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

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Dear John,

I'm endlessly on record opposed to endlessly many expressions of organized transhumanism and I'm also a public critic of much of what gets promoted under the heading of "liberal eugenics" as well. I offer up critiques of these positions not only here but in courses that I teach. It's simply unreasonable for you to say otherwise and unreasonable for me to pretend this is a good faith conversation between us so long as you continue to imply that every time I advocate regulation or indicate awareness of actual medical abuses I am some sort of suave stealthy coporate-militarist or Robot Cultist in my deep secret heart that only you can read.

You say you are less interested in transhumanist-identified people than with people you identify as transhumanists, no matter what they have to say in the matter. I mean, would you just randomly redefine Mormonism or Scientology and start publicly identifying people as members of those organizations even if they're not? This seems to me highly irresponsible, to say the least. There are plenty of words to describe broader characteristics one might associate with some or even most transhumanist-types and others caught up in similar historical discourses -- technocrats, reductionists, eugenicists, elitists, ideologues, cultists, authoritarians, spontaneists, individualists, futurists, utopians, and so on. It is actually clarifying to embed transhumanist discourses in the older, deeper techno-scientific and political discourses they participate in and redeploy in their own ways. I think it is less clarifying to accuse people who disapprove of Robot Cults of being members in them.

But you can of course define any terms however you like and slot people into them however you like, and people will either take up your usages and assignments or they won't according to their usefulness. Be all that as it may, there are deeper problems in play here it seems to me. So long as your emphasis in considering ongoing and perhaps proximately upcoming non-normativizing medical interventions is not on actual harm reduction and actual informed, non-duressed consent but on the "preservation" of this fantasy of a pristine foundational heterosexual integrity imperiled by any medical (or broadly social, apparently) intervention however safe or consensual that you deem "unnatural," I fear nearly everybody but anarcho-luddites and anti-abortion zealots will seem to you to be in the tank with the transhumanists and eugenicists. It's hard for me to see how that can be a particularly useful way to map the terrain we are talking about here.

It's not only prohibition that counts as regulation, after all.

When we recognize the ways in which a scene of would-be consent is duressed by precarity or violated by misinformation it's not only by abandoning the value of consent that we would "defend" it, but by checking the abuses that have undermined it, surely.

It's true I'm not an hysterical luddite nor am I a conservative who mistakes incumbent interests for "natural" ones nor am I an authoritarian who declares people will be "free" only when they are made to behave the way I believe is best for them.

But it's also true that I am strongly opposed to "enhancement" discourses that stealth their moral prejudices as "neutral" hygienic recommendations. I am strongly opposed to neoliberal acts of "consent" made under conditions of marketing, misinformation, elite secrecy via intellectual property regimes, and under prevailing conditions of market duress. I am strongly opposed to medical practices unregulated by assessments of cost, risk, and benefit that square with actual scientific consensus.

You can blow that off as double-talk, or hypocrisy, or hopelessly compromised, or too abstract (there's some justice in that -- my training is in philosophy and rhetoric and so my interventions tend to be on the general side, which I maintain has real uses but is no substitute for more concrete discussion), or whatever, but if you do there's no satisfying you at all as far as I can see. Why should I take you seriously?

And I still don't for the life of me understand why our conversations always seem endlessly to circle back round to this clogged drain of your obsessive interest in "preserving" the "sanctity" and "ubiquity" of heterosexual reproduction above all other things.

Men and women fuck and some of them have babies, we get it, for god's sake, do you need a fucking medal?

13 comments:

Robin said...

I'm impresed with your patience to continue addressing this fellow in a conversational tone. He seems to me to be among the most fundamentalist loons you've yet attracted here, and his ability to string a sentence together doesn't change the fact that it's still a trolling sentence.

If he was interested in any semblence of actual conversation on these matters, he wouldn't be taking every single post about every single topic and somehow using it as a platform to declare that the gays are ruining biodiversity. Your time is worth more than responding to what seems to be just very insistent trolling.

John Howard said...

Robin, I don't think gays are ruining biodiversity. I don't think gays need to claim a right to same-sex conception to be fully worthy and dignified as fellow participants in this carnival. I think gays should reject the idea that conception rights are their highest priority, and just enjoy life in spite, or perhaps because, their partnerships will not result in genetic offspring. I'm down with that.

Kate said...

I get the impression that you're talking about this more because other people are harping on it than because you feel there has been new developments that should be addressed. Am I missing something?

Dale Carrico said...

I don't think gays need to claim a right to same-sex conception to be fully worthy and dignified as fellow participants

Of course queer folks are fully worthy and dignified even if they never reproduce, just as heterosexuals who don't reproduce are. Nobody thinks otherwise, do they? I mean, nobody who isn't a homophobic asshole anyway.

You declare that "gays should reject the idea that conception rights are their highest priority," but I cannot think of a single gay activist, even a single gay person, for whom this is their "highest priority" in the first place. "Same sex conception" doesn't exist -- why on earth would queer folks who are subject to actually existing violences and discrimination lose sleep over the question of access to an assistive reproductive technique that may or may not exist in the near term? More to the point, what does it say about you that denying queers access to this fantasy is such a high priority for you?

Honestly, what planet are you on?

Needless to say, donning our thought-experiment caps now, if a safe and effective technique enabling samesex conception were to become available it would indeed be an outrageous injustice to deny people universal and consensual access to it as a part of fully regulated, well-tested, basic healthcare provision.

But, again, no such technique exists as far as I know, so all of this is just a cynical distraction or some homophobic freakout on your part as far as I can see. I mean, how does this obsession with nonexistent samesex conception even remotely connect to my opposition to the organized bigotry that denied access to marriage to samesex couples in California this November, the argument that presumably provoked your "contribution" in the first place?

John Howard said...

Sorry I know we're going back into ignoring mode, but since you started some new threads and asked some questions I hadn't responded to yet, I will respond to these comments first.

In the first place, I contributed to remind you that opposing genetic engineering isn't bigoted, and, for the same reason, opposing conception rights for same-sex couples isn't bigoted.

And, by conceding that same-sex conception rights are unnecessary, at least currently, right now, we can achieve equal protections via civil unions. Do you want consistent civil unions enacted in all 50 states that are defined as marriage minus conception rights, and federal recognition for them as marriages, or do you want to insist on having a right to non-existent same-sex conception?

Dale Carrico said...

opposing genetic engineering isn't bigoted

It needn't be, but yours appears, at least in part, to be.

conceding that same-sex conception rights are unnecessary, at least currently, right now, we can achieve equal protections via civil unions

Separate isn't equal, and "same-sex conception" has nothing to do with this debate to people who are here on earth.

Do you want consistent civil unions enacted in all 50 states that are defined as marriage minus conception rights

Get help, John. I want marriage for all couples who want them, and I'll discuss questions of equitable access to actually safe actually regulated actually consensual medical techniques, including assistive reproductive techniques, as and when and how they actually become available.

Robin said...

Do you want consistent civil unions enacted in all 50 states that are defined as marriage minus conception rights

Since when does marriage come with "conception rights"??

I'm married and I've never had any intention of reproducing, and it kills me that I'm allowed to get married when many of my friends are not, simply because I happen to have been attracted to someone with different bits than mine.

My next door neighbor has several children although she isn't married, and each of her children has a different father. In fact, my neighborhood has a number of such women.

So I guess I'm a bit baffled by the very NOTION that marriage in any way has ANY connection whatsoever to "conception rights."

If you're trying so desperately to cast off the title of "bigot," John, the only rationalization I can see for it is that when faced wtih the evidence you need to publically and repeatedly redefine words and concepts so you can try to slip through a loophole and remind us all you aren't a bigot.

It's not working, by the way.

Martin said...

John, perhaps I missed your explanation (this conversation has been too tedious to follow in its entirety), but how exactly would same-sex reproduction be a threat to biodiversity?

A large loss of biodiversity (by which I think you mean "genetic variation") comes from people not breeding outside their race. If you're worried about loss of genetic diversity, this should be your moral outrage. You should work to get all same-race reproduction banned.

Just looking at it from the perspective of an actual geneticist.

Martin said...

I want marriage for all couples who want them

Dale, just wondering -- and again, I may have missed it -- where do you stand on polygamy? I think the logic behind gay rights entails support for polygamy. Why just "couples"? That's numerical bigotry. I think any group of consenting adults should be allowed to marry. But I also think that this whole debate would be moot if government got out of the business of sanctioning marriage.

Dale Carrico said...

where do you stand on polygamy?

As you know I actually personally disapprove of marriage as a patriarchal vestige, and what I specifically disapprove is the denial of the already existing right of citizens to marry to samesex couples entirely as an expression and maintanence of homophobia.

I have no "logical" aversion to state sanctioned threesomes, line marriages, temporary marriages or whatever -- so long as one is extremely vigilant about the ways in which these might become forms of exploitation, indenture, and so on.

But I can't say that I am very interested in these or any other forms of affiliation I might come up with off the top of my head if I give the idea extended thought -- I think one should confine one's attention to actual citizens who are being stigmatized and marginalized here and now as they navigate existing institutions, actual citizens who are making explicit demands in the name of justice for our consideration.

As for organized polygamists, I would need to see exactly what they claim to be denied, what they claim suffer in consequence, and exactly what they are asking for before I would offer up a blanket approval or disapproval of the form, you know?

I think the logic behind gay rights entails support for polygamy

I see what you mean, but I don't really agree. I say this only because I don't think social struggle for greater equity and diversity and democracy is really a matter of logical entailments, so much as a matter of actually existing citizens testifying to suffering, re-imagining their relation to public discourse, and demanding rights.

I hope that doesn't seem like quibbling on my part or just a way of discounting your point -- I think it's well taken.

Robin said...

But I also think that this whole debate would be moot if government got out of the business of sanctioning marriage.

I'd just like to agree with this wholeheartedly. I was with my partner for 9 years before we got married - and we've never hidden the fact that the major impetus for it was the fact that I needed health insurance. We were committed to one another in every obvious way, with every intention of spending our lives together, but those government perks and protections apparently only come with the caveat of allowing the government to have some say in what goes on in my bedroom. THIS is why I personally feel so strongly about gay marriage - these are people who want a public commitment to declare their love for one another, while I'm allowed to take advantage of the system purely because my genitals don't match my partner's. I can sell out my own principles for government perks while thousands of couples in love who maybe don't have the same hang-ups about marriage as a patriarchical institution that I have can't even use the system as intended.

What's the word I'm looking for? Ahh yes - bigotry.

Re: polygamy - I know a handful of polyamorous groups, but it's a much smaller subset of those groups that are genuinely in sustainable relationships. In theory, I can't see a problem with the possibility of 3 people genuinely being in love, but polygamous marriages historically have been patriarchy at its absolute worst. Rarely is it a relationship of 3 loving individuals - almost always it is a relationship of 1 man and more than 1 woman, used as a system of subjugation even moreso than traditional marriage. In theory? Maybe it's fine. In practice? It's almost always a sexist power-struggle that favors men.

Dale Carrico said...

Yep -- agree with Robin.

My only worry is that, like you, I would want to be careful not to lend credibility to those people who end up substantially defending institutional bigotry but in the name of a principled commitment to some higher feminist or civil libertarian disapproval of "state sanctioned marriage as such" even when the institution itself of course is not undermined at all simply through the discriminatory refusal to extend it to all competent citizens who want it.

As I mentioned early on in this discussion it is an odd thing to find that I have to fight as a queer for legibility and status primarily in the arenas of marriage, adoption, and military service not one of which I personally approve of at all in any kind of wholehearted way.

jimf said...

> As I mentioned early on in this discussion it is
> an odd thing to find that I have to fight as a queer
> for legibility and status primarily in the arenas
> of marriage, adoption, and military service not one
> of which I personally approve of at all in any kind
> of wholehearted way.

Oh, and don't forget the Boy Scouts!



MISS BRODIE: I see we have two new girls this term.
Will the two new girls please stand up?

You are?

EMILY: Emily Carstairs, Miss Brodie.

MISS BRODIE: Emily Car**stairs**.
There. You are inscribed.

Would you like to tell us something about yourself, Emily?

EMILY: I'm a Girl Guide, Miss Brodie. I have **six** merit badges.
One for knot tying. One for flag folding.

MISS BRODIE: Indeed.

EMILY: One...

MISS BRODIE: For those who like that sort of thing,
that is the sort of thing they like.

You may sit down, Emily.

http://www.script-o-rama.com/movie_scripts/p/prime-of-miss-jean-brodie-script.html