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

Sunday, February 28, 2010

More Serious Futurology from Transhumanist Martine Rothblatt

I have already had occasion to discuss the, er, work of Very Serious Transhumanist Futurologist Martine Rothblatt at the stealth Robot Cult outfit IEET (with which I was myself briefly unfortunately associated). But I now find myself drawn irresistibly back as Rothblatt asks the question on every sane person's lips today, namely Would Mindclones Be Part of the Human Family? Or, as one Luna Lovegood more forcefully put the point, should Nargles be considered part of the Wrackspurt Continuum?

Among many other moments of wonder, we are told in this essay that:
By virtue of digital technology it is possible to self-replicate one’s mind wholly apart from the DNA-driven partial replication of one’s body (aside from cloning, babies are a blend of two people’s largely similar but subtly unique genes). For example, the entirety of one’s digital life –- all of our photos, emails, web searches, music, videos, chats, texts, documents, links and downloads -– could be archived in cyberspace and animated with a sophisticated chatbot. It will not be difficult for advanced artificial intelligence (AI) programs to ferret out and replicate the unique personality that is woven through our digital reflections. Now, provide that chatbot, running our personality program, with self-replication capability and our inherent Natural Selection bred drive to self-replicate could be satisfied just for our minds.

I don't think that word "possible" means quite what some people seem to think it does…

It actually matters that there is no actually existing "digital technology" that I ever heard of by means of which one can "self-replicate one's mind."

Nor is there any actually-existing cloning, "aside from" which one properly compares human sexual reproduction at this particular time.

No one has a "digital life" in the first place "the entirely of which" is archivable in cyberspace (also, not a real space, I suppose I am forced to add, given present company), thereupon to be "animated" by a "chatbot," however "sophisticated." This matters.

Second Life is not life. Your avatar is not you. Neither are you a picture of you. This stuff really matters, you know.

I guess I could concede that should hypothetical instantiations of non-existing not even particularly conceptually coherent current notions of "artificial intelligence" eventually come into existence it may indeed be possible that that particular non-existing not presently-possible non-thing may also cause other presently non-existing not presently possible non-things to be marginally more existing or possible as well. Who on earth can say? What on earth is any of this supposed to mean?

It matters. And of course, that's the point. That's what makes a futurologist "serious" in the first place, I suppose.

For myself, I prefer making contact with such fancies by way of science fiction writers who have been playing around with these notions already for generations, and in ways that can reasonably be expected to be accompanied by interesting plots, arresting characterizations, compelling settings, and rarely require that I confuse fiction with fact or skylarking with policy analysis.

More Space Hotel!

Upgraded from the Moot:
OK, so you and I agree then, we should expose, condemn, and ridiculed [sic] 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.

What is infeasible is never "good" in any sense that makes any sense to me, so I fail to see your point. And I am forever exposing the wrongheaded deeper assumptions and aspirations that underlie the arrant foolishness at the surface of futurological discourses, so I fail to see your complaint.

Be that as it may, there are many socially democratic countries with something like single-payer healthcare and there are any number of actually existing LEEDS-certified and/or perfectly functional 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 few to none of the actual details on the basis of which informed and relevant opinions would be proffered have any substantial existence in respect to these at this time.

At this point, all such discussions, "pro" and "con" -- whatever that is even supposed to mean in respect to space hotels or cloned Neanderthals -- seem to me to function essentially as indulgences in wish-fulfillment fantasy and dread-dullard paranoia, and are of little practical use to anybody while they are clearly distractions from matters of actual concern in the actual world, while at once being prejudicial without cause and hence obfuscatory to any eventual developments that come to be connected to them should they actually come to be matters of actual concern in the actual world.

Well, come to think of it, I guess I should take that back a 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).

And so, I guess that sort of thing is of something like "practical use" to a limited few people, but, after all, nobody with any real dignity or sense wants to be those guys.

Animal "Uplift"

In an essay entitled Moral Universalism Vs. Relativism transhumanist James Hughes refers to a discussion in which we had both been involved a few years ago:
The transhumanist debate over animal “uplift” -- a term coined and given narrative flesh by new IEET fellow David Brin -- has indirectly addressed this conundrum. (The discussion was carried out for instance on the technoliberation list in 2006.) In Citizen Cyborg, I argued that great apes had cognitive and emotional capacities sufficiently close to human that they should enjoy basic human rights, the position argued by the Great Ape Project. But apes are cognitively and therefore morally like human children in that they cannot meaningfully be asked for or provide consent to decisions that affect them. As with children, I argue, we have an obligation to provide apes the means to reach cognitive maturity, through pharmacological, genetic, and nanotechnological cognitive enhancement, so that they can exercise full self-determination.

In response, critics such as Dale Carrico asserted that the project was a form of eugenics and cultural imperialism, forcing a human model of the Good on other species. Whether humans have a right to insist on universal respect for human rights or not, he claimed moral universalism does not extend across species boundaries. Great apes should not be forced to adopt human cognition. George Dvorsky and I, following Peter Singer, argued that species is morally irrelevant.

Permit me a few quick comments.

One:

I enjoyed David Brin's Uplift novels when I read them, but I think he and we should be very leery of the way his punchy little sf conceit has been taken up by a handful of futurologists here and turned into a "term" around which a "debate" now presumably turns.

Let's be very clear about this. There is no "policy debate" on nonhuman animal "Uplift," and the coinage of a term for such a non-existing procedure prior to its arrival constitutes nothing in the way of nudging the procedure into existence or usefully delineating the terms in which the procedure would no doubt be an occasion for real debate should something like it ever actually arrive on the scene or look the least bit actually likely to do so.

Like comparable futurological "coinages" confused with "accomplishments" -- coinages like "nanotechnology" and "cosmeceuticals," which futurologists seem to treat like rabbit-holes to Wonderland -- one can expect that if the term "uplift" does not die on the vine altogether it will achieve its principal life in an advertising campaign sexing up some candy-colored destined-for-landfill handheld electronic device or describing some non-innovative but nonetheless "revolutionary" property of a polyester blend trouser or dishwashing liquid.

Futurological discourses, as with the oft closely connected pseudo disciplines of hyphenated ethics (neuro-ethics, nano-ethics, robo-ethics, and so on), are now and always have been primarily marketing and PR discourses, barking salesmen hyping crap products while fancying themselves philosophers or policy-wonks.

Two:

I would imagine that David Brin is far too knowledgeable about the history of science fiction to labor under the misconception that his are the only or the earliest works in which nonhuman animals are tinkered with so as to converse in a more or less human animal fashion in company with human protagonists in a speculative tale.

It is quite wrong to imply, then, as Hughes seems to me to do, that Brin is the only one who has "given flesh" to this recurring science fictional conceit. And, more to the point, it is really quite flabbergastingly weird, though perfectly typical for futurologists, that the phrase a transhumanist like Hughes would use to make this attribution is "given flesh" in the first place -- inasmuch as nonhuman animal "uplift" has no actually existing fleshly incarnation at all on earth.

As usual, would-be wonder-boy futurologists have lost track of the distinction between science fiction and science, and proceed from this confusion to fancy themselves serious intellectuals in a serious policy-making "think-tank" delineating logical entailments and gaming out various scenarios premised on treatment of the non-real-as-if-it-were-real and as if this pet-nonreality is of urgent moment to our contemplation of the real, in the manner of an hypothesis, a prediction, an allegory, a thought-experiment, or some confused jumble of these.

Such discussions can also take the form of a fanboy-fangrrl circle-jerk, but I didn't include that in the preceding list of confusions simply because I approve of that sort of thing. And, indeed, so long as one doesn't confuse the pleasures of fandom subcultures and sf literary salons with the efforts of critical thought or policy deliberation -- as the Robot Cultists all inevitably and incessantly do -- you can count me among the enthusiasts of such circle jerks, big ol' queergeek that I am. Of course, nobody has to join a Robot Cult or indulge in the fantasy that geekdom is a modality of wonkdom to enjoy the pleasures of sf blueskying of fanwanking.

Three:

Hughes writes that I have "asserted that the project was a form of eugenics and cultural imperialism." The first thing I would want to be very clear about is that there is no such project in existence and so I don't think it IS anything at all, strictly speaking. The only actually-existing Project to which Hughes' essay refers here is The Great Ape Project, and I happen to so approve of the Great Ape Project that readers of Amor Mundi will find a link to it in my blogroll, indeed will find that it is something to which I have drawn the attention of my students in many courses that touch on questions of nonhuman animal rights or environmental justice. That should come as no surprise to anybody who knows that I have been an ethical vegetarian for nearly twenty years, have written and taught extensively on animal rights questions, and so on. I wouldn't want anybody mistakenly to think I disdain the actually-existing and actually-important work of the Great Ape Project as a "form of eugenics and cultural imperialism" just because a confused transhumanist fancies talking about an idea in a science fiction novel somehow constitutes involvement in a "project" of some kind.

Apart from the foregoing, however, I will cheerfully concede that I do indeed assert that were it to become technically feasible to do so -- as, mind you, it is not now, nor even remotely relevantly so to any actually earthly concern whatsoever -- nonetheless "apes should not be forced to adopt human cognition," very much as Hughes reports. Hughes says that I consider this a matter of "forcing a human model of the Good on other species." Since in the very same paragraph Hughes declares "species is morally irrelevant" to the question of "universal respect for… rights… [and] moral universalism" and seems to oppose my assertion that "apes should not be forced to adopt human cognition" (should such a thing be possible, as it palpably is not), well, I really must say that it seems to me that Hughes is pretty much admitting that he does indeed straightforwardly advocate "forcing a human model of the Good on other species." I don't see how this could be a controversial attribution on my part to Hughes, it seems quite literally to be his claim.

Four:

I personally think it is immoral to recognize the suffering of nonhuman animals as suffering that does not matter simply by virtue of making a foundational distinction between human and nonhuman animals. Among the effects of this foundational distinction in my view is that the figure of a being that is apprehended as the being whose suffering is real but whose suffering does not matter subsequently attaches to categories of humans as well via what I describe as "bestializing discourses" in ways that facilitate their mistreatment and exploitation.

But I do think it is quite as wrongheaded to fancy that in eliminating this false foundational distinction between human and nonhuman animals one should therefore treat all the endlessly many differences that make a difference among the varieties of animals, human or nonhuman, fish, fowl, mammal, insect, virus, clam as matters of indifference, morally or otherwise.

My own vegetarianism is ethical, but the moral standing I respect in the cow I would not consume for a questionable "taste" in meat does not confuse me as to the need to extend to that cow a right to the ballot box. I would not eat a horse because I respect it too much, but I hardly would seek to send a mountain lion to trial for murder because she does not share my morals on that question.

I do indeed think that a profoundly and perniciously eugenic outlook drives the curious thought experiments of the transhumanists who would seek to impose anthropocentric cognitive homogeneity on all conscious beings in the name of "universal rights." Quite apart from the foolishness of treating all of these fanciful conceits as matters of urgent policy in the first place, it seems to me quite obscene to assume as a position of ethical concern for nonhuman animals that nonhuman animals in their differences from human ones are inferior, suffering, exploited, unrespectable beings. That is to say, it is precisely in refusing to respect nonhuman animals in their differences that Hughes seems to want to claim his is the higher form of respect for them. And I find such a proposition -- if indeed I am characterizing him aright -- perverse in the extreme.

Hughes would seem to respect difference so much that he thinks almost any difference can and should be crowbarred into conformity with the human optimality he happens to incarnate himself. How very respectful! What a stunning moral vision!

Five:

Notice that in taking up Brin's fictional term "uplift" simply to describe any prosthetic/technical intervention -- however hypothetical or utterly fanciful -- through which a nonhuman mode of cognition might be policed into conformity with a legibly human mode, Hughes and like-minded transhumanists explicitly refuse any of a number of more neutral characterizations of such an imagined change and affirm thereby that any change that is a change in the direction of what they construe as a human norm is a change "upward," a change for the better.

I do not happen myself to assume in advance that any such imaginable change would inevitably be a change for the worst, forcibly imposed, by the way, and so I would not advocate any kind of pre-emptive prohibition of any such interventions should something like them eventually come to be possible, who knows when who knows how who knows what. The devil, as well as the angels, would no doubt be in the details, as is usually the case.

And it is of course all these crucial details -- all the situational costs, risks, benefits, stakeholders, technical specifications -- that are unavailable to us here and now. This is one of the reasons why I believe all such futurological handwaving is almost inevitably perniciously obfuscatory, even when technodevelopmental vicissitudes happen to churn up some gizmo that might seem to have been anticipated in some highly generic way by futurologists. Devices and techniques, when they do appear on the scene, yield their impacts and significances in the actual situations in which they appear. Futurological anticipation merely freights such arrivals with the hyperbolic hopes and fears of an earlier moment long past, deranging sense in the name of foresight and usually in the service of incumbency or, worse, a quick buck.

Six:

But the point I want to emphasize here, by way of conclusion, is that Hughes' "transhumanist" preference for the term "Uplift" to designate what he imagines, and pines for, as an eventual technical imposition of anthro-conformist cognition on the actually-existing cognitive variety of incarnated consciousness among earthly species looks to me to reveal a eugenicist outlook as plain and palpable as one could ask for.

It is interesting to note that Hughes has also expressed (and he is far from alone among transhumanists in so doing) his highly confident assessment that certain neuro-atypical states designated as "autistic" are sub-optimal. He has said that prescribing ritalin to kids amounts to "cognitive enhancement" (in case you are wondering, I agree that some parents are right to want their kids to be prescribed ritalin, but that other parents are just as right to resist such prescriptions even against the strong advice of authorities). He has also said that a non-hearing parent's desire for a non-hearing child amounts to a kind of child abuse. All this strongly suggests to me that it is not just into human conformity but into conformity with an even more crabbed and confined conception of the "properly human" on his own highly parochial terms that Hughes might want to "emancipate" earthly incarnated cognitive diversity from its manifold "sub-optimalities."

This terminological exposure of a eugenicist outlook seems to me only a little more obvious in the term "Uplift" than the same exposure of scarcely stealthed eugenicism connected to the general tendency among far more transhumanist-identified futurologists to use the word "enhancement" to describe any number of genetic, cognitive, and prosthetic interventions they happen to expect eventually to arrive on the scene. Usually, of course, the Robot Cultists hype this eventuality into "soon" to tap into the various Rapture-Ready techno-transcendence narratives on which their membership organizations depend to keep asses in the pews and dollars in the collection plate.

As I have repeatedly argued in the past on this question (for example here and here and, more generally, in many of the pieces anthologized here), an intervention that yields a different morphology or capacitation is always only an "enhancement" in respect to certain specific desires among others on offer, only in respect to certain specific ends among others on offer. Almost inevitably a relative capacitation in respect to certain wants or ends will constitute at one and the same time a relative incapacitation in respect to others.

There are endlessly many ways of being in the world, endlessly many viable, worthy, wanted lifeways and possible incarnations and paths of private perfection available to experience and imagination. To associate a particular constellation of capacities, morphologies, ends, lifeways as optimal ideals or given norms toward the attainment of which any intervention is to be regarded uncritically or neutrally as a generalized "enhancement" is to assign universal values where what is valued or not by whom for what under what circumstances is in fact radically and interminably and properly under contest. This endlessly reiterated disavowal or denigration of morphological and lifeway diversity and contestation among too many transhumanists and technocratic futurologists more generally is also the expression of an essentially eugenic outlook in my view, and should be condemned as such.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Huzz-Huzz-Huzz Huzzah!

Just read over at io9:
A major injustice is about to be redressed.The ground-breaking cyberpunk TV series Max Headroom is finally coming out on DVD -- and the extras may include the original 20-minute British short film 20 Minutes Into The Future.

Looks like it's arriving in August, just in time for somebody's forty-fifth birthday…

More Futurological Snark

Yesterday I recounted with amusement my reaction to a "transhumanist-bioethicist" who wanted to know if I thought "we should clone Neanderthals." I snarked in closing that I would be pleased to know just who is presumably included in that "we" -- inasmuch as cloning Neanderthals isn't exactly in the offing as far as I can tell.

Someone has earnestly commented in the Moot, however, that the "we" in question refers to "society" or "humanity" and has made it clear, further, that it is a matter of some moment to him that this monolithic social or humanistic "we" should declare in a resounding voice "No!" to the futurological aspirants who would clone Neanderthals.

Now, not to be too arch about it, but I really do think it is worse than wrongheaded to assemble a congress, even an imaginary one, to say "no" to that which reality itself presently affords nothing like a going "yes."

I really disagree that there are many if any questions of actual moment in the actual present on which approvals or disapprovals have an actual impact that are ever clarified through a turn to deliberations on the not-existent-treated-as-existent. Frankly, I have come to disagree that there are moral or technical principles even in the abstract that are better clarified through recourse to the immaterial question "if it could be done should Neanderthals be cloned?" than could be clarified instead through recourse to deliberations on moral, technical, regulatory quandaries associated with any of a host of actually-existing problems in the world.

I my response in the Moot I elaborated further:

Even if some "we" proposed to "let" some scientist clone some Neanderthal, this outcome would no more actually eventuate for now from that "letting" than would the encouragement of some other "we," however enthusiastic, actually 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 bundled-risk pseudo-commodities than to the substantial futurity that names the openness in every present arising out of the ineradicable diversity of its stakeholders, peer-to-peer.

So I must 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 just 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.

By way of conclusion, I will also add that I 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" or "society." 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 homogenized normalized unanimized "humanity" that speaks, peer-to-peer.

It is the proper business of democratization to provide nonviolent alternatives for the adjudication of disputes, and to provide the conditions of equity-in-diversity (universal basic income, healthcare, education, housing, recourse to law and office and free expression and assembly, as well as access to reliable information) under which the scene of consent is legible and legitimate -- but it is crucial never to confuse the state of nonviolence or equity with humanity or society, when the substance of humanity and society is the proliferation of lifeways and expressivities and contestations that arise out of the security of that equity and nonviolence. It is also in that proliferation that we find futurity and taste freedom.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Republican Representative Trent Frank Says That African Americans Suffer More Now Because Abortion Is Legal Than They Did When Slavery Was Legal

Act surprised.

House Democrats Wonder If Senate Promises to Improve Their Craptacular Version of the Healthcare Bill Are Any Good

Act surprised.

Republican Senator Jim Bunning Literally Says "Tough Shit" to Suffering Unemployed Americans...

...and Then Complains That His Own Obstructionism Made Him Miss A Basketball Game He Really Wanted to Watch.

Act surprised.

E-mail Trail of Bush Administration Torture Enthusiast John Yoo Vanishes

Act surprised.

Republican Values Voters and Patriots Mock the Suffering of Uninsured Americans

Act surprised.

More Signs of the Imminent Techno-Transcendence the Singularitarian Robot Cultists Talk About

Nowadays when it rains on the West Coast or snows on the East Coast, millions lose their electricity. The Future!

Follow the Bouncing Ball

The stealthy techno-immortalists at the Methuselah Foundation (Get it? Methuselah?) are
a non-profit medical charity dedicated to extending healthy human life through proven programs

Bouncing ball likes bouncing right over that word "proven" and proceeding to bounce its way toward all sorts of other words!
MLife Sciences makes founding investments in organizations that are making pioneering advances in the twin missions of slowing the aging process as well as rejuvenating the body from the negative effects of aging.

Bouncing ball likes bouncing right over those words "pioneering advances" and proceeding to bounce its way toward all sorts of other words!
SENS Foundation is focused on research aimed at the biomedical repair of the damage of biological aging. Using a unique engineering approach, these therapies seek to repair all known forms of aging-related damage in the human body, with the aim of restoring cellular and biomolecular structures to renew their function to youthful health and vitality.

Bouncing ball likes bouncing right over those words "unique engineering" and proceeding to bounce its way toward all sorts of other words!
In the case of Methuselah Foundation's fight to end aging and the research that it will take to create the necessary therapies, we focus on funding for the long haul, depending on the commitment of donors such as You. Each donor will be immortalized on a unique marble monument

Bouncing ball likes bouncing right over the word "immortalized" and proceeding to bounce its way toward all sorts of other words, like "marble monument"!

Thank heavens we have techno-immortalists and other superlative futurologists around to re-invent the mausoleum as an immortalization strategy for us.

Bouncing ball bounces its way onward to other indispensable anti-aging tips you just can't get unless you spend time among techno-immortalists, including
taking vitamin D, regular fasting, regular exercise, and popping baby aspirin daily

"We are as gods," as the futurological hucksters say.

Hey, where'd bouncing ball bounce off to?

The Future, I guess.

"A superhuman object of desire combining Madonna, Schwarzenegger and Marcel Duchamp."

One "Wildcat"interviews ThighMaster Futurist Natasha Vita-More.

No, it's not a dream. No, it's not satire. It's really happening, you really are reading these things.

I will admit, as a grader of student papers, I did find it rather soul-destroying just trying to push through the grammatical errors that appear in sentence after sentence, but, really, it's worth it. If nothing else one has to appreciate the Robot Cultists for the pure unadulterated camp value of their productions.

The, um, fine art accompanying the interview is also a revelation. I especially dig the Maxfield Parrish-slash-Maxim Centerfold writhing in a slick metalized kinda-sorta uncoiling DNA spiral and also the naked white dude with the iPods taped over his peen (yeah, I know who he is). "The Audacious Beauty of Our Future," indeed. h/t JimF

Torn

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?"

and

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.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Thanks

Yesterday, Michel Bauwens at the Foundation for Peer-to-Peer Alternatives said nice things about some posts here at Amor Mundi.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Theft and Faith Among the Free Marketeers

Digby posts a chart illustrating that most people who say they believe in cutting government spending can't go on to name programs they would actually cut. I strongly sympathize with the way she frames this phenomenon:
The proper term for these people is "free lunch" conservatives. The one thing these people really care about is taxes, which they think are evil and believe they should never have to pay. They actually like the spending on programs from which they all benefit…

[W]e could… call them "magical thinking" conservatives... They truly believe that government should provide all the services they use but that nobody should have to pay any taxes to support it. I believe it's the central economic difference between liberals and conservatives. We all like the welfare state and want more of it. They just think it should be paid for with fairy dust and we think progressive taxation is the more logical choice. Sadly, the political system has chosen to go with fairy dust. It's more marketable.


Everything about this framing is just right. It is easily digestable, uses plain language, appeals to widespread intuitions -- including very particularly intuitions deceptively and self-deceptively mobilized by the Movement Conservatives and Randroids themselves in justifying their ideology. Indeed, one of the best things this framing does in my view is that it exposes the projection and hypocrisy of self-congratulatory libertopian pieties about "lefty looters" and "TANSTAAFL" and "rugged individualism."

Market fundamentalists are pickpockets who like to decry taxes as theft to distract you when their hands are in your pocket.

I also like the "fairy dust" and "magical thinking" language, since it accommodates the presumably perplexing affinities between the market fundamentalist and conservative christianist factions of Movement Conservatism, who sometimes like to pretend they battle over the issue of atheism versus faith.

Randians and would-be Darwinian/utilitarian market-rationalizers, for example, often like to fancy themselves atheists rather than the passionate wish-fulfillment fantasists they palpably are, just as social conservatives often like to fancy themselves anti-materialist as they jockey ferociously for the biggest slices of material pie at hand. These ostensibly opposed factions are, of course, always only engaging in sectarian skirmishes over just which self-appointed priestly elite gets to rule the worldly toypile in the name of just which imaginary deity.

The Peer

A peer is not an equal -- for there are no equals -- the peer is the one who appears in the public square, and by virtue of the public square, be it the polis of the streets or of the nets, and who appears as one who contributes, contests, collaborates, has a stake in the shared and made world precisely in her difference from others who also appear and associate in company. The ethos of politics, peer-to-peer, which is one and the same as the ethos of democratization, is always the interminable dynamic of equity-in-diversity.

"Filibuster Follies"

Talking Points Memo
[T]he Senate just passed the jobs bill... 70 [to] 28. The 'vote' to allow a vote on the bill only passed on a 62 to 30 vote margin. In other words, a bunch of people who voted against allowing a vote at all then turned around and voted for the legislation. It shows you a lot of the cowardice, buck-passing and general nonsense behind the current use of the filibuster. By any logic, the numbers should go the other way: the number of people who are willing to allow a vote should if anything be greater than the number who are willing to vote for the legislation on its merits.


TPM goes on to elaborate, in further reporting:
The switchers who voted no on cloture but yes today:

Lamar Alexander (R-TN)
Thad Cochran (R-MS)
James Inhofe (R-OK)
George LeMieux (R-FL)
Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)
Roger Wicker (R-MS)

And those who were absent Monday but voted yes today:

Orrin Hatch (R-UT)
Richard Burr (R-NC)

Definitely follow TPM as they surely will continue to squeeze this destructive hypocrisy and foolishness for all it's worth. Anything to keep up the momentum for reforming the anti-democratic filibuster, not only to circumvent literally unprecedented GOP obstructionism today, but, yes, also to better ensure that when -- not if -- the GOP manages one day to regain control of the Senate that they too will actually have to own their failures so long as the Democratic party actually opposes them (hence making them actually stand for something, too, if they ever mean to regain or retain control themselves).

A Trilogy of Futurological Brickbats on the Subject of "Techno-Ethics"

The prefix "bio," when appended to the word "ethics," tends to have the curious effect of draining all the life out of ethics.

The breathlessly ramifying "techno-ethical" disciplines -- bio-ethics, neuro-ethics, net-ethics, nano-ethics, robo-ethics, and so on -- should all be regarded as essentially public relations and marketing subdisciplines, very much in the spirit of the "business ethics" out of which all these latest not-ethics by way of hyphenated-ethics have sprung.

Institutional "ethicians" are not educators so much as they are salesmen. And they should be treated as such: that is to say, with extreme caution.

For more Futurological Brickbats, by all means browse the archive.

Sometimes the "D" Just Stands for "Dick"

Just like the one Joe Liebermann used to sport before he dropped the "D" to "I," leaving nothing but "Ick."
Bloomberg
Feb. 24 (Bloomberg) -- Goldman Sachs Group Inc., the most profitable securities firm in Wall Street history, is unpopular because some people envy its performance, said Jon Corzine, the company’s former chairman and chief executive officer.

“When you’re successful it brings envy,” Corzine, 63, said today in a Bloomberg Television interview. “People are broadly frustrated with the financial institutions, and since it is the leader of the industry and has shown great success over a long period of time, I think it’s more vulnerable.”

So, Jon Corzine, "D," thinks the mob is envious of the awesome success of the financial fraudsters.

He must be spending his time out to pasture reading Atlas Shrugged.

Yeah, Jon, envy is exactly the right word for what we all feel for the thief, the bully, the rapist, the smug trust fund baby. The filthy lucre you wallow in has really given you some superior insight, there.

And, no, it doesn't make things better that Corzine goes on to say that Wall Street employees “need to be a little more humble in the overall scheme of public society… [since p]eople are very frustrated, angry about the compensation issues, particularly in the context of what people perceive as bailouts of each and every one of the folks that participated.”

This makes what he is saying far worse.

First of all, the "bailouts" are not "perceived," but real, and the fact that that's what they were -- namely, "bailouts," vast siphonings of public dough to those who have been rolling in the stuff for years -- is also not "perception" but "reality."

And Wall Street executives -- executives, mind you, not some generalized cohort of "employees" including put-upon Wall Street PAs and janitorial staff -- indeed do "need to be… humble," as every person who succeeds at anything needs to retain a real measure of humility: else, they make the too easy mistake of confusing their own good fortune to live in a society that facilitates extraordinary accomplishments with the fantasy that the Universe has stamped them with its approval of their right to rule.

This is especially the case for Wall Street executives, of all people, given that their fortunes almost inevitably derive from speculative finance, that most worrisome portion of economic activity, so given to excess and abuse even when it is sternly regulated -- as it is not at present nor has been for generations (with the direct and perfectly predicted, and also predicted, consequence that it had to be bailed out at all).

And by "be humble" I for one do in fact mean "be," not "act," which is clearly what Corzine meant.

No, Jon Corzine, "Dick," the dumb mob does not need to "perceive" superficial performances of humility on the part of the self-congratulatory financial fraudsters who we "perceive" were bailed out with our money after they already spent a generation looting the middle class and the promise of countless others to enter the middle class in the first place.

The reality, Jon Corzine, "Dick," is that Wall Street schemed and Wall Street stole. The reality is that Wall Street is thronged with greedy self-important palpably idiotic assholes who still think they are God's gift to the world even after they turned the world to shit.

Shall I tell you more clearly about our "perceptions" of you at hearing your defenses of Wall Street's Best and Brightest "talent"?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

MundiMuster! Time to Join the Cocktail Party!

An army of lovers cannot fail, people! Get Rachel Maddow on the phone, I need a gimlet, stat!

Immoderated by Lisa Duggan. Yeah, they're on Facebook.
Description:

Are you nauseated and frightened by the growth of Tea Party organizing, and the zany old white people in funny hats at the center of the current media blitz? It’s time to fight back! Join The Cocktail Party, a barstool-roots movement for left wing urban homosexuals and the people who love us. The major planks of this new movement’s platform include:

*Nationalize the banks
*Soak the rich with high taxes
*Abolish the Senate
*Abolish the Electoral College
*Free public education through college for all
*Free day care for elders and children
*National health care
*Universal accessibility
*Abolish all student loan, credit card and mortgage debt
*Withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan, shift resources to the Arts, and to an independent Haiti
*Forgiveness of all debt of developing countries
*Outlaw invidious discrimination
*Abolish prisons for all non violent crime, prioritize community rehabilitation for all crime
*Decriminalize sex work and drugs
*Open borders
*Abolish marriage

This platform is a work in progress. We seek additional ideas from all leftist urban homosexuals and their comrades. We acknowledge that this platform will take some time to implement. We crafted this list of policy goals with the intention, minimally, of driving the Tea Partiers crazy with rage. Because we are exactly who they think we are–a motley crew of miscegenated sex crazed lushes who read Marx and Fanon, seeking to support our lifestyles by taking resources from the rich and powerful and redistributing them with abandon.


Facebook Link.

More Rahmsputinism

This time from Steve Clemons, with his tongue firmly in cheek it must be said, and offering up his Rahmsputinism in Sooper-Genius cadences rather than the Rahmsputanic diabolism that suffused Firedoglake like a lake of fire there for a while. Still, fun as always:
I can easily imagine "conspiracy theorists" (not me) in the future looking back in history at the Tea Party movement as having been a Rahm Emanuel creation. That would have been, in retrospect, sheer political genius.

After all, looking back in time, one would see that the Tea Partiers were hatched during Obama's time. They successfully hijacked the Republican Party and executed or exiled the best Republican talent. And then, when folks woke to their senses, the Republican Party will have imploded into national irrelevance.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Game Changing

The Hill:
Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said… Friday… that while Democrats have a number of options, they would likely use the budget reconciliation process to pass a series of fixes to the first healthcare bill passed by the Senate in November. These changes are needed to secure votes for passage of that original Senate bill in the House… "We're going to have that done in the next 60 days." The move would allow Democrats to essentially go it alone on health reform… Republicans have protested the maneuver… Reid said that the final Democratic bill is likely to be unveiled Monday night.

Sixty days hence I may roll my eyes to recall getting rolled again by all this, but if the movement we are seeing bespeaks underlying realities at all then even a comparatively shitty outcome (as anything short of a robust PO and ending of the insurance company monopoly exemption is liable to look as an entirely abstract rather than tactical matter to folks like me who pine for Single Payer/Medicare For All) is still an utter game-changer in terms of shifting the institutional healthcare terrain in the direction of sanity, not to mention questions of relative partisan base energization and electoral possibilities of the mid-terms. I refuse to get hopey until I see substance (I'm battling another flu bug -- students, I blame you! -- which is tapping my native hopeyness resources in any case) but you better believe I'll be feeling it in sixty days if this isn't another football Lucy is gingerly placing on the field to punch hippies with.

Snap Judgment of the Randroid Bible

Upgraded from an exchange in the Moot:

Re-reading Atlas Shrugged as an adult for my market polemics course at UCB I must say that I have found few texts more relentlessly hackneyed, hyperbolic, fundamentalist-literalist, deluded, deceptive, brain-deadening, and death-dealing in all my acquaintance.

It is a testament to the self-congratulatory conformism of American "individualism" and to the hungry consumerism of American "rebelliousness" and to the stubborn insulation from consequences of American "exceptionalism" and to the eager brutality of American "culture" more generally that La Rand and her ponderous potboilers have managed never to be anything less than bestsellers here, even decades after her death.

Behind the Music: Atlas Shrugged provides a more considered take, should you pine for one.

Dark Magic Animating Lich Alexander Haig Peters Out

Here's how we know.

Heartening To See That Healthcare Reform Is Back



Nobody should doubt at this point that Obama's hopeful noises about the upcoming Healthcare Summit not amounting to partisan theater are functioning precisely as partisan theater framing the partisan theater we all properly expect to play out. That the GOP find themselves unable to escape another televised forum with the President, discussing issues of enormous import to the American people on terms that will only strengthen his hand is also heartening, as are the ongoing background rumblings of a House-Senate deal in the works and mounting highly public pressure and momemtum to sidecar the Public Option through reconciliation (worst case, this is a going to be bargain chipped away for a nod from the Snowe Queen or some comparable idiocy, but even that is better than the worse worst case of nothing going through after this year-long atrocity exhibition of hyperbole and ineffectuality).

Friday, February 19, 2010

Middlemarch a Finer Atlas of Human Possibility By Far Than Rand's Bodice-Ripper

One of the students in my market polemics course, Ryan, pointed to one of the most (deservedly) famous sentences in English literature for the response to Atlas Shrugged, this beautiful passage from Middlemarch
[T]he growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.


For me, the texts in the market polemics class are about those who fall for (and those who resist falling for) the metaphor of "spontaneous order" as a way to deny the reality of society and history, and also often as a way to defend the unearned privileges of incumbent elites among whom they are members or with whom they identify.

What Ryan's quotes suggests, I think, is that the class is more about those who fall for (or resist falling for) the metaphor of the "independent possessive individual" as a way to deny the reality of human precariousness and interdependence, and also often as a way to defend the unearned prerogatives of "sovereign" and "authorial" conceptions of agency.

Needless to say, these two conceptions of the distinction the texts in the course is highlighting are profoundly complementary.

In my little blogthology of anti-libertopian aphorisms I write:
XXIII. In a world in which we are all of us beholden to accomplishments and problems we are heir to but unequal to, as well as implicated in the facilitative and frustrating efforts of the diversity of peers with whom we share the world, it is delusive in the extreme to imagine oneself the singular author of one's fortunes, whether good or ill. And so, only in a world in which the precarious are first insulated from the catastrophic consequences of ill-fortune in which we all play our parts can we then celebrate or even tolerate the spectacle in which the successful indulge in the copious consequences of good fortune in which we all, too, have played our parts.

That is an argument that directly bespeaks the influence of Middlemarch on me, as it happens, and does indeed explain at least part of what I find so deeply disrespectful about the whole Randian viewpoint.

Implausible Characters, Vacuous Foundations

In my UC Berkeley course "Altars and Alters to the Market: Polemical Discourse in the Neoliberal/Neoconservative Epoch" we just spent the week talking about Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. I thought I might post some of my thoughts here on Amor Mundi as well.

One thing that really perplexes me about the novel that we touched on again and again in class discussion is the radical implausibility of the characters. I focused in class especially on the frankly hilarious implausibility of the protagonists -- pointing out that one can have a romantically heroic protagonist without actually going so far as to make characters literally impossibly brilliant, as Francisco d'Anconia is made to be, literally the instant and effortless winner of everything he tries without fail, re-inventing calculus off the cuff as a child, on top of being fantastically handsome and athletic, and so on and on, or Hank Rearden being not only an incomparable entrepreneur, but also a master prospector for a whole diversity of resources, and also a master metallurgist, and also just happening to be a paradigm-shattering engineer/architect, and so on. It's like the marvelous hyperbolic hilarity of Buckaroo Banzai's plasma physicist slash brain surgeon slash rockstar slash model but treated as deadly earnest plausible character development.

But it also seems to me that the bad guys in the novel are also quite flabbergastingly implausible, invariably exaggeratedly unappealing physically -- "the muscles of his face failed to assume responsibility for taking up a shape" is actually said of someone at one point -- and apt to declarations of the most absurd things imaginable, twisting at their villain mustaches as it were and propounding Dr. Eeeeevil-esque conspiracies organized by their hostility to anything that might be construed as an accomplishment or by their unslakable lust to obliterate anything that might be construed as beautiful, and so on.

Rand takes real pains to insist on the actual factual reality of her heroes:
About the Author: "My personal life" says Ayn Rand, "is a postscript to my novels; it consists of the sentence 'And I mean it.' I have always lived by the philosophy I present in my books and it has worked for me, as it has worked for my characters... I trust that no one will tell me that men such as I write about don't exist. That this book has been written -- and published -- is my proof that they do."

Needless to say, writing Atlas Shrugged no more proves Ayn Rand the equal of John Galt (or even the equal of, say, Jackie Collins) than the publication of Harry Potter novels (works of fiction in every way -- including philosophically -- better and preferable to Rand's hackneyed hyperbolic bodice-rippers in my humble opinion) makes J.K. Rowling the functional equivalent of Albus Dumbledore.

Setting aside the curious evangelical sales pitch slash motivational speaker flim-flam artistry of Rand's punchy little bit of self-promotion there (change your life! -- it worked for me, it'll work for you! -- just mail in the handy card included in the novel to contact the Ayn Rand Institute and we'll turn your life around!), it seems to me that Rand is insisting on the literal reality of her superlative characters in a way that makes it difficult to treat them merely as "artistic" or "stylistic" conjurations of every person's capacity for greatness or independence or what have you. I mention this in answer to a few who complained about my emphasis on Rand's endless implausibilities and who wanted to rationalize their own identification with the castle she has built in the air here by declaring her choices to be stylistic embellishments for effect (the "effect" in question remaining curiously unelaborated by the proponents of this view).

I also think it is not accidental that conventional Movement Conservative discourse -- arising out of the ferment of works by Mises, Hayek, Hazlett, Rand, Friedman, Heinlein, and others -- many of whom we are reading in this market polemics class, as it happens -- very typically declares humanities departments in universities to be cesspools of relativism, typically dismisses modern art as infantilism, typically declares any concern for the exploited or the vulnerable as expressions of envy, and so on. All of these facile mischaracterizations directly echo the villainous portrayals in Rand's potboilers, treated as literally truthful quite as much as she demands we take her heroes as accurate portrayals of human possibilities (and I might add that there is a cottage industry of lionizing corporate CEO biography/memoir literature that seems to want to declare that the titans of Atlas Shrugged roam the world among us even now -- even if they might strike the everyday observer as rather more flabby sordidly unimaginative crudely opportunistic jackholes than Rand's heady prose would lead one to hope for).

I want to be clear that in saying all this I actually do not mean to deny that there are exceptionally brilliant and creative people in the world -- among them some I happen to reverence myself, as it happens -- nor that there are fairly appallingly idiotic dangerously deceptive people in the world -- among them some I happen abhor for their crimes and their their schemes and their lies (nobody who reads this blog, could doubt that for long). However, I really think both the heroes and the villains in the novel are caricatural in ways that say something important about the way the novel is functioning and what its project amounts to.

I think this reliance on radical hyperbole and caricature treated insistently as literal truth surely connects to the radical under-determination of actually rationally warranted beliefs by the recognition of the vacuity "existence existence" or "A is A" and also the correlated radical under-determination of actually efficacious moral/ethical norms by the recognition that "[i]t is only the concept of 'life' that makes the concept of 'value' possible."

On my page 1018 Rand has Galt declare: "My morality, the morality of reason, is contained in a single axiom: existence exists -- and in a single choice: to live. The rest proceeds from these."

Needless to say, I think that nothing much proceeds from these vacuities at all, that they are at best foundations in quicksand.

Certainly "existence exists" is a near-vacuity incapable of grounding the host of highly idiosyncratic Randian factual beliefs -- most of which do not square with actual experience of the world, experience of the way technoscience actually functions, industrial and commercial concerns actually function, the way artists and art promotion actually plays out in the world, and so on.

Nor does "the single choice: to live" provide anything like a groundwork for her highly idiosyncratic conception of human "flourishing" -- which, again, does not square in the least with actual human concerns, histories, or hopes as far as I can tell, our awareness, for example, of our reliance on the common heritage of accomplishments and knowledges, our awareness of our interdependence on our peers for our survival and flourishing, our awareness of the ineradicable diversity of stakes, ends, capacities, situations, perspectives that suffuse the plurality of peers with whom we share, contest, and collaborate in the world, our awareness of our precariousness on earth, or vulnerability to humiliation, misunderstanding, our openness to being changed in ways we cannot imagine by the vicissitudes of history, love, conflict, differing perspectives, and so on.

Rand thought of herself as a "philosopher novelist" and of Atlas Shrugged as a philosophical novel. And I think that the false substantiation of Rand's highly idiosyncratic views both of what is and what ought to be through her endlessly reiterated recourse to the nearly vacuous assertions that "existence exists" or "A is A" on the one hand and that we must "choose life" or else "deal in death" on the other hand is a rhetorical gesture of Rand the (abysmally terrible) philosopher that is directly correlated to the rhetorical gesture of Rand the (abysmally terrible) novelist in soliciting our identification and dis-identification with her flabbergastingly ridiculously hyperbolized heroes and villains.


Behind the Music: Atlas Shrugged provides still more Randroid-rage should your tastes go that way...

Thursday, February 18, 2010

MundiMuster! Public Option Whip List — Has your senator taken a stand?

Rumors of the death of health care reform, and even of the Public Option would appear to exaggerated. Though cynics in the cheap seats aren't exactly risking much if they want to declare pre-emptive failure as usual, I think it would be better were we all to pressure our Senators to sign this letter demanding Reid pass the Public Option through reconciliation with fifty votes.

There are already enough senatorial eminences on board (among them some who are already fundraising off their signing of the letter, which suggests an encouragingly realistic assessment of the politics on the ground) that it is clear that this is not merely a quixotic or nostalgic indulgence. The speed with which these signatures are mounting suggests the kind of momentum that might be put to constructive use. Pressure your senators to keep that momentum building.

Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Democracy for America:
Some bold senators started a letter calling on Majority Leader Harry Reid to pass the public health insurance option through "reconciliation," which only needs a simple majority in the Senate.

If your Democratic senator didn't sign yet, can you type your name below and call them today? ([They] give you a script.)

The link takes you to an ever-revised list of signatories as well as providing organizational resources to help pressure more senators to sign. As of now there are seventeen Senators who have signed, among them both of my Senators, but I'm off to teach and so off the computer for a few hours to come, so I can't follow the ongoing accumulation of signatories, much as I would to do so.

This Hippy Faggot Joins With Mainstream America In Demanding Repeal of DADT

Political Wire:
A new Greenberg Quinlan Rosner poll finds that by a 54% to 35% margin voters overwhelmingly support repealing the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.

"Unlike so many other issues in the country right now, this issue simply does not polarize voters. Even among Republicans, repeal finds support with four in ten voters."

I am a person who disapproves of marriage as a reduction of the beauty of manifold human affiliations to a policed property relation, a curious enterprise fueled by infantile fantasies of arriving at personal "completion" through an unholy (also, unspecified) "melding" with a "soul mate." And I am also a person who disapproves ferociously of the manifold murders undertaken in our names by military forces, a curious enterprise fueled by infantile fantasies that killing people's friends and family members in an indiscriminate manner makes them friendlier and less belligerent on the whole to our pesky Republic than encouraging ties of diplomacy and cultural exchange and commerce would do.

As such a person it is not without regret that I find the primary avenues through which so many lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transfolks, intersex people, sissies, tomboys, geeks, bohemians, punks, freethinkers, queer and otherwise questioning folks (among whom I am one, as is my loving partner and best friend of more than eight years, who also happens to disapprove of both marriage and militarism) are finding our ways to the kind of mainstream acceptance and institutional recognition that is finally ameliorating generations of relentless brutalizing abjecting violence, harassment, bullying, and exploitation seem more often than not to involve an opening up to queers of participation in the very marriages and militarisms I otherwise forcefully disdain.

I will say, however, that I find it far more edifying and provocative to be a queer who repudiates marriage and the military as part of what being queer means to me in the world, than I have found living in a world in which my exclusion from marriage and the military declares me a second class citizen who can expect to be treated as such.

Principled rejections of war-mongering and enforced conformity to possessive familial arrangements are incomparably more powerful positions for those who advocate more capacious views of the peaceful and loving possibilities available to human beings than are the present unprincipled blanket exclusions of so many of us from these deadly attitudes and institutions, exclusions that make us too indifferent and enable too many to evade the necessity of taking public stands on aggressive militarism and possessive affiliation by relieving us from personal responsibility for their perpetuation.

By fighting for the right to inclusion to these institutions we better champion our equity, and then by repudiating these institutions once they do include us us we better champion our diversity. The apparently paradoxical stance this implies toward these institutions is simply a variation on the ongoing and interminable paradoxical implementation of the democratic/consensualist ethos as such, which demands equity in diversity and hence can never finally settle.

Yet Another Movement Republican Manifesto Champions Demolition Misconstrued As Restoration

Excerpts, offered up without comment, from a fine piece by Isaiah J. Pool over at the Blog for Our Future:
[C]onservative leaders released a statement early Wednesday asserting a recommitment to “the ideas of America’s founding.” …

[The] declaration is called “The Mount Vernon Statement,” and therein lies the first problem. The group, convened by Edwin Meese III -- the attorney general under Reagan -- met in a library that was a part of the Mount Vernon estate of George Washington, an estate that by the time Washington died was the residence of 316 slaves, according to this official account. The conveners saw no irony in this as, across the Potomac River, the nation’s first African-American president is under political assault by a renegade right-wing movement with an embedded contingent of white supremacists…

[T]he real fundamental problem with the Mount Vernon Statement is that it is out of touch with the founding ideas that it says it wants to reclaim and the America that is striving to embody those ideas…

[I]t is conservatives who have done the most in recent years to subvert the limits of the Constitution -- the people who have by their actions, as the Mount Vernon Statement puts it, “dismissed” the Constitution as “obsolete and irrelevant.” It has been conservative presidents who have taken it upon themselves to wage war, bypassing Section 8 of the Constitution that reserves that power to Congress alone. It has been conservative politicians who have used the fear of terrorism to sweep away due process for the accused and privacy protections for the non-accused. It is conservatives today who forged and now champion a Supreme Court ruling that gives corporations a virtually untrammeled ability to shout down ordinary citizens and render their right to redress their grievances before government ineffectual.

The conservative economic policies that took force with Ronald Reagan and bore full fruit under George W. Bush has given us gargantuan financial institutions living off the federal dole (and executives reaping multimillion-dollar bonuses) and scorn for families down on their luck who need food stamps to keep from going hungry. Conservative deregulatory mania allowed lead-poisoned toys into our children’s rooms and salmonella-tainted food into our kitchens, and it enabled robber-baron banksters to nearly topple the economy with their greed. Conservative policies resulted in middle-class families losing ground in real terms during the 2000s while an ever-growing share of the nation’s wealth went to a shrinking percentage of people at the very top. Conservatives sold corporate tax cuts as the sure way to spur investment that would create jobs; the reality is jobs shipped overseas and an America starved of the revenue it needs to properly invest in its infrastructure and people so it can compete with such countries as China, which is building the base for business prosperity that conservatives say our government cannot now afford….

[B]ehind the raucous and disheveled teabag rebellion will be a disciplined, purpose-driven conservative movement that will do what it has done for the past three decades: work to keep government in the service of the wealthy while keeping working people at bay, all the while wrapping itself in the flag and the founders.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

High Praise Indeed

Of Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief -- commercials for which on my tee vee make my living room smell like ass (I mean, in a bad way) -- the folks at BoxOfficeMojo helpfully alert their readers that "the only fantasies to have greater starts all had Potter, Rings or Narnia in their names."

Burning Questions for Thursday's Discussion of Atlas Shrugged in My Market Polemics Course at Berkeley

Are there really gaunt golden-haired cruel-mouthed bipedal humanoids with sooper-brains walking the earth among us? Did they discover fire, the wheel, writing, gunpowder, penicillin, and computers without any help from us, and are we killing the geese that lay the golden eggs when we try to make them pay taxes? Do we know anything at all about capitalism or is it an altogether unknown ideal? Is there any difference between a pirate and a police officer? Is A really A? Who is John Galt? Does Frodo live? Is Darth Vader really Luke's father? Is Dumbledore really gay?

A Cry for Help? The State of Utah Declares Itself Insane

Guardian h/t James Fehlinger.

The State of Utah, "a major oil and coal producing state" is also "[o]fficially the most Republican state in America," and members of its House of Representatives recently "have adopted a resolution condemning 'climate alarmists,' and disputing any scientific basis for global warming."
The measure, which passed by 56-17, has no legal force, though it was predictably claimed by climate change sceptics as a great victory in the wake of the controversy caused by a mistake over Himalayan glaciers in the UN's landmark report on global warming….

The original version of the bill dismissed climate science as a 'well organised and ongoing effort to manipulate and incorporate "tricks" related to global temperature data in order to produce a global warming outcome'. It accused those seeking action on climate change of riding a 'gravy train' and their efforts would 'ultimately lock billions of human beings into long-term poverty'.

In the heat of the debate, the representative Mike Noel said environmentalists were part of a vast conspiracy to destroy the American way of life and control world population through forced sterilisation and abortion.

By the time the final version of the bill came to a vote, cooler heads apparently prevailed. The bill dropped the word 'conspiracy'…

However, it insisted –- against all evidence -– that the hockey stick graph of changing temperatures was discredited. It also called on the federal government's Environmental Protection Agency to order an immediate halt in its moves to regulate greenhouse gas emissions 'until a full and independent investigation of climate data and global warming science can be substantiated'.

Let us set aside the flabbergasting lunacy of the whole climate change conspiracy dot connecting to plans for a liberal forced sterilization and abortion festival, about which it is hard to know what to say, except, you know: "Dude."

Quite apart from this, it should be needless to say, but in this call for a halt to regulations by the EPA concerning continuing industrial carbon pollution the terms "full," "independent," "investigation," "data," "science," and "substantiated" are being deployed in a manner somewhat divorced from their, you know, dictionary definitions.

But also, more to the point, I have to think these Utah representatives are using these concepts in their resolution in a way that is also divorced from their usage by the very same people who are misusing them here in more everyday contexts. I am thinking here of contexts such as the ones that inspire them to direct their inquiries to doctors rather than crystal healers when they want medical advice; or, likewise, to travel agents rather than to lunatics who think humans who leap off of cliff faces can fly by flapping their arms when they want to make a long distance trip.

Has the state of Utah gone stark raving mad? Or is all this possibly a cry for help?

For Those Who Truck In GOP-DNC Equivalency Theses

To assume an analytic vantage from which one becomes indifferent to differences that make a difference is too often to lose the capacity to make a difference.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Bayh's Graceful Exit (Act Surprised)

Evan Bayh: the second most conservative Senator in the Democratic Caucus (after woman-hating death-dealer Ben Nelson).

Evan Bayh: endless floater of conservative false talking points about Democrats being "weak on defense" because we don't all want to rain down our bombs of love incessantly and indiscriminately enough across the planet's surface (because we all know how well that works, and how much it makes Baby Jesus cry if Americans aren't on a dot-eyed murderous rampage).

Evan Bayh: on the tee vee almost as often as somehow-President (get off my lawn!) McCain to float Hooverite fiscal disciplinary recommendations for the precarious majority in the midst of an unprecedented recession (because Hoosiers, and all the rest of us, are just plain meant to suffer, I guess).

Evan Bayh: endless fetishist to phony "bipartisanship" between our pathetic weak-kneed moderates and their rancid war-mongering science-denialist white-racist lunatics (the Senate, last bastion of gentility and grace, that is to say, cesspool of endlessly bloviating fat old white guys pining for feudalism).

Evan Bayh: already pond-fat with a slurped up pond-full of campaign cash for his 2010 run (calling Bayh pond scum is now available, for those who are extending the metaphor at home).

Evan Bayh: has announced his retirement this afternoon, more or less citing the boredom of a Senator's life as his justification (and who can blame him, considering the travails of a dysfunctional Senate, especially when a seat there no longer looks like a stepping-stone toward the satisfaction of sociopathic White House ambitions, and as compared with the bags of money an amoral asshole like Bayh is sure to take in as a corporate lobbyist instead).

Of course, Bayh has announced his retirement just one day before the deadline for any other candidate to file for the primary (longshot Tamyra d’Ippolito, who runs a cafe in Indiana's best town, Bloomington, is scrambling to get the necessary signatures to meet the deadline, and it doesn't look as though anybody else is in the running via that route), and the primary is just three months away in any case.

Good thing a resurgent GOP spoiling for blood has already siphoned a dozen million bucks Dan Coats' way. You may remember Dan Coats from his efforts to help shepherd Killer Clown George W. Bush's eminently qualified Harriet Myers into the United States Supreme Court (which would surely have turned out perfectly fine, if they just let her write her decisions in crayon like she wanted), or if you have a longer memory you may recall Coats' loud insistence that President Clinton bombed would-be terrorists in Afghanistan to distract attention away from that impeachable blowjob he got (of course, I'm sure Coats is perfectly hunky-dory with bombing the daylights out of Afghan civilians now).

And so it looks like Evan Bayh has managed in retiring to do for his country and his party pretty much what he has always done.

Bye-Bye Bayh. You won't be much missed, you worthless smug son of a bitch.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Won't Be Getting This Weekend Back

I've spent the whole weekend reading Atlas Shrugged for my market polemics course at UCB. It's been years since I read the thing. It is like administering a slow-motion lobotomy on yourself hour after hour after hour. I think assigning this text is possibly the single most cruel thing I've ever done to a student in fifteen years of teaching.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Elephant In the Room

It should go without saying that it is perfectly possible to be a member of the Republican Party without being an idiot, a bigot, a hypocrite, and an asshole. But it must also be said that it is unfortunately no longer possible at all to be a member of the Republican Party without being at least one of these.

More anti-wingnut chestnuts, among them some few which are not just gratuitous insults here.

It Is Not Obama But Yeats Who Has Written Our Poetry

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.


Second Coming

You better believe that Joni knew...

The American Experiment

So long as Congress is filled with millionaires it will never represent the interests of an America that is filled with non-millionaires.

More like this.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Ageing Bull

You know, I can't say that I am particularly interested in Woody Allen's films anymore, but I do appreciate that he is still Woody Allen. Meanwhile, Martin Scorsese appears to have become Penny Marshall.

That seems. Unfortunate.

Scorsese hasn't made any kind of sense to me since King of Comedy, really. Perhaps they should have handed over the last half of the Harry Potter franchise to him or something.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Shamefaced Confession

One of the few shows on television that consistently gives me confidence about the future of this country is "America's Best Dance Crew." Is that so wrong?

Joan Baez Helps Keep Amor Mundi More Positive

Dispatches from Libertopia: Who Is Paul Ryan? Edition

via TPM (follow the link for the full text):
Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-WI) determination to privatize Social Security and dismantle Medicare -- what he calls a "collectivist system" -- comes, at least in part, from his longstanding devotion to the works of Ayn Rand… Ryan, the ranking member of the House Budget Committee, reportedly requires staffers and interns to read her opus, Atlas Shrugged, and gives out copies as gifts…

Fearing political suicide, Republican leaders have tried to distance themselves from Ryan's "roadmap" budget proposal, which calls for privatizing Social Security. But Ryan is upfront about it….

"If we actually accomplish this goal of personalizing Social Security, think of what we will accomplish. Every worker, every laborer in America will not only be a laborer but a capitalist. They will be an owner of society…"

Needless to say, under so-called "market orders" -- that is to say, in social orders the regulatory authorities of which justify their decisions and outcomes in terms connected to free market fundamentalist articles of faith none of which are consistently implemented or even implementable in fact -- everybody has already been reduced precisely to being always only a capitalist. This is so, because everybody is treated as a being invested in the indispensable infrastructure in the futurological fantasy of the ongoing implementation of the market utopia: That is to say, everybody has already been reduced to a commodity, everybody has been reduced to a person who is not living their life so much as having it. Their life is nothing but a commodity available for sale as labor at a price.

Under such an arrangement, the overabundant majority of people in the overabundant portion of their lives are not "owners of society" in the least, contra Ryan and his ilk, but "owned" by that minority of incumbents/elites who are authorized to dictate most of the terms on the basis of which human lifeways, environmental phenomena, and modes of production are constructed and maintained. That these incumbent/elite minorities dictate these terms always only so as to yield whatever distribution of cost, risk, and benefit from which they happen to expect most to benefit themselves should go without saying.
In interviews, [Ryan] has said Republicans should frame the choice between "collectivism" and capitalism as a moral choice. "We have an opportunity to make a choice clearly once and for all in the next two elections, and we owe it to the American people to give them a clear choice: Do you want a collectivist welfare state or do you want to get back to being a free market? We need to make a moral, not just practical or statistical, case…"

This is handy, since free marketeers are unable to make either a practical or a statistical case that general welfare is improved by the choices they prefer. The pace at which "market mechanisms" compensate for disruptive events and bad information is too different from the pace at which life is actually lived by human beings for these mechanisms to sustain those lives, while at once the assumption of infinite growth without which "market orders" could not be mobilized in the first place is too threatening to the actually-existing limits of ecosystems to sustain the planetary biosphere on which we all ultimately depend for our survival let alone flourishing. Let us be clear about this: the "free market" is a literally incoherent and unintelligible fantasy the belief in which and devotion to which directly inspires profoundly irrational decisions and injurious organizations.

Of course, by turning from making a case involving statistics and practical outcomes to what he calls a "moral case" Ryan really means that Republicans and other free market fundamentalists (and, to be fair, one must recall that corporate-militarists of the neoliberal/neoconservative kind throng both the Republican and Democratic parties, and that "market libertarian" and "spontaneist" ideologues throng the extra-partisan extremes at either end of the partisan political spectrum, from Randroids and libertopians to California ideologists and futurological Greens) sell the dismantling of equitable law and democratizing order by relentless appeals to the fears of defensive incumbent/elite minorities as well as to the short-sighted greed of stupid or misinformed rubes who can be counted on to buy the usual fraud that they can get something for nothing, that they can have civilization and eat it, too.
In last year's CPAC address, [Ryan] claimed the White House had blamed the free market for the financial crisis, then used the crisis as an "excuse to impose a more intrusive state."

There is no such thing as "the free market." "The free market" has no existence, it has no substance, it has no historical, actual, or even logically-possible reference, utterances on its behalf have no more coherence than do utterances on behalf of "God" -- with the fundamentalist discourses of which market discourses have in fact an enormous amount in common to comparably disastrous effect. Self-described market orders are constituted and maintained through laws and treaties and protocols and sanctioned customs, all in the context of a legal and infrastructural order that owes an indispensable debt to direct and ever ongoing state subsidization. There is no empty, open, spontaneous "market place" into which the state can "intrude," the state suffuses and articulates and invigorates that space in which what are taken to be "market transactions" make their play in the world.

Paul Ryan is a dangerously deluded man, as are all "market" ideologues. He is and they are all cynically selling a line of bullshit to fleece the American people, almost all of whom they take to be suckers who deserve what they get as they are fooled into participating in the dismantling of any public organization that facilitates the equity in diversity of actually consensual associations, peer to peer, all so as to install public organizations that facilitate instead the rule of the incumbent/elite minorities with which they happen to identify, whereupon they will celebrate as "consensual," of course, whatever outcomes they denominate "market outcomes" by fiat, however duressed they may be in fact by inequity, misinformation, and the proximate threat of death by starvation.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Still in the Tank for Obama?

About what might be regarded as a mistake by the Obama Administration, one "RadicalCoolDude" chastised me in the Moot, insisting "there is nothing wrong in pointing out he made a big mistake."

To this I replied, naturally enough, "Who ever said otherwise?"

"RadicalCoolDude" (who regularly makes pseudonymous appearances in the Moot to accuse me of Obamabotry and also to blame the Obama Administration for GOP obstructionism when he is not accusing Obama of stealth-corporatism or terminal stupidity or dishing out the latest variations of Rahmsputin handwringing), responded to my question precisely as I imagined she or he would do, that is, by insisting that it is I who has said or suggested otherwise, by not leaping on the Obama-bashing bandwagon too-cozily and too-eagerly inhabited by too many who occupy the leftmost precincts of the US political map where I myself -- cheerfully out-and-proud anti-corporatist anti-militarist anti-racist queer-feminist vegetarian atheist democratic socialist that I am -- reside, as it happens.

Quoth "RadicalCoolDude":
My point is that some of us would take your regular defense of Obama more seriously if you simultaneously acknowledged his major mistakes instead of always seeming as if you are bending over backwards to portray him as a master chess player always 3 steps ahead of us rubes...


To this I really must say, that all this "RadicalCoolDude" has said is complete and utter horseshit.

What I "seem" to say according to "some" (that is to say pseudonymous online coward "RadicalCoolDude") has no connection to what I actually say.

I guess I don't doubt "RadicalCoolDude" honestly believes that I am in fact indulging in hero-worship and nth dimensional chess and blah blah blah when what I am actually doing by my own lights is simply trying to grasp how actually possible progressive policies might proceed -- and might even be proceeding, occasionally, appearances to the contrary sometimes notwithstanding, given actually-existing senatorial and other legislative procedures, and electoral and demographic limits, and movement republican insanity, and relentless media misinformation, and an actually intelligent but quite non-demonic quite non-superheroic straightforwardly center-left President.

President Obama, as I've always been the first to say, is to my own political right. But he is palpably more progressive nonetheless than any president since FDR. And it would be quite wrong to infer from such a statement that I mistake Obama for a leftist, proper -- I leave such fantastic attributions to the Teabaggers.

The fact is that I have criticized plenty that Obama has done, from mis-steps and mis-readings of the politics of lgbtq issues to over-rosy assumptions about the neoliberal economy to heartbreak about his continuation of Bush's criminal war-making (say otherwise about my criticisms and you are lying, reader dear, plain and simple; think otherwise and you are lying to yourself, plain and simple -- which isn't that interesting to me on the face of it, such deceptions are boringly human and usually easy enough to forgive and forget, but it remains for you all to do the soul searching necessary to grasp whatever it is that is fueling these deceptions, since that, to the contrary, is a matter of some interest to me).

But whatever my criticisms, I do indeed refuse to truck in Dem-GOP equivalency theses, Obama as stealth-corporatist paranoia, or in forms of bashing by means of which the left divides and demoralizes itself to literally no practical purpose, out of childish impatience and narcissistic self-indulgence. To assume an analytic vantage from which one becomes indifferent to differences that make a difference is too often to lose the capacity to make a difference.

Again, I won't doubt "RadicalCoolDude" and other critics of her or his perspective really believe they discern in my writing this naive hero-worship they regularly attribute to me, and feel so weirdly personally slighted by for whatever reasons. But I am here to tell you, "RadicalCoolDude" and cohort, that I simply do not believe what you are attributing to me -- and I should know, now, shouldn't I? -- and, more to the point, these conclusions you are drawing are simply not entailed in my analyses.

I can't help but wonder just why it is "RadicalCoolDude" can't seem to move on to something more constructive than pushing me to "admit" what a calamity the President presumably is for the left? As opposed to what, exactly? Why on earth be so hellbent on indulging in bloated histrionic castigatory arias directed at the first President in generations who has any kind of chance to nudge the terrain for once in anything like a direction suited to the ends "RadicalCoolDude" presumably prefers?

I beg her or his pardon, but I wonder just who it was who ever promised them a rose garden?

I get it that I like Obama more than some of you do. Although far from naive about what his center-left campaign meant for my own priorities, and far from naive about the flabbergasting catastrophe he was saddled with and the institutional quicksand of polarized incumbent corporatized terrain in which he would somehow have to try to do whatever he and we with him could, against staggering odds, I admit I cried when he won the Presidency. I wept to find possible what I somehow imagined impossible right up to that moment. I don't think that is hero-worship and I don't think it blinds me to mistakes.

So, yeah, I don't think Obama's evil, and I do think he's smarter and better and more progressive than any other President so far in my life time, and so on... and his obvious mistakes and failures and frustrations neither change my mind nor even particularly surprise me. I think all of that is pretty obvious, to be honest.

One wonders just what it is exactly that "RadicalCoolDude" wants from me when he decries my insufficient hostility to the President? I am happy to report that this sort of weird demand does not seem to me to be quite so prevalent in the left-netroots as it did much of the first year of the Obama Presidency, when the online left was struggling to get its sealegs and make the novel transition from the epic effort of facilitating progress by blanket condemnation of the Republicans in power to the uglier effort of facilitating progress by pressuring Democrats in actually-relevant ways now that they, and also we, are in power and hence must take a different kind of responsibility for what is happening in our names.

I daresay like most celebrities or prominent politicians who manage such a level of sustained attention and authority there has to be something a bit skewed in Obama's psychological makeup. It is for this reason, among others, that I think it a rather bad idea to lose oneself in Great Man formulations of the substance and force of historical struggle in the first place, which is rather amusing given what I'm being accused of here. But, come what may, I can hardly hold whatever weird drives have undoubtedly propelled Obama into his inhuman power position against him, given its utter ubiquity and structural necessity. Again, he seems to me less awful by far than any others who have found their way to that swollen summit in my lifetime and many others who seem to want to follow him there in years soon to come -- of course, your mileage may vary.

I hope Obama is more effective in his second year, and I hope his team's conspicuous talents at campaigning translate to Democrats retaining Congressional majorities in the mid-terms, and I hope that governing in a more vociferous campaigning mode might actually yield better framing of Democratic efforts and more progressive policy outcomes than we've had so far. My sense is that some healthcare reform must pass that Democrats can run on, and jobs have to be a priority. Human needs and electoral demands seem to align right about now. We'll see what happens. I'd rather have Obama in the White House than anybody else on offer at a time like this. Sorry if that's not what you want to hear.