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

Thursday, July 29, 2010


After extended office hours and lectures are done today I enter at last the final lap of what has been an unusually exhausting slog through my summer intensives teaching -- one week of instruction remains for my critical theory survey at SFAI and two weeks remain for my rhetoric of interpretation course at Berkeley. Prompts for the final essay are assigned today and the end is near. The prompts give you a nice flavor of what my preoccupations have been these last weeks during which my blogging has been rather more incidental than it usually is...

Prompt One:

To be recognized as human is to be accorded a special status, an “authentic” ethical standing, while to be dismissed as nonhuman, as subhuman, as infrahuman through racializing, sexualizing, pathologizing, infantilizing, primitivizing, or bestializing discourses is to be cast outside of culture and history, and so rendered precarious, abject. Discuss what you take to be the role of this proposition in any of the pieces we engaged with in class, especially by Adams, Althusser, Arendt, Burroughs, Butler, Carpenter ("They Live"), Fanon, Foucault, Gilroy, Haraway, Latour, Lewis, or Solanas.

Prompt Two:

The conviction that technoscientific development might achieve a level through which universal human emancipation might finally be accomplished keeps re-appearing in a number of the texts we have read over the course of the term -- from Wilde, to Marx, to Solanas (and you may well think others). The conviction that technoscientific development has arrived already at such a level but that its emancipatory promise has been diverted to the service of unjust ends re-appears in a number of others -- from Adorno, to Benjamin, to Debord, to Klein (and you may well think others). In still others -- in Barthes, again, in Adorno, in Arendt, in Fanon, in Latour, in Lewis (and you may well think others) -- we discern the concern that framing human emancipation in the instrumental terms of technoscientific development in the first place fatally deranges our grasp of and hopes for such emancipation. Through a comparison of two pieces from the course that seem to offer up conflicting views on the question, or through a reading of a single text that seems to you to exhibit ambivalence on this question, make a case that the text(s) provide an essentially progressive or an essentially reactionary view of technoscience (or instrumentality) in relation to emancipatory politics.


jimf said...

> To be recognized as human is to be accorded a special status,
> an “authentic” ethical standing, while to be dismissed as nonhuman,
> as subhuman, as infrahuman. . . is to be cast outside of
> culture and history, and so rendered precarious, abject. . .

Of course, one of the ways that cultic (or religious) organizations
keep control of their members is precisely to keep them in a
"precariously human" state -- we'll assume you're human (or
"saved", or "in-ethics" or "self-willed" or "rational") for
the time being, but God help you (or the Devil take you)
if we catch you out.

All the gurus and many churches play this game -- Ayn, L. Ron,
the Mormons. Sometimes the non-human status accorded to rejected
people can be humorously literal. I'm thinking of a guru who ditched
her first husband because she "found out" that he was really a lizard
alien in disguise (fer real!).

(Yes, yes, the above are relatively penny-ante examples. The
Nazis proclaimed that Jews and "non-Aryans" were sub-human.
Many Americans 150 years ago thought slaves were sub-human.
Throughout human history, foreigners have been considered to be

Paul: You dare suggest a duke's son is an animal?
Helen Mohiam: Let us say, I suggest you may be human.

Number Six: Are you alive?
Military Liason: Yes.
Number Six: Prove it.

Mitchell said...

How do you define "universal human emancipation" - no-one has to work for a living? No-one has to follow orders? Something less than that?

Dale Carrico said...

How do you define "universal human emancipation"

Me, personally? I don't know that I have a definition of universal emancipation, and in any case it wouldn't be relevant if I had -- the question is about that idea as it plays out in the specific texts under discussion in the class. The different things the authors might differently mean by "emancipation" -- even minute differences -- could easily loom large in a student's analysis.

To return to my personal beliefs -- and I haven't actually testified to these in the class -- I believe in a politics of ongoing democratization, which is a matter of trying to enable ever more people ever more of a say in the public decisions that affect them, and ever more and ever easier nonviolent alternatives for the adjudication of disputes, a process that I think is almost certainly experimental and interminable.

I also champion -- like every good radical democrat should -- the equity-in-diversity of consensualization, the implementation and celebration of the scene of actually informed and non-duressed consent, and so of cultural/prosthetic self-determination, peer-to-peer.

(This latter commmitment to substantial consent -- rather than, say, the superficial consent of duressed contract in the current context of corporate-military-consumer capitalism -- entails in my view ongoing struggles for access-to-social-security and access-to-knowledge eventuating in universal basic income, basic healthcare, guaranteed housing, lifelong education, therapy, and training, and reliable information -- which might amount in your view to "no-one has to work for a living? No-one has to follow orders?" or to "Something less than that" after all, I cannot be sure.)