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

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Futurological Blah Blah

Upgraded and adapted from the Moot: A couple of days ago I posted a little survey of a few very recent or soon to be voted on administrative and legislative decisions that represent promising puzzle-pieces in an emerging story of a slow liberalization of the failed policies of the generation-long racist puritanical War on (some) Drugs.

The failed policies are real, the people they have failed are real, the liberalizations are real, the struggles, the education, the agitation, the organizing underlying the liberalization are real.

In the Moot, "Mike" -- who warns me that he "may be too transhumanist/technophilic for your liking" -- offers the following comment:
I suspect in the next 10 to 20 years we will see a lot of progress in this area. New neurotechnologies like deep TMS and ultrasonic neuromodulation may allow non-invasive targeting of reward related regions of the brain. This could conceivably lead to cures for many addictions. So drugs may merely become superfluous and unnecessary.

By the way, "Mike" also says some nice complimentary things about Amor Mundi, whatever our disagreements which, it goes without saying, is appreciated, but I am skipping over to the actual substance of his comment which, as he feared, is not at all to my liking. And, again as he suspected would be the case, it is his "transhumanism" and "technophilia" that is the problem.

Let me put it this way.

A meteor could hit the earth and "end" the problem of addiction for everybody on earth for good, too.

It really could.

But, to my mind, surely, it contributes less than little to the serious work of policy-making or activism that would facilitate more sensible and just outcomes where consensual (or not) private (or not) use and regulation of variously unhealthy (or not) variously addictive (or not) substances are concerned, however, to waste too much time pondering the whole meteor strike scenario.

Or, at any rate, it is almost always wrongheaded to file the time one spends thinking that way (which might, after all, be quite as edifying as the time one spends reading a good book or praying or masturbating, all of which have their places in the lives of those whose private perfections make recourse to them) under the heading of "serious thinking about actual problems that need thinking about" here and now.

With respect, here is what I hear "Mike" saying to me at the key point in his comment:

Blah blah futurology "may allow" more blah blah futurology hence "could conceivably lead to" still more blah blah futurology and "so" dramatically still more blah blah futurology.

As an exercise, imagine it is 10 to 20 years ago and Mike's counterpart (there were many, there always are) offered up some comparable futurological thought experiment that was also logically possible, I suppose, in the abstract, certainly enough to sell a story, this or that promising technique in a lab somewhere or idea of a technique he might have read about in OMNI magazine could, with a little luck and linearity appear on the scene and scramble the terrain and circumvent all the problems that presently define it. But either that idealized outcome didn't come to fruition at all, as these things almost never really do, after all, or let's say, something like a qualified variation of the idealized outcome did indeed "arrive" after a fashion, through the developmental glass darkly, through the inevitable complex socio- cultural- regulatory- promotional- engineering- economic- political- emotional- cluster-fuck of a trajectory that nobody could really sketch out back then, the ineradicable interminable stakeholder struggle that came to actually distribute the costs, risks, and benefits of its stepwise fraught fruition, in ways that articulated the substance of the outcome in ways that have little connection to the idealized outcome..

The futurological enthusiast talking then like "Mike" is talking now contributed less than little to the clarity or possibility or justice available in the vicissitudes of that struggle. Or, if he did contribute some such measure here or there, it was almost entirely accidentally so, accidentally in the same way that any poet or politician or well-placed prostitute could have done.

And worse than that -- in my view -- that futurological counterpart likely did a lot of abiding definitive damage instead, amidst the sparks of incidental insight, confusing idealized outcomes with real developmental struggles and sensible deliberation about actually-existing costs, risks, and benefits before us.

The fact is that the worst variations of futurological discourse (which I do not attribute to "Mike" explicitly, nor to most "transhumanist-identified" and "singularitarian" dupes of Robot Cultism, but they really should be made to better understand the company they are keeping) were media hype-notists and disasterbators whomping up irrationality to attract attention to themselves or salesmen whomping up exuberance to get at the money of their marks. We are reaping the whirlwind of corporate capitalism's smarmy smart guys and stooges right here right now.

Futurology is the hyperbolic quintessence of neoliberal discourse: Hyperbolizing derangements of sense in the service of elite or incumbent advantage, peddled as neutral cost-benefit analysis.

Foresight is all very well, indeed, it is indispensable, but when would-be developmental deliberation and planning assumes the tonalities of prophesy or salesmanship or substitutes abstract projection for proximate substance you can be sure that it is an explicit racket, more often than not, or, more innocently but quite as terrible, it is a confused and disavowed engagement with contemporary social and cultural problems displaced onto a symbolic terrain denominated as "the future."

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Nailed it.

Mike said...

"Blah blah futurology "may allow" more blah blah futurology hence "could conceivably lead to" still more blah blah futurology and "so" dramatically still more blah blah futurology."

I don't see how technology that is currently going through clinical trials and is probably going to be approved within two years is futurological rubbish.

Deep TMS

Deep TMS Trial For Addiction

Ultrasound brain stimulation may take a little longer. Maybe 5-10 years to get approved.

So I would have to disagree with you. I think in 20 years we will have a considerable capacity to alter reward related brain regions.

Also theoretically you could use brain implants targeted to the nucleus accumbens to alleviate addiction.

Brain implants implanted in the nucleus accumbens have already been used to treat anhedonia

Technically, its probably feasible to treat most addictions right now. You could definitely use invasive deep brain stimulation methods. Though, that might be expensive and the risk might be too high for most people.

Its more about getting these technologies to market and the cost down.

Hey, I understand your skepticism of a lot of futurological discourse. However, one can always be too skeptical.

I personally think investing in technologies that realiably treat addictions is a good thing.

Dale Carrico said...

You're wrong about everything. Get back to me when you realize it.

barry gillis said...

Are you sure you didnt mean he is wrong about some things, just like there must be things that you are wrong about?

Or did you just give up arguing with those crazy cultists and concentrated on propagating your opinion and you have to be that confident/arrogant to be effective?

Eric said...

It, no matter what "it" is, always seems to be 10-20 years off.

I'm still waiting for my virtual reality internet and moon bases. :(

Dale Carrico said...

Are you sure you didnt mean he is wrong about some things, just like there must be things that you are wrong about?

You're quite right, Barry, it's just that I thought it probably goes without saying that even most transhumanists can wipe their asses at least half the time without getting it wrong.

But when it comes to the things they actually claim to care about most and contribute most forcefully -- that is, preparing the way for and facilitating the emergence of the "transcendental" techno-futures with which they identify in the present -- I do indeed maintain that one will not lose much in never taking seriously a single word any of them says.

But you can be sure that I am, as ever, all apologies if I have managed to convey an impression of undue arrogance to Robot Cultists.

jimf said...

> . . .ultrasonic neuromodulation. . .

I've never even gotten used to the ultrasonic scaler my dentist --
or his hygienist (hi, Tracy!) -- uses.

Hm. Well, maybe an ultrasonic brain-scrambler would let me
enjoy the ultrasonic tooth-cleaning!

Dale Carrico said...

As Eric says, Jim, heck, just give it 20 years.

Mike said...

Well I don't want to sound like magic will happen. Most people don't get treatment for mental illness NOW, even though there are many options available. People will still do the same crap in the future. Most people will continue to use drugs and make stupid decisions. I don't think their will ever truly be a single magic bullet for addiction. However many of these technologies to manipulate the brain will likely get approved soon. Transcranial magnetic stimulation just recently got FDA approved for depression. So I think deep transcranial magnetic stimulation will follow. I think they expect it to be approved in 2010.

The ultrasound stimulation may not be that far off. You make it sound like I'm talking about some magical technology like nanobots when I mention the ultrasound.

Sound waves for brain waves

"It will take at least five years for any version of remote ultrasound brain control to make it through development, clinical trials, and FDA approval, Tyler estimates. He says he is establishing a spin-off company that will do the further research required to get a device to market."

It's just about having it successfully go through clinical trials.

Here's the paper.

Remote Excitation of Neuronal Circuits Using Low-Intensity, Low-Frequency Ultrasound

People are already trying to alter their brain functioning using ultrasound (self experimentation, see this forum).

Hell, this guy is using small amounts of electricity to stimulate his brain
(transcranial direct current stimulation self experimentation video). All you need is a nine volt battery and a couple of sponge electrodes. You just attach them to your head.

People do some crazy self experimentation. There are already so many tools to manipulate your own brain. Its more about learning how to do it the right way.

Anonymous said...

The problem is that similar interventions were already tried a few years ago, and promises of "sure cure for addicts in 10 years" are even older than that. What happened to these promises, you can see for yourself, and as for that other therapy, - it helped somewhat, but only in conjunction with rather conventional rehab, etc. Quite underwhelming for something that involved brain surgery and liquid nitrogen, if you ask me. ;-) Addiction is just too complex a phenomenon to be "solved" in any meaningful way by a single technology marvel, or even by tons of them, because it has social component(s) to it, from peer pressure, to some lives really being desperate enough that drugs/alcohol seem like a good bargain, to gangs being a source of jobs, mostly dangerous and low-paying but better than anything else gangsters could get. And that nano-whizbang has little to offer here.

jimf said...

> As Eric says, Jim, heck, just give it 20 years.

Oh, dear. I fear that in 20 years, I won't need
ultrasonics to scramble my brain! :-0

jimf said...

> The fact is that the worst variations of futurological discourse
> ([the]. . . dupes of Robot Cultism. . . really should be made to better
> understand the company they are keeping) were media hype-notists and
> disasterbators whomping up irrationality to attract attention to
> themselves or salesmen whomping up exuberance to get at the money
> of their marks. . .
>
> [W]hen would-be developmental deliberation and planning assumes the
> tonalities of prophesy or salesmanship. . . you can be sure that it is
> an explicit racket, more often than not. . .

The company they are keeping:

From _Losing My Religion_ by William Lobdell, Chapter 13 "Heal Thyself".

As I gazed down at the frail man in his bed, I thought: there's no
way this can be Ole E. Anthony, the scourge of some of the world's
richest and most powerful televangelists, a man so despised that
preachers have labeled him "Ole Antichrist." . . . It was
November 2003. . .

A radical believer, Ole founded the Trinity Foundation to serve
the poor. His group comprises some 400 Christians, 100 of whom live
communally in a poor section of Dallas, attempting to emulate the
practices of the first-century church -- right down to its poverty. . .

It was by serving the poor that Ole came to oversee a national
spy operation dedicated to rooting out fraud and excess among some
of America's biggest TV pastors. Many of the destitute who took
refuge at Trinity told him that they had given their last dollars
to televangelists who had promised the gullible and often desperate
believers a huge return on their faith-inspired giving. Televangelism
in America is a massive operation based on a fraud that can't
be challenged in court. It's called the Prosperity Gospel, and
it's preached over the airwaves to generate money for the televangelists'
ministries. A twisted piece of theology, the Prosperity Gospel
claims that if you perform an act of faith for God (for instance,
contribute money to the televangelist), He will shower you with
untold riches and good health.

Despite being mostly confined to bed, Ole directs some half-dozen
investigators who expose the worst of the televangelists. The
tax-free, unregulated industry of televangelism generates at least
$1 billion each year through its roughly 2,000 electronic
preachers, including about 100 nationally-syndicated television
pastors. Trinity's forces dig through trash bins, search computer
databases and go undercover with hidden cameras. They run a hotline
for victims and informants. They enlist double agents, usually
Christians of conscience who can't stand what they are seeing.

Ole became something of a legend in 1991 when he went undercover
with a hidden camera to expose the operations of Robert Tilton, a
televangelist now based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. At the height
of his success, Tilton appeared in every television market in
the United States, sometimes as often as six times a day.
Ole simply posed as himself, president of the Trinity Foundation,
a religious organization, saying he was interested in using
Tilton's direct-mail provider for his own ministry. Ole's video
footage documented the ugly details behind Tilton's well-oiled
direct-mail operation, wihch was raking in an estimated $380,000
**a day**.

Part of the investigation focused on how the mail was processed:
Trinity alleged that Tilton's organization put checks and cash
in one pile and dumped the accompanying prayer requests into the
trash -- an accusation still hotly disputed by Tilton supporters.
The video and documents obtained by Trinity became the basis
of an ABC _PrimeTime Live_ expose by Diane Sawyer that crippled
Tilton's huge ministry. . .

"The people on [Christian television] are living the lifestyle of
fabulous wealth on the backs of the poorest and most desperate
people in our society," ole told me. "People have lost their
faith in God because they believe they weren't worthy after not
receiving the financial blessing." . . .

My trip to Dallas was part of an investigation into televangelism
that would become a two-year project. Ole's undercover work and
the earlier scandals from the 1980s had brought down some of the
country's top televangelists, including Jim and Tammy Bakker and
Jimmy Swaggart. Yet the Prosperity Gospel as a whole was
flourishing, and two of the world's most successful operators in
the world of televangelism were headquartered in Southern California,
within a short drive of my office. . . [in] Orange County. . .:
the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), the world's largest
religious broadcaster, and Benny Hinn, the world's most financially
successful "faith healer." . . .

Ole and his motley band of Christians tried to live. . . godly
lives in a run-down section of Dallas. Meanwhile some of the
world's most successful and revered pastors on television acted
like spiritual carnies, amassing huge piles of earthly treasure
by conning worshipful and desperate viewers out of what
little money they had. Ole's world was a monastery. Theirs
was Sodom and Gomorrah.

Trying to penetrate TBN, I started looking into its biggest star,
Pastor Benny Hinn. Meeting Hinn was like being in the presence
of a rock star. He pulled up to the Four Seasons hotel in
Newport Beach in a new Mercedes SUV. Two beefy bodyguards jumped
out of the car to flank him, scanning the entrance for any
threats. In the marbled lobby, two associates and two public
relations men joined the entourage, their dress shoes clicking
ont he polished stone floor. All this for an interview
with me. . .

I was excited to talk with Hinn, who normally didn't grant audiences
with the media. For months he had refused to speak with me,
even by phone. But apparently I had gathered enough unflattering
information about him and his ministry that he decided cooperation
might blunt my coming story. For spin assistance, he hired
A. Larry Ross, a six-foot-eight giant with the thickness of a
retired NFL lineman. Ross is one of the country's leading
Christian PR consultants, with a client list that includes
superstar pastors Billy Graham, Rick Warren, and T. D. Jakes. . .

Investigating Hinn wasn't easy. He calls his tax-exempt television
ministry a "church," freeing him from filing public tax documents.
He forbids anyone in his ministry to talk to the media. He lives
behind gates in an oceanfront mansion in Dana Point worth in
the vicinity of $20 million. Even the names of his board of
directors are a closely-guarded secret. Hinn's ministry is
nearly impenetrable. . .

For Ole's operatives, the most productive investigative work is
frequently the dirtiest: making "trash runs" behind the televangelists'
headquarters, their banks, accountants' and attorneys' offices,
direct-mail houses and homes. (Trash is public property, though
going through Dumpsters on private property is trespassing.)
Under the cover of night, Ole's troops jump into trash bins
wearing old clothes and latex gloves. They sort through spoiled
food, leaky soda cans and soggy coffee grounds in search of
pay dirt: a memo, minutes of a meeting, a bank statement, an
airline ticket, a staff roster. Those scraps of information,
collected over years, can piece together a bigger story.

In looking into Hinn's ministry, they had struck pay dirt in a south
Florida Dumpster behind a travel agency used by the pastor.
They found a travel itinerary for Hinn that included first-class
tickets on the Concorde from New York to London ($8,850 each)
and reservations for presidential suites at pricey European
hotels ($2,200 a night). . . In addition, property records and
videos supplied by Trinity investigators led to CNN and _Dallas
Morning News_ coverage of another Hinn controversy: fund-raising
for an alleged $30 million healing center in Dallas that
was never built.

I came away from Dallas with a treasure-trove of information on
Hinn, including video of the faith healer making bizarre theological
statements:

-- "Adam was a super-being when God created him. I don't know whether
people know this, but he was the first superman that really lived. . .
Adam not only flew, he flew to space. With one thought he would be
on the moon."

-- "You're going to have people raised from the dead watching
[the Trinity Broadcasting Network, on which his show appears]. I
see rows of caskets lining up in front of the this TV set. . .
and I see actual loved ones picking up the hands of the dead
and letting them touch the screen and people are getting raised."

. . .

I also met Justin Peters. . . Justin's arms and legs, in the clutches
of cerebral palsy, were twisted and spastic. . . As a teenager,
his parents drove him hundreds of miles to see a faith healer,
hoping God would cure their son. . . At the service, Justin
watched as a poor elderly man in a wheelchair next to him emptied
his wallet into the offering bucket, a move that caught the eye of
the preacher. Justin recalled the pastor pointing to the man,
telling the audience about the generous donation and saying,
"Brother, before this night is over, you're going to walk out
of here!"

At the end of the service, Justin looked over at the man, still in
a wheelchair. There was anguish in his eyes.

"It was something you see and never forget," Justin said.

Why did Christianity produce so few people like Justin and so many
others like Christian public relations guru Larry Ross who, though
wildly talented and professing a deep Christian belief, have no
problem promoting a charlatan like Hinn?

Shortly after my trip to Dallas, I saw similar scenes played out at
a Benny Hinn Miracle Crusade in Anaheim. Hinn's public relations
handlers kept me in a confined area on the arena floor and never
left my side. Yet they couldn't shield me from the simple logic
of Hinn's operations: raise false hopes, and extract money. . .

The way Hinn portrayed it, being a faith healer was a terrible burden
placed on him by God. If not for the divine calling, Hinn said
he would walk away from the job in an instant. I couldn't look
into Hinn's soul, but from where I sat, I saw a gifted actor who
parlayed his theatrical skills and feel for the human condition
into the material life of a movie star. I didn't think for a
moment he believed a word of what he preached -- or that he was bothered
that people who didn't get their miracle cure had died. I imagined
him behind the doors of his cliff-top Dana Point mansion, giggling
to himself at his good fortune as he looked out the floor-to-ceiling
windows at the 180-degree view of the Pacific with surfers bobbing
in the waves, dolphins swimming just outside the surf line and
sailboats dotting the horizon. He had hit the lottery, his actions
protected from the law by the First Amendment. . .

When my piece on Benny Hinn was published, I thought his donations
would dip at least a little. I even hoped it would prompt him to
clean up his act. I was wrong on both counts. His supporters had
been indoctrinated in the belief that the mainstream media was a
tool of the devil designed to bring down great ministries and men
of God. If I had caught Benny in bed with a dead woman or a live
boy, it wouldn't have made a difference. CNN, HBO, and NBC's
_Dateline_ have done devastating reports on Benny Hinn and his
ministry, and Pastor Benny's career has kept sailing along. My
article didn't stand a chance. Today, he continues to be, by far,
the most financially successful "faith healer" in the world.