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

Friday, February 26, 2010


An actually-"serious" self-identified "transhumanist" "bioethicist" (sorry for all the scare-quotes, but it would be far too scary, even scarring, to think any reader might imagine I take seriously Robot Cultists who declare themselves to be policy wonks because they confuse science fiction with science, except in the sense of "serious as a heart attack") e-mailed me with the following question:

"Should we clone Neanderthals?"

As often happens when one attempts conversation with futurologists, especially of the superlative Robot Cultist variety, one finds oneself torn as to how properly to respond.

The two answers to the transhumanist bioethicist question "Should we clone Neanderthals?" which immediately occurred to me were:

One: "I don't know, should Eric and I spend our vacation this year in the orbiting space hotel?"


Two: "Obviously they already have cloned Neanderthals, otherwise who would be funding so-called bioethicists in transhumanist think-tanks?"

I can't decide which response is better. Perhaps I should let readers decide.

Extra points if anybody can tell me to whom the pronoun "we" presumably refers in the transhumanist question.


John Howard said...

Dale, "we" refers to society, to humankind, as in "we" use 10 Billion barrels of oil a day, etc. If that was just one of burning 10 Billion barrels a day all by himself, it would still be "we" who use it, as we let him use it. Same with letting one scientist clone Neanderthals, it would be all of us who let it happen, but especially those of us who participate in the debate about whether to let a lab do it. It's similar to how my dick goes to the grocery store when my feet go to the grocery store.

So the question (obviously) is, should a scientist be encouraged or discouraged from going about with the intention of cloning a Neanderthal? The corresponding question would be "should we encourage or discourage someone from building an orbiting space hotel?" At this point, that is all the question is, and maybe that will be the end of it. But if someone actually starts off on the process of cloning a Neanderthal (which would begin I suppose with a search for usable Neanderthal DNA) or building a space hotel (which would begin with press conferences and hiring rocket scientists) then the question becomes "should we allow that person to do that?" And the "we" in that case still refers to humanity but in particular directs the government to prohibit it and directs the police force to physically prevent it.

Dale Carrico said...

Even if some "we" proposed to "let" some scientist clone some Neanderthal this outcome would no more eventuate from that "letting" than would the encouragement of some other "we" put a space hotel in orbit. We do not live a world of cloned Neanderthals or Space Hotels, we live in a world of human and weapons trafficking, of resource descent, and of rising Greenhouse storms.

Futurologists -- whether the suave neoliberal/neoconservative corporate-militarist apologists of DARPA and The Rand Corporation and GBN and IFTF, or the batshit-crazy Robot Cultists of the Extro-IEET-SIAI-Kurzweil-h+-Lifeboat-cryonics-SENS-Drextech transhumanist archipelago -- are all of them indulging in a host of proxy/distraction discourses disavowing the stakes of current problems and policies together with hysterical hyperbolic advertising-Public Relations discourses all in the service of incumbent interests and in the name of "foresight" better named fraud.

Their speculative fictions and scenarios and games are "speculative" less in the sense of critical thought than in the sense of financial speculation, and their futures are far closer to the ones that get traded on stock exchanges as risk-bundled pseudo-commodities than the actual political futurity that is the mark of the openness in every present arising out of the ineradicable diversity of its stakeholders, peer-to-peer.

So I disagree with you (and especially with your "obviously," which I think amounts to a kind of victory for the futurologists even when you disagree with them on specifics, since it concedes them a relevance their immateriality has never earned) that the question is which stand should be taken up, negative or positive or qualified, in respect to various deranged and deranging futurological claims or aspirations or frames. I think these claims and aspirations and frames are very much more to be exposed, condemned, and ridiculed than affirmed or denied, strictly speaking.

I also must definitely disapprove of moves in which some "we" -- every we is substantiated in its exclusion of a salient "they," after all -- claims to speak in the name of "humanity." Wherever freedom prevails, wherever equity-in-diversity prevails, wherever consent prevails, and to the extent that it does, it is plurality and not some monolithicized "humanity" that speaks, peer-to-peer.

Nevertheless, it is nice to read a comment from you in which you do not rant and rave as you usually do about how all the queers are going to use some not-existing science to have sooper-babies and enslave all the poor straight people and must at all costs be stopped. That makes a very pleasant change.

John Howard said...

OK, so you and I agree then, we should expose, condemn, and ridiculed such claims and aspirations like space hotels and cloning Neanderthals (though let's not expose, condemn, or ridicule establishing universal health insurance, or sustainable energy, even though it's anyone's guess which are more unlikely). If you are saying that we should ridicule merely because something is extremely unlikely, and not make a judgment on the wisdom of the idea itself, then you are falling into their game of talking about how feasible it is. And when there are more important things to worry about, it's important to get us (as many of 'us' as possible) working on the right things and not on the wrong things, not based on what's feasible, but on what is good.

And I think there can be a "we" without there being a "they", in fact, that's the whole point of using it in a general sense like this, to say "we are all in this together, what one of us does, all of us do".

It's sometimes legitimate to ask "who is this 'they' you are referring to", if the point is that there is no organized group perpetrating the conspiracy being alluded to by someone who is a little too paranoid and a little too willing to be a passive victim, but sometimes when people say 'they' they simply mean 'the people who do what we are talking about', like in this instance here, for example. In those cases, the 'we' refers to 'not they', but not in all cases.

Dale Carrico said...

What is infeasible is never "good" in any sense that makes any sense to me, so I fail to see your point.

There are many socially democratic countries with something like single-payer healthcare and there are any number of actually existing LEEDS-certified and/or off-grid residences and buildings that might reasonably be described as sustainable by my lights. There are no space hotels or cloned Neanderthals, nor will there be either of these before something much more like single-payer healthcare in the US and an order of magnitude more residences and buildings in the US deserve to be described as sustainable will come into existence. Yes, we can ridicule the one and not the other.

There is little point in pretending to have an "opinion," properly so-called, about non-existing nor even actually practically hypothecized space hotels or cloned Neanderthals in my view, because none of the details on the basis of which informed and relevant opinions are proffered have any substantial existence in respect to these.

At this point, all such discussions, "pro" and "con," are essentially indulgences in wish-fulfillment fantasy and dread-dullard paranoia, and of little practical use to anybody.

Well, I guess I should take that backa bit, since I suppose such crap-talk does seem to provide media attention and even fair to middling bucks to certain unscrupulous dunderheads who are willing and eager to unload a line of hype in this mode to fleece the rubes (among the lower reaches of the Robot Cult archipelago of transhumanists and techno-immortalists and digital-utopians) and suck a little elite corporate-militarist cock (among the higher ranks where the more mainstream neoliberal/neoconservative futurologists and unthinking think-tankers make their various plays).

But nobody with any real dignity or sense wants to be those guys.