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

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Sorry, Guys

Updated and adapted from a few comments in a still-thriving thread in the Moot

It's not really true to say that I focus on transhumanists to the exclusion of other topics here on Amor Mundi. What I "take on," if one must call it that, is what I call technocentric superlativity, under which I subsume transhumanisms, singularitarianisms, corporate-militarist futurologies, "liberal" eugenicisms, and various other techno-utopianisms.

Depending on when you dip your toe into the water, it will sometimes seem that one particular variation of superlativity or other gets the brunt of my critical energies, but I don't think it's right to say that transhumanism is really my central concern.

It's certainly true that Amor Mundi has, among other things, taken up a position in the online niche market for exposure and analysis of certain Robot Cult foolishness, and I think this is a perfectly legitimate and useful service as far as it goes. The small Robot Cult groups nattering on the internet deserve exposure however marginal they are -- once upon a time Neoconservatives were comparably fringe, after all, and look at all the damage those dumb cocksure boys-with-their-toys ended up doing. But it is as a kind of particularly clarifying reductio of the technocentric superlativity that prevails in many more mainstream neoliberal, technocratic, eugenic, and reductionist mainstream developmental discourses that transhumanism seems to me a particularly useful and illuminating target of critique as well.

This is a blog and the shape of the conversation is articulated in no small part by the objections and concerns raised by its conversational partners in real time. There are a number of earnest to cynical Robot Cultists lurking and posting in the Moot, and for better or worse my blog reflects my efforts to engage with their expressed concerns. Lately, organizational insiders and PR hacks have been flinging random anonymous vitriolic poop on the walls of the Moot in the effort to see what sticks -- how on earth could anybody ever think of transhumanists as a cult when they behave this way? -- and so I am beginning to police some repeat offenders at the moment although I hope a balance will eventually be struck that keeps both criticism and substance high. But be all that as it may, in the larger context of my writing and teaching it is quite easy to see that my critique of superlativity and focus on technodevelopmental social struggle is scarcely reducible to lambasting transhumanists.

No small part of the confusion at hand arises in my view from the way that transhumanist-identified people themselves seem eagerly to assume the mantle of a "movement" and a general "we" whenever it suits their ambitions, but then to disdain any number of particular positions that get expressed by exemplars of the movement when it suits their vanity. Transhumanists rise and descend to levels of generality, "technicality," inclusivity, and exclusivity at the drop of a hat and all incredibly opportunistically. However edifying it may be to them, none of this is particularly compelling or even coherent to those of us who are not already sympathetic to their general take on things and observing the spectacle they are making of themselves critically.

To be blunt, transhumanism doesn't have enough of a history, a wide enough membership, nor an archive of adequate accomplishments to demand respect in the face of these sorts of shenanigans. It isn't "terminological imperialism" as one critic objected to my criticism of positions actually affirmed under the heading of transhumanism even though he himself -- who also ascribes that label to himself -- disapproves of them. I am just trying to make sense of what you people are saying and what you are up to and to connect what you are doing to its larger contexts in a critical way, and you freak out nine ways till Sunday.

A marginal movement with a hundred members and a hundred "versions" (yes, I exaggerate a tad to make a point) is an incoherent mess, and it is plain to see that all these deep "variations" are no barrier to general identification once the critics turn their heads again and the "movement" flies its freak flag in the club house (I speak as someone with more than one freak flag to fly of his own, so don't mistake the actual target of my criticism here).

There is no more commonplace strategy among kooks, paranoids, cultists, and such than to project their own extremity onto those who are simply observing it and testifying to what they see. Some of the suave cynical PR shills of the Robot Cult organizational archipelago tossing brickbats into the Moot these days are now rather desperately accusing me of being a cult-figure because I blog under my actual name and seem to mean what I say despite the fact that they literally have facile pontificating would-be gurus making public pronouncements about technological "transcendence" in "The Future" by means of "The Way" which I critique, obviously enough, as hyperbolic and authoritarian nonsense. They would accuse my low-traffic rather academic blog of being "cultlike" despite the fact that they literally have membership organizations to whomp up enthusiasm and donor-monies for, filled with True Believers endlessly testifying to "We Transhumanists" this, "We Singularitarians" that, and on and on.

Terrified at the prospect of actual sustained critical scrutiny, they now imply that any engagement with transhumanism itself compels one into the position of being a closeted Robot Cultist oneself, one who needs to shut up forthwith with the criticisms or risk exposure as such. Or they insinuate that there is something "immoderate" or "bizarre" about tarring transhumanism or singularitariansim or techno-immortalism generally with the kooky cultism of a few nonrepresentative bad apples, when the obvious question is why the presumably "good apples" of these movements fail to police more judiciously the bizarre and immoderate things said and done in the name of their own "movement," why the "non-cultists" are so blandly unconcerned about the cranks and True Believers among them.

The devastating truth remains that one simply doesn't need to join a Robot Cult to advocate the progressive democratization of technodevelopmental social struggle nor to champion consensual prosthetic lifeway diversity. That even the "good" "reasonable" "moderate" Robot Cultists do so anyway is a problem for them, one that is very likely insurmountable, and, I might add, a source of endless comedy gold for their sensible critics.

Transhumanism just doesn't stand up to scrutiny as an autonomous "viewpoint" -- and as a sub(cult)ural tendency it is mostly just an extreme and symptomatic expression of more prevailing hyperbolic technocratic reductionist eugenic techno-utopian strains in neoliberal and neoconservative developmental discourse.

Sorry, guys, that's the way it looks to me. I've said why in countless well-reasoned arguments elsewhere that you can all take or leave as you will. I never expected Robot Cultists themselves to take these interventions particularly to heart, obviously.

15 comments:

peco said...

earnest to cynical

Which one am I?

The devastating truth remains that one simply doesn't need to join a Robot Cult to advocate the progressive democratization of technodevelopmental social struggle nor to champion consensual prosthetic lifeway diversity.

What if you don't want to do this, or you do want to this but you want to do other transhumanism-related things as well? The technocratic reductionist reactionary authoritarian eugenicist in me doesn't like "progressive democratization" or "social struggle." (I do value "lifeway diversity," though.)

I've said why in countless well-reasoned arguments elsewhere that you can all take or leave as you will.

(agreement)

Lately, organizational insiders and PR hacks have been flinging random anonymous vitriolic poop on the walls of the Moot in the effort to see what sticks -- how on earth could anybody ever think of transhumanists as a cult when they behave this way? -- and so I am beginning to police some repeat offenders at the moment although I hope a balance will eventually be struck that keeps both criticism and substance high.

I'm not anonymous to you.

the obvious question is why the presumably "good apples" of these movements fail to police more judiciously the bizarre and immoderate things said and done in the name of their own "movement," why the "non-cultists" are so blandly unconcerned about the cranks and True Believers among them.

They might think that there are very few cranks. If your organization has a million people and two cranks, policing the cranks wouldn't be useful. (I think there are enough cranks calling themselves to be a problem.)

Transhumanists rise and descend to levels of generality, "technicality," inclusivity, and exclusivity at the drop of a hat and all incredibly opportunistically.

Are you talking about specific transhumanists or transhumanists as a group? Any group might do this. The "general" members can't respond when the "technical" members are responding, and vice versa. A specific transhumanist (Michael) has done all of these things, but it didn't seem opportunistic to me.

(If this is "poop," I don't know what wouldn't be.)

Dale Carrico said...

The technocratic reductionist reactionary authoritarian eugenicist in me doesn't like "progressive democratization" or "social struggle."

Why the hell would I care about the technocratic reactionary authoritarian eugenicist in you, peco? Do you think it is some spectacular contribution reminding me that dumb assholes exist in the world? I think you suck. Why on earth are you here?

If your organization has a million people and two cranks, policing the cranks wouldn't be useful.

Of course, this isn't the problem transhumanists have. For more than a generation they have never managed to attract more than a few hundred mostly privileged clueless handwaving techno-utopian white-boys the proportion of cranks among which -- whether from the perspective of sociopolitical extremity or marginality from scientific consensus -- remains well over fifty percent.

That is putting it kindly.

As for the rest of what you say it is, as usual either blindingly obvious or completely irrelevant. I've been deleting your bafflingly stupid posts by the half-dozen daily lately just to keep the Moot from plunging into utter imbecility and I have little doubt you will make me greatly regret the small generosity of letting this comment stand and actually responding to it.

I really do wish you would go pester somebody else for a change.

peco said...

Why on earth are you here?

Good question.

Why the hell would I care about the technocratic reactionary authoritarian eugenicist in you, peco? Do you think it is some spectacular contribution reminding me that dumb assholes exist in the world? I think you suck. Why on earth are you here?

The non-asshole reactionary in me doesn't like some of this for good reasons. The progressive in me likes some of this. The reactionary in me likes transhumanism, and the progressive in me is fine with it.

or marginality from scientific consensus -- remains well over fifty percent.

How marginal do you need to be to be a crank? If only people who build perpetual motion machines are cranks, the proportion would be very low, and if slightly more plausible things counted most transhumanists would still not be cranks (but a lot of them would be).

Otherwise, I agree.

---

blindingly obvious

You misinterpreted me in the beginning, so I try to explain everything that could possibly be ambiguous.

The last thing I said was relevant, but I do need to stop saying irrelevant things.

white-boys

Does it matter who joins the organization? As long as other people who want to join aren't discouraged or not allowed to join, this is fine.

---

Why the hell would I care about the technocratic reactionary authoritarian eugenicist in you, peco?

I am not an authoritarian or a eugenicist or a technocrat. I am not a reactionary in a way that would matter here. I do disagree with some of the things you/Anne (I can't remember) want.

I think parents should be discouraged from creating deaf children, but I'm not sure if it should be banned. Deaf children can't un-deafen themselves, but hearing children can deafen themselves. Creating deaf children doesn't give them anything that they could not easily get themselves.

What you said assumes that the reader wants "progressive democratization of technodevelopmentalsocial struggle" or lifeway diversity. Plenty of people don't, and what you said won't dissuade them from becoming transhumanists.

bafflingly stupid posts

Is it because my writing sucks, or because what I say doesn't make sense (or both)?

I never expected Robot Cultists themselves to take these interventions particularly to heart, obviously.

They might have taken this to heart:

Terrified at the prospect of actual sustained critical scrutiny, they now imply that any engagement with transhumanism itself compels one into the position of being a closeted Robot Cultist oneself, one who needs to shut up forthwith with the criticisms or risk exposure as such. Or they insinuate that there is something "immoderate" or "bizarre" about tarring transhumanism or singularitariansim or techno-immortalism generally with the kooky cultism of a few nonrepresentative bad apples, when the obvious question is why the presumably "good apples" of these movements fail to police more judiciously the bizarre and immoderate things said and done in the name of their own "movement," why the "non-cultists" are so blandly unconcerned about the cranks and True Believers among them.

if you hadn't annoyed them so much.

Dale Carrico said...

Kill. Me. Now.

John Howard said...

What you said assumes that the reader wants "progressive democratization of technodevelopmentalsocial struggle" or lifeway diversity. Plenty of people don't, and what you said won't dissuade them from becoming transhumanists.

Or "bioconservatives" as the case may be. Peco, can you explain what you think shouldn't be progressive or democratic about transhumanism? You perhaps are afraid that progressive democracies might ban this stuff, or are you saying that transhumanism should be implemented in a non-prog-democratic way, or do you not like prog-dem values in general?

btw Dale, I don't see the difference between "progressive democratization" and "liberal eugenics" (which I think you disapprove of, right?) Could explain what the difference is as you see it? Let me guess though - it is not liberal eugenics because it happens at the scene of educated consent and without any duress?

Antonin said...

Dale, maybe you should consider putting up a FAQ in response to the more epidemic misinterpretations clogging your discussion space.

I can already see how it could quickly nail some of the basics like:

Q: But doesn't that make you a transhumanist/bioconservative/ pinko/etc. ?
A:...

Q: Are Mundists cultists too?
A:...

Q: Why do you hate freedom?
A:...

etc. etc.

Of course, it could have the unfortunate side-effect of severely thinning the herd, as they say.

Dale Carrico said...

btw Dale, I don't see the difference between "progressive democratization" and "liberal eugenics"

Then you're stupid.

Dale Carrico said...

The epidemic of idiotic questions derives from the epidemic of idiotic questioners, which results from the fact that the people who seem most inspired to respond to my critiques of Robot Cultism are dumb defensive Robot Cultists themselves (I imagine most sensible people simply chuckle along, nod their heads in agreement, and then go on with the business of the day).

John Howard said...

OK, that's possible. Be that as it may, your description of how genetic engineering should be done seems identical to the wiki on Liberal eugenics. Or rather, not your description, which is rather obtuse, but what it looks to me like you are trying to describe. So, for the benefit of us stupid people, where do you diverge from that wiki article?

Dale Carrico said...

From the information available at the end of the link you provided:

Liberal eugenics... seeks to both minimize congenital disorder and enhance ability, traditional eugenic goals. It is intended to be under the control of the parents exercizing their procreative liberty while guided by the principle of procreative beneficence, though the substantial governmental and corporate infrastructure required for human genetic engineering may limit or steer their actual choices.

A link there supplements this with the following definition:

Procreative beneficence is the moral obligation of parents to have the healthiest children through all natural and artificial means available.

I strongly disapprove any "bioethics" that would claim to discern a "moral obligation" to engineer "optimal" offspring on any parochial construal of "health" -- especially one for which this so-called "obligation" trumps informed, nonduressed consensual recourse to wanted non-normalizing but non-lethal therapeutic different-enablement or informed, nonduressed restraint from unwanted normalizing presumably-"optimizing" or "cost-effective" therapeutic different-enablement.

I disapprove of the very idea of an "objective" or "apolitical" usage of the term "enhancement" of the kind corporate-bioethics and liberal eugenics (and certainly transhumanists) deploy in their discourse, since I know that enhancement is always actually enhacement -- to whom? for what? and since I know that every therapeutic enablement of lifeways is incarnated at the cost of the disablement of other lifeways.

While liberal eugenicists like to crow about their distinction from coercive and authoritarian eugenicism, I am deeply concerned about the stigmas and disincentivizations and misinformation that can facilitate reactionary and homogenizing biomedical outcomes indistinguishable from the results of outright coercion, all under cover of such "liberality" and "objectivity."

The definition I quoted above registers some of these worries in pointing out that the normative and institutional landscape of administration and production through which therapeutic outcomes will always actually be funded, regulated, distributed, promoted, and understood will always function to limit and guide actually-available and actually-intelligible choices.

This is why I lodge my own politics in the work to make the normative and institutional landscape of administration and production ever more consensual and democratic.

To all these dangers I respond, as you know, that one needs to shore up and substantiate the scene of informed nonduressed consent through a politics of actual access-to-knowledge (radical diminishment of governmental and proprietary secrecy, access to reliable information, lifelong education, strong criminalization of misinformation and fraud) and general welfare (universal basic healthcare and basic income).

I predict you'll either say I'm contradicting myself, or lying, or possibly lying to myself because for you the only way to take these threats seriously is by defending what you regard as the "natural" state of affairs, a notion that seems to me exactly equally parochial and reactionary as the eugenicists' notion of "optimality," a defense you will insist requires police-state prohibitionism of even those safe and wanted treatments that you happen to disapprove of as unnatural, a coercion exactly equally as tyrannical as the forceful interventions of the eugenicists.

By the way, I'm not saying anything here that I haven't said many times before on this blog, in pieces I've actually collected and highlighted on the relevant topics in my topical blog-anthologies. You claim to want to be informed of my positions, but they are already there for you to see.

I'm not a performing monkey, you know, I'm not a candidate for public-office with the responsibility to respond to constituents, I'm not a would-be guru evangelizing for followers, I'm not here to provide answers on demand to questions you're too lazy to investigate for yourself, or defend all my stated "positions" to ensure they cohere in some readily digestible "platform," or give wayward people something to believe in, I'm not interested in any of those roles. And I get paid to teach when I'm teaching.

I am here to talk about the progressive politics of democratizing technodevelopmental social struggle and championing consensual lifeway multiculture, peer-to-peer. I don't have all the answers, I don't want to have all the answers, I don't want to be constantly attacked by zealots I wouldn't talk to on the street but who suddenly think they have a right to monopolize my time because I talk about ideas on a blog.

You transhumanists and bioconservatives really are a pain in the ass. I'm hoping I have more patience for this stuff once I get some time off at the end of term. Right now, I'm feeling very grumpy and resentful of what looks like a whole lot of bad faith and crusading stupidity from Robot Cultists and Biocons without a lick of sense in their heads.

John Howard said...

That's interesting. (I have sympathy for you having to repeat your positions over and over, but I'll give you the advice I give myself: have patience, at least it gets easier to explain yourself each time, and it's worth it to educate each new person rather than let them continue on in their ignorance because they didn't bother to read my whole blog)

Regarding your answer: it looks to me like you don't like the idea of an obligation to "procreative beneficence" because same-sex conception is so obviously contrary to it. You want people to be free from an obligation (which is not a law but a societal norm that already exists, strongly, witness the offense people take to a pregnant women seen having a glass of wine with dinner) to try to have healthy children. It's your necessary denial of the existence of that moral obligation to have healthy children that blinds you to the duress and coercion that would force people to use genetic engineering if it is made available. In order to justify attempting same-sex conception, you have to pretend that there is no coercion for other forms of GE due to procreative beneficence. So that explains that, it's a politically necessary denial (a delusion, if you prefer), because you are so hung up on being allowed to attempt same-sex conception.

(and be happy your are lucky enough to be getting paid for something. damn lucky, Id say)

Dale Carrico said...

Uh, no, I don't like "procreative beneficence" for the actual reasons I said.

I find it perfectly hilarious and predictable that, exactly like the transhumanists, you eagerly seize on the notion of an "obligation" to have "healthy" offspring, but you mean "natural" by "healthy" and they mean "optimal" by "healthy."

Police state parochialism.

Precisely true to form: Actually informed, nonduressed consensual lifeway multiculture is never enough.

And, no, I won't wade into yet another endless discussion of how consent is coercion, police-state prohibition is freedom, and up is down according to the John Howard Biocon school of heterosexual naturalism.

Push this crapola and my response is that I will delete you as a troll. I do that sort of thing now. It's awesome!

John Howard said...

Wait a sec, I do not push an obligation to have healthy children, I merely acknowledge that such a feeling exists and is deeply embedded into our attitudes. Do you agree?

And I am trying to preserve the right to have unhealthy children, less-than-optimal children, by preserving everyone's right to have children with their own genes with the person of their choice, using their own genes. That is contrary to "procreative beneficence". I just think there's a right to act contrary to that, because the right to have your own children with your chosen spouse trumps it. But I won't try to deny that it exists or say it is wrong and should be ignored, just that other things trump it and it can be ignored. You think any non-duressed decision to procreate trumps it, I think only ones that don't use modified gametes trump it.

And not because of some concept of "natural", but in order to limit the scope and expense of government and preserve individual conception rights for all people, which are threatened when even they are merely duressed by the offer of genetic enhancement due to the existnces of "procreative beneficence".

Dale Carrico said...

Wait a sec, I do not push an obligation to have healthy children,

Not only do you do this, but you go on to define "healthy" in an extremely reactionary way.

I merely acknowledge that such a feeling exists and is deeply embedded into our attitudes. Do you agree?

What people mean by "healthy" is socially constructed and historically contingent, so, in the sense that matters here -- no, I don't.

And I am trying to preserve the right to have unhealthy children, less-than-optimal children,

"Unhealthy" and "less-than-optimal" according to whom?

by preserving everyone's right to have children with their own genes with the person of their choice, using their own genes.

Up is down! You want to "preserve" everyone's rights to do only what you want them to according to your sense of what is "natural," exactly as usual.

You think framing prohibition as freedom will fool people into accepting your deceptions as truth. Typical conservative.

That is contrary to "procreative beneficence".

Strictly speaking, yes it is. Of course, there is more than one way to be contrary to "procreative beneficence."

Your difference with the notion is parochially preservationist where liberal eugenicists are parochially optimizationist, but you still think directing influence or police power to moralizing ends is appropriate, trumping even informed nonduressed consent that differs with you. Your differences with "procreative beneficence," then, however real, don't look to me as interesting as your agreements with the notion of procreative beneficence.

I just think there's a right to act contrary to that, because the right to have your own children with your chosen spouse trumps it.

Unless having children requires therapeutic interventions you disapprove of however safe and wanted they are.

But I won't try to deny that it exists or say it is wrong and should be ignored, just that other things trump it and it can be ignored.

No doubt you'll be quite eager to claim to speak with the voice of God or Nature whenever you think you can get away with fooling people into believing that God or Nature accords with your own parochial prejudices.

You think any non-duressed decision to procreate trumps it, I think only ones that don't use modified gametes trump it.

I don't think procedures deemed unsafe by scientific consensus should be permitted (as I've said many times), nor do I think uninformed or misinformed people or people duressed by vulnerability can be said to consent to risky procedures, properly so-called.

As a side note, in anticipation of the inevitable objection: The defense of consent in my sense requires that we must struggle to increase access to reliable knowledge and increase social supports to substantiate the scene as actually informed and actually nonduressed in the relevant sense, meanwhile we must focus our media and regulatory oversight on vulnerabilities created by misinformation and precarity in so far as we have not managed to increase knowledge and support adequately to substantiate the scene of consent as we would want, not that we use some Platonic ideal of consent to deny freedom to everyone here and now.

Not that the actual words I say ever really matter much to you.

And not because of some concept of "natural",

Yeah, right.

but in order to limit the scope and expense of government

Always only when this opportunistic love of small government accords very precisely with your bioconservative agenda. Never mind the sprawling police-state apparatus that would be necessary to compel adherence to your prohibitions of "unnatural" safe and wanted therapies as they emerge.

and preserve individual conception rights for all people,

By restricting their rights. Up is down.

which are threatened when even they are merely duressed by the offer of genetic enhancement

People can't be trusted with freedom! But bioconservative people can be trusted with policing them!

due to the existnces of "procreative beneficence".

If you disapprove of the false ideology of "procreative beneficence," then expose its limitations and educate people. Don't just "reluctantly" assume the role of tyrant because you can't get your way otherwise.

Dale Carrico said...

That's it, by the way. I told you I'm not going to get drawn into another one of your BS exchanges on this topic. You've said it all before. You're wasting my time.