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

Friday, July 31, 2009

Summing Up the Summit

TPM:

"When he's not arresting you, Sergeant Crowley is a really likable guy." -- Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates

The Curious Ethical Considerations of Futurologists

Upgraded and adapted from the Moot, "Dagon" writes:
Oh I think it pretty likely there will be at least 20 years of increase in average lifespans by the time I am 75, and I will be able to afford none of it. Yes, anyone who has even an inch of subconscious urge to pay his way into those 20+ years in the full knowledge other will not -- needs his (her) head on the block, logan's run style. Whatever sweet or bitter we get, I'd like everyone to share the fruits in full, including his eminence, the pope of dythiramblyness, Dale Quixote.

Here we have a confident futurological prediction of dramatic near-term medical advances based on who knows what, followed by a second confident prediction that "Dagon" will lack access to these advances, presumably based on extrapolation from his current circumstances in a society with an irrational and unjust healthcare system, followed by assertions about how sensible people are here and now depending on attitudes they might or might not hold about these predictions either of which might or might not end up being true in whatever measure under who knows what changed circumstances, concluding with what seems a fairly conventional assertion of belief in social justice but one which depends for him -- as such beliefs in social justice never actually do depend -- on the stance one has assumed in respect to the initial futurological predictions. What exactly is going on here?

Let's look at "Dagon"'s first sentence more closely: Oh I think it pretty likely there will be at least 20 years of increase in average lifespans by the time I am 75, and I will be able to afford none of it.

Responding to his assertion before the conjunction: I don't agree that "Dagon" knows enough to be quite so glib in his prediction about there being "at least 20 years of increase in average lifespans by the time [he is] 75." There are simply enormous numbers of technical and sociocultural contingencies in the way of such confidence if one is looking at these matters sensibly.

Responding to his assertion after the conjunction: I do believe that there are an overabundant number of people, who may include him among their number, who don't have access to actually-available healthcare here and now, and that this is both profoundly irrational and terribly unjust, and that this can and should be addressed by democratically-minded citizens.

But there is no need to dwell in the hyperbole of the first assertion to arrive at the substance of the second assertion. And, indeed, given that the first assertion (whatever his "confidence" in it) is considerably more problematic than the first, to attach the first to the second or, more foolishly still, to focus on the first over the second, can always only have the consequence of distracting or deranging sensible discussion of the second in my view.

This is ironic, inasmuch as if "Dagon"'s futurological hunch, for whatever it's worth, were indeed to find its way to slow fruition it would be precisely because already-possible healthcare is already-inaccessible to some, and efforts to make access more equitable over the years of the necessary medical research and development would continue, heartbreakingly, to fail, that his hoped-for healthcare advances might still be inaccessible to him.

The process of funding, research, regulation, publication, education, implementation through which techniques so powerful as to render an average twenty-year increase in healthy lifespan possible for humanity (were it actually-available via healthcare administration) by the time "Dagon" is seventy-five years old is a process taking place here and now and in a series of heres-and-nows to come, not one of which is beholden to some glossy futurological brochure dreamed up in the 1990s by science fiction fandboys under the influence of Eric Drexler, Ray Kurzweil, or Aubrey de Grey.

There is a strange bait-and-switch that such futurologists like to indulge in, it seems to me:

If -- if -- if -- if some hyperbolic imagined outcome were to arrive -- be it actually-intelligent humanoid robots, dirt-cheap desktop nanofactories, nonhuman animals endowed with speech, bioengineered genocidal-racist plagues, clone armies, handheld nukes, whatever -- then wouldn't a sensible person, or morally upright person, or person of democratic sentiments prefer this outcome to that one, and so on?

This sort of discussion can be entertaining and even illuminating to a point, but superlative futurologists seem especially prone to the curious notion that such fantastic speculations are the most urgently necessary ethical dilemmas that beset us, that these are the only deliberations worthy of their sustained interest, that these represent the best topics through which to determine how technically knowledgeable, how progressive minded or how morally conscientious a person actually is here and now -- and all this despite the actual unreality of their subjects and the actual urgency of real problems.

In his final sentence "Dagon" writes, recall: Whatever sweet or bitter we get, I'd like everyone to share the fruits in full, including his eminence, the pope of dythiramblyness, Dale Quixote.

As an aside, I'll note first that it is my skepticism in futurological wish-fulfillment fantasies that inspires a Robot Cultist first to attach the moniker of literature's paradigmatic daydreamer, "Quixote" to me when his is the discourse suffused with daydreams and to describe me as a "pope," when his is the discourse suffused with True Belief and membership organizations headed by would-be gurus. The usual facile futurological projections.

But more to the point, I simply personally don't think it matters very much whether or not "Dagon" thinks the People should all have equitable access to non-existent sooper-longevity pills, to non-existent shiny robot bodies, to more quality time in the brothels of non-existent Holodeks, to some non-existent nanotech genie-in-a-bottle, or what have you. I don't think these fantastic quandaries represent the place where the rubber hits the road where what we want to know is whether or not a person can be trusted here and now as an ally in the fraught ongoing struggle for equity in diversity, for democratization, for investments in our already vulnerable fellow-citizens and the needs and aspirations of the coming generation.

To be honest, I think these curious moralizing futurological gestures really function more to invest the insubstantial wish-fulfillment fantasies of superlative futurologists with the actually-urgent substance of present moral dilemmas precisely as a way of making their dreams feel more real.

The substance of especially the sub(cult)ural varieties of futurological politics (the so-called transhumanists, extropians, singularitarians, techno-immortalists, and so on) is a disavowal of the actually-plural present for an idealized future, a dis-identification with one's actual peers for an identification with a idealized post-human other. The substantiation of both idealizations always depends on the substance of the actually-real present, and hence involves much mischief in the way of extrapolations, amplifications, surrogacy, and allegory to "find the future" in that detested present.

All of this would be more harmless than not -- apart from the psychic harm suffered by the distressed extremists who indulge in it, of course -- were it not for the unfortunate affinity these rhetorical gestures have for the hyperbole of corporate advertising, of militarist scenario-building, and the sensationalism of broadcast media formations, which renders what would otherwise be a fairly palpable self-marginalizing pathological discourse enormously susceptible to abuse in more prevailing public discourse.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Cheney's Great Game

The revelation that Cheney sought to use a whomped-up terror rationale to "test" Constitutional protections against the militarization of domestic space has, in itself, more the character of a non-revelation. It is, after all, just another skirmish in his well-known lifelong effort to implement, elaborate, and consolidate an Imperial "unitary executive," that is, to rewrite the despised American experiment in equitable pluralism in the image of his own more authoritarian preferences.

What is more intriguing is that this revelation has been the latest in a series of ongoing disclosures of Bush Administration wrongdoing in which a discernible Bush camp opposing a definite Cheney camp seem to be jockeying for public position in a larger battle the stakes of which are never completely clear.

Given the starkness and the scale of wrongdoing -- war crimes, relentless deceptions, serial unconstitutionalities -- there is a gravity well tugging even an inertial incumbent Washington culture and sunnily pragmatic Obama Change message slowly in the direction of the Courts in which, whatever anybody's wishes in the matter, the epic-scaled crimes and wrongs of the last decade will be perilous for the figures in the prior Administration (or else will spell peril for the would-be Republic of Laws).

Obama certainly seems to be doing all he can to postpone the ugly reckoning as long as he can, struggling to create a space of "good feelings" in which long deferred work to solve environmental, healthcare, trade, and labor problems gets done (judging the US quite simply to have no chance at a viable future unless that work does happen), and rightly expecting the reckoning with the long stupid bloody epoch of Movement Republicanism to provoke an explosion of resentments and paralysis that even now is always boiling right beneath the surface of things.

Still, the legal information requests, the sinister dot-connecting disclosures, the public investigations, the proliferating lawsuits keep coming, accumulating like a pyramid of skulls aspiring to Heaven. It does seem to me that something momentous is eventually coming in the way of accountability, and that the opposing Bush and Cheney camps are already working to position themselves for that reckoning.

The narrative that seems to me to be emerging is one in which Cheney is forced to assume responsibility for the worst and Bush is humiliated as a dumb pawn of Cheney's diabolism. While Cheney may seem the loser in such an outcome (and certainly his curious post-Administration public profile indicates recognition of high stakes), in the larger sense Bush's buffoon defense will insulate a Presidency made more Imperial through Cheney's life work from real accountability (which makes it almost inevitable that we will eventually edge toward the Rubicon of outright authoritarianism again all too soon).

Bush's ritual humiliation is unlikely to sting so much as all that from inside his bubble of privilege, and whatever price is exacted from Cheney and those loyal to him he will surely, in the fullness of time, regard his structural undermining of "the mob" a worthy contribution to his highest calling.

Obama, no doubt like every President after him will do, shows a real fondness for some of the novel Imperiality in the Executive Cheney has gifted him, and you can be sure that it will not be from the Presidency itself that its poisonous potential will be checked.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Futurological Brickbats Anthology

Here are all my occasional "Futurological Brickbats" arranged and updated roughly chronologically. For the funnier ones, just scroll through to the one liners. Further elaboration of many of the ideas in these assertions are archived under The Superlative Summary, Futurology Against Ecology, and in my Condensed Critique of Transhumanism.

I. The words "technology" and "democracy" are much more like verbs than the nouns they appear to be.

II. I think of "technology" as simply the ongoing collective prosthetic re-elaboration of inter-personal agency, while I think of "democracy" as simply the ongoing collective implementation of the idea that ever more people should have ever more of a say in the public decisions that affect them.

III. Expressing, befuddling, enabling, implicating one another, technology and democracy are caught up in a circuit of interminable technodevelopmental social struggle, which constitutes the ongoing conversation in which humanity redetermines the meanings and movements available to it, and rededicates itself to that futurity the reopening in which humanity knows itself becoming itself.

IV. A peer is not an equal -- for there are no equals in a world of differences -- the peer is the one who appears in and by virtue of the public square, be it the polis of the streets or of the nets, who appears as one who contributes, contests, collaborates, and has a stake in the shared and made world in her differences from others who also so appear. The ethos of politics, peer-to-peer, is one and the same as the ethos of democratization, the interminable dynamic of equity-in-diversity.

V. Futurity is a register of freedom, "The Future" another prison-house built to confine it.

VI. Futurity is the openness in the present arising out of the ineradicable diversity of calculating, contending, and collaborative stakeholders who struggle to make and remake the shared world, peer to peer.

VII. Futurity cannot be delineated but only lived, in serial presents attesting always unpredictably to struggle and to expression. "The Future," to the contrary, brandishing the shackle of its definite article, is always described from a parochial present and is always a funhouse mirror reflecting a parochial present back to itself, amplifying its desires and fears, confirming its prejudices, reassuring its Believers that the Key to History is in their hands.

VIII. All progress is progress toward an end, but there can be no progress in the formation, expression, and evaluation of ends themselves, only either their circumscription or proliferation. To treat progress as an end-in-itself is to relinquish the meaningfulness without which any notion of progress at all is finally unintelligible.

IX. The discourses of futurology are in the business of investing the vicissitudes of ongoing technodevelopmental social struggle with the auras of novelty, nostalgia, or inevitability and then peddling these evocations of mood as pseudo-truths denominated "trends." Never once has a futurologist made a contribution to actual sense or to the solution of actually shared problems by means of this odd operation, but what a business it is.

X. Futurologists really have only four stories to tell with which they account for any real or imagined device, technique, or developmental moment: Genesis, Resurrection, Ascension, and Apocalypse. As any evangelist will tell you, that's more than enough to fleece a flock with.

XI. Futurology is not foresight, and it is farther still from wisdom, in the same ways that, and for the same reasons, that speculation is not investment, marketing is not deliberation, hyperbole is not critique, a syllogism is not a plan, a scenario is not a story, and a calculation is not a judgment.

XII. To speak of "The Future" is always to indulge in reaction. All futurisms are finally retro-futurisms.

XIII. All culture is prosthetic, all prostheses are culture.

XIV. Discourses of "Bio-Enhancement" always presume that certain incumbent interests or self-appointed biomoralist elites are authorized to designate what constitutes an "enhanced" human capacity, morphology, or lifeway -- whatever informed, nonduressed consenting persons might say to the contrary -- and hence all such discourses express a factual or aspirational eugenic outlook. Anyone who would claim or aspire to engineer an "optimal," idealized, postulated homo superior with which they presently identify, always at the cost of a dis-identification with the lifeway diversity of humanity with whom they actually share the world, are advocating a de facto eugenicist politics, whatever their claims or desires to the contrary.

Discourses of "Bio-Conservatism" always presume that certain incumbent interests or self-appointed biomoralist elites are authorized to designate what constitutes a "normal" or "natural" human capacity, morphology, or lifeway that must be protected and insulated from change -- whatever informed, nonduressed consenting persons might say to the contrary -- and hence all such discourses constitute a factual or aspirational eugenic outlook as well. Anyone who would ban reasonably safe, actually wanted, but non-normalizing medical interventions in an effort to "preserve" a static, idealized, postulated homo naturalis with which they presently identify, always at the cost of a dis-identification with the lifeway diversity of humanity with whom they actually share the world, are likewise advocating a de facto eugenicist politics, whatever their claims or desires to the contrary.

XV. Iconoclasts should always smash their mirrors first.

XVI. To care most about things that are merely not impossible is simply not sensible.

XVII. It is curious the number of twenty-first century futurologists whose notions of political economy remain firmly in the eighteenth century.

XVIII. To be marketable is not the same thing as to be insightful.

XIX. Every priestly peddler of immortality has died. Every one. And this is most certainly true as well of the priests of faithly medicine and reductionist scientism.

XX. To deny death out of a fear of it is to court a death in life worse by far than the death that is surely coming for you, for while immortality is not possible for you, it is indeed possible, and good, to live.

XXI. If you would find a conformist, look first to those who declare their faith in Progress.

XXII. To profess the dream of making an intelligent robot is always to confess the nightmare of being an unintelligent robot.

XXIII. The answer to the Fermi Paradox may simply be that we aren't invited to the party because so many humans are boring assholes. As evidence, consider that so many humans appear to be so flabbergastingly immodest and immature as to think it a "paradoxical" result to discover the Universe is not an infinitely faceted mirror reflecting back at us on its every face our own incarnations and exhibitions of intelligence.

XXIV. Whenever a software coder fancies that his trade renders him a philosopher, an economist, a poet, or, bless his heart, a biologist you can expect no end of foolishness and mischief from him.

XXV. It is always magical thinking to declare an outcome need only be profitable for it to be possible.

XXVI. Our foolish futurologists are peddling their wishful wares unaware that our world is the ruin of the futurological foolishness of their fathers.

XXVII. Those who dream of making themselves gods through technology are lying to themselves not least because god is already a dream we made ourselves through the technology of lying.

XXVIII. If I cannot dance I want no part in your reductive interpretations of evolution.

XXIX. We can use the master's tools to dismantle the master's house, indeed we must do so, because in taking up the master's tools and turning them to unheard of tasks we make the tools our own.

XXX. There is nothing more pathetic than boys who strive to sound prophetic.

XXXI. Computer science in its theological guise aims less at the ultimate creation of artificial intelligence than in the ubiquitous imposition of artificial imbecillence.

XXXII. The technological, properly so-called, is finally more stylish than it is truthful.

XXXIII. There's a sucker born every minute, and every futurologist you will ever meet is either one of them or hoping like hell you are.

XXXIV. The prefix "bio," when appended to the word "ethics," tends to have the curious effect of draining all the life out of ethics.

XXXV. The breathlessly ramifying "techno-ethical" pseudo-disciplines -- bio-ethics, neuro-ethics, net-ethics, nano-ethics, robo-ethics, and so on -- should all be regarded as essentially public relations and marketing subdisciplines, very much in the spirit of the "business ethics" out of which all these anti-ethical hyphenated-ethics have sprung.

XXXVI. Institutional "ethicians" are not educators so much as they are salesmen. And they should be treated as such: that is to say, in the expectation of attack or fraud.

XXXVII. The speculative fictions and scenarios and games of the futurologists are "speculative" less in the sense of critical thought than in the sense of financial speculation, just as their "futures" are far closer to the ones that get traded on stock exchanges, especially as bundled-risk pseudo-commodities.

XXXVIII. Your wishes are not insights, although they may provide insights for your therapist.

XXXIX. Futurological "optimism" is always a crassly opportunistic affair. Whenever a pop technologist puts his "Can Do" face on, you can be sure he fancies he sees a mark.

XL. Futurological declarations that there are No Limits! always ultimately translate to the customary conviction of very pampered and irresponsible people that there will always be other folks on hand to clean up their messes for them.

XL. From digitization to financialization to outsourcing to promotional re-branding of the status quo as "novelty" and "progress," time and time again neoliberalism indulges in fraudulent schemes in which insubstantial wishes and promises are peddled through deception as if they were substantial products, or through misdirection away from substantial costs and risks onto geographical or futurological distances, where devastating labor conditions and catastrophic environmental impacts and tragic personal dislocations vanish from our substantial concern.

XLI. The delusion of neoliberal immaterialism ultimately plays out in its fervent disavowals, first, of the material bodies and lifeways of the planetary Precariat obliterated in the supposedly frictionless flows of informal-informational capital, second, of the material bombs and bullets of neoconservative militarism that indispensably compel and enforce the adherence of the planetary Precariat to the supposedly "free trade" of duressed, vacuous-voluntary libertarianism, and third of the material metabolic limits and geophysical conditions of a precarious planet wounded, potentially beyond healing, by human enterprises driven by fantasies of infinite growth, infinite profit, infinite resources, infinite exploitation, infinite waste, infinite gratification, infinite willfulness.

L. To declare oneself "for" or "against" technology -- a technology-in-general treated as an abstraction indifferent to the different ways techniques and artifacts are actually historically and positionally deployed and understood -- is to engage in a technology politics that takes as its point of departure the de-politicizing evacuation of all the actual political substance at hand.

LI. Futurological movements are faith-based initiatives, translating familiar religious aspirations for "transcendence" into superficially techno-scientific terms, denying the present for a mutually-reinforcing hallucination of "The Future," and disdaining the lifeway diversity of the peers with whom they share the present world for an identification with an idealized post-human species.

LII. Futurologists keep confusing making bets with having thoughts.

LIII. Whenever I hear the word "trend," I reach for my brain.

LIV. Futurological predictions are just prescriptions without the courage of convictions.

LV. Evolution is not a design process, and no implemented design is more natural than any other.

LVI. The future, as it arrives, always kicks you in the crystal ball.

LVII. "Coincidence" is so much the spell that dispels magic it is easy to confuse its charm with the magic it displaces.

LVIII. While it is true that science's toypile can never connect consumers with Heaven, Job's dungheap never managed that trick for sinners either.

LIX. Separating people from their money promising they can get rich investing in the Next Big Thing or reassuring tragic gizmo-fetishes they are truly on the Bleeding Edge doesn't make you any kind of intellectual. It almost certainly does make you a scam artist, whether you are actually in on the scam yourself or not.

LX. All Your Gene Are Belong to Us

LXI. The Futurological Future: Same As It Ever Was.

LXII. The McKinley Administration + Robots. Sure, it sounds like feudalism, only... it's The Future!

LXIII. Far from endowing our artifacts with intelligence, we are mistaking for such endowment the process by which we are becoming ever more superficial and uncritical through our mediation and consumption of unintelligent artifacts.

LXIV. The Turing Test only tests us.

LXV. In coming to terms with the present, especially in grasping the meaning of what has taken us by surprise, we understand and, better still, become understanding. In predicting the future, especially in proposing coinages that would work as spells to dispel being taken by surprise, we become ever more susceptible to fraud and, worse still, become frauds. Where thinking is concerned, this is a variation on the difference between investment and speculation.

LXVI. Futurologists are a science fiction fandom pretending to be philosophers and policy wonks in a bid for attention and, for a few, for money.

LXVII. Futurological “scenarios” are usually just science fiction, but entirely bereft of clever plots, interesting characters, or sustained themes. Indeed, most futurological “scenarios” amount to little more than stipulated settings of a scene (hence their name). Inevitably, these settings are borrowed from actual science fiction writers, and given the plausibility that attaches to the familiar, futurologists tend to recycle those conceits real writers would disdain as cliches.

LXVIII. I Predict That In Twenty Years Futurological Predictions Will Still Inevitably Begin "I Predict That In Twenty Years"

LXIX. Futurology peddles expectations in the form of expectorations.

LXX. I know enough to know I don't know enough to be a scientific authority, while futurologists know enough to know that most people don't know enough to know the difference when they pretend to be scientific authorities.

LXXI. It is almost never safe to assume that something will happen just because it is technically feasible and obviously useful, but it is almost always safe to assume that something will not happen if it is more profitable to incumbent interests to frustrate it even when it is technically feasible and obviously useful.

LXXII. How do you know you're not conversing online with a bot? If you're really not sure, then you've become little better than a bot yourself so it doesn't much matter. Turing's Test was never really a measure of the arrival of artificial intelligence in nonhumans, but of the arrival in humans, through their involvement with idiotic implements, of artificial imbecillence.

LXXIII. Falling asleep in 1912 and waking up in 1962 would be such a flabbergasting leap into future shock you would probably think you were still dreaming. Falling asleep in 1962 and waking up in 2012 would be such a shattering disappointment you would probably crawl back to bed to return to your dreaming.

LXXIV. For decades the futurists crowed that robots would liberate laborers from the scourge of toil. Since the bosses predictably decided to pocket any extra profits the robots made, this meant instead restraining laborers to robotically meaningless low paying jobs and chronic unemployed poverty. Fewer futurists still anticipated laborers would then be seduced into buying cellphones that shackle them to their work every waking hour. Progress!

LXXV. When capitalists want you to forget The Revolution they talk to you about The Future.

LXXVI. Advertising is that grand enterprise through which the present is interminably and profitably re-branded and then re-sold as "The Future."

LXXVII. Today's tomorrow is nothing but less today peddled as more today.

LXXVIII. "X Changes Everything" + Elapsed Time = "Nothing Has Changed"

LXXIX. Cryonics isn't a more grisly way to treat a corpse than embalming is, but cryonics isn't a more scientific way to ensure the resurrection of a corpse than mummification is either.

LXXX. While it is true that paradigm shifts in the elaboration of human knowledge do indeed occur, it remains true as well that for every maverick dismissed as a crank there are countless cranks who fancy themselves mavericks.

LXXXI. Any sufficiently advanced futurology is indistinguishable from con artistry, er, magic.

LXXXII. They fear death who suspect their mortality but do not know it.

LXXXIII. I like my art revolutionary, my administration liberal, and my engineering conservative.

LXXXIV. It's hard to decide whether the futurological fantasists or the chemtrail conspiracists represent the most depressing derangement of environmentalism enabled by "geo-engineering" discourse.

LXXXV. When I was a kid every refrigerator had a bottle of Thousand Island dressing in it. Now, every refrigerator has a bottle of Ranch dressing in it. Progress under consumer capitalism is, we all know so well, marvelous and inexorable. Who knows what salad dressing will grace the refrigerators of the future?

LXXXVI. You Are Not A Picture of You. Brain emulation cheerleaders and uploading enthusiasts, please make a note of it.

LXXXVII. Crowdsourcing will always only amount to exploitation until it is subsidized by a public living income. Celebrating non-subsidized crowdsourcing is always only an apologia for plutocracy peddled as peer-to-peer.

LXXXVIII. Transhumanism paints its Future on black velvet.

LXXXIX. Things are getting so different so fast sometimes it's hard not to yawn from the future shock.

XC. Scientific exposures of the non-reality of freedom confuse an "ought" discussion with an "is" discussion. This confusion is not proof of fearless intellectual genius but of, you know, confusion.

XCI. Transhumanism wants to be Scientology when it grows up, Scientology wants to be Mormonism when it grows up, Mormonism wants to be Catholicism when it grows up, Catholicism wants to be the Empire when it grows up.

XCII. Successful mainstream futurology amplifies irrational consumption through marketing hype and makes profitable short term predictions for the benefit of investors, the only reliable source for which is insider information. Successful superlative futurology amplifies irrational greed and terror through the conjuration of a techno-transcendent vision of "The Future" peddled as long-term predictions the faithful in which provide unearned attention and money for the benefit of guru-wannabes and pseudo-experts, the source for which is science fiction mistaken for science practice and science policy. You will have noticed that fraud is the common denominator of futurology in both its mainstream and superlative modes.

XCIII. "The Singularity" happens not at the moment when machines become more intelligent than humans, but at the moment when the way humans talk about machines makes them less intelligent.

XCIV. Those who worry about workers being replaced by robots fail to grasp that workers being treated AS robots is always a more urgent worry -- and sets the terms for their robotic replacement as well.

XCV. "Artificial Intelligence" is always an essentially fetishistic misrecognition of computer-mediated relations among intelligent humans.

XCVI. For generations now science fiction cover art has prophetically anticipated the breathtaking future of America's amusement parks.

XCVII. Futurism is redundant, after all, since one can always be an actual scientist or policymaker if you want to contribute to technodevelopment, and one can always be a real sf fan if you want to be excited about highly speculative projected technoscience.

XCVIII. No matter how big Big Data gets it will still be dumb data.

XCIX. "Artificial Intelligence" is an unintelligent description of unintelligent artifacts by unintelligent people.

C. Futurologists saying things we can't do would be cool if we could do them aren't actually contributing to science. Futurologists saying things we can't do could be done if we discovered how to do them aren't actually saying anything. Futurologists saying we will discover how to do things we can't do just because we don't know we can't is fraud, or at best false advertising.

CI. Computers no more play games of chess than chess boards do.

CII. Silicon today, siligone tomorrow.

CIII. Transhumanism is an effort to pretend confusing humans for robots and mistreating humans as robots is a science of humans becoming robots.

CIV. VACUING, n., The practice of analogizing every practice with computer hacking in the expectation that this will provide insight, but with the consequence of evacuating all substance and interest.

CV. More cameras don't only converge onto "the facts" when more cameras also have more readers.

CVI. That we will be profiled by ubiquitous corporate-military surveillance may be irresistible. That we will be defined by these profiles as people or our status as citizens determined by them absolutely can and must be resisted.

CVII. Is there any sweeter song in all the world than elites peddling predation and denial as "optimism"?

CVIII. Books shouldn't have buttons, the better to push them.

CIX. Every book was already a screen, reading them on screens adds nothing but the threat of losing everything.

CX. Urgent truths are just as likely to be concealed as exposed by more data.

CXI. Whole Earth was TED before TED. You do realize nothing more damning could be said?

CXII. "We are as gods and might as well get good at it" is best read as an exhortation to non-existence for megalomaniacal technofetishists.

CXIII. "Stay hungry" is a curse and not a virtue in the world beneath privilege. "Stay foolish" is privilege making fools of the hungry.

CXIV. Prophesy's false promise destroys memory's true wisdom.

CXV. The singularity happens when we are all reduced to artificial imbecillence by autocorrect.

CXVI. Because of the futurological framing of history they buy into, tech companies are forever confusing crap consumers buy with history.

CXVII. Google Glassholes all think they are Locutus of Borg. But we will not be assimilated.

CXVIII. Always an ought and never an is, "coolness" is not in features themselves but in the investment of features with a narrative of transcendence. And the discourse of "innovation" now amounts mostly to skirmishes over this coolness.

CXIX. There's a persistent mismatch between techies who desire gadgets that help them pretend to live in or closer to "The Future" and consumers who desire gadgets that actually do useful things well in the present.

CXX. "Trends" are not ridden but written.

CXXI. If you think about "technology" as singular not plural, as noun not verb, as destiny not history, as it not us, you're doing it wrong.

CXXII. Compared with the Pill, the "digital revolution" really is a nonstory, and one endlessly retold only because men fancy themselves the protagonists.

CXXIII. Every time a person uses the word "meme" a human mind loses her wings.

CXXIV. Making their new predictions is the way futurologists distract you from the failure of their old predictions.

CXXV. "tl;dr" is the appropriately illiterate abbreviation for the self confession: "Too stupid, won't read."

CXXVI. The social and cultural study of technoscientific changes does not threaten discovery but only marketing.

CXXVII. Those who decry the menacing relativism of situated technoscience scholarship rarely have something to tell us but invariably have something to sell us.

CXXVIII. There is no more fundamental misrecognition of the force of science fiction than to think it concerns what if more than what is.

CXXIX. The thing you need to remember about the Luddites is that smashing machines is itself a machine. As they well knew.

CXXX. Design ideology's self-congratulatory MAYA Principle declares "Most Advanced Yet Acceptable" what is usually Merely Adequate Yet Acclaimed.

CXXXI. When science fiction conceits become too tired even for hacks, that's when futurists can be counted on to arrive to turn them into ad copy.

CXXXII. To lose the expectation of privacy is substantially to lose the presumption of innocence. To live under surveillance and profiling is always to be committing the not-yet-determinable crimes for which you are being framed.

CXXXIII. The pretense that Technology "Is" a thing enables only the technology writer/promoter, just as the pretense that there "Is" a God enables only the priest.

CXXXIV. The quintessential literary genre of the neoliberal epoch, our Digital Gilded Age, is the futurological scenario: an indulgence in artless, reductive, promotional fraud.

CXXXV. Just as the futurological championing of "enhanced" humans is really an expression of disdain for the living diversity of humans with which we share the world peddled as the generosity of healthcare, futurological enthusiasm for space as an "escape hatch" from political and environmental problems is an expression of disdain for the living earth on which we have evolved to flourish peddled as the wonder of exploration.

CXXXVI. A futurist's resume is a dating profile in which hobbies and interests are mistaken for areas of expertise. This reflects the fact that corporations are the only people willing to date futurists, my friend.

CXXXVII. Reactionary discourse in general misconstrues observations as predictions, usually in the form of threats, while reactionary futurological discourse in particular peddles predictions as observations.

CXXXIX. The wireless future is the rabbit ears past.

CXL. Pretending software is people interferes with the work to make software more user-friendly or networks more secure in much the same way that pretending corporations are people interferes with the work of democratizing enterprise.

CXLI. "Transparency" names official interpretations that target and frame you for the benefit of incumbent elites via traces they select from the ones you leave. "Transparency" is plutocracy's opacity.

CXLII. Futurology is an anti-disciplinarity pretending to be inter-disciplinary.

CXLIII. There is no such thing as "the internet" apart from laws, norms, practices, affordances that exceed "the internet." There are no natural, spontaneous, abiding, spatial realities that are either "the internet" or "the market," only histories, contingencies, and parochialisms. It is no surprise that arguments presumably defending, saving, promoting "the free internet" are made so often by the same people who make arguments defending, saving, promoting "the free market" -- and so often in ways that re-enact the false, facile terms made defending, saving, promoting "the free market" -- nor that the freedoms that would be sited and secured there inevitably find no hook to hang their hat on.

CXLIV. The downcast eyes of people staring into cellphones, penitents forever contemplating their unredeemable Original Debt to consumer society.

CXLV. Every libertechbrotarianism rationalizes techbroverlordism.

CXLVI. AI discourse is mostly an hilarious effort to mansplain intelligence to an indifferent reality.

CXLVII. It is revealing how often the choice of effective, familiar, appropriate techniques and technologies over untried or unduly complex ones will invite charges of "luddism" or "technophobia."

CXLVIII. Futurism is the denial of futurity. Futurology is the appropriation of the emergent by the dominant.

CXLIX. Our futurity is not The Future: Progress is a struggle, not a marketing campaign.

CL. The internet without a safety net leaves everybody smashed on the Coasean Floor.

CLI. Digitization didn't smash the state, it is the crisis in which the interminable alternative is posed to a new generation: Socialism or Barbarism?

CLII. Universal BIG + Zero IP = Free As In Democracy

CLIII. There are real unethical robots in the military to worry about and they are all Brass.

CLIV. Phanwanking, phanwankery, n. -- related to fanboy fanwanking/fanwankery, a form of ludicrously elaborate rationalization to which futurologists are prone, but involving speculative pseudo-science rather than speculative science-fiction.

CLV. Singularitarians have a black hole where their brains should be.

CLVI. Techno-utopians like AI-deadenders and missiledefense-deadenders truly seem to love crowing over test results that reveal nothing but their serial failures.

CLVII. Using the term "technology," like using the passive voice, distracts attention from or disavows responsibility for actions of human beings.

CLVIII. Futurology peddles SF's poetry as prophesy to profiteers for profit.

CLIX. The priests of artificial intelligence offering up their digital confessions and performing their digital exorcisms will never ameliorate the work of software as a worldly instrument of terror.

CLX. Climate change is already the end of the world for countless people on earth, and to displace climate catastrophe onto "The Future" is always first of all an ugly admission of indifference to suffering and death in the present.

CLXI. The Future is always a violent occupation of the present.

CLXII. Techno-transcendentalists really bring the idiocy to theodicy.

CLXIII. When it comes to the movies, most science fiction would be more accurately described as pseudoscience fiction.

CLXIV. Perhaps the President could declare the internet a National Park or Wilderness Area and fund it by making advertisers pay through the nose for trying to pollute the place.

CLXV. Futurology is what happens to thinking when marketing happens to commonsense.

CLXVI. Futurist explains it's supposed to suck. Demands payment.

CLXVII. Body-Cameras as the ready technofix for the political problem of police violence disavows the politics policing the significance of surveilled images. It is all too easy for the police to frame an avalanche of mediated spam, flak and spin as "transparency": After all, the same stratifications enabling police violence will articulate the interpretation of its image.

CLXVIII. Every panopticism is always a pancryptism: every transparency is enabled by opacities.

CLXIX. Prior to the positing of any "technofix" for a political problem is always the technofixation that disavows its politics to subvert politics.

CLXX. Our digital devices are documenting stasis not progress.

CLXXI. Futurology in its techno-transcendental moods is infantile wish-fulfillment, in its existential risk moods infantile attention seeking.

CLXXII. tr;dl: too real, didn't live

CLXXIII. Every tool and every technique is a text.

CLXXIV. It makes sense, I suppose, that robot cultists would be so robotically predictable.

What It Means to be a "Birther"

A "Birther" is a white racist who cannot accept the fact that an African-American is President of the United States. The protestations about Obama's lack of a "birth certificate" have been debunked endlessly as a factual matter, of course, but the deeper quandary of the "Birther" is scarcely susceptible to factual debunking at all. The crisis provoked by Obama's Presidency for white racists (as by his middle name "Hussein" for the loosely overlapping set of Christianists in the US) is that the white racist patriarchal muscular-Christianist theocracy they imagined they were born to prevail over, the nation they fancy their own birth certificates testify to the existence of and to their privileged place within it, cannot exist so long as Obama is our President and President because the American people wanted him to be. If Obama's citizenship is certified theirs is thereby decertified in their own eyes, the validity of his birth certificate casts the validity of their own into terminal crisis, it is their hateful imagined birthplace they must relinquish as a mirage to confront the multicultural America of reality.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Futurological Brickbats

To care most about things that are merely not impossible is simply not sensible.

A Robot Cultist Has a "Thought" and Engages in Some Projection Along the Way

Giulio Prisco (find it yourself, I won't link to him) indulges in a curiously revealing thought-experiment:
I wonder… what [Carrico] would say if extreme life extension and mind uploading were to become available during his lifetime. Perhaps he wouldn’t believe it, like those who think Apollo 11 never happened? Or would he refuse these inventions of the devil?

It should be quite easy to find one's way to a confident answer to this "puzzle."

After all, do I indulge in anti-Moon landing conspiracy theories now? No, I do not.

Do I disbelieve actually effective medical therapies now? No, I do not.

(I actually strongly disapprove the peddling of pseudo-scientific remedies like laying on of hands and homeopathy and crystal healing, so presumably there might be some quibbling around the question of "effective" here.)

As a rather conspicuous, repeatedly, publicly, insistently reiterated atheist, it seems rather strange to imagine that I would phrase skepticism of something in terms of its being "of the devil," certainly.

What on earth would inspire such musings on the part of our poor perplexed Robot Cultist, then?

It is intriguing to grasp that it is precisely because I refuse to share his marginal True Belief in the viability of the superlative technodevelopmental outcomes with which he personally identifies (the digital uploading of his soul into cyberspace, his near-immortalization via this or other techno-transcendentalizing means, his paradisical vision of a robotic, virtual, or nanotechnological superabundance on earth, his expectations about the arrival among us of a superintelligent post-biological Robot God who, if Friendly, might solve our problems for us) that he is provoked into wondering if I might deny mainstream commonsense notions only marginal conspiracists deny.

It is precisely because I refuse to share his True Belief in non-existing hyperbolic projections about "The Future" that he is provoked into wondering if I am incapable of describing present realities.

It is precisely because I do not share his faith that he is provoked into wondering if I am moved by a faithful fear of the diabolical.

Needless to say, it is the Robot Cultists who would cloak their transcendental wish-fulfillment fantasies as a kind of sooper-science that is the furthest thing from actual consensus science. It is the Robot Cultists who denigrate the open futurity of the present to peddle their fantasies of The Future with which they parochially identify. It is the Robot Cultists who dis-identify with the human plurality of stakeholders with whom they actually share the world and its problems to identify instead with a parochial vision of a more "optimal" "superior" post-human species they fancy will co-habit that Future.

It isn't hard to recognize who it is who is actually promoting the faith-based discourse, who is indulging in denial, who is caught up in a full froth of reactionary panic here.

Projection, much?

White Guys to Infinity and Beyond!

In a post last weekend, I mentioned as something of an aside among many other perplexities that bedevil foolish futurologists -- especially of the so-called "transhumanist movement" variety -- that although "the world is and is likely long to remain one in which privileged white males are a minority… the overwhelmingly overabundant majority of Robot Cultists who imagine themselves to speak for 'the future' are privileged white males."

As I said, it was just an aside. But it is interesting to note that Athena Andreadis (Associate Professor of Cell Biology at the University of Massachusetts Medical School) called attention in her blog to this same curious overabundance of white male futurologists at the Singularity Summit organized by the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, or SIAI, what I have sometimes fondly described as Robot Cult Ground Zero.

Andreadis writes:
I was totally unaware of this event until I visited the IEET site. Given what I know as a scientist about the likelihood of the Singularity, I couldn’t muster much interest. But ever the curious cat, I toddled over and examined the roster of speakers. All are white men. [Emphasis added --d] For several, their sole relevant qualification is that they believe in the imminence of the Singularity.

She writes that she pointed out this curious fact in a comment at the IEET site, whereupon
a SIAI representative informed me that they had looked really hard for qualified women and, since they found none, “would you rather we picked a token female with nothing to say?” Then one of the speakers chimed in, to let me know that “the gender war was a thing of the eighties”. [Obviously so! --d] It got even funnier after that…

Of course all this is anecdotal, even if any reasonably progressive person who has spent any time at all among the transhumanists and singularitarians and techno-immortalists can tell you hair-raising tales of no doubt "non-representative" but still somehow endlessly represented assertions in defense of The Bell Curve, assertions that "taxes are theft," assertions about a planetary "Clash of Civilizations" of the "West" against "Islamofascism," not to mention all manner of patronizing cooing about the need for technocratic elites to make decisions for majorities because "accelerating change" renders so few fit for such decisions, among these including any number of sunny-faced "liberally eugenic" decisions about what kinds of people there should be in the world.

Andreadis is certainly bemused to hear that all of SIAI's diligence (these are sooper-geniuses, don't forget) was unable to unearth any "qualified women" after all since, as an actually technoscientifically literate person she knows as do we all that countless women throng the relevant disciplines presumably under discussion by the singularitarians.

But she reserves her choicest mirth for the men who actually managed to pass muster as "qualified" among the singularitarians after all:
How highly qualified are those so carefully chosen for admission to the boys’ treehouse sanctum? Let me give you a whiff. One of the participants is a dotcom millionaire who has concluded that giving the vote to women doomed capitalist democracy. One of the two speakers that sorta kinda qualify as biologists is the originator of the concept of quantum microtubules (the biomolecular equivalent of Intelligent Design). The other stepped down from on high to deliver unto transhumanists the revelation that mitochondrial dysfunction is linked to cellular damage… a radical notion hidden away by those power-hungry biologists in, oh, every Biochemistry 101 textbook since the seventies..

Welcome to the Robot Cult!

Andreadis concludes: "Of course, this representation is not surprising, since the participation of a bona-fide biologist in such an event would be the equivalent of an astrophysicist attending an astrologers’ convention."

Quite so, quite so.

One wonders how long before Andreadis will sever ties with the stealth-transhumanist outfit IEET altogether, or manages to provoke unpersoning by them at this rate?

The Robot Cultists Have Issues

Upgraded and adapted from the Moot, 21-year old Jason assures me "I'm not a transhumanist, but" and then proceeds to chastise me as only a transhumanist would for failing to grant that the transhumanists, singularitarians, techno-immortalists, and such are, after all, bringing important "issues" to the attention to the world, while also wagging his finger at my derisive dismissal of the arrival of the superintelligent Robot God, given how shattering that arrival would no doubt be were it to, you know, happen. He assures me that he doesn't want to be a "rube" of some Robot Cult, but that in his considered opinion these Robot Cultists have some important things to say, and big things are happening after all, and science tends to confound our conservative assumptions, so on and so forth in the usual manner.

Now, the first thing to say is that the desire to live forever in a nanoslavebotic treasure cave under the watchful care of a post-biological superintelligent Robot God is not an "issue" that needs to be brought to the attention of anybody at all, except, possibly, to be blunt, a clinical psychotherapist.

This is not to deny that there are actually existing technical and policy issues (questions of cost, risk, access, oversight, education, consent) arising out of non-normalizing genetic, prosthetic, and cognitive medicine, as well as actually existing software and network security and functionality issues arising out of the brittleness and bloat of legacy-coding, infrastructural limits, not to mention the malice of criminals, as well as actually existing materials science issues arising out of the nanoscale and otherwise, out of biochemistry, and so on.

But the hyperbolic framings of superlative futurological discourse have never once contributed the least bit of sense to serious deliberation about these sorts of issues, "transhumanism," "singularitarianism," and "techno-immortalism" contribute nothing of substance to the discussion of a single one of the actual problems of technique, funding, regulation, access, education, risk connecting with actually-existing technodevelopmental change in the actual world.

Futurology is not a scientific discourse. It is a cultural discourse -- and at its superlative extremity, it is often an explicitly sub(cult)ural discourse -- responding broadly to the distress of actual and imagined disruptive technoscientific change.

It is not that I think there is not disruptive technoscientific change afoot in the world, it is that I think superlative futurologists don't know what the hell they are talking about in the most fundamental imaginable ways, with the consequence that when they are the ones who manage to frame the quandaries and aspirations provoked by such change they tend to make everybody a bit less capable of talking sense and contributing to technodevelopmental progress and democratization at the worst possible time.

When I say that futurologists don't know what the hell they are talking about it, I mean by this to point out, for example, that I think "Jason" would do well to think much more deeply about just what he means by "intelligence" and its actual social manifestations and biological incarnations in the world before he starts deploying reductive notions of "smartness" that are often quite curiously indifferent to these realities thereupon to leap off into busily calculating the Robot God Odds (Robot God in twenty years? Fifty? Seventy? Two hundred? click click click click busy busy busy) and then drawing out all of the usual "inevitable" consequences that presumably follow from these calculations.

He might think more deeply about the derangements introduced into deliberation about user-friendly software and network security by the pretense that there is something apart from computer security and efficacy called "artificial intelligence" that demands special serious consideration, as he might think more deeply about the derangements introduced into healthcare deliberation by the pretense that there is something apart from healthcare called "anti-aging" or "immortalization" that demands special separate serious consideration, or as he might think more deeply about the derangements introduced into deliberation about nanoscale biochemistry by the pretense that there is something apart from biochemistry called "nanofactories" or "Drexlerian nanotechnology" that demands special separate serious consideration.

In every case, superlative futurologists are deranging the terms of actually serious technodevelopmental discourse, tapping into hyperbolic fears of apocalypse and hyperbolic fantasies of transcendence, tapping into ancient narrative figures and frames of revolts against contingency and finitude, and all to no good purpose, apart, I suppose, from the desire to attract serious attention to themselves that they would not otherwise manage as well as the desire to indulge in irrational projects of self-congratulation and self-reassurance in the face of the anxieties of disruptive technoscientific change.

Of course, there is a real sense in which the vanishingly small and ridiculous minority of Robot Cultists are not so much deranging technodevelopmental deliberation themselves as symptomizing the derangement in more prevailing developmental and technocratic discourses (which are already suffused with reductionism, elitism, parochialism, greed, anxiety, hyperbole) but in their own -- rather clarifyingly -- extreme and marginalized form. But it is also true that there are a surprising number of well-heeled and well-established figures who are connected to the most flabbergasting extremities of Robot Cultism seduced, no doubt, by the deep structural continuities between incumbent interests and superlative discourses, and also that mass-media outlets eager for attention-grabbing hyperbole and ignorant of actual science are always happy to give a wider hearing to hysterical narratives like those of the Robot Cultists than they are to sensible scientific ones.

Now, when I was 21 years old I believed and said any number of the most foolish things imaginable (we'll leave to the side the foolishness of my 44 year old self), and so I find it easy to forgive Jason these youthful misplaced zealotries. When he declares that he does not think himself, nor does he wish to be, a "rube" of some Robot Cult, I quite believe him. My recommendation to Jason and others like him is that he read more deeply into the scientific fields that are indispensable to technodevelopmental outcomes that preoccupy his attention. This will require that he read beyond the blogs and popular magazines and papers of the charmed circle of futurological True Belief. He will confront soon enough the complexities, perplexities, qualifications, and research/policy dynamisms that instantly displace the facile formulations of the Robot Cultists. Few who study biology or chemistry or policy (or even philosophy) with any diligence or success are likely to remain superlative for long.

I recommend that wider reading, deeper study, and a more diverse acquaintance will insulate Jason from becoming or at any rate long remaining a rube of the Robot Cultists. There are plenty of shared problems in the world that demand the attention and effort of serious, reasonable, well-meaning, responsible people, peer to peer, and it is always unfortunate to lose, for however long, a partner in that collaboration to the pathologies of True Belief, whether religious, scientistic, moralizing, or otherwise reactionary.

Futurological Genres

Like all other real literature science fiction, when it manages really to be literature, is first of all a testament to and an intervention into the quandaries, contradictions, aspirations, and distress of the present.

The subject of such literature emphatically is not "the Future."

"The Future" is always only a denigration of the open futurity inhering in the present, inhering in the unpredictable plurality of acting meaning calculating thinking stakeholders collaborating and contesting the shared world, peer to peer.

In place of open futurity, "the Future" would substitute a brute elongation or amplification of the terms of some parochial vantage within the present, the voice of incumbency.

To speak of "the Future" is always to indulge in reaction, and all futurisms are finally retro-futurisms.

The genres of "the Future" are not so much literary, properly so-called, but promotional and self-promotional. They are patently propagandistic. They are suffused with the cadences and customs of the saleman's spiel, the con-artist's hype, the politician's war-dance, the preacher's hellfire and brimstone, the self-help guru's pep-talk, the boardroom's fraudulent pie-chart.

And nowhere is the future schlock more bizarre or more characteristic than in the pious breathless ecstasies of the "professional futurologists," from Toffler to Kurzweil, from Friedman to Reynolds, who offer up advertisements for pet terminologies rather than for actual products, who crave mass-mediated attention rather than critical deliberation, who provide us with something roughly like science fiction but bereft of actual plot, characterization, setting, drama, who mistake or propose this impoverished inept science fiction for science itself or for science policy, who dredge up thousands upon thousands of pages attesting endlessly to the hyperbolic fears and fantasies of the present moment, deranged into tidal waves of Frankenstein and Robot apocalypse or else into the triumphal amplification of all the terms and banal satisfactions of the status quo that most demand reassurance in the face of disruptive change.

These genres of "the Future" are quintessentially American, they found their consummation here, in much of the flat Hard SF prior to the New Wave, in much of the post-war advertising of corporate America, in the pronouncements of the think-tanks that cheerlead us into nuclear disaster, petro-chemical suburbia, military adventures from Vietnam to Iraq, and the "innovations" of endlessly leveraged debt for the profit of the few at the expense of the many.

America invented The Future, after all.

And it opts for "the Future" and for Future's Empire every time it fails to fulfill the promise of its Founding: of an embrace of open futurity, of a constitution of freedom, of equity in diversity, of consensual prosthetic/cultural self-determination, e pluribus unum, peer to peer.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Save Meet the Press from David Gregory

Replace the petulant narcissistic bubble-brained hypocritical hack with the incomparably more professional and relevant Rachel Maddow. Otherwise, expect the news that another "venerable" journalistic institution has fallen prey to the skeery mobocratic internets in no time flat.

My Many Lies About the Robot Cultists

Giulio Prisco is unhappy that I have decided from here on out to delete his comments to the Moot unread (and said so publicly). In response, he declares (find it yourselves, I won't link to him), fairly predictably, that I do this because I am a "liar," and also because I am incapable of, or perhaps simply scared to, face his luminous futurological facts, and so on and so forth, blah blah blah.

It's hard, I must say, to resist reminding us all once again, as a preliminary to what follows, that Giulio Prisco, like so many of his Robot Cult friends, believes that his organismic brain might be "digitized" and thereupon "migrated" (these already questionable metaphors he treats altogether more questionably as scientific hypotheses, of all things) into cyberspace or into a robot body, and thereby quasi-immortalized (he would say, "indefinitely longevized," I suppose, imagining this terminological hanky-panky gets him off the hook of looking like the embarrassing immortality snake-oil salesman he, like all would-be priests, is), thereupon to live in a paradisical virtual wonderland or perhaps a nanoslavebotic treasure cave, all under the watchful care of a superintelligent post-biological Robot God who will solve all our problems for us (or eat us all for computronium feedstock, but we won't know the diff so, you know, no biggie) when the singularity arrives, as you betcha it will, and sooner than you think.

That is to say, the "facts" I won't "face" that render me insufficiently sooper-sciency to grasp the awesomeness of the Robot Cult (that I teach fashionably nonsensical menacingly relativistic "theory" of the elite effete aesthete kind in humanities departments in the Bay Area is typically trotted out as a damning data-point hereabouts), these "facts" of theirs are, of course, not to put too fine a point on it, the most arrant infantile incoherent batshit crazy nonsense imaginable.

Be that as it may, the specific matter under discussion here is my attribution of a tendency, sometimes stealthy, to eugenicism in futurological discourse. Just to be clear, I also usually like to note -- although this hasn't provoked Prisco's hysteria on this particular occasion -- a structural tendency in futurology, especially at the clarifying extremities of futurology where Prisco makes his home with the other Robot Cultists, toward hyperbolism, toward reductionism, toward elitism, toward moralism, toward incumbency, and hence toward anti-democracy.

As I have argued many times (if you are curious this isn't a bad place to look, neither is this, nor this, nor this, nor this for elaborations and clarifications of my positions on the matter of futurological tendencies to eugenicism): To speak of a generalized "enhancement" which one is either imagined to champion or refuse, usually in the name of a comparably theologized embrace either of a parochial variation on the theme of "The Future" or a parochial variation on the theme of "Nature/God's Will," is to displace the actual politics of biomedical and technoscientific change onto a level of abstraction that treats all the actually contested questions at hand as settled (or as mere illustrations and expressions of "underlying" clashes of value between "pro-tech" enlighteners and "anti-tech" luddites), a settlement that conduces primarily to the benefit of the institutions, values, formulations, and resource/authority distributions of incumbency. This is so, I maintain, whatever the honest or professed convictions of adherents of futurological discourses in matters of political orientation, and however ironic it may appear to discover that, once again, futurism plays out, on the ground, as retro-futurism. (I happen to maintain that the substance of any so-called politics of "the future" will be to denigrate the open futurity inhering in the plurality of the present, peer to peer, and that every futurological discourse substitutes for the political promise of that openness an amplification of the instrumental terms of the parochial past misconstrued precisely as an embrace of the freedom of futurity -- hence every futurism is a de facto retro-futurism.)

When I speak of the "actual politics" that are so displaced by pro-technology/anti-technology, pro-"enhancement"/"anti"-enhancement framings of the terrain, I mean the actual politics of negotiating conflicting demands, costs, risks, benefits, aspirations of a diversity of stakeholders to technoscientific/multicultural change, peer to peer. It is easy to see, I should think, that any generalized discourse of "enhancement" as such, in disavowing that non-normalizing medical (or, more generally, prosthetic, or for that matter cultural) interventions will always actually be enhancing or not of what among others, to whom among others, relatively enabling what ends among others, at the cost of relatively disabling what ends among others, threatens to evacuate into "already settled" assumptions about "optimal health," "competitive advantages," "social costs of atypicality," and the like what is and will remain the deeply contested political substance of technodevelopmental social struggle as it is playing out in the world, peer to peer. (Because I think it is always anti-democratizing to generalize at the site of parochially preferred outcomes, I recommend a contrary democratizing generalization at the site of the scene of informed, nonduressed consent rendered actually legible and equitable through the provision of reliable information (a2k) and guaranteed income (BIG), a case I make elsewhere at greater length, but which I wanted to note I do indeed offer up as an alternative to the views I criticize.)

When Prisco, and other Robot Cultists like him who disapprove my critique of their discourse, declares me a "liar" when I say such things, it pays to pause and consider just what the nature of the objection is supposed to be in such moments. Does Prisco really believe I am trying to be deceptive in making this critique? That is to say, does he think I am lying about how I think futurological discourse actually plays out in the world? Does he think I actually believe futurology to be innocuous or wholesome or democratizing but that I perversely take up the contrary position in text after text after text for kicks? I mean, I can and do certainly insist that I am saying these things because I do indeed believe them to provide useful theoretical purchase on the workings and implications of futurological discourse. I actually think this critique is an important one for democratically-minded progressives to make in an epoch suffused with anti-democratizing futurological tropes and frames. Presumably, such protestations from me won't cut it with Prisco and his tribe, though, since if I would lie this many times in delineating my critique itself they would hardly put it past me to lie about the lie.

Otherwise, Prisco may mean to declare me a "liar" because he hears me attributing to him and to others of his sub(cult)ure an intentional embrace of all the explicit terms of my critique, and hence that my critique is offered up in the spirit of the unmasking of some secret eugenicist conspiracy among the Robot Cultists and perhaps among a Star-Chamber of corporate-militarist big-wigs sympathetic to their dastardly desires. I can assure Prisco (and most of his futurological kin), that I certainly doubt he or they personally possess the intelligence to grasp let alone endorse in an explicit or elaborated fashion what I take to be the pernicious implications of his discourse and which provide the basis for my critique. As it happens, I do think there is a real and important place for an institutional critique of Robot Cultism, a need to pay attention to the cast of characters who consistently preside over their membership organizations and conference presentations and "serious" "policy" think-tanks (not always easy to do, since they seem so eager to change their names and terms all the time the better to elude ridicule and "repackage" their notions for a fresh slate of rubes), especially when venerable academic institutions like Oxford and Stanford Universities and corporate entities like PayPal and Google cheerfully affiliate themselves with such flabbergasting and pernicious craziness. But, the fact remains that the critique Prisco keeps objecting to isn't institutional at all: it's rhetorical (after all, my trade), it's a critique about the form and effects of futurological discourses both in general and at their superlative extremities.

As a basic matter of fact, I have to assume Prisco has simply ignored or failed to grasp the import of my repeated insistence that these tendencies to eugenicism, hyperbolism, reductionism, elitism, moralism, incumbency in futurological discourses (crystallizing with especial clarity in the superlative futurology of Robot Cultists like Prisco himself) are structural, are tendential, and can play out as much against the grain of professed democratic convictions as they will provide a comfortable home for anti-democratic aspirations. This means, among other things, that there can indeed be truly or relatively progressive-minded or democratically-minded individuals who are likewise caught up in what I deem anti-democratizing futurological discourses (even among the most extreme superlative futurologists certainly James Hughes provides an example of such a person, and I daresay Mike Treder is another such, a good guy, reliably progressive, but deeply invested in superlative futurological frames and formulations, and among those who cite and deploy more prevailing developmental futurisms there are no doubt any number of convinced liberals and progressives). What draws the democratically-minded down the anti-democratizing drain of futurological irrationality are no doubt inducements as manifold as the frailties with which we are all of us already well-familiar (me not least of all, I don't doubt), be it the fear of death disavowed through investment in superlative wish-fulfillment fantasies, be it anxiety in the midst of disruptive change yielding compensatory True Belief in idealized technodevelopmental outcomes, be it straightforward greed whomped up by corporatist hype, be it overzealous confusion of the pleasures of speculative science fiction with the rigors of actual scientific research or science policymaking, be it shabby enjoyment of the phony prestige of coming off as an "expert" due to widespread technoscientific ignorance and irrationality, there are many likely explanations afoot.

My view is that futurological assumptions and formulations and aspirations are deeply subversive to democratizing assumptions and formulations and aspirations. In saying this I am not denying but assuming that many professions of democratic conviction among the futurologists are earnest ones. This is not to deny the fact that there sure seem to be an unusually high number of explicit right-wing ideologues among the Robot Cultists (especially given the eagerness of so many of them to peddle themselves as progressives these days) and that there sure seems to be an unusual amount of expressed solidarity from declared democratically-minded Robot Cultists with such right-wing ideologues, all of which would sure seem to me properly to provoke more self-examination from so-called "technoprogressive" futurologists than usually seems to be the case... But that is another issue (as is the fact that the world is and is likely long to remain one in which privileged white males are a minority while the overwhelmingly overabundant majority of Robot Cultists who imagine themselves to speak for "the future" are privileged white males).

Again, I argue that futurology as a discourse tends to a hyperbolism, reductionism, moralism, elitism, eugenicism that is anti-democratizing, whatever the professed convictions of its adherents on questions in the abstract of the relative merits of democracy. For such a person to declare me a "liar" for spotlighting this conflict is altogether beside the point. They might think me mistaken, they might think my critique a matter of concern but my priorities misplaced in highlighting it, they might agree with my diagnosis but believe alternatives possible that outweigh the risks, they might even declare my concerns an indispensable corrective enabling an actually progressive futurism to contribute to the democratization of technoscientific change. I would disagree with every single one of these positions, but reasonable people of good will -- I do not include Giulio Prisco among them -- can, in principle, certainly productively disagree on these questions.

To reduce all this to an assertion that my criticism amounts either to deception or defamation seems a rather epic-scaled exercise in missing the point. But perhaps, with the likes of Giulio Prisco, that is the point.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Bully Pulpit Takes Aim at Blue Dog Bullies on Healthcare Reform



Not perfect, but far more important: not bad. Note well:
"[A]ny plan I sign must include an insurance exchange . . . including a public option to increase competition and keep insurance companies honest."

That is the long awaited reiteration of the "line in the sand." An innocuous thing, to be sure, but the lever that moves the world usually is.

And make no mistake, this DNC ad is about discipline among the Dems more than anything else, too.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Dear Soup

Lose the laugh track. Much love.

Oh, How the Villagers Love a Funeral!

The death of Walter Cronkite will no doubt provide, as did the death of Tim Russert not so very long ago, yet another occasion for mainstream media poodles to indulge in a surreally prolonged, fantastically undeserved orgy of nauseating self-congratulation. Once again these spoiled vapid predatory narcissistic gossip-columnists who fancy themselves eminences -- and who also seem to think we think they're cute -- will genuflect sanctimoniously to their superior standards, ethics, objectivity, professionalism, civic-mindedness, and social indispensability. Against this we can expect the usual conjuration of a rising imperiling tide of citizen journalism and criticism and organization, peer to peer, as Cronkite's shade is summoned up like a patronus to ward off the mob. All the while the Villagers will chug along in sublime ignorance and indifference to the utter superficiality, insular attitudes, preference for stenography over reportage, eager self-impressment to incumbent interests through which they have travestied the ideals they invoke in the name of Cronkite and by means of which they have brought on their own ongoing institutional eclipse. What a relief that Cronkite's demise provides such a ready pretext for the inevitable disregard by NBC that Russert's replacement on Meet the Press, scatterbrained hack David Gregory, begged for the chance to fellate now-disgraced atrocity exhibition and hiking enthusiast Mark Sanford on his show in between endless softball interviews with President John McCain and other Republican luminaries.

Updates

The Superlative Summary has been considerably updated.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Our Post-Lagomorphine Future

Upgraded and adapted from the Moot: A transhumanist-identified futurologist claims to agree with the consensual prosthetic self-determination of my last post, approving my affirmation of actually wanted culturally/prosthetically enabled lifeways, whether normalizing or not, "unless the wanted lifeway represents a palpable threat of harm to others -- where 'harm' is considerably more than some so-called violation of 'dignity' or 'nature' or 'decorum' as indicated by the discomfort of social or religious conservatives in the presence of a difference they have a distaste for" as a formulation which "nicely summarizes [his] own view."

I must say, I doubt it.

"Transhumanism" as a discourse typically mobilizes a notion of "enhancement" that stealths all sorts of parochial prejudices as to "better" and "worse" lifeways, underdetermined by lethality, undersensitive to considerations of what is wanted and what is consented to, as though these were "neutral" "scientific" or "hygienic" matters, conferring objective already-agreed-upon "advantages," always only enabling rather than also always disabling in respect to available ends, and all the while embedded in a reductive pseudo-"progressive" narrative of technical amplification presumably eventuating in the arrival of an idealized post-human "species" and "future" which solicits their identification (at the cost of dis-identification with human plurality and the open futurity inhering in it in every present) figured as homo superior.

Whatever haggling PR considerations or conflicting personal values lead individual transhumanists to qualify their "enhancement" discourse to accommodate civil libertarian or democratic or social justice intuitions the underlying contrary eugenicist thrust of the discourse is always making its play, whether subtly or gratuitously.

Of course, this is the actual concern that preoccupies my exchange with Jason Moss in the prior post. Agreeing in a general way with a statement occurring at the tail end of an argument isn't the same thing as agreeing with the argument, and to the extent that it is the argument which produces the statement with which you claim agreement, agreement with the statement but not the argument is likely superficial at best.

My experience with transhumanist-identified futurologists has taught me to be enormously leery of highly selective, rather superficial appropriations of ideas of mine in the service of their efforts to legitimize their reactionary crackpot robot cult (see: technoprogressive).

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Importance of Being Lagomorphine

Upgraded and adapted -- with relief -- from the Moot, a comment with some substance. Jason Moss asks:
You have said that there is no "better" or "worse" when it comes to wanted lives, regardless of physical or mental "impairment." And you have said that these lives are totally equal (I agree with you on this, by the way). However, when taken to an extreme, it could be inferred from your argument that you would find a rabbit (who very much enjoys being a rabbit) to be just as important as a conscious, intelligent human.... If you do not agree with this, would you be able to provide the "cut-off" at which one wanted life becomes more important than another?

What I tend to say is that "better" or "worse" are terms in respect to particular ends (among others) and held by particular people (among others).

What I tend to say, further, is that there is no neutral, cost-free, universal "better" or "worse" lifeway, and so I insist that such assertions of value be situated in their history, circumstances, aspirations so that their stakes are revealed rather than disavowed.

I have no problem with such assertions of value -- quite the contrary, in fact -- but I have enormous problems with refusals to take responsibility for such assertions, refusals to recognize their costs (there are always costs), refusals to own up to them.

I must say that your comment about the rabbit is enormously perplexing to me. To whom is the rabbit's life presumably "important" or not in the desired assertion? The rabbit? A lab technician preparing to test a drug dose on the rabbit (something I might or might not approve of, by the way)? A child for whom the rabbit is a companion? I doubt I would see the importance of the rabbit's life as a vegetarian and as a non-hungry person in the same way in every instance as a carnivore would or a starving person, for instance.

If you are pointing out, then, that I seem to resist the assumption of some "god's"-eye perspective (that phrase, like the phrase "playing god" which is also regularly trotted out in discussions like this, is meaningless, strictly speaking, and obfuscatory) from which to "survey" the multiform scene of liveforms and lifeways and allocate to them "objective" values in a hierarchical scale of "importance" (to what? for what? to whom?), well, certainly that's true.

But those who pretend to do this are deeply confused in my view, and in more ways than one, and all too often, much worse, are up to no good: likely scamming after priestly authority.

In bioethical contexts, I argue that a non-lethal actually wanted lifeway facilitated, maintained, or arrived at through informed nonduressed consensual recourse to (or refraining from) actually-available technique, whether normalizing or not, is all the "cut-off" we need.

Where lifeways are wanted and consented to but seem to us irrational or hateful or what have you this might mobilize efforts to educate and convince, but should not mobilize the police unless the wanted lifeway represents a palpable threat of harm to others -- where "harm" is considerably more than some so-called violation of "dignity" or "nature" or "decorum" as indicated by the discomfort of a social or religious conservatives in the presence of a difference they have a distaste for.

By way of conclusion, I will note, as an entirely personal matter, that I find rabbits boring and dumb and considerably less cute than one would hope given the hype.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Movement Republicans Confuse Theme Park for Reality

It is interesting that Sarah Palin is framing her resignation from her first and only term as an actual Governor of an actual state as if it constituted a move into a deeper, more effective political engagement and leadership position rather than as a fairly conspicuous diminishment or even relinquishment of these, a framing all the more interesting given the widespread speculation that she means now to publish splashy Ann Coulterish books and flog them at store signings and on talkshows, and perhaps find her way to the helm of a talk show or radio gig of her own. Given that the most legible leader of the Republican Party at the moment is still Rush Limbaugh, himself a talk-radio celebrity rather than an elected official, and that another scandal-plagued no-longer actually elected official who signs book jackets rather than legislation, Newt Gingrich, seems to be one of the few remaining public faces of Republican "seriousness," there is a certain curious coherence in Palin's move here.

Superficial consistency aside, there remains in this gambit the rather bedeviing pickle of a would-be governing Party that has taken as its defining note the insistence of their smiley-face icon, Reagan (Nixon is the frowny obverse face of the icon, while W., I suppose, provides a supplementary clown face), that "government is the problem." Who, for long, thinking this way and hoping to maintain any kind of integrity would remain in elected governance so conceived after all? And who, for long, whether agreeing with them or not on such a conception of governance, would trust people who declare all government a gang of thugs and thieves while striving to attain that position to prove the truth of their declaration?

But my present perplexity has a slightly different object than that. Isn't it, after all, a little strange that after spending more than a generation endlessly demonizing "liberal" media and denigrating "cultural" politics and disgorging bile at "elite" "effete" "aesthetes" of the Academy and especially the presumably cra-a-a-azy "post-modern" "politically correct" English Departments (all in ways that were never particularly accurate, but that is beside the point), so many Movement Conservatives seem to have contented themselves with total immersion in a weird Potemkin Village version of the world they had already constructed in imagination and then projected onto their foes?

With every passing year their politics seem more and more a matter of whomping up phony best-selling ideological tracts that their phony intellectual think tanks buy up in bulk and then ladle out as incentives to entice donors into opening their wallets while the authors make their phony splashes at their personal little Regent "University" that only they attend and on their personal little Fox "News Network" that only they watch.

Rather in the way that no amount of ever more hysterically amplified self-congratulatory futurological hype actually managed to transform the phony economy of neoliberal financialization, logo-ization, digitization, cost and risk externalization into something other than the fraudulent blood-soaked looting and spending spree it always obviously was to the ruin of us all, so too the funhouse mirror into which Movement Conservatism is retreating now with such hysterical glee will never manage to reflect or replace the actual reality in which their failure is so manifest.

An ever-more marginal and ridiculous minority of white-racist queer-bashing science-denialist tax-evading government-hating patriarchal corporate-militarist theocrats might slap the logo "Real America" on their foreheads and segregate themselves into ghettos of like-minded idiocy and hate, but a self-marginalized minority they remain nonetheless, out of favor, out of ideas, out of touch, out of tune, out of chances, out of sight, out of mind, out of time.

The only reason why Movement Conservatism in its consummating retreat into Virtual Reality would ever find any continued purchase in actual policy, actual governance, actual public discourse at this point would be entirely through the failure of more reasonable people (progressive, democratic, actually conservative) to make an intelligible case in public for their ideas and aspirations and proposals. When reasonableness is silent, smug, or too preoccupied to make its case, there are and, to be sure, will always be plenty of facile superstitious and libertopian and authoritarian and futurological cartoon viewpoints ready to hand to provide easily digestible and compelling appeals to greed, fear, parochialism through which to scam the rubes and work the usual world-ruining mischief.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Pondering Palin

Atrios draws our attention to the oddness of the choice of the word "disenfranchised" to describe the confusion, alienation, and belligerence of anti-tax anti-government corporate-militarist gun-nut paranoid-conspiracist Christianist (or sometimes Randroidal) white racist patriarchal wingnut bigots as they suddenly realize that they are a self-marginalizing and rather ridiculous minority, especially since they all are perfectly capable of voting while many devote considerable energies to ensuring that those with whom they disagree actually cannot.

Apparently these "disenfranchised" folks (who aren't) have found their champion in the spectacular Sarah Palin, although how her opting for a precarious spot in the right-wing media fulminocracy rather than finishing even a single term in actual elected office constitutes championing them in any sensible way is rather beyond me.

Are any of the so-called "leaders" of the GOP actually in office anymore? Rush, Newt, Beck, and now Moose-lady… I mean, given GOP hostility to actual governance, there is a certain fitness in this curious evacuation, but, then, it's probably best not to expect too much in the way of sense from that crowd, when all is said and done as they retreat to their survivalist cave complexes and walled burbclaves.

Eric is rather amused to note that one is finding a lot of strong Palin hate out there in blogland -- on the right. Apparently, Republicans and their assorted orbiting secessionists and End-Timers are either praising Palin to the skies or reading her for absolute filth this morning, and there is little in-between. Although the crybabies of the right are always eager to whimper about liebrul haters hating on La Palin, it would appear that most liberals are either perplexed or amused by her behavior, feeling little threatened by her surreal antics at this point, and are leaving the actual hate-bacchanal to Republicans themselves.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Arnoldbucks!

Latest from the Courage Campaign:



Breaking My Brain...

...the only conceivable way in which the term "breaking" seems relevant as it is incessantly applied on MSNBC still, day after day, hour after hour, minute after minute, fully a week later, to every painfully pointless vicissitude in the slow-motion unspooling of the non-story of Michael Jackson's death.

The Politics of Choice and the Mystifications of "Enhancement" Discourse

There is an incredible amount of misinformation and mystification and pernicious wish-fulfillment that takes place especially when talk turns to "screening away" unwanted kinds of people or "selecting for" especially wanted kinds of people.

I think all too much of this discourse is enormously hurtful and relentlessly stupid, deeply disrespectful and insensitive to the actually viable, wanted, differently flourishing lifeways of any number of peers with whom the would be "optimizers" and "enhancers" are actually already sharing this world but apparently would not much want and do not much expect to share their stainless-steel star-spangled "future."

Nevertheless, I think it is crucial to distinguish the politics through which one would address this sort of hatefulness and irrationality from the politics through which one affirms the right of competent sane adults to informed, nonduressed consensual prosthetic self-determination where healthcare choices, cultural investment, and so on are concerned.

I have often reiterated, for example, that every woman makes the right choice, that is to say, the choice she has every right to make in respect to how she wants to end or facilitate a pregnancy in her own body, as far as I'm concerned. That is a conventional, if fairly strong, pro-Choice commitment.

This does not mean, however, that I am unaware of or approve the irrational prejudices in respect to race, gender, atypicality, different-enablement, and so on that perniciously influence many of the choices that are actually made about which pregnancies are wanted ones, every one of which I nonetheless defend absolutely.

For example, I'm a gay man whose own mother would very likely have aborted me had she known I was going to be gay -- as much because she didn't know she would become a person who could love a gay child as easily as a straight one, as because she was didn't know that society would afford a gay child a reasonable chance at a flourishing life rather than a miserable one. As a pro-choice person I fully defend the right of any woman to end an unwanted pregnancy for whatever reason makes it unwanted to her, even a person in an exactly analogous position as my Mother's in respect to the prospectively gay me.

Pregnancies can be unwanted for reasons that are hateful, irrational, or deeply ignorant (as would have been the case with my Mother at the time, as she would now be the first to agree).

And so it seems to me that the commitment to Choice requires at once the absolute defense and support of every woman's actual choices as to medical treatment of biological processes taking place in her own body, obviously including pregnancy, but also that we shame the purveyors of hatred, expose and address expressions of irrationality, and educate the ignorant (including those smug champions of "enhancement" who denigrate actually-viable actually-wanted atypical, differently-enabled, differently-incarnated lifeways in the name of parochial conceptions of personal or public "optimality") so that choices are better informed than not and as little duressed as may be.

It's tricky sometimes to hold all these demands together and reasonably prioritize them (which is why "enhancement" discourse seeks to simplify these quandaries in the first place through their depoliticizing neutralization of parochial value-judgments treated as already settled when they are under contest in fact) -- but it does seem to me that this is what democratic commitments to consent, equity, and diversity require here.