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

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Fox Noise Music To Fewer Ears?

News Corpse
The latest quarterly Nielsen ratings reveal a promising trend in cable news viewership.... While all three of the major cable news networks suffered primetime declines, MSNBC held its audience best, losing only 6% in the past quarter. By comparison Fox News dropped three times as much (-19%), and CNN collapsed (-40%).

Republican Senators Have Unanimously Refused Even to Allow Financial Reform to Be Debated (UPDATED)

According to Ezra Klein our best hope for an end to this initial Republican obstruction of Wall Street reform is the fact that Mitch McConnell wants to get back to Kentucky to watch the Kentucky Derby this week-end. Now, isn't that special? The level of reckless irresponsibility, grotesque preening, cynical deception, and outright dysfunction in the Senate is simply not to be believed.

Here's hoping the narrative announced in this DNC ad manages to echo enough to check the mid-term bloodbath being predicted ever more breathlessly in the pundit-pile on these days, so that Democrats manage to hang on to their House and Senate majorities whatever their losses.



UPDATED: Republicans finally cave in Round One of the Obstructionism Waltz. More dreary whirls along the creaking dance-floor to come, be assured.

If the Senate Democrats stick a fork in the filibuster at the beginning of the next session as they should, the pace of reform should quicken rather than slack even with slimmer majorities in the lead up to a strong campaign for an Obama second term. It's going to be a nail-biter though.

It is crucial that folks of good sense and good will fend off the literal authoritarian insanity of contemporary Republicanism even if they are rightly disappointed by the appalling slow-moving compromised pragmatism of contemporary Democrats (who have their own drooling corporate tools and whiny white guys to contend with in the caucus).

The fight to push the country back from the brink through the most progressive tools actually on offer is different from the fight to push the Democratic Party to the left where it belongs from within -- but neither of these fights benefits from petulant relinquishment of the field just because the ongoing struggles are hard and their opponents so relentlessly mean, wrong, and stupid.

Stay engaged, keep pushing, use the tools on offer, don't confuse the personal edifications of righteous declarations with the collective achievements on which pragmatic reform endlessly keeps building on and on.

Vote, for heaven's sake, if nothing else. Vote.

San Francisco Values Versus Racist Republican Arizona Values

SFGate:
San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom announced today a moratorium on official city travel to Arizona after the state enacted a controversial new immigration law that directs local police to arrest those suspected of being in the country illegally.

Right on, Mister Mayor. Gee, your hair smells terrific.

Suspiciously Orange Skinned Boehner Fails to Think Through Support of Racist Republican Arizona Law

According to Politico Republican House Minority Leader "John Boehner Backs [the Racist Republican] Arizona [Papers, Please] Law." One wonders whether he will re-think this support when he is pulled over in Arizona for "looking like" an illegal from Oompa-Loompa Land…

Monday, April 26, 2010

Launch of the 2010 Mid-Term Election Season

Obama's Underappreciated Success

Yes, it's true, I'm quoting Mark Halpern:
Barack Obama's right-wing opponents cast him as a socialist failure. His left-wing hecklers see him as an overcautious hedger… But by Election Day 2010, Obama will have soundly achieved many of his chief campaign promises while running a highly competent, scandal-free government. Not bad for a guy whose opponents (in both parties) for the White House suggested that he was too green in national life to know how to do the job — and whose presidency began in the midst of a worldwide economic crisis that demanded urgent attention and commanded much of his focus.

This is far from the whole story, of course: to "appreciate" Obama's successes cannot properly mean to be reconciled to them, but to appreciate the transformational forces they make available to us.

This is especially so for those of us on Obama's left who grasp the ways in which corporate-militarism, wealth concentration, and climate catastrophe are scarcely checked at all by all this middling "success" in their ongoing obliteration of democracy's prospects and even the prospects for human survival. But I also think it is true that no one who would address themselves in earnest to these larger problems is telling anything like the whole story of their remedial address unless they accept the substantial force of the political agency playing out at the level of the successes Halperin is pointing to here.

It is as wrong to mistake the inadequate for the insubstantial as it is to mistake it for adequacy. And it is hard for me to see from what will come the finally adequate if not from nudging at the substance of the as-yet-inadequate actually at hand.

The Wind's in Their Sales

Jerome Guillet on wind power posted without comment from EuroTrib (click the link for the whole excellent thing):
[T]he newest complaint… is that wind power is an issue for the industry because it brings their revenues down… the worry that wind power will bring down the stock market value of the big utilities[.] But despite the generally negative tone… it's actually a useful... because it brings out in the open a key bit of information: wind power actually brings electricity prices down! This… information… will hopefully begin to contradict the usual lies about the need for hefty subsidies for the wind sector.

[W]hen you have more wind, there is less need to pay to burn more gas to provide the requisite additional power at a given moment. I've long argued that this was one of the strongest arguments for wind… [W]e are beginning to unveil what I've labelled the dirty secret of wind: utilities don't like wind not because it's not competitive, but because it brings prices down for their existing assets, thus lowering their revenues and their profits. Thus the permanent propaganda campaign against wind. But now that this "secret" is out in the open, it's hopefully going to make one of the traditional arguments against wind (the one about its supposed need subsidies) much more difficult to use... The argument remains true for solar, and to a lesser extent for offshore wind, but the utilities are going to complain much less about offshore wind given that they are investing so much capital in that sector right now. The reality is that wind power brings prices down for consumers, even taking into account the cost of feed-in tariffs or other regulatory support mechanisms, which means that these regulatory schemes are not subsidies, but rather smart corrections of market inefficiencies for the public good.

Ironically, wind provides "utility-like" returns to investors, ie low, stable single-digit returns, as befits a regulated strategic infrastructure activity required for the common good. Utilities and investors should love the sector; but they have been spoiled by market deregulation, which has allowed companies to seek higher returns by under-investing, building merchant gas-fired plants, going for M&A games, and playing on market price volatility and trading -- in other words, by behaving as perfect clients for investment banks... As I've noted many times, the energy sector is one of the best examples of how the financialisation of the economy has brought results that are bad for everybody except the investment bankers and top management; it's also, thankfully, one where reality can most objectively re-assert itself. And the reality is that you get cheaper electricity with wind -- and oh by the way, wind requires no imports of fast-depleting fuels from unstable countries, spews no carbon and provides lots more domestic jobs. And it's a perfect investment for our pension needs -- safe, low risk, stable, decent long term returns...

Best of Times in the Worst of Times

Naked Capitalism:
The [Northwestern University's] Center [for Labor Market Studies] analyzed the labor conditions faced by income-grouped U.S. households during the fourth quarter of 2009. In the face of one of the worst economic environments in memory, those in the highest income groups had nearly full employment levels, with just a 3.2 percent unemployment rate for households with over $150,000 in income and a 4 percent rate in the next-highest income group of $100,000-plus. The two lowest-income groups -- under $12,500 and under $20,000 annually -- faced unemployment rates of 30.8 percent and 19.1 percent, respectively.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Fundy Futurism As Infomercial Fraud

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

Soak the Undeserving Rich And Everybody, Including the Deserving Rich, Will Benefit

Dave Johnson at the Campaign for America's Future names Fourteen Ways a 90% Top Tax Bracket Fixes the Economy and Saves Our Country.

Anti-Abortion Terrorist Scott Roeder Spews the Usual Republican "Rights for Me, None for Thee" Mantra

Kansas City.com
The man who killed Wichita abortion doctor George Tiller has filed a petition complaining that his rights have been violated and asking to be released from custody. Scott Roeder, 52, of Kansas City, criticized the judge, the jail, prosecutors and his lawyers in a habeas corpus petition filed in Sedgwick County, Kan. A hearing is scheduled for June 4. Roeder said the judge’s imposition of a $20 million bond “along with a suggestion that I might enact ‘more’ violence if I make bond demonstrates heightened disregard for the presumption of my innocence.”

I wonder if Roeder's bragging confessions to this brutal political assassination of a law-abiding fellow citizen had anything to do with this diminution of that presumption of innocence?
Roeder complained that the names and addresses of his visitors and correspondents had been made public by the jail “and that some of these have been subjected to questioning by the police power as a consequence.”

I wonder if the connections of many of Roeder's visitors to anti-abortion terror-networks praising acts of violence against dedicated embattled healthcare providers of vitally important perfectly legal women's healthcare procedures had anything to do with their subsequent questioning by law enforcement personnel doing their jobs to protect the safety of American citizens?
Roeder said prosecutors had “made libelous allegations against me.” For example, he said, Sedgwick County District Attorney Nola Foulston told the judge that a reasonable person would believe that he had engaged in “alleged acts of American terrorism.”

It ain't libel if it's true, asshole.

This Is What Arizona Republicans Want America to Be Like




Boycott the Racist Republican Police State of Arizona!

Larry Summers, Sooper Genius, Innocent of Sin

The Hill:
Larry Summers, who was Treasury secretary in the latter years of the Clinton administration, said policies enacted by George W. Bush’s administration had more to do with the financial crisis than Clinton’s policies. “I don’t believe that the decisions made in the 1990s went to the issues that were important in this crisis, unlike a number of decisions that were made in the post-2000 period,” Summers said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” …

Uh huh. Not to let Bush of the hook, here, but seriously.
Summers then said it was much more important to put in place legislation to prevent a future crisis than to find fault with the past…

Well, that's certainly a surprise move.
Clinton administration critics on the left have said the administration was wrong to lift restrictions that prevented banks from offering commercial banking, insurance and investment services. The Glass-Steagall Act prevented banks from offering all of these services, but key provisions were repealed in 1999. Summers and the administration supported those moves at the time.

Indeed.
Former President Bill Clinton recently said he received bad advice from Summers on derivatives, another key part of the financial reform legislation now under consideration. Clinton said it was wrong to think rules on derivatives did not need more transparency. “I think they were wrong and I think I was wrong to take” their advice, Clinton said in an interview last week with ABC’s “This Week.”

Too little, too late, of course, but good for Big Dog. Now can we please retire the flabbergastingly vile, self-important, one man wrecking crew Larry Summers to the goddamn porch already, before Obama takes still more advice he will later regret from him as well?

Saturday, April 24, 2010

I'm Shocked, Shocked I Tell You, to Hear that the Good Faith Bipartisan Climate and Energy Bill Effort Has Been Scuttled!

With a team like Lindsey Graham, Joe Lieberman, and John Kerry shepherding it through, what could possibly have gone wrong?

Singularitarian Faithful Throng the IEET

According to a poll of the readership of the stealth-Robot Cult outfit IEET, fully 68% -- over two-thirds of respondents -- declared that "The Singularity" either "definitely" or "probably" will take place within this century.

"The Singularity" is a notion with many variant formulations, most of which have strong eschatological/ theological overtones: Cory Doctorow derides "The Singularity" as "The Rapture of the Nerds." Ray Kurzweil declares "The Singularity Is Coming" in a pop-futurological book proselytizing the notion. Vernor Vinge, the fine sf writer whose work inspired much of the cottage industry in Singularitarianism, has described "The Singularity" as a kind of techno-constituted "ascension" or "transcension" of selfhood incomprehensible to anyone who has not likewise so transcended, or described it as a kind of escape velocity propelling some lucky inhabitants of technological society out of history, a velocity achieved through an ongoing acceleration of accelerating change or through the arrival of a greater-than-human post-biological intelligence. All of these descriptions tend to get smudged together, as well as many of them to depend on rather nonsensical claims made about Moore's Law misconstrued as some kind of pseudo-Hegelian avatar of the World Spirit.

Needless to say, there are enormous confusions that bedevil all of these formulations, and I have written more than my fair share of debunkings of the variations of the Singularitarian sects of the Robot Cult archipelago (among them, The Singularity Won't Save Your Ass, What's Wrong With the Robot Cultists and Their Scary (or Shiny) Singularity?, Singularitarian Agony, Sanewashing Superlativity, among many others to be found in the Superlative Summary).

To simplify somewhat, self-identified "Singularitarians" in full-on Robot Cult mode tend to be not only among the dwindling dead-enders still clinging to the endlessly failed Good Old Fashioned Program of Strong AI but to have doubled down, as it were, and infused this faith with the amplified expectation not only of the proximate arrival of artificial intelligence but of a superintelligent post-biological Robot God who either will solve all our problems for us as a kind of sooper-parent or will instead reduce to the world to ubergoo computronium feedstock, either way ending human history and society and life As We Know It.

Given this, I personally think it is fair to say that the prominence of Singularitarian faithful among the IEET's readership is another indication (as is the whole White Guys As Far As the Eye Can See problem, as is the chirpy eugenicism problem, discussed here and here, for example), poses something of an insurmountable problem for the IEET in its ongoing effort to sanewash their organization as a mainstream-legible bioethics and technology policy-wonk think tank, rather than a congenial spear-tip into the transhumanist sub(cult)ure and Robot Cult organizational archipelago.

It is interesting that the definition with which IEET inaugurates the curious reader into the idea of "The Singularity" -- which, recall, over two thirds of IEET's readers seem to expect to be on its way -- is highly fumigated: "a theorized future point of discontinuity when events will accelerate at such a pace that normal unaugmented humans will be unable to predict or even understand the rapid changes occurring in the world around them."

It is hard not to wonder just what an "unaugmented human" is supposed to be, given that all human animals make recourse to culture/prosthesis, language, clothing, ceremonial, and so on -- or how transhumanists would defend the inevitable parochialism of any criteria that would presumably permit demarcations of the cultures/prostheses that "augment" humans as against the ones that do not. Futurological discourses are of course completely suffused with such definitional quandaries and uncritical assumptions (you should hear them speak of parochially preferred medical outcomes as "sub-optimal" or "enhancements" as if these were merely neutrally "technical" descriptions or universally affirmed values), which is one of the reasons I personally think futurological discourses tend to be better understood as modes of fraudulent advertising than as modes of serious analysis in the first place.

It is also hard not to wonder just how the frustration at predicting or understanding changes marked "singularitarian" ultimately differ from the well-known frustrations of prediction and understanding that already inspire us to distinguish, say, tomorrow from today in a conventional sense.

As a rule, futurologists (especially superlative futurologists of the transhumanist, singularitarian, techno-immortalist, cybernetic-totalist, nano-cornucopiast sects of the Robot Cult organizational archipelago) will tend EITHER to peddle their formulations as near-vacuities for mainstream consumption (issues of network security, healthcare funding, science education, global risk management, and so on) even though not one of these discourses originated with or is improved by or inspires any interest in their futurological deployments OR to peddle their formulations as extraordinarily marginal and hyperbolic faith-based initiatives for their own members (superintelligent post-biological Robot Gods, brains "uploaded" into cyberspace, bodies quasi-immortalized through sooper-medicine, cheap-as-dirt nanotechnological genies-in-a-bottle, and so on).

As I have elaborated here and here, nobody needs to join a Robot Cult to take technodevelopmental issues seriously in the former mode, and, overwhelmingly, nobody ever does. Anybody who takes techno-transcendentalizing wish-fulfillment fantasies seriously in the latter mode is ripe pickings for a Robot Cult and fully marginal for that.

The danger, of course, is that futurological discourses appeal to mass-media outlets hungry for narratives of technodevelopmental change and their politics more dramatic than useful, appeal to ill-educated audiences (either comparatively technoscientifically illiterate or politically-culturally oblivious or both), appeal to those whose inhabitation of disruptive technoscience in the midst of precarizing neoliberal development is primarily emotional (inspiring dreams of omnipotence, nightmares of impotence), and in these appeals function to derange public deliberation on the most equitable, most consensual distribution of costs, risks, and benefits to all the diverse stakeholders to technoscientific change at the worst possible historical moment, the moment of catastrophic climate change, proliferating WMDs, and unprecedented wealth disparities.

The comparatively suave futurologists of the IEET are doing this dance of derangement for the usual quick buck or for a few more asses in the pews of their sub(cult)ural organizations but to me they are not only targets for edifying ridicule in the way most Robot Cultists are but also to be more dangerous and deserving of exposure in their pretensions to academic seriousness and mainstream political relevance.

This Week's White Guys of "The Future" Report

I made my weekly sojourn to the stealth-Robot Cult outfit IEET's website to discover, once again, that out of fourteen portraits of today's featured authors and speakers there was only one non white guy to be seen. In fact, it was the same non white guy, and even the same piece, now nudged down the queue by an influx of new pieces by white guys, a piece in which the topic discussed by the non-penis-possessing transhumanoid was, in fact, explicitly, vaginas, described as "pandora's boxes." I continue to maintain that since only a minority of people in the world are white guys, a minority of people with whom tomorrow will be shared are white guys, a minority of people in the world impacted by technodevelopmental changes are white guys, a minority of people in the world informed about matters of technoscientice are white guys (even technoscience questions not directly connected to vaginas) the endless ongoing parade of techno-transcendentalizing white guys is an enormously problematic thing (though far from the only one) about the so called "futurists" and "bioethicists" and technoscience "policy wonks" of the IEET.

Public Enemy Helps Keep Amor Mundi More Positive

Friday, April 23, 2010

Boycott Arizona

You can postpone your family's visit to the Grand Canyon or your organization's convention in Phoenix until the unspeakably ugly idiotic clearly illegal racist authoritarian Arizona Immigration Bill is rescinded and every single official who drafted supported or promoted the vile thing is swept permanently out of power in a wave of righteous and truly patriotic outrage.

How Many Chickens for an Appendectomy? An MRI? There's An App For That

Needless to say, as an ethical vegetarian, not to mention as a non-batshitcrazy person, I cannot endorse The Lowden Plan.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Another Slog Through the Swamp

Deeply immersed once again in overwhelming amounts of student writing and lecture prep... will re-appear in a couple of days, no doubt bruised and bleary...

Sunday, April 18, 2010

J.K. Rowling's "Single Mother's Manifesto" Excoriates Tories

In the upcoming UK elections (about which I am far from expert) I think I'm hoping the Lib-Dems will coalition with visibly tired Labour against any ugly Tory resurgence. The Lib-Dems would surely demand wholesome voting reforms as the price of such a coalition -- reforms that would probably be the most lasting impact of this historical juncture when all is said and done -- but it would also be nice to think Labour would take the resulting breathing space as a chance to reinvigorate the party by returning to its roots and throwing off the worst of New Labour's failed experiment in corporate-militarism. That the UK would switch favored dance partners from the US to the EU is probably much too much to hope out of this scrum. I was pleased to see J.K. Rowling's anti-Tory polemic as a contribution to such a hopeful outcome. Here's a snip from the end of her piece, follow the Times link for the whole thing:
Suggestions that Mr Cameron seems oblivious to how poor people actually live, think and behave seem to provoke accusations of class warfare…. I simply want to know that aspiring prime ministers have taken the trouble to educate themselves about the lives of all kinds of Britons, not only the sort that send messages with banknotes.

But wait, some will say. Given that you have long since left single parenthood for marriage and a nuclear family; given that you are now so far from a life dependent on benefits… why do you care? Surely, nowadays, you are a natural Tory voter?

No, I’m afraid not. The 2010 election campaign, more than any other, has underscored the continuing gulf between Tory values and my own. It is not only that the renewed marginalisation of the single, the divorced and the widowed brings back very bad memories. There has also been the revelation, after ten years of prevarication on the subject, that Lord Ashcroft, deputy chairman of the Conservatives, is non-domiciled for tax purposes.

Now, I never, ever, expected to find myself in a position where I could understand, from personal experience, the choices and temptations open to a man as rich as Lord Ashcroft. The fact remains that the first time I ever met my recently retired accountant, he put it to me point-blank: would I organise my money around my life, or my life around my money? If the latter, it was time to relocate to Ireland, Monaco, or possibly Belize.

I chose to remain a domiciled taxpayer…. I wanted my children to grow up where I grew up, to have proper roots in a culture as old and magnificent as Britain’s; to be citizens, with everything that implies, of a real country, not free-floating ex-pats, living in the limbo of some tax haven and associating only with the children of similarly greedy tax exiles.

A second reason, however, was that I am indebted to the British welfare state; the very one that Mr Cameron would like to replace with charity handouts. When my life hit rock bottom, that safety net, threadbare though it had become under John Major’s Government, was there to break the fall. I cannot help feeling, therefore, that it would have been contemptible to scarper for the West Indies at the first sniff of a seven-figure royalty cheque. This, if you like, is my notion of patriotism. On the available evidence, I suspect that it is Lord Ashcroft’s idea of being a mug.

Child poverty remains a shameful problem in this country…. David Cameron tells us that the Conservatives have changed, that they are no longer the “nasty party”… but I, for one, am not buying it. He has repackaged a policy that made desperate lives worse when his party was last in power, and is trying to sell it as something new. I’ve never voted Tory before ... and they keep on reminding me why.

The End of the Conversation

Upgraded from the Moot, my final -- it would seem -- comment to "Mitchell" the transhumanist futurologist:

So, just to be clear, (one) you simply don't think it is a problem that your Robot Cult has always been and still remains mostly a bunch of white guys talking to each other, (two) you actually do agree that you are driven by impulses well-described as infantile and are fine with that, and (three) you really do expect your idiosyncratic pet "then" statements to be taken seriously even when they follow on the heels of completely unreal "if" statements like "if we assume we will eliminate all aging."

Congratulations, you really are a prototypical transhumanist, and silly to the hilt. Glad we have gotten that cleared up and here's hoping all that, er, works out for you.

By way of conclusion, you seem to think just because you think something thinkable it assumes thereby the coloration of the possible. But this is as little true of techno-"immaterialized" minds and techno-"immortalized" lifespans and "post"-politicizing techno-abundance as it is of Aquinas' Wishing Makes It So "proof" of the existence of God. Your superlative aspirations are not High or Big or Super-Confident so much as they are actually incoherent: for those of us who know better, they are confessions on your part of deep confusions about quite fundamental questions concerning of what human intelligence, flourishing, and freedom actually consist. If I may be permitted what will seem an immodest and impertinent suggestion (I mean, another one), while I daresay you are a bright and well-meaning person in at least a quotidian sort of way, in my view you seem truly lost and deluded and in need of the guidance of deeper and more critical thinking. You aren't even right about what you think you think is thinkable. The last place you need to be wasting your time is in a Robot Cult if you want to become a more sensible and useful person in the world. Good luck to you.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Cleo Laine Helps Keep Amor Mundi More Positive



Cleo sings Sondheim…

White Guys Forever Report

Perhaps this should be a regular feature? Given my ongoing exchange with apparently white guy transhumanist "Mitchell" about how completely nonproblematic he thinks it is that superlative futurologists are and always have been almost entirely white guys (like he is and I am, too) even though white guys are a minority of people in the world, a minority of people who will share tomorrow, a minority of people impacted by technodevelopments, a minority of people informed about technoscience issues, I trundled off once again to the stealth-Robot Cult outfit IEET's website to discover… lo! and behold! Out of fourteen portraits of today's featured authors and speakers, One Lady! She writes about vaginas. She calls them, rather unaccountably, "pandora's boxes." Progress!

If Only

The Hill:
House Republican Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) on Saturday charged that President Barack Obama had signed into law 25 tax increases since taking office in an attempt "to remake America in the image of Europe."

I'd personally settle for remaking our part of America more in the image of the part of America that is Canada.

Aiming High in the Robot Cult

Still more "Mitchell" from the Moot:
Let's aim, not just to regrow broken spinal cords, but to restore anyone to physical youth who wants it. Let's aim, not just to optimize the learning ability of the brains we are born with, but to boost that ability to unnatural levels through technological means.


Well, first of all, the term "optimize" always contains an unstated "optimize -- in the service of which ends for what for whom": it isn't a neutral term, but a term occluding all sorts of moral, aesthetic, political contestations around what is meant by intelligence, what and who counts as intelligent, what intelligence is good for. The tendency of you transhumanist types to go off willy-nilly speaking of "enhancement" this and "optimiziation" that as though all these contestations either don't exist or aren't important typically makes transhumanist discourses on non-normative medical and prosthetic and cultural interventions stealthily eugenic (no doubt unintentionally in many cases) in addition to all the other idiotic and wrongheaded things they also tend to be.

But to speak more directly to your point here, I must say that I do not agree with you about the force of the "aim" you are mobilizing in your statement here. I think scientific and medical research tends to be driven by the proximately possible, I think its terms are suffused with laboratory conditions, funding exigencies, ongoing publications.

I don't doubt that many scientists also enjoy indulging in blue-skying about how cool it might be if we could one day regrow limbs or live for centuries or employ nanoscale techniques to change dirt to feasts and mansions for peanuts...

And I don't doubt that this sort of daydreaming fuels the imagination that drives some creative science in the lab or in the published paper, just as for others creative science is driven by the contemplation of God or James Joyce or a night of drunkenness or a night with a lover or a long suppressed traumatic event from childhood.

Even if we should grant and celebrate the often unscientific wellsprings to which the imaginative or motivational dimensions of critical, scientific, problem-solving rationality are sometimes indispensably indebted we need not and indeed should not confuse them for critical, scientific, problem-solving rationality themselves.

As anything but diffusely inspirational expressions of "wouldn't it be cool if," utterances like "let's aim for soopergenius IQs in sooper bodies that live for centuries in the Oort Cloud" have no legible connection to what is practically meant by "aiming" for anything at all where the rubber hits the road in laboratory practice, in the writing of the paper or the grant request or the regulatory study. Confusing such matters isn't a sign of superiority but of error or ignorance (some of it willful), and it is the furthest imaginable thing from helpful.

Thinking Big in the Robot Cult

More "Mitchell" from the Moot:
I understood your thinking to be: some things are possible and desirable; other things just aren't possible; transhumanism wants the impossible, such as physical immortality, superintelligence, mind uploading, and nanotechnological abundance. That is a maximalist agenda for transhumanism. There's no denying that the extremes get the attention, both inside and outside the subculture.


What you are describing as "minimalism versus maximalism" looks to me more like research versus wish-fulfillment fantasizing, sanity versus incoherence, science versus religion. Robot Cultists like to frame their confusions of science fiction with science fact as a kind of "daring" on their part, they like to fancy themselves visionaries or what seems more like jocks of science by handwaving about superintellinge, superlongevity, and superabundance rather than consensus science. I do not agree. I think they are just engaging in a kind of advertising and promotional discourse unconnected with actual research, advertising in a hyperbolic mode that has many of the hallmarks of outright fraud.

I also think techno-transcendentalizing futurologies like transhumanism indulge in something that looks quite a bit like evangelical religiosity in its least pleasant most dangerous crusading and promotional modes. Although I am not at all a religious person myself, I don't disdain religious expression in others any more than I do aesthetic expression in others (there are lots of paths to meaningful existence). But I do insist we all take great care to discern and distinguish and criticize religion (or for that matter aesthetics) whenever it seeks to colonize, distort, or be mistaken for science or proper politics. That is as true for Pentecostals or Muslims or Mormons as it is for Robot Cultists, in my view. When an sf fandom or PR firm (every futurist is essentially a salesman) confuses itself for a policy think-tank or social movement, enormous mischief ensues.

Although I do indeed think immortality and nanoabundance and mind uploading are practically impossible, this is not -- as it is usually framed by Robot Cultists -- a matter of my quibbling with them about developmental timescales or lacking their "can-do" spirit or ability to "think big." I don't confuse lies with optimism or incoherence with bigness like futurologists characteristically do.

More to the point: I think "mind uploading" involves deep confusions about what intelligence (which is embodied and social) means, what personal lifespan (which is also embodied, social and inherently, indispensably vulnerable) means, or what it really means to aspire to post-political superabundance in terms of lived human freedom (which depends in its substance on plurality and contestation). I don't think transhumanists want "more" -- I think transhumanists literally don't know what the hell they are talking about, and that when they talk they are deranging public discourse in a way the public is disastrously susceptible to in a time of disruptive technoscientific change and global corporate-militarist developmental precarization.

I frankly don't think transhumanists are ultimately saying anything that any hungry bored lonely infant in a poopy diaper isn't already squealing about in his crib. You just trump up your infantile wish-fulfillment fantasies in the trappings of science fiction iconography and appeal to a slightly more hyperbolic id than do the usual run of the mill consumer-capitalist sports car and boner pill ads. That you people seem to think this represents a philosophical worldview or cutting edge science policy is nothing short of flabbergasting in my view.

Friday, April 16, 2010

More Mitchell on White Guys in Robot Cults and Why Wanting Not to Die and Wanting to Be Superrich in "The Future" Is Somehow a Worldview

"Mitchell" soldiers on Robotically and Cultically in the Moot:
Your thesis, remember, is that transhumanism is a sort of folk religion for white guys, and so all I have to do is point out that you don't have to be white or male or in the West to be into this stuff.


Well, no, I pointed out that you Robot Cultists ARE and ALWAYS HAVE BEEN overabundantly white guys.

Are you denying the truth of that observation? Are you denying that observation has any significance at all in a world in which white guys are a minority of people alive, a minority of people who will continue to share the world tomorrow being shaped today, peer-to-peer, a minority of people whose lives are impacted by technoscienfic change, a minority of people who are scientifically literate and politically aware?

If, as you say, the loose set of infantile wish-fulfillment fantasies of which your techno-transcendentalizing religious faith essentially consists could or should in fact appeal to other than white guys, then doesn't the fact that they DO NOT seem in the main in the actual world ever to appeal to other than white guys constitute more of a problem for you rather than the solution to the problem at hand?

I guess there is a certain consistency here, though, in confusing an imagined logical possibility of diversity with the actual reality of diversity, confusing fairly commonplace human wish-fulfillment fantasies of personal power with a formal philosophy, confusing science fiction with actual science.

Maybe you're just a very silly, confused person, after all?

If, by the way, you think there is an actual definition of this "transhumanism" that you seem to advocate and expect to sweep the world that does not amount to "infantile wish fulfillment fantasies of immortality and personal power enabled through confusions of science fiction with science fact" I am eager to hear it on your own terms.

You keep promising to tell me what "transhumanism" essentially and uniquely is, but so far you keep agreeing with me that it often is just a kind of religious faith "based on" wanting to live a really long time, maybe even forever, and loll around in abundance, all of which will be delivered by "technology" in a construal that seems broad to the point of vacuity and through some mechanism that remains largely unspecified.

As I have warned you many times before, you will discover that if you strive in an honest way to provide specificity about either what this "technology" actually is supposed to consist of or what mechanism will enable this "technology" to deliver its supposedly transcendentalizing wish-fulfilling goods you will surely discover either (one) that you are saying very bland sorts of things nobody needs "transhumanism" to say, or (two) you are saying batshit crazy things that only "transhumanists" say.

When you finally grasp this, then the Robot Cult spell will be broken and you will be free to be a geek who enjoys reading science fiction on its own terms and advocating sensible consensus science policy on its different terms as a grown up person. If you also happen to be a democratically minded person of the left you might even do some good in the world once you leave your Robot Cult behind, championing funding for science education and research and the application of consensus science in relevant domains of public policy (like climate change legislation, urban planning, public healthcare provision, sex education, and so on).

You don't have to thank me, just become a more sensible person and do some good in the world.

Breaking Up With That Twit, Twitter

Katie Halper at TPMCafe

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Congratulations to Jane Lynch

via Stalkarazzi: “Glee” star Jane Lynch is engaged to longtime girlfriend Lara Embry.

As a proud gleek and huge fan of "A Mighty Wind" I must be permitted a moment to enthuse my congratulations to radioactively hilarious Jane Lynch. It is to be hoped that the happy couple are not driven to divorce simply by the mind-numbing force of hearing their state of mind relentlessly described as "gleeful" in literally every published account every minute of every day across the planet.

And, what the hell, here's Sue Sylvester's fanatically faithful and funny homage to "Vogue." (Yes, Julie Brown's "Vague" is still better.)

Tax Day Chestnuts

A special selection from my Dispatches from Libertopia just in time for April 15:
III. Anti-tax zealots are the ones who think that civilization is the only free lunch.

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.

XXVII. Taxes are not, however annoying they may seem, violations of our freedom so much as indispensable enablers of freedom -- and hence they are a precondition for the constitution of the very experience of the "voluntary" on which notions of the involuntary depend in the first place.

XXVIII. Taxes properly pay for the administration of basic needs that ensures the scene of consent is non-duressed by deprivation, inequity, or insecurity. Those "libertarians" who declare whatever passes as a market outcome voluntary and nonviolent by definitional fiat -- whatever the conditions of relative deprivation, inequity, insecurity, ignorance, or misinformation that duress its terms in fact -- reveal themselves to be poor champions of an impoverished and profoundly uncivilized notion of "liberty."

XXIX. Ours is a world so sensibly arranged that it is only the ones who could afford to pay for everything who are assured escape from paying for anything.

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

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

White Guys Forever Redux

I mentioned in an offhand way in a post yesterday that, quite apart from the hyperbole and the mystifications that seem to me to suffuse the claims of members of the various superlative futurological sects of the Robot Cult archipelago (the extropians, transhumanists, singularitarians, cybernetic-totalists, techno-immortalists, nano-cornucopiasts, and so on), the fact that they have always been and remain to this day so overabundantly populated by white guys despite existing in a world more abundantly populated by other than white guys is, frankly, creepy and wrong and should send up red flags to anybody who takes a gander at their little sub(cult)ural cul-de-sac. Needless to say, there are endlessly many other red-flag provocative things Robot Cultists say and do otherwise apart from the whole white guy parade thing, too, but I just happened to mention that red flag in particular in that particular post.

In the Moot, one "Mitchell" was not impressed:
I find this thoroughly unpersuasive. It's like saying only white men will ever have nukes or be hackers. If we analyse transhumanism as a cultural and existential response to a certain level of technology, then what exactly is going to stop it from springing up everywhere else that has Internet and biotechnology?


"Cultural and existential response"?

Sounds like a science fiction fanclub or convention to me -- the sort of thing I thoroughly approve of as a big old geek -- but the thing is the "transhumanists" seem to want their sf fandom to be treated as a policy think-tank, a political movement, or a religious/philosophical organization providing members the meaning of Life, the Universe, and Everything.

"[W]hat exactly is going to stop it from springing up everywhere"?

Honestly, just what exactly is the "it" you fancy will "spring up" inevitably everywhere?

Have you noticed that the Robot Cultists have been indulging in roughly the same song and dance for over two decades by now and yet the Robot God, the nanobotic genies-in-a-bottle, the gengineered sooper-bodies, the cyberspatial immortalization and sexytime Holodecks are no closer to materialization or even to making sense, and self-described "transhumanists" planetwide have never managed to be more than the same few handfuls of white guys?

At what point does "inevitable" start looking to you like the "dumb" it looks like to actually technoscientifically literate politically aware people more generally?

Digital networked media and non-normativizing medical techniques are already available, after all -- is everybody "transhumanist" now, has "transhumanism" swept the world, whatever that is supposed to mean?

If you really make the effort to characterize just what you think "transhumanism" consists of as some "thing" that will "happen" or in some sense "prevail," I predict you will EITHER say something general to the point of vacuity that can be described without introducing the term "transhumanism" concerning your marginal handful of sf fanboys who cannot distinguish science from science fiction to capture "it" -- something on the order of: new, widely-available techniques tend to alter general conduct in ways that serious people will want to account for in law and policy -- OR you will say something hyperbolic and hilariously implausible about wanting to live forever by cryonicizing your brain or uploading your "mind" into cyberspace or how hackers should build a desktop dirt-to-diamonds nanomachine in your basement or whatever that immediately reveals you to be a wish-fulfillment fantasist who would be better off in therapy than in a Robot Cult.

Not to be rude, Mitchell, but do you happen to be a transhumanistical white guy yourself? Do you think transhumanistical white guys are The Voice of this "transhumanism" that will "spring up" so inevitably soon enough in The Future?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

If Somebody Records All the Farts in the Nation's Public Restrooms Is the Library of Congress Going to Acquire and Archive That As Well?

twitter.com/librarycongress

Luntz Lies That Work!

Maddowblog.

My favorite: "Never Again!" But not in the way Luntz means.

White Guys Forever!

I went over to the stealth-Robot Cult transhumanist "techno-ethics" outfit IEET website to see what silliness might be preoccupying them these days (to make fun of them for it, of course), but I was stopped short by the portraits that accompany each of the articles they are offering up at the moment...

Every single one was a white guy.

Look: I'm a white guy... I kiss a white guy every night before I go to sleep... I take philosophy seriously which usually means reading white guys more or less endlessly... I respect and honor my many wonderful white guy students... I don't have anything against white guys as, you know, a cohort, by any means.

But white guys are a minority in the world. White guys are a minority of the people with useful and interesting and intelligent things to say on every existing topic. White guys are not the world. White guys are not The Voice of any actually-possible "future."

If you are in a group or a forum or a subculture or a movement of any size that is radically unrepresentative of the world of which it is otherwise a part, especially if this unrepresentativeness is a long-ongoing phenomenon, this is telling you that there is something probably very wrong going on with that group or forum or subculture or movement.

If you see nothing but white guys in your Tea-Party event or your Ayn Rand fan club or your transhumanist meet-and-greet, you should ask yourself what the hell you have gotten yourself into exactly. Of course, if you find yourself hob-nobbing among Teabaggers, Randroids, or Robot Cultists in the first place, I suppose it probably already indicates that there is something fairly faulty going on in those critical faculties of yours anyway, come to think of it.

Still.

Reality Humiliating O'Reilly Humiliating Coburn Humiliating FOX

Varieties of Futurological Discourse

There are continuities but also important differences between mainstream corporate-militarist futurological discourses (among them neoliberal developmental discourses), and what I call superlative futurological discourses (among them the beliefs of members of various Robot Cults). So, too, obviously, there are both continuities and differences among mainstream futurological discourses (the ones that sell themselves as "Green," the ones that sell themselves as "Third Way" politics, the ones that cater to Defense Departments, for instance) and among superlative futurological discourses (the stealth-eugenicists, the Kurzweilians, the Drexlerians, the various oddball techno-immortalizing sects, for instance). I think there is something ridiculous to be disdained in pretty much every going futurological discourse, sometimes flabbergastingly but also sometimes only faintly so, and I also think there is something perniciously anti-democratizing to be critiqued in pretty much every futurological discourse, sometimes outright reactionary but also sometimes just common-or-garden variety conservative.

I personally disapprove of all futurology (and I do so especially because I am a big queergeek and sf-fan myself and I am a strong champion of consensus science, and of the work of progressive technodevelopmental social struggles in which all the stakeholders to technoscientific change have a real say in the distribution of the costs, risks, and benefits of that change, and of secular democratic civilization and consensual cultural-prosthetic self-determination more generally), but that doesn't mean I don't recognize or take seriously the many differences that make a difference among the varieties of futurological discourse presently perniciously in play and on offer.

I do like to make fun of the Robot Cultists and superlative futurologists in the various extropian, transhumanist, singularitarian, cybernetic totalist, techno-immortalist, nano-cornucopiast sects here on Amor Mundi pretty regularly, of course. And I also do think it is quite important to point out that these would-be techno-transcendentalizing wish-fulfillment fantasists are indulging in a discourse that conduces in my view to profoundly reactionary and anti-democratizing political ends (a point no less true in my view just because some of the contributors to these tendentially-authoritarian discourses earnestly fancy themselves politically moderate or even left-wing).

But I think it is also important to emphasize that not all futurology is superlative in the specific sense I attribute to the members of the various organizations in the Robot Cult archipelago.

I do indeed think that all futurology -- both the superlative sects of futurology and also the more "mainstream" forms that suffuse corporate and Defense Department think-tanks -- are profoundly anti-democratizing and serve incumbent interests. That is to say -- however ironic it may seem to say this of folks who declare their focus to be "The Future" -- all varieties of futurology conduce in the main to conservative politics, and often to the most reactionary and authoritarian extremes of conservatism in fact. Hence, my Futurological Brickbat: "To speak of "The Future" is always to indulge in reaction. All futurisms are finally retro-futurisms."

Mainstream Futurology seems to me in many respects the quintessential discourse of neoliberal developmentalism. In its hyperbole and endless rebranding of incumbency as "progress" it is close kin to the advertising and promotional discourse that drives mass-mediated corporate-capitalism. In the immaterialism of its digital utopianism it is close kin to the logo-ization and disdain for production of the suave fraud of the Friedman Flat Earth Society as well as to the financial fraudsters who sold slim hopes as firm assets for short-term gains rebranded as a "Long Boom." In the excited handwaving of its oh-so-serious "geo-engineering" proposals it is close kin to the corporate greenwashing that indulges the worst kind of climate-science denialism, the kind that actually admits to the reality and scale of the environmental problems and yet responds to these science facts with science fictions filled with snappy neologisms and vapid can-do ego-stroking and digital animations of sooper-gizmos all delivered for cash to audiences filled with the very folks earning the lion's share of the short-term profits of extractive-industrialism at the cost of the destruction of the world.

The varieties of superlative futurology to which I devoted so much of my earlier critical attention (and to which I still direct no small amount of ridicule) represent a kind of reductio of the hyperbole and immaterialism of mainstream corporate-militarist futurology. Indeed, in many instances they make an outright religion of futurological tropes and topoi: the advertising hyperbole and disdain of market friction and practical livelihoods of the neoliberals actually become promises of the techno-transcendence of stakeholder politics, embodied intelligence and mortality, "limits" of any kind. And as such a reductio of mainstream corporate-militarist futurology the Robot Cultists can provide a clarifying extremity, exposing inter-connections and assumptions and aspirations entailed but rarely examined in discussions of mainstream futurology and corporate-military developmentalist ideologies.

I think it is clarifying to discern the connections between the mainstream futurology of the neoliberal Boomers and "Reagan Democrats" and their obsessions with success seminars and boner-pills and face-lifts as well as their eager embrace of the serial criminal idiocies of SAP-to-NAFTA globalization bubbles, the 90s tech bubble, the Bush war-economy bubble, the housing bubble, and so on, to the even more extreme immaterialism one discerns in the superlative futurology of the Robot Cultists in their pining after the digitization and immortalization of their "meat selves" or for a circumvention of actual political problems of poverty or plurality in a finite world via paradisical immersive virtual realities or post-scarcity nanotechnologies or a singularitarian Robot God who will end material history. While there are important differences in the terms of the critique demanded of these varieties of mainstream and superlative futurology, it is also revealing to grasp the continuities between them, so long as one does not mistake continuities for outright identities.

Robot Cultist Peter Thiel Exposed

Martin Striz:
The blogosphere is abuzz with the revelation that the James O'Keefe "documentary" is a fraud. This documentary purportedly shows ACORN employees advising O'Keefe and another woman (who supposedly dressed and presented themselves as a pimp and a prostitute) on how to start a child prostitution ring. As a direct result of this "documentary," Congress voted to cut federal funding for ACORN, and, although that action was later overturned, ACORN almost went into bankruptcy. After heavy investigations and allegations of criminal activity (violations of the Invasion of Privacy Act), O'Keefe turned over the full, unedited tapes to avoid prosecution. These tapes show that the "documentary" was heavily edited and that none of the employees advised him on establishing a child prostitution ring. Rather, one employee attempted to gather information on O'Keefe and later contacted law enforcement about the incident. Another employee, supposedly advising O'Keefe's associate on the child prostitution ring, was actually advising her on getting a home loan. More here.

It's definitely scandalous, but it's even more interesting to me, because there is an aspect of this story that involves the transhumanist movement. What you may not know is that Peter Thiel, founder of PayPal and an early investor in Facebook, directly or indirectly funded O'Keefe. Thiel has admitted to giving O'Keefe $10,000, but denied knowing anything about the documentary. He claimed it was for another project.

Whether Thiel donated money directly to the production of the documentary or to another O'Keefe project, this is arguing over a technicality. Shrewd investors are good at complicating the paper trail. It is abundantly clear that the spirit of Thiel's intentions was to undermine an organization that does a lot of good for poor people who are underrepresented in the democratic process. You see, poor people vote against Thiel's privileged interests, just like women do, which is why he appears to hold them and democracy itself in contempt: "Since 1920, the vast increase in welfare beneficiaries and the extension of the [voting] franchise to women — two constituencies that are notoriously tough for libertarians — have rendered the notion of 'capitalist democracy' into an oxymoron." His solution is to escape the very system that made him rich: "The critical question then becomes one of means, of how to escape not via politics but beyond it. Because there are no truly free places left in our world, I suspect that the mode for escape must involve some sort of new and hitherto untried process that leads us to some undiscovered country..."

This sheds some light on why he's an investor in the Seasteading Institute, and transhumanism-affiliated organizations like The Singularity Institute and The Methuselah Foundation. The main point here is that Peter Thiel is a quintessential example of the privileged selfish interests that guide certain currents of transhumanist thought. He is literally the rich, white guy who hates democracy that Dale Carrico so often writes about, when he excoriates the transhumanist community. Thiel wants to build artificial islands to escape Western civilization, John Galt style, and establish an anarcho-capitalist dreamland. Democracy is tyranny on the rich and must be abandoned.

Follow the link to Martin's Veritas Curat to read the whole piece, which continues on from there.

Two pieces of mine in which I have taken up these issues myself are Dispatches from Libertopia: Going Galt on the High Seas (To Infinity and Beyond!) and Democracy at the Transhumanapalooza, in which Thiel has a cameo, among other Ayn Raelian types.

Dancing With the States

Monday, April 05, 2010

MundiMuster! Oppose Jane Harman's CDP Endorsement

Oppose Jane Harman's CDP Endorsement :
JANE HARMAN -- "I am proud to be introduced as THE BEST REPUBLICAN IN THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY.”

Do we really want to endorse a Democrat that makes statements like that?

It's time for a change in the very "Blue" 36th Congressional District. There is a 18% Democratic voter registration advantage in this district and it is a shame to have this safe Democratic seat represented by a Corporate Blue Dog.

It is time for a candidate like Marcy Winograd that will represent the people of the district, not a candidate like Jane Harman that represents the corporations of the district. It is time for CHANGE in the 36th District. That change begins with CDP delegates signing and faxing the letter below!

Marcy Winograd for Congress

You'll notice that only CDP Delegates should sign this. I'm not one, but I'm providing these links to raise awareness, especially for Californians, of some of the issues in presently play here. Note to the Winograd folks -- I'm on your side on this, believe me, but I do wish you would warn people when links are going to take them to clunky slow-moving.pdfs, and also I wish you would refer to people as "who"s not "that"s, and it does seem to me that before "eighteen" the article is "an," not "a." I'm not just an anti-corporatist anti-militarist California Democrat but a Virgo, and little things like that really bug me.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Teaching

I realize the posting frequency is way down at the moment -- but teaching is my focus for now. My MA students at SFAI are in the last stages of their written thesis process and they deserve lots of attention -- and my remaining three courses at Berkeley and in the City still require ongoing prep. It's a bit of a slog right about now. Eric and I both seem to have conquered our coughs at least, so that isn't still adding to the strain thank heavens. I'll be back to my usual posting as soon as may be.