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

Saturday, October 27, 2007

My Failures of Imagination

Upgraded and adapted from Comments. I fear my response to long-time Friend of Blog Giulio Prisco is a bit testy, but I've been told that my writing is clearer when I am in this temper, and I've also been told that my Superlative Critique is presented in terms that are too abstruse in general whatever its usefulness, so here goes:

I criticize your intolerance for those who, while basically agreeing with you on the points above, have ideas different from yours on other, unrelated things, and affirm their right to think with their own head.

I distinguish instrumental, moral, esthetic, ethical, and political modes of belief. (I spell out this point at greater length here, among other places.) Rationality, for me, consists not only in asserting beliefs that comport with the criteria of warrant appropriate to each mode, but also in applying to our different ends the mode actually appropriate to it.

I'm perfectly tolerant of estheticized or moralized expressions of religiosity, for example, but I keep making the point that religiosity (even in its scientistic variations) when misapplied to domains, ends, and situations for which it is categorically unsuited creates endless mischief.

Superlativity as a discourse consists of a complex of essentially moral and esthetic beliefs mistaking themselves for or overambitious to encompass other modes of belief.

This sort of thing is quite commonplace in fundamentalist formations, as it happens, and one of the reasons religiosity comes up so often in discussions of Superlativity is because many people already have a grasp of what happens when fundamentalist faiths are politicized or pseudo-scientized and so the analogy (while imperfect in some respects) can be a useful way to get at part of the point of the critique of Superlativity.

Because, my friend, you will never persuade me that one who finds intellectual or spiritual pleasure in contemplating nanosanta-robot god-superlative technology-etc. cannot be a worthy political, social and cultural activists.

This line is total bullshit, and I'm growing quite impatient with it. I don't know how else to say this, I feel like throwing up my hands. Look, I'm a big promiscuous fag, a theoryhead aesthete, and an experimentalist in matters of, well, experiences available at the, uh, extremes as these things are timidly reckoned among the charming bourgeoisie. Take your pleasures where you will, I say, and always have done. Laissez les bons temps rouler. I'm a champion of multiculture, experimentalism, and visionary imagination, and that isn't exactly a secret given what I write about endlessly here and elsewhere.

But -- now read this carefully, think about what I am saying before you reply -- if you pretend your religious ritual makes you a policy wonk expect me to call bullshit; if you demand that people mistake your aesthetic preferences and preoccupations for scientific truths expect me to call bullshit; if you go from pleasure in to proselytizing for your cultural and subcultural enthusiasms expect me to call bullshit; if you seek legitimacy for authoritarian circumventions of democracy in a marginal defensive hierarchical sub(cult)ural organization or as a way to address risks you think your cronies see more clearly than the other people in the world who share those risks and would be impacted by your decisions, all in the name of "tolerance," expect me to call bullshit.

"I can believe in Santa Claus and Eastern Bunny if I like, and still agree with you on political issues."

No shit, Sherlock. I've never said otherwise.

But -- If you form a Santa cult and claim Santa Science needs to be taught in schools instead of Darwin, or if you become a Santa True Believer who wants to impose his Santa worldview across the globe as the solution to all the world's problems, or you try to legitimize the Santalogy Cult by offering up "serious" policy papers on elf toymaking as the real solution to global poverty and then complain that those who expose this as made up bullshit are denying the vital role of visionaries and imagination and so on, well, then that's a problem. (Please don't lose yourself in the details of this off-the-cuff analogy drawn from your own comment, by the way, I'm sure there are plenty of nit-picky disanalogies here, I'm just making a broad point here that anybody with a brain can understand.)

Unless, of course, you persuade me that the two things are really incompatible.

I despair of the possibility of ever managing such a feat with you. (Irony impaired readership insert smiley here.)

I will gladly take the Robot God and Easter Bunny then.

Take Thor for all I care. None of them exist, and any priesthood that tries to shore up political authority by claiming to "represent" them in the world I will fight as a democrat opposed to elites -- whether aristocratic, priestly, technocratic, oligarchic, military, "meritocratic" or what have you. I can appreciate the pleasures and provocations of a path of private perfection organized through the gesture of affirming faith in a Robot God, Thor, or the Easter Bunny. I guess.

I have no "trouble" with spirituality, faith, aestheticism, moralism in their proper place, even where their expressions take forms that aren't my own cup of tea in the least. I've said this so many times by now that your stubborn obliviousness to the point is starting to look like the kind of conceptual impasse no amount of argument can circumvent between us.

Perhaps you guys are so scared of "superlative technology discourse" because you are afraid of falling back into the old religious patterns of thought, that perhaps you found difficult to shed.

I've been a cheerful nonjudgmental atheist for twenty-four years. It wasn't a particularly "difficult" transition for me, as it happens. Giving up pepperoni when I became a vegetarian was incomparably more difficult for me than doing without God ever was. And I'm not exactly sure what frame of mind you imagine I'm in when I delineate my Superlative Discourse Critiques when you say I'm "so scared." I think Superlativity is wrong, I think it is reckless, I think it is comports well with a politics of incumbency I abhor, I think it produces frames and formulations that derange technodevelopmental discourse at an historical moment when public deliberation on technoscientific questions urgently needs to be clear. It gives me cause for concern, it attracts my ethnographic and critical interest. But "so scared"? Don't flatter yourself.

Some of us, yours truly included, never gave much importance to religion. So we feel free to consider interesting ideas for their own sake, regardless of possible religious analogies.

You are constantly claiming to have a level of mastery over your conscious intentions and expression that seems to me almost flabbergastingly naïve or even deluded. It's very nice that you feel you have attained a level of enlightenment that places you in a position to consider ideas "for their own sake," unencumbered one presumes by the context of unconscious motives, unintended consequences, historical complexities, etymological sedimentations, figural entailments, and so on. I would propose, oh so modestly, that no one deserves to imagine themselves enlightened in any useful construal of the term who can't see the implausibility of the very idea of the state you seem so sure you have attained.

4 comments:

jfehlinger said...

Dale wrote (to Giulio Prisco):

> You are constantly claiming to have a level of mastery over
> your conscious intentions and expression that seems to me almost
> flabbergastingly naïve or even deluded. It's very nice that
> you feel you have attained a level of enlightenment that places
> you in a position to consider ideas "for their own sake,"
> unencumbered one presumes by the context of unconscious motives,
> unintended consequences, historical complexities, etymological
> sedimentations, figural entailments, and so on. I would propose,
> oh so modestly, that no one deserves to imagine themselves
> enlightened in any useful construal of the term who can't see
> the implausibility of the very idea of the state you seem so
> sure you have attained.

http://www.sl4.org/archive/0201/2649.html
----------------------------------------------------------
Ego gratification as a de facto supergoal (if I may be
permitted to describe the flaw in CFAImorphic terms) is a
normal emotion, leaves a normal subjective trace, and is fairly
easy to learn to identify throughout the mind if you can manage
to deliberately "catch" yourself doing it even once. Once you
have the basic ability to notice the emotion, you confront the
emotion directly whenever you notice it in action, and you
go through your behavior routines to check if there are
any cases where altruism is behaving as a de facto child goal
of ego gratification; i.e., avoidance of altruistic behavior
where it would conflict with ego gratification, or a bias
towards a particular form of altruistic behavior that results
in ego gratification.

[Didja get that?]

I don't take pleasure in being more altruistic than others.
I do take a certain amount of pleasure in the possession and exercise
of my skills; it took an extended effort to acquire them, I
acquired them successfully, and now that I have them, they're
really cool.

As for my incomplete knowledge of my mind-state, I have a lot of practice
dealing with incomplete knowledge of my mind-state - enough that I have a
feel for how incomplete it is, where, and why. There is a difference
between having incomplete knowledge of something and being completely
clueless.

> [Ben Goertzel wrote:]
>
> Eliezer, given the immense capacity of the human mind for self-delusion, it
> is entirely possible for someone to genuinely believe they're being 100%
> altruistic even when it's not the case. Since you know this, how then can
> you be so sure that you're being entirely altruistic?

Because I didn't wake up one morning and decide "Gee, I'm entirely
altruistic", or follow any of the other patterns that are the
straightforward and knowable paths into delusive self-overestimation, nor
do I currently exhibit any of the straightforward external signs which are
the distinguishing marks of such a pattern. I know a lot about the way
that the human mind tends to overestimate its own altruism.

I took a couple of years of effort to clean up the major emotions (ego
gratification and so on), after which I was pretty much entirely
altruistic in terms of raw motivations, although if you'd asked me I would
have said something along the lines of: "Well, of course I'm still
learning... there's still probably all this undiscovered stuff to clean
up..." - which there was, of course; just a different kind of stuff.
Anyway, after I in *retrospect* reached the point of effectively complete
strategic altruism, it took me another couple of years after that to
accumulate enough skill that I could begin to admit to myself that maybe,
just maybe, I'd actually managed to clean up most of the debris in this
particular area.

This started to happen when I learned to describe the reasons why
altruists tend to be honestly self-deprecating about their own altruism,
such as the Bayesian puzzle you describe above. After that, when I
understood not just motivations but also the intuitions used to reason
about motivations, was when I started saying openly that yes, dammit, I'm
a complete strategic altruist; you can insert all the little qualifiers
you want, but at the end of the day I'm still a complete strategic
altruist.
----------------------------------------------------------

jfehlinger said...

> You are constantly claiming to have a level of mastery over
> your conscious intentions and expression that seems to me almost
> flabbergastingly naïve or even deluded.

When Ayn [Rand] announced proudly, as she often did, 'I can
account for every emotion I have' -- she meant, astonishingly,
that the total contents of her subconscious mind were
instantly available to her conscious mind, that all of her
emotions had resulted from deliberate acts of rational
thought, and that she could name the thinking that
had led her to each feeling. And she maintained that
every human being is able, if he chooses to work at the
job of identifying the source of his emotions, ultimately
to arrive at the same clarity and control.

-- Barbara Branden, _The Passion of Ayn Rand_
pp. 193 - 195

-------------------------------------------

"[T]he superior man, the man that transcends
the plebeian herd of his kind, brutes whom Spinoza. . .
calls homines carnales — sensuous creatures blindly
impelled by passions, troubled by external causes,
bereft of knowledge, adrift in the world, ungrounded
in themselves, and deficient in action. . .
In living the right life free of deceptive affect
and controlled by intellect, the wise man causes the
main part of his spirit to become eternal. Thus
Homo Sapiens is able to overcome death."

-- net celebrity Mikhail Zeleny, in the eulogy he
delivered at his father's funeral.

-------------------------------------------

"Ayn Rand was not the first to propound an ethics for the masses based on
survival as a rational being. That honor goes to fellow novelist and cult
leader L. Ron Hubbard (1911-1986), the science-fiction writer who founded
Dianetics and the Church of Scientology. Dianetics preceded NBI's start-up
by eight years and the Objectivist ethics by 11 years. Dianetics groups
formed on campuses during the 1950's, much as Ayn Rand clubs would in the
1960's. Many who flocked to Objectivism in the 1960's had previously had
some contact with Dianetics or Scientology.

Dianetics used reasoning somewhat similar to Rand's about the brain as a
machine. Hubbard's 'analytical' versus 'reactive' mind has its equivalent in
Rand's system. Both have a higher mind reprogramming the rest of the mind.
Hubbard and Rand were both extremely intelligence- and survival oriented, in
the interest of a rational man. They counseled the uprooting of irrational
premises (or 'engrams'). Both contended that the resulting enhanced
rationality leads to greater capacity for healthy emotion. Perceptual data
is immaculate for both. Both regard our often being unconscious of incoming
data as the real problem. After many years of working at it, the student of
Dianetics becomes a 'clear,' while the student of Objectivism becomes a
full-fledged Objectivist...Both Dianetics and Objectivist psychology draw
fire from the psychiatric establishment.

The philosophy of each relates immorality to decreasing one's survival
potential. Each claims to be science- and logic-based. Both share a
benevolent universe premise...Hubbard and Rand are very much against all
rule-by-force. Both assert that rational men have no real conflicts of
interest. Each deplores social complexity being wielded as an excuse for
introducing government regulations when it is the latter that generates the
former in a vicious cycle...Each was lambasted by biographers for serious
personality problems. And both figures have been denounced by former
associates who claim that the leader had feet of clay and the doctrine is
detrimental to its adherent's health.

Because Hubbard and Rand shared a number of quirks and basic ideas, it does
not follow that their complete philosophies are essentially similar - that
is hardly the case. What we can see is that those basic ideas were
circulating within the culture of mid-century America and that both figures
exemplify the growth of a cult preaching 'rationality'."

-- "The Ayn Rand Cult" by Jeff Walker (1999)
as quoted at
http://groups.google.com/group/alt.religion.scientology/msg/ebfd42a0ea50d641

giulio said...

Hi Dale,


your writing is indeed a bit clearer when you are in a testy temper, but still not clear enough to make sense (to me).

Coming to the paragraph about "calling bullshit", I believe I have said ad nauseam that I do not do or support any of the things mentioned besides "proselytizing for my cultural and subcultural enthusiasms", which I think is perfectly normal. So, you should not call bullshit. Except that, of course, you will call it anyway.

And of course you are completely free to call bullshit when you want. Provided, that is, that you are not too surprised when others call bullshit on you.

But here I don't find anything that deserves a grandiose label such as bullshit. What I see is chickenshit - the petty arrogance of narrow minded, politically correct memetic bureaucrats. For one who calls himself "a champion of multiculture, experimentalism, and visionary imagination", you don't seem willing to accept that points of view different from yours can be also valid.

I will go read some blogs on Robot Gods and Superlative Technologies, full of naive enthusiasm for technologies that probably won't be developed so soon or so smoothly as we wish, but inspired by some basic mental sanity.

Singularity! Immortality! Mind Uploading! Superlative Technologies! Here is to the Robot God!!

One thing we certainly agree upon: this "is starting to look like the kind of conceptual impasse no amount of argument can circumvent between us".

jfehlinger said...

> I will go read some blogs on Robot Gods and Superlative Technologies,
> full of naive enthusiasm for technologies that probably won't be
> developed so soon or so smoothly as we wish, but inspired by some
> basic mental sanity.
>
> Singularity! Immortality! Mind Uploading! Superlative Technologies!
> Here is to the Robot God!!

Well, the basic on this unhandled sit is obviously m/u's.
If it weren't for your m/u's, you wouldn't be wog-wogging
and waffling around looking for a WHY, nor be so ARC broken
with the WHO, and you'd be able to put in your KRC,
Tone 40 this to an EP, complete those targets and put
a head on a pike instead of Dev-T'ing this forum with your HE&R.