Me: "Do I have to remind you that you have responded in the past to some of my characterizations of Superlative outcomes as implausible by arguing not that they were wrong but that they constituted defamation against transhumanists like you?"
Giulio Prisco: Do I have to remind you that what I told you was that the TONE and LANGUAGE you used were unnecessarily conflictive and insulting -- not an argument about your ideas, just a remark about your lack of manners.
I must say that this seems a bit disingenuous to me. Of course you have castigated me for my tone and language and so on in the past many times, but that's hardly the substance of the discussion we've been having here.
Look, I am offering up rhetorical, cultural, and political analyses delineating general tendencies (oversimplification of technodevelopmental complexities, fixations on particular idealized outcomes, vulnerabilities to technological determinism and technocratic elitism, and so on) that seem to me to arise from certain Superlative and Sub(cult)ural ways of framing technodevelopmental problems.
Individual people who read such analyses and then complain that I am insulting them are, for the most part, finding in what I say a shoe that fits on their own and wearing it themselves. And that is simply not the same thing as me insulting them. It is basic incomprehension or cynical distortion to say otherwise (sometimes my critiques are of particular authors or particular texts, and the charge of personal insult could conceivably make sense in such contexts, but not when my analyses are general and when the categories I deploy name general tendencies and general social and cultural formations).
The fact is, that you have actually compared your personal "transhumanist" identity, and in earlier exchanges with me your "Technological Immortalist" identity to identity categories like being gay, or gypsy, and so on. Clearly these comparisons are designed to mobilize proper progressive intuitions about lifeway diversity in multiculture by analogy to persecuted minorities. I think this sort of analogy is wildly inappropriate, and perhaps your response here suggests that you have come to agree that it is upon further consideration. Maybe you weren't entirely conscious of your rhetoric here?
As you know I am immensely interested in the politics and policy of ongoing technodevelopmental social struggle, and one of the things that troubles me enormously is that any shift from a deliberative/open into a subcultural/identity mode of technodevelopmental politics is going to be extremely vulnerable to mistake critique for persecution, disagreement for defamation.
But how can one debate about a changing diversity of best technodevelopmental outcomes when some will feel threatened in their very identities by the prospect of a failure to arrive at their own conception of best outcomes? How can such subcultural identifications with particular outcomes comport with democratic intuitions that we must keep the space of deliberation radically open -- even as we struggle together to find our way to our provisional sense of best, fairest, safest, emancipatory outcomes -- so as always to remain responsive to the inevitable existing diversity of stakeholders to any technodevelopmental state of affairs, in the present now as well as in future presents to come?
This is why I stress that the anti-democratizing effects of Superlative and Sub(cult)ural Technocentrisms are often more structural than intentional: one can affirm democratic ideals and yet contribute to discursive subversions of democracy against the grain of one's affirmed beliefs in these matters. It completely misses the force of my point and the nature of my deepest worries to imagine that I am calling people anti-democratic names when I try to delineate these tendencies. If only it were so simple as a few anti-democratic bad apples! Such personalizations of the problem utterly trivialize the issues and stakes on my own terms, quite apart from these issues some of my conversational partners complain of that their feelings have been hurt by what they see as unfair accusations or what have you.
None of this is to deny, by the way, that there are indeed explicit reactionaries and authoritarian personalities -- both gurus and followers -- to be found aplenty in Superlative Technocentric social formations. It is well documented that there are unusual numbers of both to be seen in these curious marginal spaces. And I have exposed and ridiculed these manifestions among the Extropians, Singularitarians, transhumanists, and so on many times before, and I will continue to spotlight and to ridicule them as they well deserve.
But my own sense is that it is the larger structural tendencies that preoccupy my own attention that make these formations strange attractors for some reactionaries, occasional authoritarians, legions of True Believers, and so on, rather than vice versa. And it is also true that these structural tendencies can yield their anti-democratizing effects just as well when Superlative and Sub(cult)ural Technocentrics have no explicit anti-democratizing intentions in the least.
Since you probably read all of those claims about general tendencies as personal insults in any case it isn't entirely clear to me that you will have quite grasped the force of my critique by my lights, but such are the risks of interpersonal communication.
Me: "So you really think Superlative frames have no impact on your assessments of the significance and stakes of emerging genetic and prosthetic healthcare, nanoscale toxicity and sensors or current biotechnologies, security issues connected with networked malware today, cybernetic totalist ideology in contemporary coding cultures, and so on?
Giulio Prisco: Yes. Why should I have written it otherwise? The timescales involved are quite different aren't they? The Robot God, the Eschaton or whatever you like have nothing to do with health care and network security (and civil rights, and world peace, and...), so why should I let the RG have any impact on my assessments here and now?
Well, needless to say, not all Superlative Technocentrics would agree with you that the timescales are that different, inasmuch as they finesse this problem through the expedient recourse to accelerationalism, whereby extreme or distant outcomes are rendered "proximate" by way of accelerating change, and even accelerating acceleration to really confuse matters and make the hype more plausible.
But setting all that aside, you simply can't have thought about this issue very clearly. Of course becoming wedded to Superlative outcomes influences your sense of the stakes and significance of technoscience quandaries in the present.
Much of the force of Jeron Lanier's cybernetic totalism critique, for example, derives from the way he shows faith in the Superlative outcome of Strong disembodied AI becomes a lens distorting the decisions of coders here and now. Word processing programs will correct authorial "errors" that aren't errors in fact, substituting the program's "judgement" for the author's in part because too many coders see this crappy feature through the starry-eyed anticipation of an AI that will actually have judgments, properly speaking.
The fears and fantasies of medicalized immortality crazily distort contemporary bioethical framings of genetic and prosthetic medicine here and now, all the time, and almost always to the cost of sense. Surely you agree with that, at least when the distortions involve bioconservative intimations of apocalypse and, as they like to handwave, "Playing God," arising from research and development into new genetic and prosthetic medical techniques to relieve people from suffering unnecessarily from now treatable diseases.
There are also incredibly energetic debates about whether the definition of "nanotechnology" will refer to current and proximately upcoming interventions at the nanoscale (and all their problems) or to more Superlative understandings of the term when public funds are dispersed or regulations contemplated.
So, of course your Superlative framing of technodevelopmental outcomes impacts your present perception of technodevelopmental stakes. I suspect that you are now going to walk back your claim yet again and try another tack altogether while claiming I have misunderstood you all along, correct?
Giulio Prisco: Note to Nick: I agree with "rooting for the Transhumanist Team is different from and secondary to actually trying to make the world better". This is not the issue here.
It seems to me that this IS INDEED no small part of the issue here.
I connect Sub(cult)ural Futurism to Superlative Technocentricity, inasmuch as a shared enthusiasm for particular, usually Superlative technodevelopmental outcomes is the bond that actually serves to maintain these subcultures. But the politics of subcultural maintenance in turn impose restrictions on the openness, experimentalism, flexibility of the technoscientific deliberation you can engage in without risk to the solidarity of the identity formation itself.
This is why so many Superlative and Sub(cult)ural Technocentrics can constantly pretend that the future is going to be wildly different from the present and wildly soon, and yet the Superlative Sub(cult)ural vision of the future itself, from its depiction in Regis's Great Mambo Chicken, to Stiegler's "The Gentle Seduction," to Peterson and Drexler's, Unbounding the Future, to Alexander's Rapture to the latest pop futurological favorites in the Superlative mode simply reproduce virtually the same static vision, over and over again, calling attention to the same "visionaries," the same promissory technologies (strong AI, ubiquitous automation, virtual reality, cryonics, nanotechnology, genetic medicine, and often "uploading" personality into information after first discursively reducing it to information already), the same appeals to "superhuman" capacities, technological immortality, personal wealth beyond the dreams of avarice and post-political abundance in general (usually framed in a way that appeals to neoliberal/libertarian anti-political intuitions), the same seductive conjuration of the conventional omni-predicates of theology, but this time personalized and prostheticized, omnipotence, omniscience, omnibenevolence, the same scientistic championing of reductive totalizing explanations coupled with anti-intellectual pillorying of every other kind of thought, poetic, cultural, political, and on and on and on. For two decades and counting the vision has remained unchanged in its essentials, including the insistence on utter, totalizing, accelerating, transcendentalizing change, usually uttered in the tonalities of ecstasy or of dread, a prophetic declaration of transformation that never seems to transform itself, of change that never seems to change, a static, dwindling, tired repetition of platitudes in the midst of a planetary technodevelopmental disruption (corporate precarization, catastrophic climate change, rampant militarization, emerging peer-to-peer network formations, emerging Green movements demanding decentralized nontoxic sustainable appropriate techs, emerging non-normativizing anti-eugenicist movements to democratize medical research, development, and provision, etc.) to which static Sub(cult)ural Superlativities seem to respond less and less in substance.
Superlative Sub(cult)ural Technocentrisms are too much like straightforward faiths, with a particular heaven in mind and a few Churches on hand with marginal memberships. And, as I keep saying, as esthetic and moral formations faithful lifeways seem to me perfectly unobjectionable even when they are not my own cup of tea. What is troubling about Superlativity is that its faithful seem curiously cocksure that they are champions of science rather than True Believers in the first place, which makes them ill-content to confine themselves to their proper sphere, that is offering up to their memberships the moral satisfactions of intimate legibility and belonging as well as esthetic pathways for personal projects of perfection. They fancy themselves instead, via reductionism, to be making instrumental claims that solicit scientific consensus, or, via moralizing pan-ideology, to be making ethical claims that solicit universal assent. (For a sketch of my sense of the different modes of rationality in play here see my Technoethical Pluralism.)
This sort of delusion is common enough in variously faithful people (especially in the fundamentalist modes of belief that Sub(cult)ural Futurisms seem so often to typify) and would hardly qualify as particularly harmful or worthy of extended attention given the incredible marginality of these formations -- an abiding marginality that has remained unchanged for decades, after all. But Superlative Technology Discourses seem to me to have an enormous and disproportionately influential media megaphone deriving -- on the one hand -- from their symptomatic relation to much broader fears/fantasies of agency occasioned by contemporary technodevelopmental churn and -- on the other hand -- from their rhetorical congeniality to neoliberal assumptions that serve the interests of incumbent corporate-military interests. That is why I devote so much of my own attention to their exposure and analysis.