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

Friday, August 25, 2006

Ignorance Is the New Patriotism

[via the Center for American Progress] From an article by Cornelia Dean in yesterday's New York Times:
Evolution Major Vanishes From Approved Federal List

Evolutionary biology has vanished from the list of acceptable fields of study for recipients of a federal education grant for low-income college students.

The omission is inadvertent, said Katherine McLane, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education, which administers the grants. “There is no explanation for it being left off the list,” Ms. McLane said. “It has always been an eligible major.”

Another spokeswoman, Samara Yudof, said evolutionary biology would be restored to the list, but as of last night it was still missing.

If a major is not on the list, students in that major cannot get grants unless they declare another major, said Barmak Nassirian, associate executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers.


From a report yesterday on the website of ABC's Denver, Colorado, affiliate:
LAKEWOOD, Colo. -- A Jefferson County geography teacher was placed on paid administrative on the second day of school for hanging several flags from other countries in his classroom.

Eric Hamlin said the flags were part of a world geography lesson plan at Carmody Middle School and refused to take them down. The school's principal escorted Hamlin out of class Wednesday morning after he refused to remove the flags of China and Mexico.

The school district placed him on administrative leave for insubordination, citing a Colorado law that makes it illegal to display foreign flags permanently in schools.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Today's Random Wilde

As long as war is regarded as wicked, it will always have its fascination. When it is looked upon as vulgar, it will cease to be popular.

Why Do Libertopians Love Science Fiction So Much?

At the heart of the "market" libertarian worldview is a deep incomprehension of and acid hostility to the basic ineradicable fact of human social interdependence.

Peak everything eco-catastrophe scenarios notwithstanding, facile pastoral fantasies of pre-democratic orders in which elites are sufficiently insulated by a vast ritual and institutional artifice from the sprawling majorities of "expendable" "infrahuman" fellow-humans on whom they depend for their prosperity no longer seem quite so viable in an era of global media immersion coupled with relentless, likewise global, niche-marketing and exploitation (yes, "everything solid melts into air"). Therefore, nowadays the antidemocratic mindset often turns instead to a pining for a prosthetic encrustation and empowerment of select individuals with which to circumvent this social interdependence -- since disavowing it usually isn't adequately sustainable for long.

More often than not, though, libertopians can be counted upon to drift ineluctably back into straightforward feudalist fantasias in any case, even in their more stridently technofuturist modes. They can't seem to help themselves (contemplate, if you dare, Ayn Rand's whole crappy corpus, Robert Heinlein's famous middle-works, the early Vernor Vinge, and so on), and it rarely takes a particularly careful or sophisticated reader to discern the bloody vestigial trace of antidemocratic self-appointed aristocratic self-congratulation in between the stiff efficacious men, the robot sex-slaves, and the scary alien invaders.

And in case you hadn't noticed, techno-immortalist fantasies about medical progress are used by Republicans to justify decreasing benefits and delaying the retirement age of people who work for a living and for whom life expectancy at retirement age is not factually increasing in ways that justify these anti-equitable anti-governmental fantasies, just as the NRA and ALEC fantasy of ruggedly hyper-individualized white racist cyborg gun warriors "standing their ground" in Thunderdome anarcho-scapes are a real-world implementation of still more market libertopian assumptions and aspirations that belong in the science fiction aisle but are finding their way instead into laws with which our lives are menaced for real.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

More on the Pernicious Bushoid Rhetoric of "Islamofascism"

In response to an earlier version of the argument I blogged here yesterday as This Should Go Without Saying, a critic elsewhere online proposed that I “need to realize that while words do have power, they don't have magical power. Running around trying to get people to stop using words you think are intrinsically harmful reminds me of the campaign back in the 80's to change the spelling of ‘women’ to ‘womyn’ on the grounds that sexism had its roots in language, and would whither away when language was changed -- a quarter-truth at best.” This critic went on to disagree with my worries about people who otherwise wouldn’t be caught dead appearing to approve of Bushian rhetoric nevertheless taking up Bush’s “Islamofascist” rhetoric because they think it might comport well with a politics resisting dangerous religious fundamentalisms. “Personally, I have no problem with the context in which George (or Bush) used the term fascist,” my critic declared. “While we could quibble all day over technicalities, there's a generally accepted definition of Fascism that works perfectly well in describing militarized hyper-theocratic totalitarian police states, and an underlying reality that will not change -- even if you succeed in banning all the hurtful inflammatory words that so incense you.” Here is the response I offered to this criticism:

I don't think anything has magical powers, including words.

As it happens, it is quite clear that the Bush Administration has grasped to an unprecedented extent the extraordinary power in broadcast media architectures of framing, figuration, narrativization, and repetition/citation as ways of inculcating conceptual maps, concrete positions, and talking points that either directly support their views or constrain public debates in ways that end up facilitating such support.

In a particular argumentative circumstance you may have "no problem" with what looks to you like the logical, strictly propositional content of a particular claim. But, of course, public claims in the context of an unpopular and conspicuously ideological war typically do considerably more work than is available to straightforward propositional analysis.

Bush (a Christian fundamentalist who sometimes sounds like an outright Dominionist) does not mean by "fighting extremist fundamentalism" the same thing that, say, Richard Dawkins (an atheist) might mean by this phrase, and this actually does matter.

Bush's "Islamofascist" comments are clearly designed -- as I said before -- to invoke the same anti-Nazi war-film nostalgia as did his early "Axis of Evil" iconography, and the same Christian evangelism as did his early suggestion that the War was a kind of "Crusade."

You can be sensitive to these effects or not as you see fit.

If you choose not to be, let me just alert you to the reality that there are more than one billion living people on earth who may not share such insensitivity on this question and that we will be living with most of them for the rest of our lives (I certainly hope).

There is a separate but related question here about how atheists and other secularists should understand and combat fundamentalist formations in general. This is a topic to which I have devoted nearly twenty years of study and activism, as it happens, as a feminist and a queer and an atheist worried about what fundamentalism in my own country and elsewhere could mean to me and to people I love. I will admit I think it is a profound mistake to focus attention on the religiosity rather than on the sociopolitical radicalization that fuels fundamentalist formations.

Bush's charged rhetoric functions as a direct rationale for war crimes being undertaken right now in our names. I am sorry if saying things like that makes me seem "incensed," but I am hardly going to ignore the key facts constituting the rhetorical context for these utterances for fear that it makes me vulnerable to cartoonish mischaracterizations.

But just as significantly Bush’s rhetoric here functions as another plank in a constantly ramifying discourse that would misdirect global foreign policy analysis away from an emphasis on social outcomes that tends to suggest harm reduction and remediation strategies of the kind liberals incline towards (which is why they find “competence” arguments so compelling and fail to understand when non-liberals do not), instead toward strong moralist or identity formations (“Us/Them” formations) that suggest instead offensive military postures of the kind conservatives incline towards.

(This is a huge and separate discussion, but I would suggest very briefly that this misdirection is doubly appealing to neoconservatives because it facilitates welfare -- stealthed as neutral "Defense" -- for rich conservative constituencies via unfathomably vast military spending, and also because it nicely complements the threatened bearings of self that tend to gravitate toward conservative politics in the first place.)

Anyway, I find it frustrating that what you seem to take away from my initial comments is that I want to police or even ban people's word-use, when quite clearly (to me!) what I am doing is showing how the use of certain words suggests blatantly mistaken perceptions and judgments are in play. Now, you can describe my sort of rhetorical analysis as "magical thinking" or as quibbling or as some caricature of 70s feminist political correctness or what have you if you like, but I would gently suggest that this is possibly because you haven't spent a lot of time studying these particular sorts of mechanisms or taking them seriously? It should really go without saying, but it is only because I thought I shared a general sense of desired outcomes with people who read the blog in which the original exchange occurred that I offered a rhetorical critique (which is the field I was trained in) that implied ways in which outcomes I thought most there would likewise consider undesirable would be faciliated by the position expressed there. If I had thought people there actually desired these bad outcomes I was worrying about (which the unexpected defensiveness of some of the responses to my comments suggests must, curiously enough, be the assumption being made) I wouldn't have posted there in the first place, inasmuch as I usually don't waste my time talking to stupid or evil people unless I am getting paid for the privilege.

Today's Random Wilde

As for modern journalism, it is not my business to defend it. It justifies its own existence by the great Darwinian principle of the survival of the vulgarest.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

MundiMuster! DSCC Dems, You Work for Us, Now Do Your Job or Get Lost

[via Yoss's diary today on dKos] It would appear that two key members of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) have refrained conspicuously from endorsing Democratic candidate Ned Lamont over his De Facto Republican challenger Joe Lieberman. These badly misbehaving Senators are both from Arkansas, one is Mark Pryor, the Vice Chair of the DSCC and another is Blanche Lincoln, Chair of the Woman's Senate Network. This is not a matter of independent-mindedness, but another episode in the strategically catastrophic DLC policy of confusing capitulation for bipartisanship, and -- let's be clear about this -- is actively palpably unethical conduct. Remember the first sentence of the DSCC's formal mission statement: "Our mission is to elect more Democrats to the United States Senate." Lamont is the Democrat and Lieberman is manifestly not. That DSCC mission statement is your job description, Senators, and we expect you to do your job or get out of the way so that others will (Senator Boxer for Woman's Senate Network Chair, anyone?). Time to let the players involved know that American citizens are vigilant and organized. Here is the relevant contact information. Be cordial, the facts are on our side, and reasonableness will prevail better than immoderateness here:

Pryor, Mark L.- (D - AR)
257 DIRKSEN SENATE OFFICE BUILDING WASHINGTON DC 20510
(202) 224-2353
Web Form: http://pryor.senate.gov/...

Lincoln, Blanche L.- (D - AR)
355 DIRKSEN SENATE OFFICE BUILDING WASHINGTON DC 20510
(202) 224-4843
Web Form: http://lincoln.senate.gov/...

Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee
Phone (202) 224-2447
Email info@dscc.org

Reid, Harry- (D - NV)
528 HART SENATE OFFICE BUILDING WASHINGTON DC 20510
(202) 224-3542
Web Form: http://reid.senate.gov/...

Schumer, Charles E.- (D - NY)
313 HART SENATE OFFICE BUILDING WASHINGTON DC 20510
(202) 224-6542
Web Form: http://schumer.senate.gov/...

Boxer, Barbara- (D - CA)
112 HART SENATE OFFICE BUILDING WASHINGTON DC 20510
(202) 224-3553
Web Form: http://boxer.senate.gov/...

Obama, Barack- (D - IL)
713 HART SENATE OFFICE BUILDING WASHINGTON DC 20510
(202) 224-2854
Web Form: http://obama.senate.gov/...

Reed, Jack- (D - RI)
728 HART SENATE OFFICE BUILDING WASHINGTON DC 20510
(202) 224-4642
Web Form: http://reed.senate.gov/...

Wyden, Ron- (D - OR)
230 DIRKSEN SENATE OFFICE BUILDING WASHINGTON DC 20510
(202) 224-5244
Web Form: http://wyden.senate.gov/...

My "Relativism"

Sometimes perceiving the ethnocentrism of expressed beliefs provides sufficient grounds for my strong disapproval of them, but sometimes this isn't enough to stop me from affirming such beliefs nevertheless as the best on offer and then offering them up as candidates for belief in the field of political contestation. Apparently, some people consider this outlook unfathomable and even dangerous.

I recognize a certain ethnocentrism at the historical and conceptual heart of the projects of participatory democracy, rights culture, and the culture of consent which I personally affirm as my own most cherished political aspirations and convictions. Now, this recognition may keep me a little bit ironic and openminded about these aspirations, and may leave me bereft of the stolid certainty the fundamentalists of the planet seem to have about their own normative convictions (although, to be frank, it is hard to believe they really are so certain as all that considering the defensive and infantile way they throw their weight around). But as far as I can see all this admission and its compensatory skepticism does is just to make me a grown-up in matters of moral, ethical, esthetic, political, that is to say normative life -- rather than a child interminably demanding priestly reassurances about one's convictions (see Kant: "What Is Enlightenment?").

I think it is incomparably more damaging to fantasize that one's morality is underwritten by God or Nature than simply to admit to its parochial contingency but then still fight for it. This doesn't make me a relativist, it seems to me, since I really do believe my beliefs are good beliefs to have and for good reasons I can support with arguments.

I have to say I don't quite understand the freakouts that people seem to have on issues like these. What, I have to pretend that my moral prejudices are undergirded by some "Universal Law" to have moral grounds for wanting to intervene to stop genocide? Says who?

I jettisoned God as an authoritarian crap racket before my voice had changed or my beard grew long enough to shave, and I certainly see no reason to set up Nature as a god analog at this point in the game.

This Should Go Without Saying

I was frankly flabbergasted to see that someone for whom I have a good deal of respect and who I count as a friend (and of course I still do despite my frustration with them at the moment) actually made some sympathetic noises about Bush's recent rhetorical line about "Islamic Fascism." This is a person who shares my atheism and I think finds it appealing in some abstract way to think that religious fundamentalism is being connected in a very public way with totalitarian ideology. All this provokes in me an almost unbearable wearying desolation.

Look, this should go without saying, but Bush is grotesquely obviously using the term "fascism" here to create a visceral emotional connection between his catastrophic unending and unendable "global war on terror" (by means of state terror) and the apparently morally unimpeachable Second World War.

Now, fascism historically is an authoritarian formation of corporatism -- and, it should go without saying, the United States is considerably closer to that formation than are most of the regimes Bush selectively attacks in his disgusting criminal oil grab.

If you get taken in by the general frame that Bush is circulating here, it simply doesn't matter how often you go on to make your sad inevitable ritual genuflection to the effect that "now, of course I know not all Muslims are terrorists" or what have you. It should go without saying, but this is exactly as tired as the creaky clumsy inevitability with which a racist comment always follows immediately after the preamble protestation, "now, I'm not racist, but..." Bush's multiply ignorant, endlessly cynical "islamofascist" rhetoric circulates to inculcate a universalizing connection between Islam and totalitarianism (via the iconography of the bleak disastrous "glory days" of muscular Cold War conservatism) and everybody knows it by now and, hence, again, all this should really go without saying by now, too.

You know, this really should go without saying, but, once again, only a vanishingly small minority of the world's Muslims are terrorists, and the vast majority of the ones who are terrorists have been radicalized by social insecurity, hopelessness, and exploitation (usually, it should go without saying, faciliated directly by US and North Atlantic foreign and trade policy) and not at all by their Islamic faith or practice.

Now, I'm an atheist and, it should go without saying, fundamentalism (which is a sociopolitical formation rather than a metaphysical one) scares me as much as it does anybody here. As an atheist feminist faggot democrat I know quite well what my life is worth in a theocracy. But neoconservatives have been wreaking havoc on the planet throwing glib crapola around about "fascism" "the Muslim World" (there is no such monolithic thing) "the clash of Civilizations" and so on -- and the people who come to my friend's website to discuss technoscientific topics are too smart and earnest to be robotically repeating still these bloodsoaked know-nothing soundbites after so many years of stupid appalling devastation.

All this should go without saying.

This isn't a tea party conversation, people. This rhetoric is doing real material work in the world. It is pulling triggers and dropping bombs and radicalizing sprawling populations of people who have little to lose and with whom we will be sharing the world for the rest of our lives. Things can actually get much worse if intelligent people of good will get too lazy to understand what is afoot here. There is certainly important political work to do to secularize this multicultural world in which we find ourselves, to make the world safer for atheists as well as for folks who practice marginal spiritual creeds, or what have you. But it should go without saying that we have to be incredibly sensitive to the ways in which American fundamentalists (of the Christian and market varieties) eagerly appropriate anti-fundamentalist militancy in the service of their own gunslinging moralizing in the clash of contemporary fundamentalisms, killing numberless innocents in our name.

Friday, August 11, 2006

A Tax Cut For the Rest of Us

[via the United States Basic Income Guarantee Network (USBIG)]: As an advocate of a basic income guarantee (BIG) I was quite interested to hear of a speech delivered on the floor of the United States House of Representatives by Democratic Congressman Bob Filner of San Diego, California, on May 2, 2006. A transcript follows:
Mr. FILNER: Mr. Speaker, the "Tax Cut for the Rest of Us" Act of 2006 (H.R. 5257) transforms the standard income tax deduction into a refundable standard tax credit. Doing so will not only simplify the tax code, but put more money into the pockets of poor Americans.

For 25 years, refundable tax credits -- such as the Earned Income Tax Credit and the additional child tax credit -- have proven to be simple, effective ways to help the poor.

The logical next step is to transform the standard deduction and personal exemptions into a refundable standard tax credit (STC) of $2,000 for each adult and $1,000 for each child. The STC will provide all the poor with a small but badly needed tax credit, and give a tax cut to virtually everyone who chooses not to itemize their deductions.

Transforming the standard deduction into a refundable tax credit will not eliminate poverty, but it will be an enormous benefit to the poor who were completely overlooked by the Bush tax cuts. The poor pay sales taxes, property taxes, and many other taxes, but because they do not pay very much in income tax, they have little to gain from tax simplification unless it includes something like the STC.

Transforming the standard deduction into a standard tax credit will give a tax cut to those who need it most. Now is the time to pass a "Tax Cut for the Rest of Us."

Here is a discussion draft of the Bill. The preamble of the HR 5257 reads, "To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to provide a basic income guarantee in the form of a refundable tax credit for taxpayers who do not itemize deductions."

The proposal transforms the current standard income tax deduction into a tax credit of $2000 per adult and $1000 per child. This would provide a refundable tax credit to literally everyone who files an income tax return, even if a person has no private income. The Earned Income Tax Credit provides a small refundable tax credit, but only to those who have some earned income. This proposed BIG bill would, on the contrary, allow low-income Americans to receive up to $2000 in cash as a tax credit, as well as everybody else to receive the same amount off the taxes they pay.

The Bill is based on a proposal written by Al Sheahen and Karl Widerquist which was presented at the 2005 USBIG Congress (at which I also delivered a paper, as it happens). According to the USBIG release Al Sheahen has been working with Congressman Filner for nearly two years to get this Bill introduced. It is not exactly surprising to note that so far the Bill lacks a Republican co-sponsor, and that in the current Republican controlled session this makes the Bill's propsects dim at best.

Sheahen suggests that the Bill would likely have a much better chance after congressional elections in November. I certainly hope he is right about that -- right that reason will prevail and Americans will vote to cast out the Republican "Rubber Stamp" Congressional culture of corruption, right that election tampering and fraud will be circumvented this time around so that the will of the American people will actually be respected even when the outcome fails to favor the Republicans, and right that a Democratic Congress will actually reflect the dedication to fairness, the four freedoms, and democratic commonwealth that will have put them in office.

Today's Random Wilde

No civilised man ever regrets a pleasure, just as no uncivilised man ever knows what a pleasure is.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Cackles from the Balcony: Straight from the Horse's Ass, er, Mouth Edition

You've probably already seen these quotes posted up on dKos (and elsewhere) by now, but they simply bring too too much joy not to share them here as well:
[T]here's no prizes for second place in American politics. -- Joe Lieberman, Speaking to Chris Wallace in November 2004

As Teddy Roosevelt once explained, "My power vanishes into thin air the instant that my fellow citizens, who are straight and honest, cease to believe that I represent them and fight for what is straight and honest. That is all the strength that I have." -- Joe Lieberman, in his Clinton censure speech on the Senate floor, September 3, 1998

Progress Report

In between teaching gigs I've been working on two book projects this summer, one a revision of my dissertation Pancryptics: Technological Transformations of the Subject of Privacy and the other a manuscript currently called Progress Is the Great Work: Democratic Technodevelopmental Social Struggle Beyond Technophilia and Technophobia, A Technoprogressive Primer. The acorn from which the latter mighty mighty oak hopeth soon to spring is a text I blogged ages ago here, entitled Technoprogressivism Beyond Technophilia and Technophobia and which I have revised and expanded many times since, all the while vacuuming in bits and pieces that mattered to me from many other blog-posts and assorted writings I've generated along the way. I'm posting notice of the latest (and lastish) revision here, in the hopes that it might generate useful comments and criticisms. Any folks out there who might want to volunteer for the exquisite torture of reading the much longer manuscript in progress, e-mail me and tell me so.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Me'Shell Ndegeocello Tribute Week: I'm Diggin' You (Like an Old Soul Record)


Sit back, relax, and listen to the 8-track. Another live performance. Why? Because she can. This one's from 1993's Plantation Lullabies.

The Politics of Morphological Freedom

Morphological freedom (or prosthetic self-determination) is a discourse which designates and elaborates the idea that human beings have the right either to maintain or to modify their own bodies, on their own terms, through informed, nonduressed, consensual recourse to -- or refusal of -- available remedial or modification medicine.

The politics of morphological freedom expresses commitments to the value, standing, and social legibility of the widest possible (and an ever-expanding) variety of desired morphologies and lifeways. These politics tend to become especially controversial when they defend the preservation of actually desired atypical capacities and lifeways that are stigmatized as "disability" or otherwise "suboptimal," or when they defend actually desired modifications that constitute the introduction of atypical capacities and lifeways that are stigmatized as "perverse" or otherwise "unnatural."

The politics of morphological freedom and prosthetic self-determination seem legible as emerging from standard attitudes and problems associated with liberal pluralism, secularism, progressive cosmopolitanism, and (post)humanist multiculturalisms, but applied to an era of disruptive planetary technoscientific change, and especially to the ongoing and palpably upcoming transformation of the understanding of medical practice from one of conventional remedy to one of consensual self-creation, via genetic, prosthetic, and cognitive modification.

I first encountered the term “morphological freedom” in a short paper by neuroscientist Anders Sandberg, and I have taken up and extended the term (for example here and here) myself in ways that may well differ in some respects from Sandberg’s initial formulation.

Sandberg defines morphological freedom quite simply as "the right to modify oneself according to one’s desires." In Sandberg’s formulation, the right to morphological freedom derives from a conventional liberal doctrine of bodily self-ownership and amounts, more or less, to a straightforward application of negative liberty to the situation of modification medicine. The political force of such a commitment under contemporary conditions of disruptive technoscientific change is quite clear: It appeals to widely affirmed liberal intuitions about individual liberty, choice, and autonomy in order to trump bioconservative agendas that seek to slow, limit, or altogether prohibit potentially desirable medical research and individually valued therapeutic practices, usually because they are taken to threaten established social and cultural norms.

But I worry that this formulation of morphological freedom, however initially appealing and sensible it may seem, is fraught with the quandaries that bedevil all exclusively negative libertarian accounts of freedom. The visceral, universal and hence foundational force of our intuitions about the undeniability of our own bodily “self-ownership,” for example, never actually seamlessly nor unproblematically map onto the historically specific entitlements and protocols that will claim to be derived from the foundation of this bodily self-certainty.

That we own our aging abled vulnerable pleasurable painful bodily selves incontrovertibly may be a well-nigh universally asserted insight. But just what is entailed in that assertion in the way of capacities, responsibilities, entitlements, significances will vary enormously from society to society, from place to place, from generation to generation. Such foundational gestures will tend to mobilize compensatory rhetorical projects to deny and disavow the many possible (some of them desired) alternate available formulations of entitlements and protocols compatible with the selfsame foundation. These projects to “naturalize” and hence depoliticize what are in fact historically contingent conventions through reference to the indubitability of bodily self-ownership inevitably privilege certain morphologies and lifeways and their correlated constituencies over others, and so just as inevitably eventuate in some form or other of conservative politics.

In my own understanding of the term, then, a commitment to morphological freedom should derives primarily or at any rate equally from positive commitments to diversity and to consent, conceived as public values, public goods, and, crucially, as public scenes that depend for their continued existence on supportive normative, legal, and institutional contexts the maintenance of which exact costs that must be fairly borne by all their beneficiaries.

The force of the commitment to diversity implies that the politics of morphological freedom and prosthetic self-determination will properly apply as much to those who would make consensual recourse to desired remedial or modification medicine as it does to those who would refrain from such medicine. I disapprove of the strong bias in favor of intervention and modification at the heart of many current formulations of the principle of morphological freedom. While this bias is quite understandable given the precisely contrary bias of the bioconservative politics the principle is intended to combat, I worry that an interventionist bias will threaten to circumscribe the range of morphological and lifeway diversity supported by the politics of morphological freedom. I suspect that some will take my own foregrounding of the commitment to diversity as an effort to hijack the politics of morphological freedom with the politics of “postmodern relativism” or some such nonsense. But the simple truth is that any understanding of “morphological freedom” that prioritizes intervention over diversity will threaten to underwrite eugenicist projects prone to imagine themselves emancipatory even when they are nonconsensual, and will police desired variation into a conformity that calls itself “optimal health,” stress management, or the most “efficient” possible allocation of scarce resources (whatever wealth disparities happen to prevail at the time). Whenever the term "enhancement," for example, is treated as neutral or objective, rather than a term to express an actually desired capacity or lifeway by some one among others, in respect to some end among others, it risks underwriting parochial perfectionisms stealthed as "objective optimality."

The force of the commitment to consent seems to me to imply that the politics of morphological freedom and prosthetic self-determination are of a piece with democratic left politics. I disapprove of the strong bias in favor of negative libertarian formulations of freedom at the heart of many current discussions of the idea of morphological freedom. Although neoliberal, neoconservative, and market libertarian formulations often appear content to describe any “contractual” or so-called “market” outcome as consensual by definition it is quite clear that in actuality such outcomes are regularly and conspicuously duressed by the threat or fact of physical force, by fraud and mis-information, and by basic unfairness. And so, whenever I speak of my own commitment to a culture of consent I mean to indicate very specifically a commitment to what I call substantiated rather than what I would reject as vacuous consent. A commitment to substantiated consent demands universal access to trustworthy information, to a basic guaranteed income, and to universal healthcare (actually, democratically-minded people of good will may well offer up competing bundles of entitlements to satisfy the commitment to substantiated consent, just as I have offered up a simplified version of my own here), all to ensure that socially legible performances of consent are always both as informed and nonduressed as may be. I suspect that some will take my own foregrounding of the commitment to substantiated consent as an effort to hijack the politics of morphological freedom with the politics of social democracy (or democratic socialism). But the simple truth is that any understanding of “morphological freedom” that demands anything less than democratically accountable and socially substantiated scenes of informed, nonduressed consent will function on the one hand to encourage the exposure of vulnerable people to risky and costly experimental procedures in the service of corporate profit and military competitiveness, while on the other hand it will function to underwrite the efforts of authoritarian moralists with unprecedented technological powers at their disposal who would impose their parochial perfectionisms on a planetary scale, quite satisfied to retroactively rationalize the righteousness of even mass slaughters and mass capitulations.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Me'Shell Ndegeocello Tribute Week: The Way


In tribute today, here's a clip from a performance of "The Way," from 1996. The song appears on Peace Beyond Passion, an album which is an exploration of, on the one hand, the sexism, homophobia, and authoritarianism of fundamentalist religions, as well as, on the other hand, the abiding connections between creativity, self-creation, and spirituality.

Today's Random Wilde

The only way to atone for being occasionally a little over-dressed is by always being absolutely over-educated.