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Sunday, April 25, 2010

Fundy Futurism As Infomercial Fraud

Here's the tale-end of a comment of mine adapted from the Moot I don't mind spotlighting for added emphasis:
I personally think futurology in general is better understood as a promotional and advertising discourse than as any kind of critical or analytic discourse, properly so-called. And as such, futurology is prey to all the hyperbolic pathologies and vulnerabilities to fraud well-known to plague promotional and advertising discourse in our debased epoch. Meanwhile, superlative futurological discourses in their turn take this promotional hyperbole and fraud to literally transcendentalizing lengths, superlative futurology being a clarifying extremity, a kind of reductio ad absurdum of conventional futurology. Needless to say, superlative futurology is hardly the first organized form of religiosity or wish-fulfillment fantasizing to misbehave in this fraudulently promotional manner, especially once its would-be priests start hankering after the authority of scientific descriptions or of moralizing politicians.


jimf said...

[*] There is more than a little irony here. Jason Mudge (a
very Ayn Randian sort of name for a contemptible baddie)
is a religious fanatic of the conventional Christian fundamentalist
kind (think _Left Behind_). the juxtaposition of that character
with what has turned out (in the real world) to be essentially
another kind of religious nuttery -- the cult of the Singularity --
was a bit of humor obviously not intended by the author.

In Vinge's "Marooned in Realtime" (the second half of _Across
Realtime_), the Singularity has already taken
place, and humans who land on the far side of it (by means of
the rather ad-hoc plot device of a time-travel technology (silvery,
spherical stasis fields called the "bobbles") whose only purpose
is to get characters whom the reader can identify with
on the other side of that Event -- the apparent extinction of the human
race, though with no sign of an apocalyptic conflict -- where
they can speculate on what happened.

"Jason Mudge. . . [was a] cheated chiliast and professional crank. . .

Once his spiel began, he was a nonstop talker. . . Earlier, he'd
stood. . . and harangued them for a quarter hour. His voice
had boomed across the picnic grounds. . . His message was
very simple, though repeated again and again with different
words: Present-day humans were Truants from the Second Coming
of the Lord. (That Second Coming was presumably the Extinction.)
He, Jason Mudge, was the prophet of the Third and Final Coming.
All must repent, take the robes of the Forgiven, and waiting the
Salvation that was soon to come.

At first, the harangue had been amusing. Someone shouted that with
all these Comings, Mudge must not only be a prophet, but the Lord's
Sexual Athlete as well. Such taunts only increased Jason's zeal;
he would talk till the Crack of Doom if there remained any
unrepentant. . .

Strictly speaking, Jason Mudge was a high-tech. He had left civilization
in 2200. The GreenInc database showed him as a (very) obscure
religious nut, who proclaimed that the Second Coming of Christ
would come at the end of the next century. Apparently ridicule
is a constant of history: Mudge couldn't take the pressure, and
bobbled through to 2299, thinking to come out during the final
throes of the world of sin. Alas, 2299 was after the Singularity;
Mudge arrived on an empty planet. As he would willingly -- and
at great length -- explain, he had erred in his biblical
computations. The Second Coming had in fact occurred in 2250.
Furthermore, his errors were fated, as punishment for arrogance
in trying to "skip ahead to the good part." But the Lord in
his infinite compassion had given Jason one more chance.
As the prophet who had missed the Second Coming, Jason Mudge
was the perfect shepherd for the lost flock that would be
saved at the Third."

> Needless to say, superlative futurology is hardly the first organized
> form of religiosity or wish-fulfillment fantasizing to misbehave in this
> fraudulently promotional manner. . .


jimf said...

> [S]uperlative futurological discourses. . . take. . . promotional
> hyperbole and fraud to literally transcendentalizing lengths. . .
> a kind of reductio ad absurdum of conventional futurology.

A shame, really, how a bit of literary cleverness turned cheap
and tawdry when it's transplanted from its native soil into
the realm of "Institutes" and "conferences" and PR and fund-raising
and tax-exempt "charitable" status.

In this case, however, the author himself must take a good deal
of the blame for inviting his mcguffin to be taken just a little
too seriously (shades of Ayn Rand?):

"The author's afterword: that's where he explains what he was
trying to say with the previous 100,000 words, right? Well,
I'll try to avoid that. Basically, I have an apology and a

The apology is for the unrealistically slow rate of technological
growth predicted. Part of that is reasonable, I suppose.
A general war, like the one I put in 1997, can be used to
postpone progress anywhere from ten years to forever. But
what about after the recovery? I show artificial intelligence
and intelligence amplification proceeding at what I suspect is
a snail's pace. Sorry, I needed civilization to last long
enough to hang a plot on it.

And of course it seems very unlikely that the Singularity would
be a clean vanishing of the human race. (On the other hand,
such a vanishing is the timelike analog of the silence we find all
across the sky.)

From now to 2000 (and then 2001), the Jason Mudges[*] will be
coming out of the woodwork, their predictions steadily more
clamorous. It's an ironic accident of the calendar that all
this religious interest in transcendental events should be mixed
with the objective evidence that we're falling into a technological
singularity. So, the prediction: if we don't have that general
war, then it's **you**, not Della and Wil, who will understand
the Singularity in the only possible way -- by living through

-- San Diego, 1985"

(Afterword to Vernor Vinge's _Across Realtime_)

Dale Carrico said...

Vinge's own elaboration of the Singularity as futurological pseudo-topic rather than sfnal conceit in his influential "Whole Earth Review" essay is the decisive moment here. The Eliezerologists and Kurweilians are rather lamely opportunistic hangers-on to the more profitably opportunistic hangers-on to the Vinge who penned this provocative little number in the first place and lodged it in a pedigree and proposed it as a program.