than 10,000 years ago, you're either spectacularly ill-informed (probably not your fault) or willfully ignorant. If you had the benefit of an education at, say, Andover, Yale and Harvard and you think this, you've simply rejected rational thought. Schizophrenics can at least say they did not choose their delusions.

We absolutely need to get politicians on the record on this. The view that God exists and has guided the process of creation and evolution -– or even set it in motion and stood back –- is not incompatible with a[ scientific] understanding of the world. The view that the entire accumulated knowledge of physics and biology is some kind of sinister scam, on the other hand, is not.

My suspicion is that if you looked into their heart of hearts, even most of the Republican caucus of both houses would admit that of course the earth is not 10,000 years old. But they don't have the guts to say so and alienate their fundamentalist supporters. They shouldn't be allowed to weasel out of it.

It's hard to bear the disgusting sanctimony of the so-called "champions of life" who are presently crawling and leering over the long-dead body of Terri Schiavo (finally, a woman so inert that even your typical hayseed conservative patriarch needn't feel threatened by her!) as they cynically and sensationalistically manipulate widespread scientific ignorance for almost unbelievably irresponsible short term partisan-political gains.

This is no suprise of course from the wretched crew of Know-Nothings who still smugly advocate the disaster of abstinence-only education, who would eagerly build a prison for every school they kill, who want to hound scholars into retirement for making arguments with which they disagree, who are systematically dismantling the independent press (such as it is) for endless progaganda and payola, who would replace every measure of accountability and transparency in government for a culture of State Secrets Under a Strong Executive, and who blithely persist in climate-change denial, presumably hoping that they'll be safe themselves from any upcoming heavy weather chaos, whiling away their Golden Years (should they fail to be Raptured up on schedule) with their family and friends in gated communities well-stocked with all the scarcer choicer commodities and distractions denied the rest of us.

But those who are willing to sell out freedom of expression and the pursuit of consensus science today and who would pander instead to the ignorant and fearful should simply be made to say so and face the consequences: they should be actively and absolutely shunned by those of us who defend freedom of thought and its fragile accomplishments because we know better.

I doubt many of these smugly sanctimonious so-called foes of the science in whose wealth they would otherwise soak would be much pleased to find themselves confined to the company of the ignorant people to whom they are pandering for power. Beltway Republicans endlessly insulated by technological comforts and medical marvels from any actual connection with the faith-based world they are building might be given pause were they confined to the prescientific swamps, or the company of their snake-handling inhabitants, that best exemplify the dazzling "culture of life" in which they are striving to imprison the future.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Random Wilde

I must decline your invitation owing to a subsequent engagement.

More on Why the Future Starts Now

You never can tell just which of the things you write will resonate with people. A couple of days ago I tossed off a few impressions of an article by Charles Choi, "Nanotech May Not Reach [the] Poor," that a friend had forwarded to me, and which reminded me of a piece I had recently read by my friend Mike Treder of the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology (and Mike’s piece, I discovered upon a closer read, had also included a link to the piece that had been forwarded to me). Then another friend Jamais Cascio -- Senior Editor of my favorite blog WorldChanging -- who, it turns out, happened to have been mulling over the very same pieces at the time he read my own meditation on them reprinted my essay there, whereupon it inspired some interesting and in my view interestingly exemplary (or perhaps I should say "symptomatic") comments and responses.

But first I do want to clarify that I meant the original essay as a pretty straightforward complement to the post Mike wrote on the CRN blog rather than as the "response" to it many seem to think I intended. The piece spent half its time simply summarizing Mike's argument along with that of the Choi piece he linked to, and only then did I go on to make my own point. I prefaced my case with this sentence:
I want to be clear about this: I am not suggesting that Treder and other technoprogressive nanotechnology enthusiasts (of whom I am one, after all) are frustrating the contemporary address of these problems by projecting their eventual solution onto some hypothetical more technologically sophisticated future.

One of the best things about Mike's response to my own essay was that he used it as an occasion to make the broader CRN case to the WorldChanging audience -- that we need to anticipate and plan for the dangers and disruptions sophisticated nanotechnology will likely engender.

I simply assumed -- I think, correctly -- that CRN knows that tools are available to redress poverty and suffering cheaply today and that to the extent that we value ameliorating those problems we should make use of those tools today to do so just as we hope to use the better tools that will be available later to do so better when we can.

The point I was trying to make, and I guess I wasn't as clear as I would like to have been is that (and these are quotes from the original essay)
there may be a much tighter connection than is evident on first glance between such an attitude [that we should use whatever tools we have whenever we have them to do what we can when we can] and the likelihood that we actually will use more superlative technologies eventually to better address these problems in the future.

And so, the kicker for me was this:
Counterintuitive though it may seem, cheap insecticide treated mosquito nets have everything to do with advanced nanotechnology -- to the extent that what we hope for from such emerging superlative technological developments is the redress of injustice, poverty, and human suffering.

What I assumed (and still assume) was that Mike already shared my attitude that we should address social problems with the tools we have, as well as sharing my hope that nanotechnological tools will some day soon emancipate humanity from poverty and suffering altogether. But then what my essay went on to propose was that there is a tight connection between these attitudes, that the latter hope is much less likely to come true unless the former attitude is inculcated here and now.

I didn't and don't know whether or not Mike would agree with that, but making that point was what I hoped would be my own modest contribution to the conversation. That's really all there is to it.

Quite a few people objected to a throwaway line in the essay: "There are a lot of market libertarian technophiles who like to handwave about abstract indefinite futures in which injustice will somehow evaporate so as to help justify their own ugly indifference to injustice today."

I'm sorry if that offends the wrong people. I was quite careful to insist that I don't think anybody officially affiliated with CRN exemplifies this attitude. But I do fear this attitude is widespread among American technophiles and I discuss it regularly here on my blog and elsewhere.

I would assume most people who are offended to be corralled together with the meanspirited in this way would actually not be meanspirited themselves and so I think they should cheerfully exempt themselves from my claim (which was, after all, a qualified rather than universal one) and work with me to address the problems of poverty and avoidable suffering we share then. Surely, they're just as aware of and annoyed by the meanspirited people I'm talking about as I am anyway.

Comments on the CRN blog itself are especially exemplary of the sorts of attitudes with which technoprogressives must grapple continuously. One response there seems to propose we bypass the contentious but necessary public redress of social ills altogether and focus on engineering questions instead and hope for the best, while another response seems to suggest people who hope to maximize social justice should act more like "capitalists" or at any rate "reformers" (just some oddball constituency apparently) should trust to capitalism to provide and, again, hope for the best.

Both of these are quite familiar, even prototypical, objections to arguments like mine, and needless to say seem to me conspicuously inadequate.

First, what we mean by "technology" is never only a matter of engineering -- its inspiration, funding, regulation, marketing, and the distribution of its developmental costs and risks as well as its eventual benefits are all importantly political matters.

There is no getting around politics, and so technophiles need to get considerably better at it.

The examples of nuclear power and genetically modified foods both provide ample recent evidence of this sort of thing.

Scientists, of course, were perfectly aware of the long-term disposal problems which, among other things, make nuclear power a disastrously nonviable technology for now. But their focus on the engineering and insensitivity to politics helped faciliate the hijacking of their work by scientifically illiterate politicians and also vast corporations itching to retain their wartime prominence in a postwar society. Eventually the outrage and suspiciousness inspired by atomic-age hype contributed in turn to the transformation of the once techno-utopian left into a generation of technophobes whose blanket hostility to reckless corporate-sponsored technological development paved the way for the current unspeakably damaging bioconservative hostility to technoprogressive funding and regulation of emerging so-called "enhancement" medicine and nanoscale manufacturing altogether. And this techno-cynicism continues to bear disastrous fruit as an often uncritically technophobic left allies itself surreally with anti-abortion conservatives on issues of genetic medicine, and allies with drug war conservatives on issues of neuroceutical medicine.

Meanwhile, even more recently, genetically modified foods, despite their potentially incomparable global benefits to humanity, are languishing under an almost unbearable stigma, again importantly because of the public-relations tone-deafness of technophiles whose focus was engineering rather than politics.

(I will get e-mails complaining that this is further proof of the problem of "politicizing" science, as if pouting and stamping one's foot at reality ever solved a problem in the first place. Look: Consensus science is a profoundly democratic process in which people collaborate in the context of well-managed societies to apply shared standards to the solution of problems. This is a matter of good politicized science working better than perniciously politicized science -- the latter in the service of, say, fundamentalist Christianity or polluters or tobacco companies who couldn't care less what the best account of the facts on offer happen to be. That scientific and technological development have political dimensions is ineradicable from the enterprise of each. What is wanted is good politicization. What is required for that is a recongition of what constitutes and supports this good politicization. Pretending not to be political, or decrying the political, or striving sanctimoniously to be oblivious to the political are remarkably inept strategies, whatever their apparent ubiquity among otherwise sensible champions of scientific culture.)

As it happens, one of the best things about CRN in my view is that Mike and Chris both recognize these sorts of connections and seem among the rarest few people who focus on emerging technologies who have an almost equally sophisticated grasp of the political/cultural terrain on which technological development unfolds as well as the relevant science on which it likewise depends.

Finally, as far as "capitalism" goes, I cannot know what that term means to any particular commentor since in America it is a word that gets freighted sometimes with unexpected associations and emotions. Certainly I agree with, say, Lawrence Lessig that pricing signals make an indispensable contribution to the ongoing regulation of human affairs, along with social norms, laws backed by threats of force and the supportive cultural paraphernalia of hegemonic legitimacy, and finally what Lessig describes as "architectural" constraints. That is a decent straightforward characterization of the actual scene on which we intervene to induce the developmental effects we want, and it doesn't make much sense to me either to claim to "oppose" or to "champion" it on this level of generality.

Anyway, in the actual essay itself I talk about the importance of sustainability and especially of redressing conspicuous poverty, treatable illness and unecessary suffering around the world. These are concerns CRN clearly shares. That's another reason CRN is such a worthy project.

There are resources available now to address these problems but the problems are simply not being addressed sufficiently. Among the available technologies are insecticide-treated mosquito nets and any number of comparable tools of a kind you can find nearly every day on sites like WorldChanging, among other places.

It seems to me "capitalists" should be able to recognize the value of a healthy environment in which to live and work (a point that becomes more fraught when genetic therapies and rejuvination medicine are factored into the picture) as well as to recognize the contribution that could be made to creative expression, useful work, ongoing innovation, and social stability by healthy, comfortable, rights-bearing people who are not pointlessly starving or dying of cheaply treatable malaria and the like in the so-called developing world.

Nevertheless, this does not seem to be happening, does it? And so I cannot share the apparent optimism of some of my critics that this will change anytime soon unless more than what often passes for "capitalism" among some of its enthusiasts is mobilized to make necessary and beneficial change happen now and for the good of all.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Today's Random Wilde

It is very vulgar to talk about one's business. Only people like stockbrokers do that, and then merely at dinner parties.

More Than Human? Or Simply More Humane?

Technoprogressive (and fellow CybDemite) Ramez Naam released a book last week, More Than Human: Embracing the Promise of Biological Enhancement. It is one of an encouraging spate of recent and soon-upcoming books that discuss radical emerging technological developments in ways that welcome rather than dismiss their emancipatory scope, but also grapple seriously with policy implications of these developments without descending either into hype or technophobia.

Part of what is most exciting about this new bookshelf of serious popular techno-speculation is that it expresses a wide spectrum of political temperaments, and so offers us a glimpse of the wider, more inclusive conversation that is likely to take hold of society more generally as genetic, neuroceutical, and rejuvination medicine, nanoscale technology and replicative molecular manufacturing, intimate computer interfaces and prostheses, renewable energy technologies, and ubiquitous automation all become more proximate and so more palpable.

Last summer I attended a panel at the TransVision Conference in Toronto at which Ramez spoke together with the radical democrat and socialist-feminist bioethicist James Hughes and market libertarian Ronald Bailey. James Hughes of course has recently published his great book, Citizen Cyborg, and Ronald Bailey's own Liberation Biology is arriving on the scene quite soon.

There is no question that I sympathize best with James Hughes' formulations -- he's a good friend and temperamentally very close political ally -- but Ramez Naam is offering up progressive arguments in an appealingly moderate and sensible language that is likely to do a lot of good for wide audiences. Both books are unquestionably technoprogressive. Bailey's libertarianism, an unfortunate commonplace among especially American technophiles, is a source of ongoing exasperation to me, but his arguments are consistently among the most usefully provocative, clearheaded, and factually substantiated of their kind and I hope readers of this blog will read his book together with the other two. He isn't technoprogressive himself, but neither is he bioconservative, thankfully, and he provides many arguments technoprogressives can use themselves -- and anyway everybody can use intelligent engagement with perspectives different from their own. In any case, Ramez's book has already generated a decent buzz and a number of good reviews, and so may well end up the most influential of the books for a while.

NuSapiens recently posted an interview with Ramez from which you can discern some of the flavor of his arguments:

NuSapiens: Part of your argument in More Than Human is that these technologies need to be available to everyone, not only people living in certain nations, and not only the rich. What steps can society take to ensure equal access to enhancement?

Ramez Naam: Really there are two key things. The first is to keep these technologies legal. One of the best ways to limit something to the rich is to ban it. When you do that, you create a black market. On the black market, prices rise, quality and safety suffer, and the legal punishments tend to get applied far more frequently to the poor than the rich. This is what we see in the War on Drugs today, or what we saw in Prohibition in the 20s.

The second is to recognize enhancement technologies as investments in the most valuable natural resource we have - people. Governments support these sorts of investments already. We give out scholarships and guarantee student loans. We provide free primary and secondary schooling. We immunize poor children for free. All of those steps actually pay for themselves and more in the long run - they prevent later health care costs or they produce citizens who contribute more to the economy after they've grown up and entered the work force.

In the US alone, a 1% reduction in health care costs would save almost $200 billion over 10 years. And a 1% productivity boost would earn the country $1 TRILLION over 10 years. If we could achieve that by subsidizing the cost of using biotech to slow the aging rate or boost mental capacity, wouldn't it be worth it?

NuSapiens: What are some of the greatest risks these technologies pose to society, and how should we handle them?

Ramez Naam: There are definitely risks - no doubt about that. Every new technology brings its share of problems. Antibiotics contributed to the population boom. Cars degrade air quality and lead produce traffic accidents, and so on.

In the case of enhancement technologies, I think equality is going to be one of the biggest challenges, as we just discussed.

The other, I think, is safety. Schwarzenegger said recently that when he started taking steroids, everyone thought they were safe. It looks like he ended up okay, but others have been hurt by using performance enhancers they didn't know the full effects of. In the 1980s, competitive cyclists started taking synthetic EPO - a compound that increases the number of red blood cells you have. Between 1987 and 1990, several Dutch and Belgian cyclists died of it. Their blood had become so thick that their hearts just couldn't keep on pumping it. The problem in both of these cases is that the medical profession never tested the use of these drugs to enhance performance. The FDA forced Amgen to test EPO on patients with anemia, where it does wonders. But it should have been obvious that people were going to use this stuff to try to boost their athletic performance as well. Because the FDA doesn't acknowledge that there might be such enhancement use, they don't require Amgen to do any testing of safety in athletes.

So one of the keys to the safety question, in my mind, is acknowledging that people are going to use drugs, gene therapies, and other technologies to enhance themselves. We need to understand that, study that kind of usage, and provide consumers good accurate information they can use to keep themselves safe.

My only real quibble with Ramez's book is its title, actually. As I have argued elsewhere I think the commonplace deployment among "transhumanists" and other technophiles of the phrase "more than human" to describe modification medicine and prosthetic practices generally is pointlessly alienating to many people, and that it introduces dangerous confusions into discussions of emerging technologies.

Because technology-talk seems curiously prone to drift its way into the superlative cadences of transcension and apocalypse, of radical empowerment or devastating disempowerment, of either "superhumanization" or utter dehumanization, it seems to me that those of us who are concerned to think instead about the actual technical, social, cultural, ethical, and political implications of emerging technologies should always be especially vigilant to resist the temptations to drift into such distracting superlative discourses and reductive either-ors ourselves.

I get it that "More Than Human" is the kind of title that will move volumes, and that this is a good thing -- especially since I hope as many people as possible will read this as well as the other books I've talked about in this post. But I think technoprogressives should think carefully about their use of this too commonplace phrase, and about its implications.

I do not agree that even the superlative forms of the technologies discussed in these books would make the people who might come to incarnate them "more than human," any more than I would think contemporary human beings are somehow "more human" than their prehistoric cousins just because we live in cities and make recourse to eyeglasses and vaccinations.

Emancipatory technologies like contraception provide millions upon millions of human beings more and more ways to be human, but none of these humans are made more human than other humans by their use. Such technologies contribute to the measure of human freedom and dignity in the world, but certainly without thereby denigrating the humanity of those who could not yet or who might now choose not to avail themselves of these technologies.

Technology is profoundly humane when it is addressed to the problems of humankind. In the service of greed and parochial power it can exacerbate injustice, facilitate exploitation, and impose needless suffering.

People are little served in the always fraught thinking-through of their alternate employments of available and emerging technologies by introducing the specter of technoconstituted "more than human" people (as well as people presumably made thereby "less than" them in the same gesture) into the discussion.

Surely the greater quandary arising from radical prosthetic practices is not the arrival on the scene of some kind of singular threatening cyborg elite, but precisely an overabundance of incomparable ways of being in the world that must nonetheless retain the sense that they are all collaborating in their various ways in the ongoing making of the world they share together now and in the futures they will go on to share.

What is wanted is a more queer, more joyous, more various humanity, nothing more. Emancipation and empowerment, whether it emerges from technological development or progressive political organizing, enables ever more humans to celebrate and enjoy their humanity as they see fit. There is room in the ongoing conversation of humankind for all the cyborgs and the queers. And the dreams of those who would be "More Than Human" will soon seem little more than a sad survival from a scared scarred scarcity we are thankfully, finally, hopefully leaving behind us at long last.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

And Now, for Today's Random Wilde...

Self-denial is the shining sore on the leprous body of Christianity.

MundiMuster! Support the (OPEN) Government Act

[via Open the Government!] Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) have introduced the Openness Promotes Effectiveness in our National (OPEN) Government Act (S. 394), to strengthen the public's hand in obtaining information from federal agencies under the Freedom of Information Act.

The law would allow the public to recoup legal costs from the federal government for improperly withheld documents, expand the list of those eligible for fee waivers, and establish a tracking system for requests, among other things.

Blocking access to government information leaves the public vulnerable. People cannot determine whether or not the local drinking water is safe, for example, or if hazardous waste is shipped through town. The public needs information to protect communities and families, and to hold the government accountable for its responsibilities.

Government secrecy is on the rise in the Imperial Executive Administration of George W. Bush, putting the public's right to know at risk, further weakening the accountability of authorities to the citizens they serve, and contributing to the same ongoing disintegration of the informed electorate culture on which participatory democracy depends as do the crises in corporate media consolidation and paid progagandizing, the ongoing assault on public education, and other disasters that are getting more attention at the moment than the pernicious consolidation of the Bush era culture of state secrecy, crony capitalism, and accountability last.

Support the (OPEN) Government Act by contacting your representatives and urging them to support this critical piece of legislation as well. You can send a letter through this automagic netroots mobilization tool.

Open government needs your support!

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Today's Random Wilde

Anyone can sympathize with the sufferings of a friend, but it requires a very fine nature to sympathize with a friend's success.

The Future Starts Now: Technoprogressives Cannot Postpone the Redress of Poverty and Treatable Illness

Friend and ally Mike Treder, one of the directors of the technoprogressive Center for Responsible Nanotechnology, recently posted an editorial to the CRN blog about some of the ways in which advanced (but possibly developmentally proximate) nanotechnologies might be used eventually to ameliorate some of the devastating poverty in the developing world. He is absolutely right about this, and it is encouraging to find more people beginning to think about ways in which emerging technologies might be applied to urgent social and political problems that confront humanity.

His comments complement points made in a recent article (to which he links in his own post) by Charles Choi, which worries that “Nanotech May Not Reach [the] Poor.” Despite the fact that “the poor of the world, who make up nearly 80 percent of the global population, [stand to] benefit most from emerging nanotechnologies,” writes Choi, they are not likely in fact to reap them at all “unless nations commit the funding and [endorse the] policies necessary to spread those benefits.”

Treder paints a dramatic and painfully accurate picture of the scope of the global healthcare crisis:
In the time that it takes you to read this sentence, at least ten real people will die, some of them helpless children, and some in horrible pain. Every single day, 24,000 people die of starvation; 6,000 children are killed by diarrhea; 2,700 children are killed by measles; and 1,400 women die in childbirth.

In more bad news, the number of cases of the deadliest form of malaria across the world could be twice as high as previously predicted.
A team from the University of Oxford estimated there were over half a billion cases of Plasmodium falciparum malaria globally in 2002. This figure is up to 50% higher than estimates from the World Health Organization. Two thirds of cases occurred in Africa, predominantly affecting children under five years old.
The study suggests that, in total, 2.2 billion people are at risk from malaria, or about one-third of the population on Earth.

Horrifying though this account may be, just think how the picture worsens when the AIDS pandemic is factored in, or the risk of comparably devastating global outbreaks of Avian flu, or any number of other contemporary global healthcare crises, into many of which we could intervene through recourse to elementary treatments, education, hygiene, basic nutrition, and the like.

Choi describes some of the ways in which nanoscale technologies and manufacturing might be uniquely suited to the problems of the world’s poor:

The World Bank estimates 4.8 billion people in the world are poor. Waterborne diseases and water-linked illnesses kill more than 5 million people a year worldwide, 85 percent of them children, according to the World Health Organization.

[Todd] Barker[,a partner at the non-profit Meridian Institute in Dillon, Colorado ,]... in preparing a report on nanotechnology and the poor for an April conference in Alexandria, Egypt, found a number of water-filtering systems based on nanotechnology that could save lives in the developing world. For instance, Argonide, a company in Sanford, Fla., with backing from NASA, uses alumina nanofibers whose positive-charge filters water by pulling out negatively charged viruses and bacteria.

More than 2 billion people currently have no access to electricity that could pump water, power rural clinics and refrigerate medicines, the report noted. A potential solution could come from Konarka, an energy technology firm in Lowell, Mass., which is developing inexpensive nanotechnology-based, high-efficiency, flexible, lightweight solar-power cells for electricity.

Nanotechnology could enable many health breakthroughs to help the poor. Meridian's report named Starpharma, in Melbourne, Australia, as the developer of nanotech microbicides that could reduce the risk of HIV infection in women. It found the Central Scientific Instruments Organization in India planning to develop nanotech-based tuberculosis diagnostic kits that work more quickly, use less blood and cost less per test.

Part of what seems especially significant in these examples to me is that most of the nanoscale technologies involved are already available or at any rate under active development.

When Treder proposes that “many more [of the world’s poor] could be saved from suffering and death through the development of molecular manufacturing,” it is quite clear he means by that term the rather more speculative and sophisticated nanoscale manufacturing technologies to which the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology devotes most of its attention.

If CRN is right (as I think they are) to think the development of versions of this more radical and robust kind of nanotechnology is possible, actively underway, and in fact probably developmentally quite proximate, then it is good and important that they are providing moderate and progressive policy language to address some of the key problems and promises of this development now, before it's too late.

But I want to propose that there can be something profoundly problematic about such a focus on superlative technological developments when the problem we are considering in particular is the redress of global poverty and injustice that already demands the most urgent and immediate attention from any human civilization worthy of that name.

Now, I want to be clear about this: I am not suggesting that Treder and other technoprogressive nanotechnology enthusiasts (of whom I am one, after all) are frustrating the contemporary address of these problems by projecting their eventual solution onto some hypothetical more technologically sophisticated future. There are a lot of market libertarian technophiles who like to handwave about abstract indefinite futures in which injustice will somehow evaporate so as to help justify their own ugly indifference to injustice today. But I know for a fact that Treder, like most technoprogressives, is both enthusiastic and insistent about the use of whatever tools we have at our disposal today to address the problems that confront us today.

But I do want to insist that there may be a much tighter connection than is evident on first glance between such an attitude and the likelihood that we actually will use more superlative technologies eventually to better address these problems in the future.

“In many areas of the world, something as simple as a water filter or a mosquito net could save many lives,” writes Treder. “Such small, simple products would cost almost nothing to produce with a nanofactory.” What I want to propose is that because the cost of saving lives with a water filter or an insecticide-treated mosquito net is already so negligible, especially considering the benefit it confers, that unless we actively devote ourselves to saving lives with the technologies cheaply at our disposal today, then we cannot expect more sophisticated nanotechnological solutions to these problems to be employed to that purpose, however much cheaper, more powerful, more effective they may be.

Only if we establish as an urgent priority of human civilization right now the provision of cheap insecticide treated mosquito nets to vulnerable populations in the developing world can we confidently assume that the arrival of even cheaper, more effective nanotechnologies will take their place to perform better the function already being performed by tools on hand.

And, of course, the insecticide-treated mosquito nets are just one among many examples. Have a look at the Medecins Sans Frontieres Access to Essential Medicines Campaign for other examples, among still many more.

What I am trying to emphasis here, I suppose, is just the rather facile but still crucial point that people in some superlative nanotechnological future will not think of themselves as inhabitants of the future in the least. They will inhabit a present just as we, inhabitants of a future imperfectly glimpsed by generations past, inhabit the present.

If tools exist to imperfectly redress hideous global poverty and treatable illnesses here and now (and they do), then it is precisely our effort to redress these injustices with these tools we have on hand that best ensures that the future tools available to future people (and we may very well be those people ourselves, after all) will be used to do the same when finally they arrive on the scene.

Counterintuitive though it may seem, cheap insecticide treated mosquito nets have everything to do with advanced nanotechnology -- to the extent that what we hope for from such emerging superlative technological developments is the redress of injustice, poverty, and human suffering.

According to Choi’s article, quite a number of nations in the developing world for which problems of devastating poverty and untreated but treatable illnesses are most acute, are in fact investing heavily in nanotechnology – countries like “China, South Korea and India are front-runners,” he writes, “with the Philippines, South Africa, Brazil and Chile in the middle and Argentina and Mexico as up-and-comers.”

But Choi goes on to quote Todd Barker that “[e]ven in countries where a large proportion of citizens are poor, little of this investment is being directed towards research and applications that could directly benefit the poor."

Like Treder, Barker worries that "there appears to be little effort among the various sectors of society -- government, nongovernmental organizations, business, donors and academia – to connect the development of nanotechnology with the needs of poor people in developing countries.”

The problem as well as its solution seems to me to be contained in Barker’s subsequent comment that even in the developing world "[m]ost government investments in nanotechnology are aimed at improved national corporate competitiveness."

A monomaniacal focus on such “corporate competitiveness” today yields an international socioeconomic order that serves first and most conspicuously the parochial interests of a minute politically empowered fraction of the people on earth, while devoting only marginal ingenuity and effort to the address of the problems, needs, and hopes of the vast majority of the planet’s population. As it is now, so shall it be in the future.

Technological development more or less blindly articulates human agency, exacerbating the injustices and inequalities of the societies that incubate and support it just as it ameliorates the problems at which the people of those societies aim it. When civilization makes it a living priority to redress avoidable suffering and needless poverty and treatable disease with the tools we have at hand, then and only then will we be building a future in which the technologies to come can be counted on to do more good than harm. That future is now.

Monday, March 14, 2005

MundiMuster! Stop Fake News

[via StopFakeNews] The good folks who brought you the encouragingly succesful Stop Sinclair Campaign last year have now transformed into, and the pernicious Fake News Propagation of the M$M would appear to be the crisis on which they've set their sights these days. Click the closing link for an automagic netroots mobilization to Start some much-needed Change...

On Sunday, March 13th, The New York Times broke a major story outlining how the Bush administration has used millions of dollars of taxpayer money to produce and disseminate fake news programs that support a partisan political agenda.

These government-produced segments have frequently aired on broadcast TV stations across the country without proper disclosure.

Not only is this unacceptable, it is also illegal.

Please send an email to the Federal Communications Commission and the Justice Department and ask them to Stop Fake News.

Medicine May Soon Deliver Longer Lives, More Health, and Increasing Diversity to All. Bioconservatives Want to Know: “Where’s the Outcry?”

[via] Albert Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has coughed up a bit of pre-modern outrage today at the advancing tide of medical knowledge and technologies.

“We are living in an age of radical transformations in science, technology, and worldview,” writes Mohler in a short commentary today entitled (genuflecting in the direction of fellow bioconservative Francis Fukuyama) “Our Posthuman Future.”
Standing at the center of the worldview now dominant in our society is an affirmation that human beings have the right, if not the responsibility, to "improve" themselves in every way.

In a culture that celebrates youth, attractiveness, and achievement, the
idea of personal improvement is now being stretched beyond what previous
generations could have imagined.

It is difficult to imagine just how Mohler could offer a compelling argument as to why it would be a bad thing particularly if medical advances succeeded in providing more youthfulness, attractiveness, and capacities for achievement for all. And so, Mohler is appealing instead to the reasonable suspicions many of us have come to entertain about the superficiality and disastrous distractedness of (and cynical manipulations enabled by) unrealistic idealizations of youth, appearance, and endless achievement.

For too many people in contemporary society aging brings isolation and infirmity. Few actual people today embody ideal standards of attractiveness, while many suffer feelings of devastating inadequacy as they judge themselves against those standards. Too often the language of “success” and "achievement” ignores the extent to which individual success results from dumb luck misdiagnosed as destiny, or depends on the work of people who gain little of the benefit or credit for it.

But Mohler’s criticism does not seem to be that emerging technologies will continue to inspire unrealistic standards and hopes, while imposing unfair costs and distracting us from real problems. Mohler seems to worry that medicine might in fact succeed in improving health, lengthening lives, increasing youthfulness, expanding capacities, providing worldly hope, and widening the secular scope of human happiness and meaning.

Mohler warns against the emerging idea that “human beings have the right, if not the responsibility, to ‘improve’ themselves in every way.” But does he really want to commit us to the contrary proposition that the efforts of human beings to improve themselves as they see fit should be forbidden, then?

We are all of us already the beneficiaries of prosthetic practices, we are already rewriting ourselves in the image of our desires, we are already weaving technologies into our bodies and into the stories of our lives.

Would Mohler really want to argue that contact lenses or hearing aids are dehumanizing? How about prosthetic limbs? Would genetic therapies in which limbs or eyes or rotten teeth regenerate where they were lost to the vicissitudes of life be dehumanizing, then? Are we “dehumanized” by vaccinations or multivitamin supplements?

I was going to add, are women “dehumanized” by their access to reproductive technologies, or are children “dehumanized” by their exposure to scientific knowledge, critical thinking skills, or human diversity through literature? –- And since Mohler is a conservative Southern Baptist I suspect his answer here might be revealing indeed.

By scare-quoting the word “improve” Mohler seems to suggest either that new technologies will impose changes on us that we would not otherwise choose for ourselves or that they will re-make us in an image we would disdain or from which we would suffer impoverishment. Certainly I agree with Mohler that modification and rejuvenation and other radical therapeutic interventions must always be consensual, rarely-to-never mandated, rarely-to-never banned. And I agree that there should be considerably greater cultural sensitivity about manipulative and unrealistic marketing claims that impair people’s capacity to make informed decisions with reasonable expectations about the effects of medical interventions.

But it is hard to see how such reasonable concerns could have inspired the sweeping wholesale condemnation of science and medicine and the very idea of human improvement in Mohler’s short diatribe, or in the many bioconservative panic-button editorials that are pimpling the cultural landscape in this moment of roiling technoconstituted change.

Mohler sputters: ”Some even talk of a ‘posthuman’ or ‘transhuman’ future in which humans can redefine themselves.” Just think what it means to denigrate such a hope altogether.

Where human beings are treated as incapable of defining themselves you can be sure there are self-appointed authorities who feel that it is their own job to define human beings for them, and on their own parochial terms and for their own purposes.

Mohler flings out the usual disasterbatory scare-tactics and hyperbolic superlative fantasies, “designer babies,” “superhuman competitor species,” and the rest. But preimplantation genetic screening for diseases, for example, yields anything but “superbabies” on the streets where we actually live. It just gives women more information on the basis of which to make informed choices about biological processes taking place in their own bodies.

We must not displace crucial deliberation about emerging technologies with wild-eyed speculation about superlative outcomes that will eventuate or not from developmental processes of many steps, each one involving a complex and unpredictable interplay of political, cultural, and technical factors.

Proliferating opportunities for medical intervention will little likely yield some competitor species of “supermen” but an overwhelming abundance of ways of being in the world, too diverse in its forms and values and lifeways for anybody to define themelves realistically as more "elite" than all the others. (I suspect in fact that it is this appealing overabundant diversity that truly frightens bioconservatives, rather than the specters of clone armies and super robots they continually conjure up to frighten their footsoldiers.)

If some people’s choices end up being superficial, unrealistic, or harmful, then this should inspire deeper critiques of culture rather than a superficial policing of consequent conduct, especially when this policing would frustrate choices that are beneficial as well and not harmful, informed as well and not unrealistic, deeply personal and enriching to some humans as well even if they are at odds with the prejudices of other humans who happen to inhabit the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

“Where is the outcry?” demands Mohler.

Well, I venture to propose, it is confined largely to the noisy brigade of bioconservatives like Mohler himself, who would rather cling to backward prejudices, self-serving pieties, and uncritical platitudes so as to retain the privileges and position these have conferred on him and his fellows, rather than work to develop technologies that will redress suffering and widen the sphere of freedom open to human address.

Mohler concludes, somewhat more sensibly, that ”[w]hat's clear is that we can no longer count on the scientists to police themselves... It's time for tougher laws and closer supervision -- and fast.”

I can easily agree with him here, as would most reasonable people. We do need to regulate the marketing of therapies so that there will be fewer unrealistic and fraudulent claims made in the name of these emerging technologies. We also need to ensure that new medical interventions are neither forbidden nor their use mandated by authorities, but that consensual prosthetic practices are truly informed, universally available where their benefits contribute to the general welfare, and regulated to ensure their safety and to ensure that they impose no undue public harms, risks, or costs.

But to agree to such deliberation about the development of radical technologies and the distribution of their effects requires as a point of departure that we grant the reality of this emerging technoconstituted transformation of human life and the consequent shake up of received wisdom, traditional assumptions, and the customary terrain of institutional and cultural authority.

It is too late to disinvent civilization, or, one hopes, to stall technology in its tracks. People of good will must collaborate together now to ensure that the course of technological development in which we are all irredeemably immersed be as fair, as sustainable, and as universally emancipatory as possible.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

DailyKos Members Plan National Convention

[via yKos] Members of the reform democrat collaborative political blog DailyKos are spreading their online political organizing offline.

These technoprogressive blog-activists are looking to make history as they plan for the first ever blog-driven political convention, "YearlyKos." Like much of the content available on the site itself, the event will be planned by the "Kossacks" themselves, the readers and contributors to the blog who comprise its growing community.

The upcoming convention has now, naturally enough, officially launched a companion website, where more details are being published as the planning proceeds.

The Executive Organizers of the event are hoping that some hundreds of the more than 300,000 average daily visitors to DailyKos will converge June 8-11th, 2006 for their first national convention. Convention attendees will network with other activists, organize for Democratic Party success in the midterm elections, and further define the quickly changing role of blogging for political organizing and media participation.

Gina Cooper, one of three Executive Organizers of the event, said, "Our mission is to empower the DailyKos community, to strengthen the Democratic Party through community building that reaches across geographic barriers, [and] to educate and inspire the next generation of leaders while establishing social connections that encourage mutual responsibility in maintaining the health of our democracy."

DailyKos, run by owner Markos Moulitsas Zúniga, is the highest trafficked political weblog. In 2004, the readership of the site raised over half a million dollars for progressive candidates in dozens of contested races throughout the United States. In its first year, DailyKos attracted over 1.6 million unique visits and about 3 million page views. The blog recently hit a milestone of 10 million counted page views.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

More Random Wilde

It is a terrible thing for a man to find out suddenly that all his life he has been speaking nothing but the truth.

"Ranting, Raving, Writing"

I'll be teaching a couple of courses in the fall at SFAI, and I just submitted my course descriptions and provisional reading lists to the office. The first is a composition class in the expository writing sequence. Here's my description:

"Ranting, Raving, Writing"

The word argument comes from the Latin arguere, to clarify. And contrary to its cantankerous reputation, the process of argumentation can be one that seeks after clarity rather than one that seeks always to prevail over difference.

We argue to inquire what are the best beliefs when we are ignorant or unsure of ourselves, we argue to interrogate our own assumptions, we argue to clarify the stakes at issue in a debate, we argue to gain a serious hearing for our unique perspective, we argue to find the best course of action in the circumstances that beset us.

This is a course in argumentative reading and writing, which means for me a course in expository writing and critical thinking. But the works we will be reading together are anything but exemplary argumentative texts. Our texts rant and rave, they are brimming with rage, dripping with corrosive humor, suffused with ecstasies. In ranting and raving arguments are pushed into a kind of crisis, and in them rhetoric becomes a kind of poetry.

What does it tell us about argument in general to observe it in extremis like this? How can we read transcendent texts critically, in ways that clarify their stakes without dismissing their force, and enable us to communicate intelligibly to others the reactions they inspire in us and the meanings we find in them?

Anonymous, “Fuck the South”
Plato, Symposium
Friedrich Nietzsche, Ecce Homo
Oscar Wilde, “The Soul of Man Under Socialism”
Fiodr Dostoievski, “Notes From the Underground”
Virginia Woolf, Orlando
Allen Ginsberg, Howl
William Burroughs, “Immortality”
Film, Network. Dir: Sidney Lumet
Valerie Solanas, The SCUM Manifesto
Donna Haraway, “A Manifesto for Cyborgs”
Gary Indiana, “Reproduction”
Diane Dimassa, Hothead Paisan
Jeanette Winterson, Written on the Body
Cintra Wilson, “Statement of Intent”

The second course is an introduction to critical theory. The potted description in the catalogue which all its instructors will variously incarnate helpfully proposes that "[t]he Critical Theory sequence develops students¹ facility in understanding and assessing theoretical models such as psychoanalysis, historical and dialectical materialism, structuralism and semiotics which extend their understanding of the visual image, the written word, and cultural phenomena."

My reading list begins with the very basic post-Emersonian turn against Platonic philosophy (in Europe post-Nietzschean philosophies, in America pragmatisms) and so Richard Rorty's “Hope in Place of Knowledge” provides a broad situation, then we shift into ideologiekritik, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The German Ideology, into culture and ideology, Oscar Wilde, “The Decay of Lying,” Roland Barthes, Mythologies, and then use Louis Althusser's, “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses” to take us from ideology into subjection. For subjection we read from Michel Foucault's, History of Sexuality, Part One, then Wendy Brown, “Wounded Attachments” and Judith Butler, “The Lesbian Phallus and the Morphological Imaginary,” turning then to Franz Fanon's, Black Skin, White Masks, and then read Gayatri Spivak's, “History.” There we turn into "prostheses," techocriticism and technopolitical discourses, Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” Marshall McLuhan, “Understanding Media,” Laura Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” sections of Hannah Arendt's magisterial, The Human Condition, and then conclude with Donna Haraway's, “Manifesto for Cyborgs.”

I regret that there will be no place for Raymond Williams, more Foucault ("Two Lectures," "What Is An Author"), Carol Adams, Baudrillard, and Paul Virilio. But I'm already unloading a huge amount on students and expect if anything the list will be further truncated. And of course my students are largely working artists and part of any course will be my ongoing efforts to respond usefully to their needs, which are always just a little perpendicular to my own expectations as a theory-head.

Of course, part of the reason to blog this stuff is because it is preoccupying me in this moment, and many of my preoccupations find their way onto my blog. Another reason is to provide a place for prospective students to find information (I know that some of my students at SFAI and Berkeley already keep tabs on me through my blog, for example).

But the real reason to mention these courses is to register a mild uneasiness I feel about them. I received the offer to teach these fall courses quite recently, and didn't have much time to put the reading lists and descriptions together, and so in the absence of that time I fell back on my habits. It worries me that looking over these two courses they come so close to representing the kinds of readings and overall organization and themes I would have proposed to teach fully a decade ago, if I were putting together comparable courses back then.

Here I am struggling to finally get the PhD. and move from my presumably preparatory inhabitation of the academy into some more fully-fledged and professional version of things and yet already I worry that my intellectual joints are stiffening and fuddy-duddiness is becoming all too evident.

Definitely one of the first things to do once the dissertation is in hand is just to do a crash course of reading in a hundred different directions, to find altogether new writing that shakes the plaster loose. Then again, part of this may simply be that these are more general sorts of classes already outside of the media criticism and technoethical stuff in which I am paying closest attention these days to new provocations. Hopefully, the technoethical course I teach at Berkeley this Summer and then the digital aesthetics and politics course I teach next Spring at SFAI will feel more bracingly cutting edge to me...

Friday, March 11, 2005

Protecting the Creative and Genomic Commons

Jamais Cascio over at my favorite blog WorldChanging alerts us that India has won a decade-long battle at the European Patent Office against a patent granted on a product derived from the native plant neem.

The EU's Green Party, India-based Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology (RFSTE), and the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) successfully argued that the anti-fungal properties of neem were part of the traditional knowledge of Indians, and that the patenting corporation, WC Grace, was therefore engaging in "biopiracy."

Jamais goes on to propose that "Traditional Knowledge Databases are a good start to the documentation of medical, food, architectural and cultural knowledge of different societies, and can help Western political institutions recognize claims of 'prior art' in biopiracy patent disputes."

Juxtapose this with Lawrence Lessig's comment from a few days ago (March 7):

So despite the fact that the EU Parliament has rejected software patents for Europe, and despite the fact that there is not a qualified majority of member states supporting it, the EU Council has now endorsed their draft of the "Directive on the Patentability of Computer-Implemented Inventions."

This struggle continues to astonish me. There's no good economic evidence that software patents do more good than harm. That's the reason the US should reconsider its software patent policy.

But why Europe would voluntarily adopt a policy that will only burden its software developers and only benefit US interests is beyond me.

The puzzle pieces are not combining to reveal anything like a coherent picture. It's mildly heartening in a way, even if it is mostly just frustrating.

Today's Random Wilde

The only difference between a saint and a sinner is that every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

The Strange Marriage of Market and Religious Faithful in the New Feudal Republican Movement

In a surprise move, I want to link to a piece from the March 2005 issue of The American Conservative, of all things, "Marxism of the Right," by Robert Locke. I'm trying not to focus on things like the gratuitous but otherwise inevitable red-baiting of the title and comparable sops to the grunting brutes in his cohort -- it cannot be an easy thing to be even a negligibly intelligent conservative today, begging for love and understanding and a decent hearing as do we all, after all, while all around the bullies howl and stamp and vent their sideline war-cries with such awful livid glee...

But, be that as it may, the piece is a critique of some of the more patent absurdities of market libertarian ideology as seen from the perspective of that dwindling reasonable moderate conservative mindset one hears so much about, and on whom moderate liberals apparently keep pinning their rather extravagant hopes for a pendulum swing away from the more egregious Bushite derangements of common assumptions, protocols, decencies and the like in the present day.

Here are a few choice passages, for more of which I recommend one pinch one's pug and follow the link:

The most fundamental problem with libertarianism is very simple: freedom, though a good thing, is simply not the only good thing in life. Simple physical security, which even a prisoner can possess, is not freedom, but one cannot live without it. Prosperity is connected to freedom, in that it makes us free to consume, but it is not the same thing, in that one can be rich but as unfree as a Victorian tycoon's wife. A family is in fact one of the least free things imaginable, as the emotional satisfactions of it derive from relations that we are either born into without choice or, once they are chosen, entail obligations that we cannot walk away from with ease or justice. But security, prosperity, and family are in fact the bulk of happiness for most real people and the principal issues that concern governments.

Libertarians try to get around this fact that freedom is not the only good thing by trying to reduce all other goods to it through the concept of choice, claiming that everything that is good is so because we choose to partake of it. Therefore freedom, by giving us choice, supposedly embraces all other goods. But... the reduction of all goods to individual choices presupposes that all goods are individual. But some, like national security, clean air, or a healthy culture, are inherently collective. It may be possible to privatize some, but only some, and the efforts can be comically inefficient. Do you really want to trace every pollutant in the air back to the factory that emitted it and sue? ...

While it is obviously fair to let people enjoy the benefits of their wise choices and suffer the costs of their stupid ones, decent societies set limits on both these outcomes. People are allowed to become millionaires, but they are taxed. They are allowed to go broke, but they are not then forced to starve. They are deprived of the most extreme benefits of freedom in order to spare us the most extreme costs. The libertopian alternative would be perhaps a more glittering society, but also a crueler one.

Empirically, most people don't actually want absolute freedom, which is why democracies don't elect libertarian governments. Irony of ironies, people don't choose absolute freedom. But this refutes libertarianism by its own premise, as libertarianism defines the good as the freely chosen, yet people do not choose it. Paradoxically, people exercise their freedom not to be libertarians.

The political corollary of this is that since no electorate will support libertarianism, a libertarian government could never be achieved democratically but would have to be imposed by some kind of authoritarian state, which rather puts the lie to libertarians' claim that under any other philosophy, busybodies who claim to know what's best for other people impose their values on the rest of us....

A major reason for this is that libertarianism has a naïve view of economics that seems to have stopped paying attention to the actual history of capitalism around 1880. There is not the space here to refute simplistic laissez faire, but note for now that the second-richest nation in the world, Japan, has one of the most regulated economies, while nations in which government has essentially lost control over economic life, like Russia, are hardly economic paradises. Legitimate criticism of over-regulation does not entail going to the opposite extreme.

There's quite a bit more, but for that you should probably skip over to the piece itself. It is hard to deny the appeal of a piece that says so gracefully so many of the things I have often said myself here and elsewhere, especially since the word "libertopian" -- a personal fave as loyal readers well know -- is snarkily deployed here and there in the piece in addition to its many other virtues, but I want to shift from admiration to a more contentious point on which the author as well as some of my regular readers will likely feel that I am a bit unfair to our articulate Burkean conservatives hereabouts.

I regularly assimilate into a single pernicious movement advocates of neoconservative, social and religious conservative, and market libertarian positions.

But is that fair?

Does it lead me to ignore differences that make a difference? To miss opportunities for useful tactical alliances? To misassign blame where instead I should be extending the hand of consolation or friendship?

Shouldn't I recognize the tangled discursive nuances that bespeak the suave disavowals of kooky market libertarianism by moderate conservates like this Robert Locke, or the suave disavowals of social conservatism by secular libertarians like Joe Scarborough?

I. Think. Not.

Definitive details in both the present Bush Adminsitration's foreign and domestic policy rely for their force and intelligibility and currency on libertarian formulations and attitudes and advocacy.

I personally think that a rough and tumble version of what Robert Locke has called "street libertarianism" prevails among a considerable portion of the cultural coalition that empowered the Reagan victories in the 1980s ("Government is the problem"), the Gingrich Revolution of the 1990s ("Contract on America," birth of "Starve the Beast"), and subsequently shepherded the Bush Administration into power today ("Society for the Owners").

I say that this "street libertarianism" makes a cultural and temperamental contribution to the ongoing disastrous prevalence of "New" Republicanism in America exactly as foundational as does the fundamentalist Christianity and social conservatism (which often just amounts to scarcely stealthed straight up race hatred in any case) of the other largish cultural/temperamental constituency of these "New" Republicans.

Is it true that these constituenties scarcely make much sense as allies in a purely logical analysis? In many ways, sure enough. Is it true that there are arid abstract characterizations of "libertarianism," "neoconservatism," "fundamentalism," "social conservatism," etc. at odds with what is happening on the ground in their name? Again, sure.

But this is politics, people, and it isn't unfolding as a diorama on Mount Olympus.

Many libertarians make arguments with which I strongly agree about the current Iraqi debacle on, but this certainly doesn't mean that I am wrong to insist nevertheless that an important part of that very debacle is articulated definitively through the lens of precisely the kind of libertarian assumptions they themselves mobilize in arguments they make elsewhere.

Neither Focus On the Family nor the Cato Institute find in the Bush Administration a perfect incarnation of their arguments and idealizations, of course, but these institutions are equally indispensable to the emergence, maintenance, and consolidation of "New" Republican hegemony.

It doesn't matter much to me (not now, when the world is on fire and all) that the intellectuals in each institution might ardently disgaree with one another from time to time in position papers on matters of detail, might imagine they are fighting for altogether different kinds of ideal world, might disapprove of the particulars that keep eventuating from the abstractions they mobilize.

But here's a bottom line for you: Market Fundamentalists + Religious Fundamentalists = Bush Hell.

It is one thing to argue the logical merits of arguments in the abstract, another to identify the effects of arguments in the social, institutional, cultural contexts in which they bear their fruits. There are times for both kinds of discussion, but I think a focus on either to the exclusion of the other inevitably leaves you blind and vulnerable to exploitation.

I'll return to teasing at the nicer distinctions among the manifold varieties of social conservatism and market enthusiasm when it is no longer true that so many people who affirm these labels are cheerfully holding hands and destroying the goddam world I live in with the people I love.