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

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Distance Learning Course on the Longevity Dividend

[via IEET] This sounds interesting:
This Fall… J[ames] Hughes taught a course [entitled] “Living Healthier and Longer: Opportunities and Challenges”… at Trinity College on the effects of healthy aging on public policy, and the arguments for a Longevity Dividend/anti-aging research program.

All the readings and AV materials are available on the web, and [Hughes is] thinking about running it as a ten-week distance learning course for a nominal [but as yet unspecified] fee.

The ten weeks would be:
1. Longevity Dividend Overview
2. Demography of Aging
3. Biology of Aging
4. Bioethics of Longevity
5. Safety and Efficacy of Therapies
6. Economics of Longevity: Retirement Age and Social Security
7. Medicare and Health Insurance Reform
8. Disability and Aging
9. Immigration, Emigration and the Encouraging Baby-Making
10. Intergenerational Equity

Drop [Hughes] a line if you would be interested in participating in such a course. We would set up a discussion forum for it here on the IEET site, and there would be a weekly assignment to write a blog/forum post on the theme of that week. The course wouldn’t come with any formal credits at an accredited institution, but we would present you with a handsome certificate of completion.

Giulio Prisco's Defense of Superlative Nonsense

The Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, which sometimes graciously republishes material I have written here on Amor Mundi for its own readership has recently published a piece by Giulio Prisco entitled In Defense of Superlativity.

Over the last few years I have written a number of pieces critical of what I have called Superlative Technodevelopmental Formulations that seem to me:
One: To be hyperbolically unrealistic and sensationalist in ways that derange urgently necessary public deliberation about technoscience issues,

Two: To exacerbate irrational fears and fantasies about agency typically activated in any case by discussions of technology,

Three: To lend themselves to faith-based social forms and identity-based political models that are psychologically harmful and dangerously anti-democratizing,

Four: To facilitate elitist, alarmist, escapist, reductionist attitudes and rhetoric that are especially well suited to incumbent interests and anti-democratic politics, whatever the professed politics of those who advocate them, and

Five: To represent in their extremity a clarifying and symptomatic expression of the basic irrationality and authoritarianism of prevailing discourses of "Global Development" and "Technoscientific Progress" in an era of neoliberal and neoconservative politics.

This is, of course, a highly abbreviated summary of my Critique of Superlativity. I have collected a number of pieces elaborating this Critique at greater length in The Superlative Summary, and I encourage those who are interested in criticizing and contributing to this critique in greater depth to explore the texts available there.

Although Prisco does not mention me or my work by name, I think it is fair to say that it is against the arguments collected in The Superlative Summary that he feels himself to be defending himself in his piece, especially since the only link provided in his entire Defense is to a work of mine. This is a perplexing realization since one would expect a "Defense of Superlativity" against the critique I have made to make some effort to address at least one of the five charges mentioned above, and it does not seem to me that Prisco has made much of an effort to do so in fact.

In the closing sentences of his piece Prisco says:
"I think the future could be a beautiful and interesting place. Of course it could also be a very ugly place but, one thing is sure, it will be what we make of it. The possibility that I could live to see it gives me hope, energy and drive."

At this level of generality it is difficult to imagine anybody on earth who would disagree with this sort of observation, at least when offered up in such broad strokes, and so it is difficult to imagine what is presumably being defended here and against what. We don't need a new word, surely, to name and defend the attitude of people who think "love is nice," "kittens are cute," "health is desirable," "life can be beautiful and interesting or not, depending on what happens," and so on. If Prisco wants to make an actual contribution to the discussion of Superlativity I would recommend he direct his attention to a discussion and defense of the explicit charges of which the published Critique of Superlative Technodevelopmental Discourses actually consists.

It bears repeating that Superlative Technodevelopmental attitudes, rhetorics, sub(cult)ures, movements, and campaigns interest me most as a kind of reductio ad absurdum of the elitism, alarmism, escapism, reductionism, fundamentalism, anti-democracy and unsustainablility of prevailing discourses of "Global Development" and "Technoscientific Progress," so-called, as they are conducted in the neoliberal and neoconservative culminating era of corporate-militarist global politics.

But it is true that many of the figures and formulations I direct my attention to actually involve curiously marginal and often straightforwardly silly beliefs:
Such as, for one, those of the Singularitarians who anticipate the imminent arrival of a superintelligent post-biological Robot God that will either be friendly or unfriendly but either way will end human history;

Such as, for another, those of the Nanosantalogists who anticipate the imminent arrival of programmable self-replicating nanoscale robots that will deliver either unprecedented abundance or reduce the world to goo but either way will end human stakeholder politics;

Such as, for yet another, those of the Technological Immortalists who anticipate the imminent arrival of genetic and prosthetic techniques that will eliminate all diseases, including aging itself conceived as a disease, or of "uploading" techniques through which a "self" reductively misconstrued as disembodied "information" can be "transferred" into an imperishable digital medium, but either way will end human mortality.

The notions of "superintelligence," "superabundance," and "superlongevity" at the heart of these formulations represent in my view the regulative ideals driving prevailing technoscientific and technodevelopmental discourses (advocates of which would certainly disavow them in these baldly stated forms for their palpable insanity), as well as functioning as literal articles of Superlative True Belief in certain marginal technocentric and "futurological" discourses, sub(cult)ures, and identity movements.

Whether implicit (and prevailing) or explicit (and marginalized), these super-predicated idealizations amount to facile secularizations of faithful formulations familiar from theological discourses of an omni-predicated deity "defined" by omniscience, omnibenevolence, and omnipotence: But whereas omni-predication would promise to facilitate the contemplation of a transcendent being ultimately unavailable to the comprehension of finite human beings, super-predication would promise to facilitate the transcension through technoscience of finitude itself by human beings themselves.

Although Superlative discourse is often enormously proud of its repudiation of religiosity, it clearly inspires projects of personal transcension that are essentially continuous with those of organized religiosity, offering up the usual fearful denials of the condition of human finitude with all its contingency and vulnerability, and opening up the usual anti-democratizing seductions to authoritarian politics of command and obedience to which such fearful people are always especially prone. Indeed, I would propose that the intensity of the "militant atheist" politics that seem regularly to coincide with advocacy of Superlative Technodevelopmental Discourses is less a matter of the repudiation of religiosity finally as the familiar virulence of sectarian squabbles of competing religious worldviews for followers.

It should go without saying that even a cheerful and confirmed longstanding atheist like me will recognize that much of what passes for declarations of religious faith can (and in much of the world already surely does) amount to harmless declarations of personal membership in moral communities or affirmations of essentially aesthetic projects of private perfection all of which can easily peacefully and productively coexist in the context of relatively secular relatively democratic multiculture. Thus, one can testify to the attractions of personal atheism while at once decrying the essentially political and even more essentially patriarchal impact of fundamentalist organizations of religiosity, and all without indulging in the facile overgeneralizations and pointless divisiveness of so-called atheist militancy.

So, too, it should go without saying that one can testify to the attractions of providing universal consensual access to medical techniques to enable ever more people to live longer, healthier lives and incarnate non-normalizing morphologies, capacities, and lifeways, as well as access to knowledge and networks to enable ever more people to collaborate to solve shared problems peer-to-peer without indulging in deranging, hyperbolic Superlative rhetoric or joining marginal Robot Cults defined by shared belief in idealized futures disconnected from the warranted beliefs of current scientific consensus or the terms of the actually existing diversity of stakeholders to actually ongoing and emerging technodevelopmental social struggle.

In his "Defense of Superlativity" Giulio Prisco demonstrates how closely conjoined these two points often are. Let me quote him at some length:
One of the assumptions I make is that there is no such a thing as “supernatural” -- everything in the universe can be, in principle, analyzed by science. According to this assumption, I think our bodies and minds are machines: very complex machines that are not presently understood in great detail, but nonetheless machines whose detailed blueprint can be in principle known, reproduced and improved. There is no mysterious “vital force” or supernatural “essence” forever beyond the domains of scientific analysis and engineering tinkering.

I also assume that I am the information encoded in my brain. Why? Simple -- because I don’t see what else I might be. It seems to me that any other assumption would fall into mystic, magic, and supernatural realms that are completely foreign to my basic assumptions about reality.

On the basis of this assumption and conclusion, I think someday we will be able to upload human personalities to suitable computational supports, much longer lived than biological brains. This is, I believe, fully compatible with our current scientific understanding of the universe.

Of course, opinions about development timescales may differ. Ray Kurzweil sees it happening in only a few decades, while other thinkers believe it cannot take less than thousands of years. My own forecast, based only on my engineering intuition and understanding of current developments, is somewhat intermediate: I imagine operational mind uploading technology deployed by the end of this century or in the next century.

This makes me happy for my grandchildren, who will live in a very interesting world, but I don’t see mind uploading developed during my lifetime. So, on the basis that any finite probability is better than zero, I am signed up for cryonic suspension. The “natural vs. supernatural” argument above tells me that cryonics works in principle -- there is no mystic “soul” that irretrievably leaves a frozen brain after death by decree of god.

Prisco claims that it follows logically from the repudiation of the supernatural that our bodies are machines, but this would only be true if we were to accept the unstated premise that anything that is not supernatural is a machine. Of course, most definitions of "machines" will describe them as "devices," that is to say, as "devised things" -- and it is surely not true that all things that can be usefully described in scientific terms (that is to say, in published and testable terms the warranted belief in which facilitates prediction and control) are also only "devised things."

Dynamic forces, systems, matrices, organisms are all usefully susceptible of scientific analysis even when they are not machines. (Since many facile reductionists read my blog, I should quickly point out as an aside that even things and events that are usefully susceptible of scientific analysis will usually inspire analysis, description and warranted beliefs on moral, esthetic, ethical, and political terms that are not reducible nor necessarily subordinate to these scientific terms.) The chief benefit to a Superlative Technocentric in describing a human body as a "machine" rather than a complex system or organism is the stealthy rhetorical work afforded by it at the figurative level, through which the identification of a body as a devised thing presumes in advance much of the conclusion that needs an argument in the first place; namely, that a better, imperishable, super-predicated body could be devised to replace the actually-existing "devised" bodies we live in.

Later, Prisco admits that he reductively assumes: "I am the information encoded in my brain." Of course, this cannot be literally true unless he is completely insane. He surely means to say that everything he imagines to matter most essentially about himself is information encoded in his brain. I happen to think even this more qualified claim is terribly unhealthy, but it is at any rate a claim with a long philosophical pedigree, however silly, pernicious, and reductive it may be.

Of course, such a statement leaves to the side whether the "information" he is talking about consists of his memories, his dispositions, the complex relations among them (among these the relations between conscious, subconscious, and evolved dispositions), information as he would grasp and retrieve it himself, information on the basis of which a being could be modeled who would be indistinguishable from himself to an "outside" observer, and so on. Also, such a statement leaves to the side the crucial point that all information is instantiated on a material carrier, that even a "self" reducible to information on whatever construal would still always be embodied information, and hence it is questionable whether glib declarations about "migrations" of informational selves from bodies into digital networks or what have you are the least bit coherent once one attends to them with any care at all. These are questions that have been addressed at length by any number of scholars; in some aspects by Katherine Hayles in her critiques of Hans Moravec, for example, and in other aspects by Jaron Lanier in his critiques of "Cybernetic Totalism."

Prisco extraordinarily claims that "[i]t seems to me that any other assumption would fall into mystic, magic, and supernatural realms that are completely foreign to my basic assumptions about reality." That is to say, according to Prisco anybody who does not believe as he does that the self is reducible to some unspecified construal of information that is somehow indifferent to the material mode of its instantiation is engaged in mystical, magical, supernatural thinking. Not to put too fine a point on it, this is one of the most facile and careless things I have ever heard in my life.

It is just an icing on the idiocy that "[o]n the basis of this assumption and conclusion," Prisco goes on oh so non-mystically, non-magically, non-supernaturally to predict "we will be able to upload human personalities to suitable computational supports, much longer lived than biological brains." He then assures us, "This is, I believe, fully compatible with our current scientific understanding of the universe." Never mind that actually existing computers exhibit conspicuous limitations and unreliabilities compared to actually existing biological brains of a kind that non-supernaturalist champions of science might properly be expected not to handwave away, never mind that actual scientists have never even approached a consensus of belief in superlative outcomes of the kind that preoccupy Prisco's attention.

And so, "The 'natural vs. supernatural' argument above tells me that cryonics works in principle -- there is no mystic 'soul' that irretrievably leaves a frozen brain after death by decree of god." Needless to say, even in a universe without a bloody-minded sky-daddy to govern us, it is not necessarily the case that bodies or brains "preserved" through processes of freezing or even vitrification will be revivable or retrievable by future medical techniques, and the scientific consensus is not encouraging on this question, handwaving by superlative technocentrics (self-appointed "champions" of science, all) notwithstanding.

But, never mind any of that: "This [belief] makes me happy," writes Prisco.

Honesty, at last! Far be it from me to deny anybody the enriching edifications of nonscientific practices of private perfection. My own commitment to rationality is not a reductionist but a pluralist one. I believe that human flourishing is multidimensional in its practices and aspirations, and that rational beliefs are warranted in different modes, according to different criteria, facilitating different ends: at a minimum, scientific, moral, esthetic, ethical, and political. Under such a pluralist conception, rationality demands not only that one's beliefs always satisfy the criteria of warrant associated with their relevant mode, but also that one always ascertain which mode is most appropriation to the aspiration one would incarnate from case to case. If Superlative Technocentrics just want to indulge in abstract idealizations about a heaven they call "the future" that is probably harmless as far as it goes (and no doubt can be enormous fun) unless they mistake this essentially private esthetic indulgence or moralizing mode of sub(cult)ural identification as a serious kind of public deliberation compatible with secular democratic stakeholder politics, or mistake this essentially faithful project as a scientific one in any sense.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Today's Random Wilde

To be good, according to the vulgar standard of goodness, is obviously quite easy. It merely requires a certain amount of sordid terror, a certain lack of imaginative thought, and a certain low passion for middle-class respectability.

Monday, November 26, 2007

About the Candidates

I make no secret of the fact that John Edwards has long been my favorite candidate for the Presidential nomination of the Democratic Party, but it probably isn't a bad idea to stress every now and again that there are things I like enormously about the Democratic candidates on offer I like least (and that definitely includes Hillary Clinton) and that I fully expect to be deeply disappointed if not outright betrayed on some political issues that matter enormously to me even by the Democratic candidates on offer I like best (and that definitely includes John Edwards).

As for the Republican candidates, I think they are all nuts. Indeed, I think they are such flabbergasting conspicuous nuts that I will go on to suggest that a party offering up such a slate of candidates really looks to me like a party willfully committing suicide, that a nation failing to repudiate any of these nuts conclusively looks to me like a nation willfully committing suicide as a viable democracy, and that the institutions of an incumbent press willing to overlook such nuttiness to cough up a profitable hairball of "horse-race" drama is an institution willfully committing suicide (especially given the emergence of p2p/Netroots alternatives to which majorities are already turning instead).

John Edwards and Universal Health Care

This is John Edwards, from an address delivered in Chicago, September 17:
In 1993, we controlled Congress and the White House and we had a Democratic president with the courage to propose a universal health care plan. That plan was completely killed -- run out of town by an army of lobbyists working for the big insurance companies, drug companies, and HMOs. Since 1993, the number of people without insurance has grown from 39.7 million to 47 million and insurance premiums have nearly doubled. We didn't get health care, we got NAFTA….

I don't believe you can sit down with the lobbyists, take their money, and cut a deal with them. If you defend the system that defeated health care, I don't think you can be a president who will bring health care. The only way to bring real health care reform is to end the Washington influence game once and for all….

[O]n the first day of my administration, I will submit legislation that ends health care coverage for the president, all members of Congress, and all senior political appointees in both branches of government on July 20th, 2009 -- unless we have passed universal health care reform.

There are four principles that have to be met: it must be truly universal. Anyone who has health care must be able to keep it, but they should pay less for it. Anyone who doesn't have health care must get it, with help if they can't afford it. Doctors and patients, not insurance companies and HMOs, must have control of health care decisions.

The American people have waited long enough. Six months will be hard, but we can do it. Six months to universal health care. Six months to real change. Without compromise.

And now, by way of comparison -- and bearing in mind Edwards' right insistence that the fight for Universal Healthcare will inevitably be a fight against the HMOs that benefit from the current system -- note to which Congresspersons, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, the most HMO money is going this campaign cycle:
Clinton, Hillary (D)
$246,480

Obama, Barack (D)
$175,093


Baucus, Max (D-MT)
$110,300

McCain, John (R)
$88,650


McConnell, Mitch (R-KY)
$69,850

Rangel, Charles B (D-NY)
$61,650

Dodd, Christopher J (D)
$59,100


Camp, Dave (R-MI)
$41,500

Smith, Gordon H (R-OR)
$33,550

Collins, Susan M (R-ME)
$32,250

Biden, Joseph R Jr (D)
$27,450


Salazar, Ken (D-CO)
$27,250

Pallone, Frank Jr (D-NJ)
$23,750

Sessions, Jeff (R-AL)
$23,100

Deal, Nathan (R-GA)
$22,500


Bolding added by me.

Today's Random Wilde

I don't recognize you -- I've changed a lot.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Vandana Shiva on Resource Descent and Permaculture Politics

Vandana Shiva is a hero of mine, and together with a few other figures like Donna Haraway, David Holmgren, Wes Jackson, and other scholars and activists in Science and Technology Studies and Environmental Justice movements, my engagement with and teaching of Shiva's work has been indispensable to my emerging sense of what a technoscientifically literate technodevelopmentally democratic permaculture-polyculture politics should care about and should look like.

Earlier in 2007 the Soil Association organized an amazing conference, "One Planet Agriculture: Preparing for a Post Peak-Oil Food and Farming Future." Many talks from this conference are recorded and transcribed here, and I daresay if these are issues with which you are unfamiliar (or issues on which you are worse than unfamiliar because you have settled for mainstream mediated vacuities), devoting a lazy holiday afternoon to these marvelous talks might be a positively life-changing experience for you.

It is the Closing Address of the Conference delivered by Vandana Shiva that I want to draw particular attention to -- not because I think it is the best of them, but just because I hope it will be a point of entry into a deeper engagement with Shiva's work for some of my readers.

There are so many key themes registered in this short address that Shiva expands considerably in her writings elsewhere:
-- how high energy input industrial agriculture models create the superficial impression of surplus at the real cost of catastrophic depletion,

-- how imposed monocultures are simply not resilient enough to do the work of planetary agriculture to meet existing human needs and how we must redirect our thinking to local polycultures instead,

-- how enclosure of the commons -- whether geographic, genomic, or creative -- is always a matter of confiscation and exploitation,

-- how facile versions of "pro-technology" rhetoric are used by corporate-military incumbents to exacerbate precarity and consolidate structural dependency of vulnerable populations like local farmers,

-- how this precarity and dependence are the actual source of some social instability, terrorism, and "epidemics" of suicide that otherwise perplex social scientists as to their causes,

-- how there really is something schizophrenic about a culture which deplores the labor of self-sustaining farming while at once fetishizing gym work-outs,

and many more provocative ideas.

Given what sometimes seems the terribly undercritical and overgeneralized techno-fetishization and techno-philia of some who read Amor Mundi regularly and occasionally comment here (and of course all are emphatically welcome here!), I can already imagine the protests that Shiva is really just a "Luddite" (by the way, the historical Luddites were right to fear for their lives and lifeways and that should possibly matter in our assessments of them) that she is engaged in a shrill "anti-technology" discourse, and so on.

I want to stress in the most emphatic terms that it is my view that Shiva is offering up (or at any rate providing indispensable material from which can be formulated) a technoscientifically literate, technodevelopmentally democratizing advocacy of planetary permaculture-polyculture.

Advocating for appropriate technology is not "anti-technology," directing our attention to politically pernicious deployments of technodevelopment exploiting the vulnerable and profiting elite-incumbents is not "anti-technology," delineating the catastrophic impacts of false models and marketing hype is not "anti-technology."

As I keep on insisting, time and time again, "technology" doesn't exist at a level of generality that properly enables one to affirm a "pro-technology" or "anti-technology" stance in any kind of monolithic way. Technology is better conceived not as an idol to affirm or as an ethos with which to identify but as an interminable process of collective technodevelopmental social struggle in which a diversity of stakeholders (not all of them necessarily even human) are constantly contesting, collaborating, educating, agitating, organizing, appropriating, and coping with ongoing and proximately emerging technoscientific changes, costs, risks, and benefits.

Vandana Shiva redirects us to that level of specificity for the technodevelopmental outcomes with which she is most concerned (and of course there are others that are likely to matter just as much as these: p2p democratization, for one; consensualization and universalization of non-normalizing genetic, prosthetic, and cognitive medicine; weapons proliferation -- that is to say, all the key drivers of the Technodevelopmental Quartet), while at once opening us to the connections between permaculture politics and planetary democracy struggles.

Today's Random Wilde

The mystery of love is greater than the mystery of death.

More on the Quartet

Yesterday's Technodevelopmental Quartet post has been published over on the IEET site, and provoked the following comment from "Fmagyar." I seem not to be able to respond there and so I do so here instead [UPDATE -- Nonresponsiveness issue solved -- It was my error, not IEET's -- I should have known!]:
I guess it would be safe to conclude, based on your posting, that the in your esteemed opinion, our status quo systems are pretty much FUBAR.

Unfortunately massive societal and technical paradigm shifting tends to be more of art than science. So it would seem we are living in rather interesting times, (paraphrased Chinese curse), meaning we have to create the new road map from scratch. A rather daunting endeavor to say the least.

On the contrary, these days I am rather hopeful about the prospects of consensual democratic technoprogressive planetary multiculture. Both p2p Democratization/anti-incumbency and Longevity Ascent/prosthetic self-determination seem to me, potentially at least, enormously emancipatory (although palpably destabilizing in ways that are sure to exacerbate the worries of Resource Descent/corporatism and Weapons Proliferation/militarization).

I must say that I am very skeptical about intuitions involving "road maps" and "starting from scratch" and so on, which seem to me worse than "daunting" but actually troublingly undemocratic. I think "massive societal and technical… shifting" is rarely monolithically a matter of sudden sweeping paradigms shifting (such constructions tend to be, in my view, retroactive assignments analysts use to make sense of collective history), or worse, instrumental art, engineering, or science, but instead I think these shifts amount to complex collective processes of collaboration, contestation, and opportunistic responsiveness. Over the idea of a technocratic or any other elite implementation of an eidos conceived in advance, I strongly prefer the idea of a democratization of technodevelopmental social struggle as an ongoing process in which the actual diversity of stakeholders to technoscientific changes provisionally and interminably work to ensure the best, fairest, safest possible distribution of the costs, risks, and benefits of outcomes.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Kasparov Arrested in Putin Protest

[via AFP]
[C]hess legend Garry Kasparov was arrested Saturday after scuffling with riot police during a protest against President Vladimir Putin a week before parliamentary elections.

Kasparov and one of his bodyguards were grabbed by riot police and forced into a police bus which then drove them away from the scene where hundreds of opposition activists were in a tense standoff with security forces….

The arrest came during a march in central Moscow by members of The Other Russia coalition led by Kasparov and which brings together radical leftwingers, moderates and liberal reformers opposed to Putin's policies.

"We were posing no threat to public order," Kasparov [said.] "We wanted to peacefully march to the election commission. The powers that be are simply afraid of people who express their dissent."

Kasparov was arrested after around 2,000 anti-Putin demonstrators held a rally, after which a few hundred marched toward the Central Election Commission office to deliver a petition denouncing the December 2 parliamentary vote….

Putin's United Russia party is set to win a strong majority in the vote held just three months before presidential elections that are to elect a successor to the Kremlin leader.

Another One Bites the Dust

Aznar, Blair and now Howard...


Bush ally, war-monger, climate-change denier John Howard of Australia suffered a comprehensive defeat earlier today. Good riddance, asshole.

Take a trip down memory lane if you have the stomach for it:

Longevity Without Superlativity

Over at Existence Is Wonderful, Anne Corwin has posted a fascinating review of a research project somewhat misleadingly -- but nicely pithily -- named Ageless Animals which is investigating the most long-lived (but still in fact aging, however negligibly) animals on earth. The review is full of interesting information on its own terms, but it is in her concluding paragraphs that Anne really says the things that interest me most in her piece, as she articulates the general perspective from which she writes about some of the rhetoric and politics of longevity medicine along with some of the science.

It seems to me that Anne has managed a fairly rare balancing act, at once aware of the radical implications of emerging medical technique and aware of the sociocultural context that articulates the shape and distribution of such technique. I'd like to see a little less deployment of statistical generalities about rising life expectancies that can cover over actually-existing catastrophic inequities in the distribution of basic healthcare, nutrition, and hygiene -- inequities that are as likely to be exacerbated as ameliorated by emerging techniques unless planetary governance ensures otherwise (as it shows little sign of doing for now) -- but her writing is showing ever greater sensitivity around these questions lately in any case. Even better still, she has a pretty good sensitivity to the pitfalls of superlative, techno-utopian, and transcendentalizing technodevelopmental discourses, which sometimes seems to be an inescapable occupational hazard for folks who focus on emerging technologies.

Here is an excerpt from her concluding paragraphs:
[I]f metabolic damage can be addressed in humans, it might be that many of the health problems we currently associate with "old age" today will instead eventually be associated with a specific category of treatable conditions.

It is important to stress... that mitigating metabolic health conditions will certainly not mean that people will cease to get old, or that everyone will be granted comic-book-like superpowers once we find out how to stop oxidative (and other) damage from accumulating to the point where it destroys our organs. Longevity medicine proper is not to be found in the "fetishization of youth" or in fantasy, but in recognizing that getting old should not have to mean getting sick…

And it is also important to emphasize that longevity medicine is simply one essential component of health care as a whole, and working to help elderly people experience a less precarious existence (at least in my estimation) falls into the same ethical category as working to improve sanitation and nutrition throughout the world. In short, saving lives is about saving lives -- not about only saving certain people's lives based on their age, gender, nationality, or economic status.

The explicit repudiation of Superlativity here and all its fantasies and fetishizations (of eternal "youth," "comic-book… superpowers," invulnerability, immortality, and so on), together with the helpful reframing away from the Superlativity of "Technological Immortalism" into consensual healthcare of "treatable conditions" are both indispensable moves for useful technoprogressive discourse about emerging modification medicine.

The Technodevelopmental Quartet

Those who read Amor Mundi because they approve of my commitments to p2p democratization and permaculture advocacy may be perplexed by my interest in non-normativizing prostheses and therapies. Let me just say, very briefly, that I am especially fascinated by a few broad concurrent openings or agon, in terms of which I tend to articulate my sense of the politics of ongoing and proximately upcoming transformative technoscientific change, and that non-normativing "therapeutic" prostheses are among these, and in ways that seem to me especially salient precisely in relation to my preoccupations with p2p-democratization a2k-consensualization and permaculture practices.

One quick way to see what I mean by this salience is for me to note again that I regard the prosthetic as co-extensive with the cultural, and hence prosthetic proliferation is for me of a piece with the multi-cultural, which in turn connects to sustainable permaculture through its repudiation of industrial monoculture and embrace of experimental polyculture (agroforestry, companion planting, integrated pest management, and so on). Indeed, I personally like to use the word polyculture to denote this provocative, promising, perplexing convergence-site of convivial consensual multicultural, permacultural, and pro-choice politics.

Before I elaborate these preoccupations further, I do want to digress a bit, and say what I am especially trying to resist in offering up any technodevelopmental mapping of this kind. When I refer to inter-implicated technodevelopmental "openings" like this, part of what I am trying insistently to circumvent is the futurological terminology of the "trend," the "trend-spotter," the "trend-surfer," the "trend-speculator." I believe that like the debased and debasing term "meme" and the related reduction of discourse to the "viral," the "circulatory," the indifferently aggregative or repetitive (which is not to deny the empirical relevance of such descriptions to many network-dynamisms so much as what is analytically and critically available in them) framing technodevelopmental social struggles in terms of "trends" disastrously drains them of their substantial history, the contestatory/collaboratory agon of an ineradicable plurality of differently situated, enabled, aspiring stakeholders to a shared present-world futurally opening onto next-presence.

This de-historicizing disaster seems to me very much the point, especially to the extent that the language of "trends" "memes" and "evolutions" is opportunistically taken up in the justificatory and forecasting discourses of the elite-incumbent corporate-militarist Futurological Congress, who like to assume the guise of priests, gurus, whiz-kid elites channeling the otherwise unavailable voice of god, the whirlwind, the bleeding edge to the faithful rather than participants engaging in deliberation about relative values, costs, risks, benefits of historical and developmental vicissitudes, peer to peer.

Closely connected to the effort to circumvent the futurological "trend" I also struggle to resist complementary futurological insinuations of technological determinism (as if certain techniques or artifacts, once available, assure emancipatory or exploitative outcomes) by referring instead to "articulations," futurological insinuations of autonomous technology (as if progress were a matter of an indifferent accumulation of a technical toypile, rather than an equitable distribution of the costs, risks, and benefits of the toys in the toypile and in the processes through which they are piled) by referring instead to "prosthetic cultures" and technology as "technodevelopmental social struggle," and futurological delineations of historical drivers (as if there were no discourse in history, only brute force) as collective agon and citational (including subversive citation) and appropriative practices, and so on.

All that said, the Technodevelopmental Quartet names four broad, promisingly threateningly inter-implicated technodevelopmental openings/agon surveying landmarks of most versions of the historical terrain on which I expect technodevelopmental social struggle to play out in what remains of my own lifetime.

The first of these openings/agon is Resource Descent, which encompasses "Peak Oil" as well as the diminishing returns of input-infrastructure intensive extractive-petrochemical industrialism more generally, including input-intensive industrial agriculture (the mirage of the Green Revolution and Biotechnology hype), soil depletion (connected to industrial agriculture), fresh water depletion (aquifer depletion and irrigation diversion associated with over-urbanization and industrial agriculture, but also problems of pollution and salinization associated with these), the over-application and diminishing effectiveness of anti-biotics, and also, of course, global warming which is, in my view, best conceived as a problem of atmospheric pollution yielding the depletion of the resource of a life-sustaining atmosphere. Opportunistic anti-democratizing corporate-militarist frames and strategies like greenwashing PR, massive under-accountable geo-engineering proposals, militarizations and profiteering in the face of climate catastrophes and their concomitant social instabilities are, of course, important facets of this technodevelopmental opening/agon.

The second opening/agon is p2p [peer-to-peer] Democratization, which encompasses the fraught transformation from industrial/central/elite/broadcast formations to the more digital/participatory/distributed forms of what Bauwens, Benkler, Boyle, and Lessig call creative-commons, peer-production, and peer-credentializing formations, as well as a2k [access to knowledge] Consensualization politics which encompass anti-secrecy struggles (against both corporatist proprietary and militarist state secrets), transparency struggles (against secrecy and corruption in authoritative institutions like governments, corporations, universities), and ever greater network-mediated participation, education, agitation, and organization in public life.

I should add that p2p-Democratization and a2k-Consensualization also encompass extensive commitments to general welfare provision and the democratization -- rather than any anarchic "smashing" of the state form -- inasmuch as the scene of legible legitimate consent demands that those who legibly consent do so in proportion to the extent that they are neither under duress (which includes the threat of violence but in my view also the threat of ruin by blackmail, insecurity of status, refusal of treatable dis-ease, or dire poverty) nor unreasonably ignorant nor mis-informed (which includes the threat of fraud, but also the lack of access to reliable knowledge, educational resources, availability of processes of criticism, actually accountable authorities, and equal recourse to the law). Without commitments to the democratically-accountable state form and the legible scene of informed nonduressed consent, p2p and a2k politics always amount to facile spontaneisms and anti-democratic politics. These anti-democratizing framings and forces are, of course, an important facet of this technodevelopmental opening/agon.

The third opening/agon is Prosthetic Proliferation, which encompasses struggles to achieve universal single-payer basic healthcare here in the United States but also provide healthcare, available treatments for neglected diseases, nutritious food, clean water, contraception, shelter in the overexploited regions of the world, as well as the as-yet scarcely defined "pro-choice" politics of prosthetic self-determination, or the informed, nonduressed consensualization and universalization of recourse to non-normalizing genetic, prosthetic, and cognitive modifications and treatments, from planetary planned parenthood and access to ARTS, to morphological body-modification rights, to ending the racist war on drugs and embracing objective harm-reduction policies, to disability/differently-enabled rights struggles, to struggles against trafficking in human bodies and body-parts, to struggles for the public regulation, funding, and fair distribution of medical research and development, and also struggles against corporate-militarist strategies of control through the unequal and duressed planetary distribution of the costs, risks, and benefits of medical and monitoring techniques and their development, which risk in the worst case, re-making inequity and injustice at the level of literal speciation.

And the fourth opening/agonis Arms Proliferation, which encompasses obscene and short-sighted state-sponsored trafficking in arms but also illicit global arms trading, the breakdown of multilateral arms treaties, the proliferation of nuclear states, the proliferation of conventional weapons and mines, weapons of mass destruction (nuclear, chemical, biological), and also what Lessig has called insanely destructive devices -- that is to say cheaper, more destructive, more accessible, easier to hide and deploy networked WMDs -- the militarization of space and of environmental catastrophe, and the ever-disavowed but indispensable neoconservative militarist muscular imperialism undergirding neoliberal corporatist "free market" developmentalism: war-profittering, militarization of welfare and public services, a surfeit of surveillance, and the radical demarcation of global space by means of architectural and coded walls and channels.

It seems to me that the first and second of these openings/agon might facilitate together the emergence of an extraordinarily promising (however threatening) planetary political consciousness, one providing a shared set of urgent problems demanding shared efforts and the other providing the material means to collaborate in their solution while at once undermining the politics of incumbent interests that stand as the greatest present hurdle to such solutions.

The third and fourth openings/agon exhibit a comparable complementarity in my view, one amplifying the destructive stakes of ongoing refusals to distribute technodevelopmental costs, risks, and benefits fairly by the lights of the actual diversity of stakeholders to those developments, the other functioning as a kind of magnificent bribe (the facilitation of informed, nonduressed consensual prosthetic/cultural lifeway self-determination in the service of private perfections in a still-shared still responsible responsive world, convivial civitas) eliciting ever wider participation in the project of a sustainable consensual secular democratic planetary polyculture.

I also think the first and third openings/agon exhibit a kind of stick and carrot complementarity for planetary politics, while the second and fourth represent countervailing structural inducements, one possibly facilitating democratization the other probably facilitating anti-democratization.

Of course, all these inter-implications represent just the immediate throat-clearing gestures of any serious critique or programmatic offer taking up these terms, and are propose just a few among many other plausible technodevelopmental relations susceptible to figuration and narrativization at this level of generality, all of them easily capable of provoking who knows what stabilizations, de-stabilizations, campaigns, counter-movements, provisional democratizations, backlashes, and so on. Certainly, there are no guarantees here, just as there is no time to waste on superlative idealizations and distractions or parochial (incumbent, technocratic, sub(cult)ural) techno-political agendas.

Although each of these practical-discursive sites might inspire endless concrete campaigns (progressive and reactionary), it seems to me that whatever the outcomes that elicit my own commitments in these particular campaigns there is nothing more important here than the struggle to democratize technodevelopmental struggle itself, to keep futurity open whatever the futures for which one fights. Whatever one's concrete aspirations for particular technodevelopmental outcomes (about which there will always be plenty to argue about as to which outcome is fairest, safest, most emancipatory), it seems to me that a technoscientifically literate and progressively legible vantage will always also, or even first of all, direct its attention to the dangers to and opportunities for democratization and open futurity that present themselves in each of the technoscientific vicissitudes technodevelopmental social struggle grapples with from moment to moment.

Today's Random Wilde

The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Just Imagine Watching This High

All the Bright Brave Technoscientific Racists

Roughly once a year or so the Intrawebs light up with a joyless spectacle of heated hurtful give and take initiated by some white asshole who wants to claim, perhaps "reluctantly," that The Big Science Shows According to His Big Science Brain that Black People Are Dumb, and that he is really, like, brave for saying this.

This year, it would appear that the bright brave white racist asshole festivities are arriving just in time for the Holidays, which is especially nice.

Thank you James Watson, thank you, Will Saletan. A Holiday season without white racism is like a day without getting shit flung endlessly in your face.

Not that this will matter to any of the bright brave technoscientific racists in question, but let's review a couple of elementary propositions.

People can be taught to perform well on tests, and so the tests that are used to support claims that there is some substantial inherent measurable "intelligence" that, say, black people have less of in the aggregate than white people do is always just wrong. The bright brave racist conclusions simply cannot follow from the evidence of such tests.

Also, the people to whom equal recourse to the law and equal opportunity under the law applies do not exist in aggregates in the first place but as socially embedded individuals. What geneticists mean when they refer to a "population" is simply a different thing than what "race" means when it is discussed in public places in racist America. This sort of pesky difference that makes a difference matters enormously when bright brave technoscientific racist abstractions actually get deployed by intellectuals and applied on the streets where people live.

People who do not grasp these basic notions aren't very bright when it comes to this topic (whatever accolades they have managed to accumulate otherwise from the Mensa Keepers of the Phrenology Flame Subcommittee or what have you). Indeed, it seems to me some asshole reductionist could easily propose that failure to grasp these basic notions and take them into due consideration when proposing clever but stupid white racist asshole arguments itself constitutes failure on a test that could just as well be said to measure substantial inherent intelligence quite as much as the ones these failures like to quote. But, then, it's not as if asshole reductionists on the question of "human intelligence" are really likely to discern evidence that asshole reductionism itself is evidence of a deficiency in that department, now, is it?

For the rest of us who fail to see the allure of asshole reductionism in these matters it remains only to say that asshole reductionists, especially in their white racist asshole variations, aren't really so bright actually for being asshole reductionists and aren't really so brave actually for being asshole reductionists and there really is no reason actually for anybody, let alone people of the democratic left who know already that racism is evil, stupid, and wrong, to pretend otherwise.

Something about technoscientific questions makes even otherwise reliable people of the democratic left lose their minds, their standards, and their basic decency. It's a problem.

Here is the proper response to Bright Brave Technoscientific Racists:
Certain ideas do not deserve to be “debated” by civilized people. The idea that black people are inherently stupid and that we should stop investing in early-childhood education for poor black kids is assuredly one of them. Civilized people shouldn’t respond to this idea by saying “I am told by people whom I admire that Charles Murray is a reputable scientist.” Civilized people should respond by saying, “UP YOURS ASSHOLE!!” Because anything less than that simply gives these people far too much credibility.

For more on Saletan, and especially on his use of an enormously problematic paper by J. Phillippe Rushton and Arthur Jensen see Daniel Koffler's No, Blacks Are Not Dumber Than Whites.

Buy Nothing Day

Buy Nothing Day is an informal day of protest against hysterical, socially and environmentally oblivious consumerism. It falls on the Friday after American Thanksgiving, which is notoriously one of the top ten busiest shopping days in the United States.

For more: Check out AdBusters.

Or ask yourself, with Reverend Billy, the Deep Question, What Would Jesus Buy?

Collective Technodevelopmental Determination

This post is upgraded and adapted from the MundiMoot connected with a piece posted over a month ago now which culminated in the following exchange:
Michael Anissimov wrote:

Most of the American public doesn't even know what the word "nanotechnology" means.

I responded:

This doesn't seem particularly tragic to me, I must say. I think people are likely to know quite well what nanotechnology means when "it" impacts their daily lives at all; that is to say, when and if they need to. You think they need to know it now, no doubt, but I think you are probably quite wrong to think that. I also think you may well be wrong to think you know now what "nanotechnology" will mean then, when and if it does matter to them to know it. That remains to be seen.

In his contribution to the Moot Jonathan Pfeiffer worries:
This last paragraph could be understood (or misunderstood) as a claim against the importance of public education on emerging technologies and their potential or likely impacts.

Now, I think that this misunderstanding is unlikely given the context of the post in which that comment appears: I argued in that post that idealized nonproximate Superlative outcomes are mistaken by Michael as too much "predetermined" in advance when the truth is that technodevelopmental determination is an ongoing, collective, and finally unpredictable, if open, process; that is to say, a matter of politics.

If nanoscale technique inscribes one among many different technodevelopmental paths in two decades' time it could end up meaning something much more like what people think of now when they think of "biotechnology" rather than what people think of now (those few that do) when they think of, say, "Drextech." It may well be that people won't and will never have needed to know what the word "nanotechnology" connoted for a small coterie of tech-enthusiasts. People in general might well end up using words like "medicine" instead, or "sensors," or even "fabbing," maybe -- if another futurological paradigm pans out -- and what they will mean by these things will have come over the years of that development to contain the sense of nanoscale technique.

Notice even the difference between conjuring up "nanoscale technique" -- intervention, manipulation at the nanoscale, open to any number of implementations, paradigms of manufacturing, and levels of eventual control -- as against the conjuring up in the first place of a "nanotechnology" whose characteristics we are prone to delineate in advance, as though scribbling them directly from the book of physics or logic, indifferent to the shaping of developmental outcomes and ongoing distribution by factors that are radically underdetermined by logic or physics and instead always retrospectively narrated in history.

This isn't a claim against the importance of public education: again, some context would obviously rule out such a misunderstanding in a flash -- inasmuch as I regularly champion public education here on the blog, and have, more to the point, literally devoted my life to public education as a teacher!

Rather than a claim against such education it is better to read it as an insistence that educating a properly open, critical, and literate technodevelopmental temper will involve much more than logic and physics. And certainly it should involve sensitivity training to the pseudo-science, self-delusion, reductionism, and hyperbole with which some techno-enthusiasts will try to peddle their own pet Superlative outcomes and impose their pet or elite-incumbent agendas in the name of "foresight."

(To be very clear for any Superlative technocentrics reading this: That scare-quoting of the word "foresight" isn't an expression of skepticism or opposition to the notion of foresight as such so much as it is an expression of skepticism and opposition to huckster hype and tribal indoctrination mistaken or peddled as foresight, which, in my view, functions to derail the actually obviously useful process that foresight is.)
Jonathan's intervention continues: Is it that "the people" or "the American public" needs to be considered as much a source of education as a target for it? What were you thinking here?

Don't scarequote the people or the American public! We really do exist. It's true that we are a plurality rather than a monolithic unanimity invested with some kind of sovereign will -- but that is, after all, just a facile straw man constructed by incumbent and elite interests to denigrate the actually ongoing contestation, deliberation, participation of that popular plurality in the articulation of history which incumbents and elitists would rather control to their particular advantage.

Obviously the people are as much a source as a target for education! The Street finds its own uses for things. Aborning peer production practices are palpably shattering industrial-broadcast prejudices everywhere. The "Unitary Executive" is shitting in his pants and firing off wild shots in a last ditch panic.

Be careful, by the way, what groove your rhetoric is apt to nudge you into if you aren't vigilant: the people "considering" the people are themselves among the people, and so your example isn't in any measure properly a matter of elite technocrats assuming a vantage from which to consult, say, now the Book of the Universe's Law with their logical asocial independent brains, and now, with the same asocial indifference, the news arriving from ground level from the clamoring multitude, and on the basis of such consultations make the calculation that will enable them to implement some Superlative eidos into a technodevelopmental outcome.

Technodevelopmental determination is itself actively and interminably ongoing and collective, not reductively logical nor teleological, nor implemented unilaterally from above. That is the key thing to be understood here. Education, expertise, foresight, organizing are tiles in a technodevelopmental mosaic, but none of that trumps the actual collectivity of ongoing technodevelopmental determination and open futurity.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Today's Random Wilde

Wickedness is a myth invented by good people to account for the curious attractiveness of others.

Why We Shouldn't Celebrate Thanksgiving


[via AlterNet, h/t, Vladimir]

After years of being constantly annoyed and often angry about the historical denial built into Thanksgiving Day, [Robert Jensen suggests] we replace the feasting with fasting and create a National Day of Atonement to acknowledge the genocide of indigenous people that is central to the creation of the United States.

Infidelity Offsets

[h/t, Shane]



Discuss.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Differences

[via Yahoo!News]

Reactions to the sentencing of a Saudi woman who was gang-raped to 200 lashes and six months in jail…

The Bush Administration:
On Tuesday, the State Department voiced "astonishment" at the sentence, but stopped short of calling for it to be changed.

Asked if the US government was reluctant to condemn an important Arab ally ahead of a conference aimed at reviving Palestinian-Israeli peace talks, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said: "No, that's not it at all.

"These kinds of decisions are going to have to be decisions that the people of that country -- in this case, Saudi Arabia -- are going to have to take for themselves," he said.

Sovereignty for Nations That Want to Torture and Jail Victims of Gang Rape + No Sovereignty for Nations That Don't Threaten Us But That We Want to Invade for their Oil and Strategic Position = Serious Neoconservative Foreign Policy Philosophy.

Meanwhile, back on Planet Earth:

Three Frontrunners for the Democratic Party Nomination for President:

John Edwards:
Former vice presidential nominee and 2008 candidate John Edwards branded the sentence an "appalling breach of the most fundamental human rights."

"I am outraged that President Bush has refused to condemn the sentence," Edwards said in a statement.

"We need a president who will reengage with the world and restore our moral authority --- only then will we be able to lead other nations in protecting the basic rights and human dignity of every person on this planet."

Barack Obama:
"That the victim was sentenced at all is unjust, but that the court doubled the sentence because of efforts to call attention to the ruling is beyond unjust," Obama wrote.

"I strongly urge the Department of State to condemn this ruling."

Hillary Clinton:
"This is an outrage," front-runner Hillary Clinton said in a statement, condemning the Bush administration for declining to call for a reversal of the sentence, on the grounds that it was an internal matter for its Saudi ally.

"I urge President Bush to call on King Abdullah to cancel the ruling and drop all charges against this woman. As president I will once again make human rights an American priority around the world," Clinton said.

Serious Science Vs. Superlative Silliness (A Recurring Feature)

Friend of Blog Robin comments, in the MundiMoot:
I scared more than a few people away from my own blog when they came bowing before Kurzweil's magic like fundamentalists at a tent revival, and I have to admit, it genuinely terrified me.

Having been in the AI field for the last 13 years, it also cheapens real progress when it takes 50 years to move one small step in our understanding while the fanatics are waving their flags that say the job will be done tomorrow.

About this recurring feature: I like to post reactions occasionally from qualified technoscientific figures to the Superlative ethos and to Techno-Utopian claims. Such people reaffirm from the position of their different expertise conclusions I have arrived myself at from my perspective. My own critique of what I call "Superlative Technology Discourse" is primarily lodged at the level of culture, discourse, rhetoric, and political theory. These also happen to be precisely the topics both my training and temperament best suit me to talk about in the first place. Superlative Technocentrics sometimes like to castigate me for my refusal to engage with them in what they call "technical debates" on what they regard as the "hard science" supporting their Superlative claims about imminent technologies delivering "us" superintelligence, superabundance, and superintelligence. This is because many Superlative Technocentrics like to fancy themselves as very "scientific," despite the fact that their claims and aspirations inevitably have taken them far afield of the qualified scientific consensus in the actual fields on which they depend for whatever substance their techno-utopian True Belief can occasionally summon. Two things to keep in mind in enjoying this recurring feature: First, it is perfectly legitimate to lodge a critique in the form I have done (even though other modes of critique, including more strictly scientific ones, are also legitimate and available from those better qualified to make them), and those who would productively engage with me about my own critique, whether they agree with it or not, should be prepared to engage with me on the terms relevant to the critique as it is actually offered. This should go without saying. Second, it occurs to me that many of those who like to ridicule my effete muzzy humanistic preoccupations as compared to their own solid, stolid He Man science seem to mistake as incomprehension of or indifference to or even hostility to science what is in fact my own technoscientifically literate recognition that I know enough science to know when I don't know enough to pretend to expertise and so defer to reasonable consensus, just as they mistake as a championing of science their own uncaveated, hyperbolic, palpably symptomatic, often essentially faithful and hence actively unscientific claims. This is a Fault. For an informal collection of texts offering up the general contours of my own critique of Superlative Technology Discourses, and especially the techno-utopian rhetoric, subcultures, and "movements" of various Singularitarians, Technological Immortalists, Nanosantalogists, Transhumanists, Eugenicists, Extropians, Cybernetic Totalists, and self-appointed Technocratic Elites, I refer you to my occasionally updated Superlative Summary. I always also welcome from readers pointers to quotations and critiques available online from actually-qualified technoscientific figures suitable for this recurring feature.

Today's Random Wilde

I always like to know everything about my new friends, and nothing about my old ones.

William Burroughs' "A Thanksgiving Prayer"



Many happy returns.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Snippy Snippets, the Sequel

I am often accused of trying to stamp out imagination when I offer up my critiques of Superlative technology discourses and movements, but it is clear that imagination suffuses my own moral, aesthetic, and political perspective.

It's just that I know that True Belief is not imagination, delusion is not imagination, evangelism is not imagination, anti-democracy is not imagination, finding in "the future" always only a mirror of your heart's desire or secret dread is not imagination.

The Superlative super-predicated aspirations to technoscientific superintelligence, superlongevity, and superabundance that define so much technocentric discourse -- functioning as the disavowed regulative ideals articulating prevailing neoliberal "Developmental" and "Progressive" discourses but explicitly avowed in their clearer, more marginal and extreme sub(cult)ural "futurist" variations -- are, as much anything else, symptoms of the fears and fantasies of precarious agency in an era of unprecedented disruptive technodevelopmental change as well as expressions of opportunistic, usually anti-democratizing, will-to-power in the face of that change.

Technoprogressive perspectives, to the contrary, seek to democratize ongoing and interminable technodevelopmental social struggle so that the distribution of the costs, risks, and benefits of technoscientific change better respond to the aspirations of the actual diversity of stakeholders to that change....

[W]hat should have emerged by now is a sense of the perspective in which my "negative" critiques are lodged, a sense of what I am positively defending when I am negatively decrying formulations, tendencies, and attitudes I regard as pernicious. Amor Mundi is love of the world, and the Yes of that worldly love reverberates in the No with which I confront the would-be destroyers of the world, both those who would destroy the living world through reckless extractive industrialism and corporate-militarist competitiveness, as well as those who would destroy the open world of plurality through reactionary politics, technocratic elitism, fundamentalism and True Belief, or moralizing, evangelical movement anti-politics.

To recap the post for which this one is sequel, although I am regularly castigated for my "negativity," "failure of imagination," "rhetoric over substance," "lack of a comprehensive vision," and so on, it remains true that often it is the very readers who make such charges who go on to attach themselves to the most negative, off-the-cuff, decontextualized goofs I've posted here on Amor Mundi while completely ignoring my regular efforts to provide more positive, substantial, comprehensive posts of the kind they claim to crave. In order to direct some attention to this weekend's Amor Mundi and Technoprogressive Advocacy (to which I devoted real time and attention), I wanted to repost smaller more "negative" and snippy snippets from that longer, more thoughtful, more positive piece to provide readers more of what they really seem to be looking for, whatever their protestations to the contrary, all in the hopes that this will lead some more of them to engage with the actually more useful piece from which they are culled.

Public Knowledge Explains Net Neutrality in Broad Strokes

Today's Random Wilde

Ambition is the last refuge of failure.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Judgment Day

The whole two hour Nova program Intelligent Design on Trial is available online. Give it a looksee if you haven't already.

Snippy Snippets

Although I am regularly castigated for my "negativity," "failure of imagination," "rhetoric over substance," "lack of a comprehensive vision," and so on, it remains true that often it is the very readers who make such charges who go on to attach themselves to the most negative, off-the-cuff, decontextualized goofs I've posted here on Amor Mundi while completely ignoring my regular efforts to provide more positive, substantial, comprehensive posts of the kind they claim to crave. In order to direct some attention to this weekend's Amor Mundi and Technoprogressive Advocacy (to which I devoted real time and attention), I will repost smaller more "negative" and snippy snippets from that longer, more thoughtful, more positive piece over the next couple of days, to provide readers more of what they really seem to be looking for, whatever their protestations to the contrary, all in the hopes that this will lead some more of them to engage with the actually more useful piece from which they are culled…. By the way, I understand that it is harder to know how to respond to just one aspect of a much longer piece, harder to feel that one's response to a piece one agrees with -- right on! -- is as useful a contribution as firm disagreement, and so on… I don't really think the silence that often greets one's most thoughtful posts is so unreasonable as all that. I'm just calling attention to a phenomenon that always rumbles in the back of my mind when I hear complaints about my negativity, superficiality and so on….
[T]echnoprogressivisms will never properly crystallize into a tribal designation, an identity movement, a political party machine, a subcultural movement, an army marching in lockstep toward "the future," or any such thing. The future is not a place or a "goal": futurity is the political condition of plurality, democracy, freedom... and it is open, unpredictable, collective, promising, unforgivable or it is nothing at all, whatever it calls itself.

Democratic and progressive movements are inherently anti-monolithicizing, inherently pluralizing.

It is true that emancipatory politics is forever discovering the connections between oppressions as a way of overcoming them, but finding and untangling these connections is an interminable process, it is not the building of a new Pyramid to survey the scene from, it is not the delusive discovery of the One True Way yet again. Democratic organizing directs itself to proximate, ongoing, and emerging sites of struggle, it is not a matter of the creation of the Truth that Says the Way the World Is, it is not a matter of evangelizing for that Truth that Holds the Keys to History, it is not a matter of becoming part of the Movement that will Sweep the World. These are fundamentalist perspectives, and always utterly anti-democratizing (even when they appropriate the terms and superficial forms of democracy in their public relations)….

[O]ne doesn't have to join a Robot Cult to devote oneself to any of the campaigns delineated [in the longer piece from which this is excerpted], and… one can have a tantalizing glimpse of the connections between many of these technoprogressive struggles without imagining thereby that one has become a particular kind of person different from or superior to other people with whom you share the world here and now, however much you may disagree with them on particular questions, or differ from them in your aspirations.

I don't think that all progressives are technoprogressives, inasmuch as not all progressives would agree with me or have necessarily given a lot of thought to the specific inter-implication of contemporary democratic struggles and technoscientific change that preoccupies my own attention.

But I do think that all technoprogressives are just progressives, and people of the legible democratic left.

I think technocentric analyses can provide interesting perspectives, analytic tools, strategic recommendations, creative provocations, and novel sources for solidaity for progressive democratic-left politics in its more conventional guises. But I think all five of my technoprogressive advocacy areas are completely legible in terms of those more conventionally progressive perspective -- [1] permaculture, [2] p2p/a2k, [3] Pro-Choice, [4] basic income, and [5] planetary democracy.

There is nothing Superlative to be found here, no promises of transcendence, no One True Heaven to die for (or to live for, and in so living die in one's life).

Today's Random Wilde

In the old days men had the rack. Now they have the Press.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Amor Mundi and Technoprogressive Advocacy

I. WHO AM I?

My name is Dale Carrico. I grew up in a town called Floyds Knobs, Indiana, which was pretty much what you are imagining a place called Floyds Knobs, Indiana, would be like. I made money as a kid acting professionally in musicals in the weird archipelago of dinner theaters across Kentuckiana, a region wild for such entertainments you may know, and for about fifteen years now I have been a precarious sort of itinerant, troubadour adjunct lecturer in university settings, which is not so very different from dinner theater when it comes to it. I am presently a member of the visiting faculty at the San Francisco Art Institute as well as a lecturer in the Department of Rhetoric at the University of California at Berkeley from which I received my PhD in 2005. I suppose I am a rhetorician, then. I am trained in philosophy, critical theory, and literary and cultural criticism. I live in a rented apartment overstuffed with books in a sprawling warren of mid-century mousetraps on top of a hill in a bucolic neighborhood of Oakland, California, with my partner of many years, Eric, and our unusually dim-witted cat, Sarah. We're all getting old.

My work tends to focus on the politics of science and technology, especially peer-to-peer formations and global development discourse and is informed by my commitment to democratic socialism (or social democracy, if that freaks you out less), environmental justice critique, and queer theory.

I criticize futurological discourses a lot, especially here on the blog. I critique futurology both in its mainstream corporate-militarist forms as a sort of fraudulent, hyperbolic advertising, promotional, justificatory discourse disastrously suffusing our public life today, as well as in its more extreme and clarifying (also: often hi-larious) forms, variations that tend take on the kooky theological coloration of promises of techno-transcendence and which tend to have sub(cult)ural organizations in tow.

The thinker to whom I am probably most indebted is Hannah Arendt (from whose personal motto the name of this blog is taken) and also Judith Butler, who I came to California to study with and under whose direction I wrote my dissertation.

I am a registered Democrat in the United States of America in the brutal and debasing years of its imperial consummation, and I am still a believer with Michael Harrington that "the best liberalism leads toward socialism. I’m a radical, but... I want to be on the left wing of the possible." I was an activist trained in nonviolence at the King Center with Queer Nation Atlanta in the early nineties, I have been an ethical vegetarian and a cheerful atheist for well over half my life, I am a liberal theoryhead academic of the elite effete aesthete sort, am a big fag and an even bigger geek.

Eric and I possess no car, no laptop, no cellphone, no clothes dryer, no marriage license (though we fight to make gay marriage legal so that when we disdain it we do so by choice and not by necessity) and we disapprove of them and also of you, at least a little bit, in a friendly sort of way, for thinking you can't live without them yourself despite the fact that they are destroying the planet, diminishing your liberty, giving you cancer, and confusing you into mistaking possession for love. We are cantankerous and judgmental and are enjoying ourselves immensely.

II. WHAT IS THIS?

The motto that defines the project of Amor Mundi appears at the top of the page, as well as appearing as the first line in most of the profiles I have written that would direct people here: "Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All."

For me, both the words "Technology" and "Democracy" in the motto are much more like verbs than the nouns they appear to be. They are words that denote ongoing collective struggles -- collective in a sense that contains both collaborations and contestations -- and these struggles, these verbs that we stabilize for a time sometimes into nouns become in those moments like hand-holds across the sheer cliff face of social struggle in history.

I'd say that "technology" is the ongoing collective prosthetic re-elaboration of personal and inter-personal agency, while "democracy" is the ongoing collective implementation of the idea that all people should have a real say in the public decisions that affect them.

The thing is, for nearly a century by now we have lived in an epoch for which the seductive, empowering, disruptive, devastating intensity and ubiquity of our technique is such that whatever we mean by "democracy" now or next -- unless it truly understands, actively takes up, responds through, and manages to direct the energies released by that technique -- will surely fail in its emancipatory aspirations, will fail utterly in the face of technocratic tyranny or the mad insensitivity of reductive idealism. And at the same time, for the same reasons, whatever we mean by "technology" now or next -- unless the distribution of its costs, its risks, and its benefits are made to express the aspirations of the actual diversity of stakeholders to its impacts -- will surely destroy the world.

Expressing one another, befuddling one another, enabling one another, inter-implicated in one another, technology and democracy are now caught up in the circuit of interminable technodevelopmental social struggle, and now constitute the ongoing conversation in which humanity continually redetermines the meanings and the movements available to it, and rededicates itself to that futurity the openness of which is itself the space in which humanity knows itself becoming itself.

"Amor Mundi" is the love of the world. It is the love of the worldly. It is the worldly love of that becoming that becomes us. It is the love of the collective struggle of which that becoming consists, and on which that becoming depends for its force, for its serendipities, for its pleasures, and for its dangers.

My project here on Amor Mundi is to understand and to articulate ongoing technodevelopmental social struggle from my own absolutely and fortunately limited perspective and to connect it from here to my aspirations as a person of the emerging sustainable peer-to-peer planetary polycultural democratic convivial consensualist left, as an opponent of corporate-militarism, as a queergeek all the way down, as an intellectual in an anti-intellectual society, as an angry person these days, as a person moved by idiosyncratic efforts to create beauty and reconcile differences.

I can't think of anybody who agrees with everything that I say, thank heavens, and I would never presume to speak for anybody but myself. I do like to figure things out for myself, to provoke thought, to facilitate creative and democratizing projects, to make people laugh, to stop idiocy in its tracks occasionally, to raise hell, to direct people's attention to things I judge to be worthy of it, and so on.

What better place than a blog to do all these sorts of things at once?

That's Amor Mundi.

For a more concrete, more "positive" (for all you naysayers), or at any rate more pragmatic, indication of my present preoccupations, let me describe some of the areas of technoprogressive advocacy that seem to me to matter most at the moment, and then to offer up a few comments about how they hang together (or not) in my view:

III. PREOCCUPATIONS

1. Advocating permaculture (resilient sustainability) -- we should be subsidizing research and practices of agroforestry, polyculture, organic and local agricultures, defending seed saving and seed sharing as basic human rights, regulating nonselective pesticide and high-energy-input, especially petrochemical fertilizer use, encouraging vegetarian, organic, local-food lifeways through accurate nutrition labeling, special taxes on food-corpses and highly salty, fatty, sugary processed foods, incentivizing climate-appropriate and edible landscaping, supporting organic, heirloom, and superorganic cultivation, vastly expanding research and development and infrastructure investment into p2p renewable energy-provision like decentralized solar grids and co-op windmill farms, energy-efficient appliances, desalination techniques, sustainable irrigation practices and biomimetic urban sewage treatment techniques, as well as passenger rail infrastructure across the world and facilitating non-automobile transportation in cities (free or small-fee distributed bike co-ops, for example, and transforming more urban car-lanes into pedestrian malls) -- increasing public awareness of and encouraging collective problem solving in the face of energy descent, overurbanization, species loss, extractive industrial depletion of topsoil and aquifers, toxicity of materials and industrial processes, waste/pollution, catastrophic human-caused climate change, and so on.

2. Advocating p2p (peer-to-peer formations) and a2k (access to knowledge) -- we should be strongly supporting net neutrality, institutionalizing creative commons, subsidizing personal blogging and peer credentialization/production practices, radically restricting global copyright scope and terms, expanding fair use provisions, providing public grants for noncommercial nonproprietary scientific research and access to creative expressivity and public performances, opening access to research and debate in science and the humanities, experimenting with science and public policy juries and networked townhalls, facilitating accessibility of information for differently enabled people (blind, partially blind, deaf, etc.), securing open knowledge transfer to people of the overexploited regions of the world, demanding transparency from authoritative institutions, especially governments, limited liability corporations, public universities, organizations funded by public resources or engaged in public services, strongly opposing institutional secrecy, especially corporatist proprietary secrets or militarist state secrets, ensuring universal free access to networked media, free reliable wifi, supporting community and minority-run radio, demanding corporate media disaggregation, facilitating small campaign donor aggregation and restricting other forms of patronage/lobbying/conflict-of-interest for elected representatives and professional appointees to public service, making access to education universal and free from pre-kindergarten through college, enacting strong whistleblower protections for public officials and corporate employees, introducing labeling standards to distinguish advertising, advocacy, journalism, and strengthening protections for consumers from fraudulent claims, and so on.

3. Advocating prosthetic self-determination (Pro Choice) -- we should be defending absolutely every woman's right to choose safe, free, accessible abortion techniques to end unwanted pregnancies, as well as facilitating wanted pregnancies with alternate reproductive techniques, legalizing and then taxing all informed, nonduressed consensual recreational drug use, redirecting public resources to policing actually dangerous or disorderly public conduct, regulating controlled substances for unnecessary harm, and expanding public education and drug rehabilitation programs, vastly expanding public research into genetic, prosthetic, and cognitive modification medicine, defending individuals and communities with atypical capacities and morphologies, expanding access (while prohibiting compulsory recourse) both to consensual medical and modification therapies as well as to reliable information about them, providing universal single-payer basic healthcare, planet-wide provision of safe water and nutritious food, and subsidizing access to all wanted therapies that meet basic threshold safety and transparency standards with a stakeholder grant for non-normalizing modifications in exchange for open access to clinical trial data associated with all experimental procedures.

4. Advocating BIG (basic income guarantees) -- we should be providing a universal, non means-tested basic guaranteed income to every person on earth as a foundational right of human civilization -- or at any rate a substantial increase in welfare and public services to bring us closer to BIG or its equivalent, yielding as we approach BIG ever more of its wholesome, emancipatory, consensualizing, and democratizing effects -- not only to complete the traditional progressive project of ending slavery (including still existing wage slavery) and ending military conscription (including still existing conscription through the duress of the vulnerable, through poverty, illiteracy, stigmatized lifeways, and precarious legal status), and supporting collective bargaining (by providing a permanent strike fund for all workers) -- but also to combat contemporary and emerging and conspicuously amplifying forms of technodevelopmental abjection in particular: for example, current confiscatory wealth concentration through automation, outsourcing, and crowdsourcing; protecting vulnerable populations from duress to ensure all experimental medical decisions are truly consensual; and to champion p2p democracy by subsidizing the practices of true citizen participation, peer production of appropriate and appropriable technologies, and free open secular multiculture.

5. Advocating the democratization of global governance (democratic world federalism) -- the institutions of global governance already exists, of course, but in catastrophically non-democratic corporate-militarist forms that are destroying the world, and so the fight for democratic world federalist governance is not properly dismissed as a fanciful or dreadful desire for some ex nihilo planetary state, but in reality the fight to smash the corporate-militarist world state that actually exists and to democratize it as and for the people, peer-to-peer (in democracies, properly so-called, government is the people, and so to express hatred of government is to express hatred of the people and such slogans should be understood with that in mind), all in the face of unprecedented planetary problems and the unprecedented planetary consciousness created by global networked participation and in the light of our emerging awareness of global ecologic and economic interdependence -- and it doesn't matter to me whether this "smashing of the states" and democratization of global governance is implemented through the expansion and democratic reform of the United Nations, or through the creation of alternate or supplementary planetary institutions, or through the proliferation and ramification of multilateral treaties and monitoring and institutions, or what have you, since many pathways are and will continue to present themselves to do this work -- but it will likely eventuate in a federal form, encompassing already existing formations, a form emphasizing subsidiarity (which is a principle directing governance always to the most local layer adequate to a shared problem), and protecting planetary secular multiculture, and directed to the tasks of monitoring global storms, pandemics, weapons, enforcing global environmental, labor, police/military conduct standards, providing institutional recourse for the nonviolent resolution of interpersonal and intergovernmental disputes, and facilitating the universal scene of legible, that is to say, truly informed, nonduressed consent.

IV. ELABORATIONS

1. These five preoccupations look distressingly like a Program, and so I want to begin by pointing out that they are incomplete, that they are a point of departure and not a settlement, and that they are most interesting to me in the provocative and as yet underelaborated connections that obtain among them. How do the politics of p2p democratization change Green politics or the politics of Choice, for example? How do these connections renew or replace old utopian socialist and world government politics? And so, given this incompleteness, this openness, this idiosyncratic partiality, this promising inadequacy it seems to me that anybody who wants to find in these preoccupations the seed for a philosophy to follow, a party platform, an organizational manifesto has really, truly lost their way here. One scarcely glimpses in this delineation even my own preoccupation with anti-racist work, all my feminist commitments, the full scope of my anti-militarism (my insistence that we should make war literally unprofitable, for example), my animal rights work, my interest in all sorts of questions peculiar to my training in rhetoric, in American pragmatist philosophy, or in critical theory, my worries both about judeochrislamic fundamentalisms and the reductive scientisms and militant atheist counter-reactions they have incubated, my ongoing hostility to the Bush Administration, Movement Republicanism in general, Neoliberalism even more generally, and much more. I have just sought in the delineation of these five advocacy areas to provide a sense of what I think technoprogressive advocacy looks like, what sorts of connections and campaigns a technocentric democratic left political perspective like mine might illuminate and contribute to. Other technoprogressive people will surely emphasize things differently, connect issues and campaigns differently, focus their work on just one project or another, and so on. That is exactly as it should be.

2. My point is that technoprogressivisms will never properly crystallize into a tribal designation, an identity movement, a political party machine, a subcultural movement, an army marching in lockstep toward "the future," or any such thing. The future is not a place or a "goal": futurity is the political condition of plurality, democracy, freedom... and it is open, unpredictable, collective, promising, unforgivable or it is nothing at all, whatever it calls itself. Democratic and progressive movements are inherently anti-monolithicizing, inherently pluralizing. It is true that emancipatory politics is forever discovering the connections between oppressions as a way of overcoming them, but finding and untangling these connections is an interminable process, it is not the building of a new Pyramid to survey the scene from, it is not the delusive discovery of the One True Way yet again. Democratic organizing directs itself to proximate, ongoing, and emerging sites of struggle, it is not a matter of the creation of the Truth that Says the Way the World Is, it is not a matter of evangelizing for that Truth that Holds the Keys to History, it is not a matter of becoming part of the Movement that will Sweep the World. These are fundamentalist perspectives, and always utterly anti-democratizing (even when they appropriate the terms and superficial forms of democracy in their public relations).

3. I just want to point out that one doesn't have to join a Robot Cult to devote oneself to any of the campaigns delineated above, and, as I have been explaining here in the aftermath, one can have a tantalizing glimpse of the connections between many of these technoprogressive struggles without imagining thereby that one has become a particular kind of person different from or superior to other people with whom you share the world here and now, however much you may disagree with them on particular questions, or differ from them in your aspirations. I don't think that all progressives are technoprogressives, inasmuch as not all progressives would agree with me or have necessarily given a lot of thought to the specific inter-implication of contemporary democratic struggles and technoscientific change that preoccupies my own attention. But I do think that all technoprogressives are just progressives, and people of the legible democratic left. I think technocentric analyses can provide interesting perspectives, analytic tools, strategic recommendations, creative provocations, and novel sources for solidaity for progressive democratic-left politics in its more conventional guises. But I think all five of my technoprogressive advocacy areas are completely legible in terms of those more conventionally progressive perspective -- permaculture, p2p, a2k, Pro-Choice, basic income, and planetary democracy. There is nothing Superlative to be found here, no promises of transcendence, no One True Heaven to die for (or to live for, and in so living die in one's life).

4. I am often accused of trying to stamp out imagination when I offer up my critiques of Superlative technology discourses and movements, but it is clear that imagination suffuses my moral, aesthetic, and political perspective. It's just that I know that True Belief is not imagination, delusion is not imagination, evangelism is not imagination, anti-democracy is not imagination, finding in "the future" always only a mirror of your heart's desire or secret dread is not imagination. The Superlative super-predicated aspirations to technoscientific superintelligence, superlongevity, and superabundance that define so much technocentric discourse -- functioning as the disavowed regulative ideals articulating prevailing neoliberal "Developmental" and "Progressive" discourses but explicitly avowed in their clearer, more marginal and extreme sub(cult)ural "futurist" variations -- are, as much anything else, symptoms of the fears and fantasies of precarious agency in an era of unprecedented disruptive technodevelopmental change as well as expressions of opportunistic, usually anti-democratizing, will-to-power in the face of that change. Technoprogressive perspectives, to the contrary, seek to democratize ongoing and interminable technodevelopmental social struggle so that the distribution of the costs, risks, and benefits of technoscientific change better respond to the aspirations of the actual diversity of stakeholders to that change.

5. I am also often accused of excessive "negativity" and I have tried in this post to offer up something conspicuously "positive" instead. But what should emerge from this delineation of what Amor Mundi is for is a sense of the perspective in which my "negative" critiques are lodged as well, a sense of what I am positively defending when I am negatively decrying formulations, tendencies, and attitudes I regard as pernicious. Amor Mundi is love of the world, and the Yes of that worldly love reverberates in the No with which I confront the would-be destroyers of the world, both those who would destroy the living world through reckless extractive industrialism and corporate-militarist competitiveness, as well as those who would destroy the open world of plurality through reactionary politics, technocratic elitism, fundamentalism and True Belief, or moralizing, evangelical movement anti-politics.