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

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Futurological Immaterialism and Neoliberal Immaterialism

The literally fraudulent financialization of the US Economy under neoliberalism is completely off the rails, of course, and the critics are railing at last and en masse, still too little and possibly too late, but years and years and years after the wheels started coming off for all to see it seems that some are connecting at least some of the dots constituted by the breadcrumb trail of rapid episodic irrational exuberances of market-bubbles-and-looting-sprees consummating the Eyeblink Empire of postwar "Washington Consensus" corporate-militarism.

There are still more dots that remain for us to connect, if you ask me.

I would point out, for one, that the so-called "acceleration of acceleration of change" that corporate-militarist futurologists and especially Robot Cultists so love to hyperventilate about (and actually this "accelerationalism" is a mainstream corporatist trope, but the so-called Singularitarians are its reductio ad absurdum) derives its plausibility as a notion from our shared experience of the instability of this neoliberal financialization. Indeed, apart from a few technical vicissitudes incomparably more modest than their hype ever remotely justified, the so-called "acceleration of acceleration" really amounts to nothing but that instability of neoliberal financialization only simply as that instability is experienced by the relative beneficiaries of that financialization, or those who at any rate identify with those beneficiaries.

More dots.

The singularitarian nerd-rapture chorus line who have crowed loudest but not alone about this technoscientific "acceleration" toward digital transcendence, that is to say the ones who fulminated about a kind of historical "progress" but one without the materiality of actual social struggle in it, are usually the very same futurologists and techno-utopians who crow about an "intelligence" coded in software that is always imminent but never arrives, one without the materiality of brains or sociality to incarnate or substantiate it. They are often the very same futurologists and techno-utopians who pine for the enhanced "experience" of a "virtual reality" without the materiality of friction or chance or sublimity or entropy to substantiate it. They are often the very same futurologists and techno-utopians who pine for an immortal life "lived" somehow without life but as immaterial information in the cyberspatial sprawl or in invulnerable robotic shells, life as an endless prolongation of static senseless death-in-life where nothing can matter lest in mattering it "kill" the dead-alive "immortal" machine.

In the concluding chapter of my dissertation, Markets Without Materiality I discuss a futurological work by market fundamentalist David Friedman (son of the shock doctrine market fundamentalist guru Milton Friedman) in which he enthuses about the desirability or even necessity of a retreat into virtual reality as a means to escape the dilemmas posed by surveillance technologies according to another libertarian thinker, David Brin. I am compelled in that conclusion to note
the curiosity of the spectacle Friedman’s argument is making of itself here…. Robert Heilbroner has famously described economists as “the worldly philosophers,” as collaborators in the most relentlessly materialist humanist tradition on offer. And [yet] here, to preserve the norms and assumptions of political economy an heir to that tradition, one who has described as his chief contribution to it simply that he takes some of that tradition’s commonplace assertions to “their natural conclusions,” finds that he must denigrate the very material and bodily foundations on the basis of which that tradition has always defined itself and distinguished itself from all others. To retain what he takes to be a political economist’s conception of worldliness, a political economist finds he must disdain the world.
Life is lived in material bodies, intelligence is incarnated in material brains, material situations, material dynamisms, peer-to-peer, social struggles play out in material histories materially circumscribed by finite ecosystems, mortal lives, error-prone efforts.

To deny or renounce these materialities in flights of fantasy, whether in fundamentalist religiosity or market fundamentalism or techno-utopian True Belief, is always to be supremely foolish to say the least and usually testifies to an infantile dread and denialism of our ineradicable and actually constitutive finitude, contingency, vulnerability, a dread and denialism that, whenever it is permitted to guide our affairs, leads always only to waste, deception, aggression, disaster.

Here in the consummation and bankruptcy and ruins (and not for the first time) of market ideology, we are reminded (and not for the first time) that the pace at which the tidal forces of "supply and demand" and the "education via unprofitability of ignorance or error" and the "rationalization via capital flight of panics and bubbles" and comparable "market mechanisms" manage to compensate for disruptive events and bad information is too different from the pace at which metabolism is maintained in human bodies and life is lived in human history for these mechanisms to sustain those lives and that history in a human way, however wholesome they may be in their own inhuman term.

Meanwhile, the assumption of infinite growth without which "market orders" could not be mobilized toward their indefinite ends in the first place is altogether too perilous to the actually-existing limits of ecosystems to sustain the planetary biosphere on which we all ultimately depend for our survival let alone flourishing. The life of that dead abstraction the market (a very different thing from the heterogeneous marketplaces in which people have gathered to trade goods and stories in their definitely different ways throughout history) is not curtailed by the end of your life, its mechanical pulse is not diminished in the cessation of your living pulse, its digital time is unfolding at a pace aloof from your life-time, its blind indifferent voracious ends are no more your ends than would be a glacier's, it is indifferent to the differences that are your all.

Since I borrowed the title of this blog from Hannah Arendt's motto, "for the love of the world," it will come as no surprise that my preoccupation with futurological discourse and Robot Cult nonsense more generally derives from my strong sense that these discourses arise from and express a profound hostility to and alienation from the world that must be loved in its material mattering, a material mattering very much including its materially situated materially inter-personal political substance, if it is to last and not be lost to us.

In this the futurologists are very much of a piece with (though some perhaps dupes of) more mainstream discourses of corporate-militarism, which likewise disdain the materiality of their suffering peers and of their creative peers, of true production and of true prosperity, of historical struggle and the actual experience of freedom in the world.

To love "the future" on whatever construal is in my view above all to disdain the present, or more particularly it is to disavow that futurity that is materially present in the present, in that diversity of peers whose palpable presence bespeaks the openness in the present to change for the better in acting in concert (in both collaboration and in contestation) with our peers who share the world.

We are not robots, progress is not a robot, history is not a robot, intelligence is not a robot, your brain is not a robot, experience is not a robot, peace is not a robot, creation is not a robot, production is not a robot, prosperity is not a robot, justice is not a robot, the environment is not a robot, life is not a robot.

There are differences that make a difference in the human world, differences that matter in human history, and to attest to a robotic indifference to these differences is not to exhibit prophetic insight or superior strength but to side with death out of idiotic greed or panic in the most brainless way imaginable.

Futurology is the quintessential discourse of this debased epoch of corporate-militarism. Let us leave "the futures" to the traders in futures, the robots to the robotic, and the rackets to the racketeers. There is still time to reconnect to the futurity available in the presence of our peers we call freedom, and in freedom build something better in the world. Fuck the futurologists and the financiers and the fraudsters.


barry gillis said...

Great rhetoric, thank god you are no libertarian or you would be on fox news all the time.

Too bad you dont go beyond the usual ridiculing of those evil robocultists, maybe you do have a better day tomorrow.

Dale Carrico said...

Anybody who believes anything strongly is the same as anybody else who believes anything strongly whatever they believe? The problem with Fox News is that it is so full of conviction? Only people having a bad day ridicule the ridiculous? Criticism has no content unless one goes "beyond it" to sell some crappy five-year plan with all the answers in it?

Blow your nose, it's running.

Anonymous said...

Since I borrowed the title of this blog from Hannah Arendt's motto, "for the love of the world," it will come as no surprise that my preoccupation with futurological discourse and Robot Cult nonsense more generally derives from my strong sense that these discourses arise from and express a profound hostility to and alienation from the world that must be loved in its material, very much including its political, substance if it is to last and not be lost to us.

Would you agree with the critics who argue that transhumanism is a form of neo-Gnosticism?

Dale Carrico said...

I agree with the critics who point out that the things transhumanists believe are either --

(a) truisms you don't have to join a robot cult to believe

(things like: humans are conditioned in deep ways by the historical circumstances, social, cultural, artifactual in which they live, and that progress, properly so-called, is both a technical and political enterprise)


(b) palpably false and silly ideas that only somebody dumb enough to join a robot cult would ever fall for

(things like: somebody -- maybe soon! -- will create "intelligence" without a brain and then invest a Robot God with superintelligence that will solve all our problems for us, and somebody -- maybe soon! -- will invent a way to make us all invulnerable and immortal by turning us into software and plugging us into imperishable robot bodies or networks, and somebody -- maybe soon! -- will create swarms of nanobots that will cater to our every wish and make all conflict a thing of the past).

Not to mention, transhumanism often amounts to a variety of eugenicism, which may be even worse than the robot cult problem.

Pondering whether or not transhumanism looks neo-gnostic once we assume a vantage of sufficient abstraction above it looks to me true enough as far as it goes, but to be less useful when all is said and done than simply noticing that wherever transhumanism is not peddling itself as reasonable by re-inventing various wheels to no good purpose it tends instead to be advocating batshit crazy nonsense, and some of it in the service of ugly authoritarian notions.

Anonymous said...

Flommytherobot says:

A robot is a robot is a robot.

Whether you're dead when you're dead may be a moot point, as when one covertly-fascist robo-compulsively disagree-with-everything nihilist dies, another undifferentiable (limits to identical, in human experience) "philosopher" rises to take his place -- blink and you'll miss it!

The obvious place to look would be to see if the robots have ALREADY become self-aware and have extended to you the impression that you have a consciousness and series of choices, such choices to believe this or that amounting to nothing that will even infinitesimally change their strategies or tactics, let alone their agenda.

Perhaps they find you amusing.

Flommytherobot is pleased to have been of assistance.

Google Flommy the Robot

Dale Carrico said...

You seem to disagree with something? Who knows what it might be.

jimf said...

> [O]ne covertly-fascist robo-compulsively disagree-with-everything nihilist
> [like Dale]. . . [should] see if the robots have ALREADY become self-aware. . .
> Perhaps they find [him] amusing.

Well, not on this planet, I'm afraid.

But that reminds me of something genuinely amusing, however.

In John Duignan's recent Scientology expose, _The Complex_, he mentions
how -- sometime in the 90s IIRC -- Scientology management decided that
their voluminous paper records needed to be transferred into a computer

However, since OT-level Scientologists are expected to have "full track"
access to past lives (whether on this planet or others -- we Thetans go
back trillions of years dontcha know), it was considered infra dig for
Scientology to rely on merely earthly technology such as that from IBM
or Microsoft. Scientologists can do better than that!

So the people in charge of the project were expect to access their "memories"
of the computer technology of the "Galactic Federation" -- by dreaming it up,
basically -- and then **build** new computers based on their recovered "memories".

They actually got as far as buying chips and building prototypes (I guess
they drew the line at designing their own microprocessors). When the
machines didn't work, the idea of channelling the Culture was scrapped,
but not before the people who were supposed to have remembered how to build
Galactic-class machines were accused of sabotage and sentenced to
RPF (Rehabilitation Project Force) camps -- not so amusing for them.