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

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Essential Continuity and Co-Dependency of Supernative and Superlative Futurisms, of Biocons and Robot Cultists

In the Moot, friend of blog Athena Andreadis has said that she is considering writing a book critiquing transhumanists, singularitarians, and techno-immortalists. Another long-time reader, "RadicalCoolDude" enthuses that Athena could become the "go-to Robot Cultism skeptic," and I couldn't agree more. Athena's is a credible, critical, accessible, poetic voice of sense that could do a world of good against the deranging hyperbole, junk-science, and anti-democratizing authoritarianism of the media-friendly, incumbent-friendly frames and formulations of superlative futurology. "RCD" goes on to "suggest [Athena] weave a critique of bioconservatism/bioluddi[sm] into your critique of transhumanism to neutralize the predictable accusation that you are a bioconservative/bioluddite."

Now, as someone who has been accused of being a transhumanist-libertechian-technophile by various bioconservatives and a bioconservative-luddite-deathist by various Robot Cultists I am here to tell you that there is little one can do to evade such charges.

Indeed, I have argued elsewhere that as a matter of plain pragmatic politics biocon/Primitivist orgs and transhumanist/Robot Cult orgs actually share an interest in seeing to it that technodevelopmental issues are framed in hyperbolic terms, and that their own antagonism be seen to delineate the whole technodevelopmental terrain, when of course almost all actually reasonable scientific practice and policy deliberation is happening in the mile-wide richness between the inch-thin futurological crusts at their extremes.

It isn't hard to see how there is not just a constitutive antagonism between technophobia and technophilia, but a deeper continuity between the two as precisely complementary un(der)critical vantages, both crucially conducing -- in their hyperbole, emotionalism, distraction, and undermining of consensus science and democratic deliberation -- to incumbent interests in my view.

I have of course written extensively about how the homo naturalis with whom bioconservatives identify over biomedical equity-diversity-consent and the homo superior with whom transhumanists identify over the flourishing lifeway diversity of their worldly peers yield precisely complementary eugenicist and authoritarian politics in my view.

The extensive case I have made against superlative varieties of futurological discourse as faith-based initiatives, wish-fulfillment fantasies, and delusive techno-transcendentalizing promises made in defiance of sense gives rise to an equally extensive and again precisely complementary case against what I would call supernativity (note the "n") that does much the same.

While some have found perplexing (and I hope usefully provocative) my insistence that every futurism is in fact a retro-futurism in which parochial values and incumbent interests are reassured they will be not so much threatened as amplified in the world to come, it is perhaps comparably perplexing to grasp that every bioconservative exercise in defensive nostalgia for natural and pastoral lifeways that never in fact existed or prevailed in the world is in fact a retro-futurism out actively to make and police the world into conformity with a parochial ideal image.

Neither extremity has ever been able to cope very well with what are the most salient facets of technodevelopment as politics, namely, [one] that there is no such thing as "technology in general" with which one can "ally" or "fight to the death" in the abstract, apart from the myriad technoscientific practices of invention, research, publication, regulation, funding, education, application playing out in all their differences among all their diverse stakeholders from moment to moment, [two] that the political and normative force of technodevelopmental vicissitudes depend on the distribution of their costs, risks, and benefits to their actual stakeholders and hence depend on the democratizing, diversifying, consensualizing, equitizing struggles and values that articulate these distributions and not so much on the "technological" per se as abstracted away from these actually-conventional left-right political struggles, [three] that all culture is prosthetic and all prostheses, all techniques, all devices are matters of cultural diversity in their political substance, and that there will be no progressive politics of "technology" that is not already committed to lifeway diversity and consensual convivial multiculture first of all.

(Those who wonder why I jettisoned the term "techno-progressive" from my own rhetoric when I was for so long so conspicuously associated with it, should understand that this was not only because Robot Cultists appropriated the term and use it to this day stealthily and dishonestly to promote their own harmful and extreme agendas -- though of course that is one reason -- but also simply because I came to view the term as unnecessary, unhelpful, and even a bit obfuscatory, since one need most crucially and simply to be progressive to be techno-progressive, after all. I suspect that the reason the techno-progressive term was vulnerable to opportunistic misappropriation by the Robot Cultists was precisely because it was premised on the false assumption that such a term was needed or even helpful in the first place, since such confusions provide fertile ground for futurological frames.)

I do think it is an interesting paradox that the superlative techno-utopians who like to crow so much about their superior scientificity seem so often ultimately both to disdain materiality in their immaterializing fetishization of the digital (not to mention, usually, neoliberal financialization and logo-ization as well) and also to propose what is an essentially transcendentalizing worldview focused on an otherworldly tech-heaven called "The Future," while the supernative biocons whose discourse is typically suffused with gestures to spirituality and a world "made by hand" so often ultimately fetishize little more than the material and familiar furniture of the world of their comfort-zones and that small sliver of human morphologies and lifeways with which they happen parochially to identify at the moment and which they would police into continence through the heavy hand of the state even in defiance of informed, nonduressed consent.

It is a profound error, however, to mistake such paradoxes and such superficial skirmishing antagonisms between superlative and supernative futurological discourses and subcultures as more substantive than are their underlying continuities, their structural similarities, and their complementary facilitation of incumbent, authoritarian, eugenicist, non-worldly, anti-democratizing technodevelopmental politics in my view.

10 comments:

RadicalCoolDude said...

Carrico: "RadicalCoolDude" enthuses that Athena could become the "go-to Robot Cultism skeptic," and I couldn't agree more. Athena's is a credible, critical, accessible, poetic voice of sense that could do a world of good against the deranging hyperbole, junk-science, and anti-democratizing authoritarianism of the media-friendly, incumbent-friendly frames and formulations of superlative futurology.

Well said. :)

Carrico: Now, as someone who has been accused of being a transhumanist-libertechian-technophile by various bioconservatives and a bioconservative-luddite-deathist by various Robot Cultists I am here to tell you that there is little one can do to evade such charges.

Having followed your debates with transhumanists and bioconservatives for a while now, I am fully aware that nothing you say will prevent the fanatics among them to lie to themselves and to others in order to ignore the truth of your critique.

However, I still think Athena's critique will have more resonance with people interested in transhumanism but who haven't drunk the kool-aid yet if she makes it a habit of criticizing transhumanism and bioconservatism at the same time...

Dale Carrico said...

Athena's critique will have more resonance with people interested in transhumanism but who haven't drunk the kool-aid yet

I certainly hope so.

Athena Andreadis said...

Thank you for the terrific words and the encouragement, guys -- just don't hatch(et) your counts before they chicken!

More seriously, I think transhumorism needs to be seen in the larger context that Dale discusses: namely, the tendency to try "passing" sciency terms and concepts as real science, thereby depriving both science and science fiction of pith and gusto.

Dale Carrico said...

“People who count their chickens before they are hatched act very wisely, because chickens run about so absurdly that it is impossible to count them accurately” -- Oscar Wilde

George said...

It is probably too late to take back the word "luddite". But I would like to register my opposition to the use of the term as a pejorative for anti-technologist.

The original Luddites from 200 years ago used a form of technology called a handloom. They were skilled artisans with textiles, another form of technology. It is not clear to me if people who use the term "luddite" as an epithet really understand this.

It is also unclear if this cartoon "luddism" is supposed to mean opposition to molecular technologies, or industrial technologies, or agrarian technologies, or neolithic technologies. I guess these kinds of scare-words don't require precise definition, since they are not about facts but about in-group and out-group delineations.

Dale Carrico said...

Hi, George. I regularly point out here that the historical luddites were protesting the anti-social deployment of a particular technology rather than protesting "technology in general."

Had the luddites been trained in the use of the new technologies (or other useful comparably remunerative employment) or, even better, also had been provided an equity stake in their use, no doubt the heartbreaking struggle of anti-social industrialization to which they have given their name could have taken on a very different aspect, and to the benefit of all.

Quite apart from the fact that there is no available sense in which one can coherently protest "technology in general" and so it doesn't make much sense to attribute such a sentiment to the luddites as a conceptual matter, there are also the simple facts to consider that, one, the luddites used appropriate technologies themselves in creative ways, and two, the luddites diagnosed the catastrophic injustice of their personal prospects with uncanny accuracy (which one would think would have some bearing on the use of their movement's moniker as a term of ridicule).

As you say, though, I think the career of the term in polemical discourse has gone too far to "take it back." The good news is that while the pejorative freighting of the term is likely inextricable, it still provides occasions like our own exchange for teachable moments about the history and possibilities of democratizing technodevelopmental social struggle.

Mitchell said...

I would love to have seen the session on "Geek Cosmologies" here.

Dale Carrico said...

Me too. Many of the other panels sound even more alluring, what a great conference.

Michael Anissimov said...

George, the reasons you cite are exactly why I stopped using the term "Luddite" myself. The last time I used it appears to have been in 2007.

Dale Carrico said...

We should all try to think of a nice acronym for Michael's Robot Cult Luddite Outreach Initiative.