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Saturday, May 22, 2010

Flaccid Futurology, or More White Guys of "The Future"!

Seven days have passed and so it is time for another White Guys of "The Future" Report. I made my weekly jaunt to the stealth-Robot Cult outfit IEET's website, and I can report this morning that of the fifteen portraits of today's featured authors and speakers there you will find none that is not a white guy. You may recall that in the nearly two months I've been doing these reports only two folks who are not white guys have ever been so featured on the IEET website (unless you count cartoon aliens and robots of indeterminate race and gender, which are also better represented at IEET, despite not even existing, than are non white guy humans).

I will repeat again, as I have done every single week I've offered up one of these White Guys of "The Future" Reports, that only a minority of people in the world are in fact white guys, and that only a minority of people with whom tomorrow will be made and shared are in fact white guys, and that only a minority of people in the world impacted by technodevelopmental changes are in fact white guys, and that only a minority of people in the world who are well informed and have important things to say about matters of technoscience are in fact white guys and hence that this endless ongoing parade of techno-transcendentalizing white guys fancying themselves spokesmen for "The Future" is actually an enormously perplexing thing.

Of course, the public proponents of this stealth-transhumanist outfit have far more problems on their hands than just this weirdly abiding issue of non-representativeness -- for some of these problems have a look here, for example. Nonetheless, I do think that their apparent inability to take seriously or be taken seriously, institutionally, for long by anybody but white guys is a symptom that graphically gives the lie to their pretensions to represent anything like a serious professional academic mainstream-intelligible bioethics or technoscience policy think-tank rather than the sanewashing operation for their Robot Cult that they look to me to be.

See you guys again one week from now, one week further into… The Future!

4 comments:

Martin said...

You point this out every week, but I think a bigger white guy problem needs to be addressed.

The technologies that will impact our lives over the next few decades will be created by scientists and engineers who are still mostly white guys. The kinds of technologies and technodevelopmental programs that will be considered worthy of pursuing will mostly be driven by the psychological and cultural peculiarities of white guys (which is why, for example, most of the humanoid robots in Japan seem to be young females). To me, the background of the people actually building the future is far more important than the background of activists and cheerleaders on the sidelines.

So, more women in science, then, right? I can't speak for all academic science departments, but I know that mine has actively been trying to hire more women. In biology / biomedical research it's not that hard, but in physics and chemistry there just aren't enough women applying. It seems that, if there is sexism that shapes career paths, it operates long before academic search committees have a say in the matter.

RadicalCoolDude said...

I agree with you but let's say the IEET made an honest effort to find authors that are not white guys and, from that point on, the majority of portraits of featured authors on the IEET website were black, latino, and asian men and women.

Would you applaud the IEET OR would you accuse them of cynically including members of various minority groups to create the false appearance that the transhumanist movement is more diverse than it actually is OR would you simply ignore this change and remain quiet?

Dale Carrico said...

You point this out every week, but I think a bigger white guy problem needs to be addressed.

Even if you are right, this doesn't get the Robot Cultists off the particular hook they are twisting on. Far from it.

The technologies that will impact our lives over the next few decades will be created by scientists and engineers who are still mostly white guys. The kinds of technologies and technodevelopmental programs that will be considered worthy of pursuing will mostly be driven by the psychological and cultural peculiarities of white guys

I don't think one can say either of these things with anything like the confidence you are saying them with! In saying this, however, my point is certainly not to deny the urgency of a feminist politics of science education for girls and support of women in research and an increased focus on the impacts on women and children of technodevelopmental change under conditions of patriarchy, and so on.

But I'll admit that I don't personally think my exposure of the weird white guyness of the Robot Cult is addressed by these actually mainstream feminist concerns. I think the whiteness and guyness of futurology bespeaks more than the latent sexism of our culture or science more specifically, and I think its exhibition among Robot Cultists is of a different scope and shape and insistence than is playing out in the technoscience practice and policy more genrally (though, no doubt, one can sketch continuities).

This is especially the case when we turn to technodevelopmental theory and policy deliberation -- the domains most relevant to the actual sorts of content (such as it is) that transhumanists are peddling and aspiring to be seen as contributors to. I personally find STS and EJ scholarship and activism to provide the most relevant and congenial discourse in these areas, and if you peruse the organizations and conferences and publications and course work associated with these formations you will discover that they are incomparably more diverse than the robot cultists are.

To me, the background of the people actually building the future is far more important than the background of activists and cheerleaders on the sidelines.

Well, we certainly agree on that score, as I hope you already know. Of course, technodevelopmental social struggle is actually articulated by regulation, funding, education in its substance. And so I would include scholars and policy-makers together with laboratory researchers and funders and so on among the ones who are today "building together" tomorrow!

There is, I agree, little use for "cheerleading" in the facilitation of equitable consensual outcomes for any of these tomorrow-building pursuits, though I understand scam artists have a lot to gain from their employment of such cheerleaders. As I like to put the point: Mainstream futurology is just corporate-military PR/advertising discourse, while superlative futurology amplifies the advertising hyperbole into the promise of personal transcendence and the PR fraud into outright organized religiosity.

So, more women in science, then, right?

Hell, yeah. But, again, I don't think one learns much from yoking together too tightly the ways in which science and secular democracy can benefit from the inclusion of more women among its guiding voices, and the more idiosyncratic difficulties of Robot Cultists who can't seem to find ways of peddling their white-boy circle-jerks as attractions to women who know better.

Dale Carrico said...

let's say the IEET made an honest effort to find authors that are not white guys and, from that point on, the majority of portraits of featured authors on the IEET website were black, latino, and asian men and women.

Would you applaud the IEET OR would you accuse them of cynically including members of various minority groups to create the false appearance that the transhumanist movement is more diverse than it actually is


They couldn't keep up the charade for any length of time unless the diversity was real, so I don't think that dilemma is one I would face. Also, I don't quite understand the salience of gaming out how I would respond to this imaginary eventuality as compared to exposing the palpable and very different reality at hand?

would you simply ignore this change and remain quiet?

Well, I certainly wouldn't keep quiet. I would keep on criticizing them for the many important reasons I do apart from this particular one. I scarcely confine my criticisms of Robot Cultists to this one point even in making it, after all.

Are you saying that there is something wrong with this? Are you proposing some sort of equivalent hypocrisy in the imagined fact that I wouldn't applaud advances in their representativeness even though I do see fit to draw attention to what I take to be their symptomatic non-representativeness, and the actual fact of their non-representativeness in the first place?

I must say, I don't get your point. I don't belong to the Robot Cult, I am an outspoken critic of the Robot Cult in fact, so surely I am entitled to leave the cranking up of the applause machine to its membership?

Now, if you are asking if I would keep criticizing superlative futurology if it overcame all my objections to it, now that is still an odd question, but at least it provides for an illuminating response at least:

If all the advocates and adherents and expressions of superlative futurology actually eschewed its deranging transcendentalizing narrativizations of technoscientific change, as well as its tendencies to technological reductionism, determinism, autonomism, and eugenicism, as well as its retro-futural rationales for incumbent interests through a confinement of the open-futural always only to the amplification of the terms of the status quo, and so on -- well, yes, I suppose I would stop criticizing "it."

By the way, in this radically transformed aspect I daresay "it" would no longer function as a strange attractor to authoritarian types, would-be gurus, True Believers, and cranks, and hence all the steam would go out of the Robot Cult archipelago and I wouldn't have that stuff to complain about any more either.

And, incidentally, I strongly suspect that more of the actually existing diversity of stakeholders to technoscientific change, peer to peer, would be interested in "it" -- whatever "it" would have ramified into, and hence there would little likely be any special need to write White Guys of the Future reports in the first place.

But all that is only just to say that superlative futurology would have outgrown its superlativity and technocentrism, would have ceased to materialize in sub(cult)ural identity-politics and faith-based initiatives and organized wish-fulfillment fantasies, would no longer be what it is but, well, something altogether else.

I would have won by my lights and would turn my attention to some other anti-democratizing discourses or practices or organizations that caught my eye and seemed usefully susceptible to interventions of the kind I'm good for.

But, of course, all this simply amounts to yet another delineation of the anti-futurological critique in the first place. Inasmuch as we have to assume an altogether imaginary vantage to make the critique in this form I can't say that I find it particularly promising when all is said and done as compared to other variations I have offered up.