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

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Today's Random Wilde

I always pass on good advice. It is the only thing to do with it. It is never of any use to oneself.


Upgraded from the Moot:
Let me add that being accused of wild-eyed revolutionary fervor at one and the same time as being accused of mild-eyed reactionary complacency is enormously edifying.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Free Market Fundy Faith in Unintelligent Design Has Failed As Spectacularly As Creationist Fundy Faith in Intelligent Design Has Done

Blaming the Greek victims of usury and speculation from their EU "partners" has become the inevitable preface to punishing the victims, the Greek people. Fundies can usually be counted upon to behave this way it would seem. The Hayekian/Friedmanian would-be disinventors of Keynesian macroeconomics now demand austerity for all but the fraud-fat beneficiaries of their market fundamentalist pseudo-science. Hear them howling from their pulpits among the neoliberal ruins that we will contract our way to expansion, that manna will trickle down from our worthy elites, and, in the meantime, "screw them all -- the predator gods of the marketplace will know their own." Who knew that these market-fundamentalists have spent all these decades evangelizing in Economics Departments providing us a test case for the disaster of "teaching the controversy" as a way to dismantle such science as is inconvenient to incumbents.

Gizmos Drenched In Blood and Destined for Toxic Landfills

Still Accelerating Futurologically into Tech Heaven!

Indulgence Is Not Idealism

Upgraded and adapted from the Moot, "Summerspeaker" declares:
I want a world without hierarchy and inequality. Basic income isn't enough; everyone must have equal access to consumption. The gender distinction itself functions as a form of oppression and needs to go. There's nothing inherently wrong with wish-fulfillment fantasies; if you don't know what you seek you'll never find it.

The great demand the democratic left must strive to be equal to in my view is our ongoing negotiation of the paradoxical dynamic of our valuing both equity and diversity, a dynamism I prefer to denote as a kind of circuit, equity-in-diversity, to emphasize their difficult inter-implication. Your declaration that basic income is "not enough" followed by your wholesale rejection of any distinction articulated by what might pass for a performance of "gender" both suggest to me that you value equity to the cost of diversity, to the eventual assurance of tyranny.

Basic guaranteed income is for me one leg of a tripod also including basic healthcare and lifelong access to education, training, and reliable information (these are ideal outcomes for which the heartbreaking ongoing convulsive compromised struggle for welfare, healthcare, education, media, and regulatory reforms provide ever ongoing emancipatory accomplishments) together with actually democratically accountable constituted authorities (enshrining no taxation without representation, elimination of permanent informal status, strengthening separation of powers, subsidiarity and federalism as checks on corruption and abuse, democratization of contemporary corporate-militarist global governing bodies, authorizing planetary oversight of environmental, health, education, labor conditions provide the diplomatic and activist agenda for struggle here) better ensures that people can actually consent in an informed, nonduressed way to the terms of their cultural/prosthetic self- and lifeway-determination, peer to peer, and that there are ongoing checks on the vulnerability to abuses inherent in any institution of alternatives for the nonviolent adjudication of disputes arising inevitably out of plurality and facilitation of collaborative problem solving and creative expressivity.

In my view:
[one] to pine for the dis-invention rather than the democratization of the state seems to me a recipe for chaos and tyranny masquerading as concern for injustice, usually arising out of wish-fulfillment fantasies of spontaneous order either based in parochialism or denialism about the ineradicability and demands of human plurality;

[two] to pine for the dis-invention of sex-gender altogether rather than for its more capacious re-elaboration through the creative and subversive citations of its norms seems to me an evasion of the problem of patriarchy masquerading as an intervention in it, usually arising out of wish-fulfillment fantasies that one might simply will oneself into genderlessness or post-gender, as though gender were a suit of clothes donned or doffed from a hanger, when will itself is not so much willed as enabled through the ongoing elaboration of norms, among them, yes, sex-gender norms;

[three] to pine for techno-transcendence -- superintelligence, superlongevity, superabundance as deranging hyperbolizations of security, healthcare, sustainability -- rather than for democratizing technodevelopmental social struggle to ensure that the costs, risks, and benefits of technoscientific change are equitably distributed to the diversity of their stakeholders seems to me to indulge in wish-fulfillment fantasies masquerading as consensus science and serious science policy, usually in the service of incumbents fraudulently seeking outcomes that amplify their interests or from the vantage of marginal defensive faith-based subcultures suffused with irrational fears of impotence and dreams of omnipotence among True Believers and would-be gurus.

There is nothing wrong with animating ideals (mine are democratization, equity-in-diversity, consensualization, and nonviolence) but there is everything wrong with wish-fulfillment fantasies that arise from confusions and sow confusions.

Any greedy asshole or squalling infant can howl that they want! more! now! Any charlatan or crank can peddle an anti-aging skin cream or sex-rejuvinating elixir or perpetual motion machine. There's nothing new or radical or revolutionary in giving vent to such desires or giving in to such temptations.

That the struggle for justice and sense seems heartbreaking in the belly of the beast is no justification for indulging in deception or self-deception just because you are scared of death, or fear the contingency of history, or hanker after comfort and ease, or dream of the perfect control of circumstances, or despise the demands of reconciling your differences with the peers with whom you share the world.

You really can be a dreamer and still be a grown-up.

Or maybe that's my own wish-fulfillment fantasy?

Budget Hawks and War Hawks and the Little People

Contracting the economy to expand it makes as little sense as troop surging our way to troop withdrawal in Afghanistan. I cannot say that I am particularly surprised to find that so many old out of touch rich white guys in Congress and their pet punditocrats who spout the one notion also favor the other notion. Somebody has to suffer for the crimes and errors of the Masters of the Universe, what else are the little people for?

Monday, June 28, 2010

"Be Practical, Demand the Impossible"

Upgraded and adapted from the Moot, responding yet again to the tireless objections of bravely pseudonymous "Summerspeaker," once more with feeling...
You reject transhumanist similarities to revolutionary dreamers on the basis that the technologies required to implement their vision are impossible... The charge of impossibility applies equally to... radical feminism. I've heard it a thousand times. Our ideals of social transformation exist in the same unproven space as Aubrey de Grey's quest for rejuvenation therapy.

If you can't see the difference between the struggle to educate, agitate, and organize to give more people more of a say in the public decisions that affect them, as against the faith-based initiatives of Robot Cultists clapping louder so that their organismic brains can be "migrated" into non-organismic cyberspatial next-best-thing-to-immortalization in a virtual treasure cave or comicbook-capacitated robot body all under the wise kind care of a sooper-parental Robot God then there really is nothing I can say to you on this matter.

Just because patriarchal pricks and rich assholes refuse to relinquish their unearned privileges without struggle doesn't mean that the struggle for equity-in-diversity is impossible even if it sometimes seems too difficult to bear. This is why the Situationists rightly insisted in the name of practicality the apparently unpractical demanding of the impossible of our norms, customs, institutions, re-politicizing what incumbency would de-politicize to domesticate the status quo from its actual historical contingency into what will be taken as natural inevitability. But neither does the fact that the struggle for justice is always more worthwhile than it may seem in the belly of the beast mean that everything declared to be impossible is really secretly possible after all. Fighting for democracy, equity, consent, and diversity are difficult, indeed we will all of us break our hearts and be shattered on the wheel of history fighting for them... but building perpetual motion machines and squaring circles are faith-based initiatives built in basements by dot-eyed cranks and charismatic charlatans who are deceiving others or themselves or both. There is a difference. It makes a difference.

When I declare the superlative futurological formulations of the Robot Cultists impossible you really must understand that I am not declaring them impossible in the sense of being too tough because humans lack enough zizzy zazzy can-do spirit to get 'er done, but declaring them to be actually incoherent aspirations, profound misconstruals of the conditions on which the Robot Cultists' pet objects for techno-transcendentalization depend for their actual legibility and continence in the first place.

Intelligence is incarnated and socialized in ways that make it a profound error to speak of its digitization, agency is citational and interdependent in ways that make it a profound error to speak of its augmentation via autonomizing capacitation, to the extent that flourishing selfhood is biological it is a profound error to speak of its indefinite survivable extension, to the extent that it is narrative it is a profound error to speak of its indefinite coherent extension, and to the extent that it is cultural it is partial, multiple, and vulnerable in ways that make it a profound error to speak "neutrally" of it enhancement, history is constituted through stakeholder struggle in ways that make it a profound error to speak of its overcoming through digital or nanobotic or otherwise magical slavebotic superabundance, or its end without speaking as well of genocide.

Robot Cultists in my view literally do not know what they are talking about when it comes to the very things about which they talk endlessly. I mean that in the most fundamental way. Such substance as attaches to their formulations is an amalgam of irrational passions (fear of impotence in the face of historical contingency and disruption, anxiety about error and misunderstanding and disease and death, greed for control and easy pleasures, the usual infantile array) and citations of age-old mythic and theological frames (the omnipredicates, paradise, resurrection, apocalypse, transcension, Icarus, Faust, Frankenstein, Sorcerer's Apprentice, golem, and so on).
I'm trying to bring a leftist revolutionary perspective to the movement and (re)claim transhumanism for such ends, but that's perhaps a waste of time.

James Hughes already tried this and failed. Now he's a water-carrier and token lefty sanewashing neoliberal corporate-militarists and techno-fetishizing fanboys who confuse science fiction with science proper and with science policy. To the extent that futurology advocates technological determinism or autonomy (apoliticism or yet another "third way") it will always conduce structurally to incumbent interests, and to the extent that futurology casts its politics in subcultural forms -- especially given the defensive marginality of its membership -- it will always conduce to authoritarian formations, with their skewed conceptions of the possible and the important, either in the form of outright creeds or at any rate strict circumscriptions of the debatable and all at odds with mainstream and professional consensus on these matters, would-be gurus and noncredentialed eminences, True Believers convinced of their elect avant-gardism, and so on. Any democratizing sensibility will be swimming against an irresistably reactionary tide of industrial-broadcast incumbency and authoritarian subculture. (There are also different and deeper reasons still why every futurism amounts to a retro-futurism in my view, but that takes me into an account of futurity as an openness inhering in present diversity that must be closed in the service of devotion to the parochialism of any one projection of "The Future," for more elaborate accounts of which I recommend you read my other contributions to anti-futurological critique elsewhere.)

There is plenty of call for technoscientifically literate, technodevelopmentally concerned people of the left to engage in education, agitation, and organization to solve shared problems and facilitate the sustainable, accountable, equitable distribution of costs, risks, and benefits of technoscientific change to all the diverse stakeholders to that change and to facilitate the informed, nonduressed consensual prosthetic/cultural self-determination of persons and lifeways.

But I'm telling you the Robot Cult stuff is palpably ridiculous nonsense, not to mention a perniciously reactionary force in the world.

The Moot Is Behaving Very Strangely...

Please stand by.

Robot Cultists on the Bleeding Edge... Between Irrelevance and Infantilism

One of the key problems with the techno-transcendentalizing with-fulfillment fantasists of superlative futurology is that they typically say only two kinds of things -- commonplaces nobody needs them for and infantile impossibilities nobody in their right mind should ever take seriously.

Commonplaces nobody needs Robot Cultists to explain to them: technoscientific change can be really disruptive and impactful, turning to science to help solve those shared problems susceptible of its address is usually a good thing, all things equal and considered it is more desirable to live a longer, healthier, more capacious life than not.

Infantile impossibilities nobody in their right mind should ever take seriously but most Robot Cultists, definitively, do: a superintelligent post-biological Robot God may be on its way to end history and solve all our problems for us, our organismic brains can in principle and may soon in fact literally be "migrated" into cyberspace and this divestment of the flesh will be a marvelous thing, medical therapies are surely on the way to afford lucky people superlongevity and comicbook superpowers, possibly via scooping us up into robot bodies, constellations of programmed nanobots and software bots in immersive virtualities might soon deliver us a superabundance in which our every wish will be granted on the cheap, thus overcoming for good the impasse of stakeholder politics and, hence, yet again, ending history.

The former are near-vacuities, the latter are utter inanities, but it is also through retreat to the former that the Robot Cultists typically peddle the plausibility of the latter.

Today's Random Wilde

The basis of optimism is sheer terror.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Futurology and the Hayekian-Friedmanian Pseudo-Economic Dis-Invention of Keynesian Macroeconomics

I supplemented yesterday's big post with another paragraph that occurred to me overnight.

To this paragraph, written yesterday:
"The Future," so-called, is the functional closure of futurity, it is the political price the futurologist inevitably pays for his alliance with incumbent interests (the "utopian" amplification of whose terms he designates as "The Future" in the first place), that is to say, for his parochial post-human dis-identification with the diversity of actual and wanted and flourishing human lifeways in the present world whose collaboration and contestation open the futurity always inhering in the present, peer-to-peer.

I have now appended this paragraph:
It is an interesting exercise, by the way, to substitute for the word "futurologist" in that sentence the word "economist": to do so is to go a long way toward understanding the havoc wreaked by the circumvention and even attempted dis-invention of Keynesian macroeconomics by the devastating ascendancy of the crypto-feudalist pseudo-economic sophisms of Hayek and Friedman (Mises, Hazlitt, and even La Rand also have places at this ignominious table). In a book like the flabbergastingly false and fantastically facile The Long Boom by Peter Schwartz and a few other exemplary mainstream neoliberal futurologists the inextricability of reactionary politics (incumbency as meritocracy, eg), spontaneist figuration (self-regulating markets as spontaneous order, eg), and the futurological form (technofixes to infinity and beyond, eg) compels attention to how thoroughly not only the argumentative framework for our present distress depends on interdependent market justifications and futurological promises, but how the style of our epoch attests as well to this interdependence: the immaterialism of neoliberal financialization and logo-ization of the economy finds its consummation in the digital utopianism of futurological discourse, the hyperbole and fraud that suffuses the marketing and promotional discursive motor of the corporate-militarist order finds its consummation in the literally techno-transcendentalizing aspirations of superlative futurology.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

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

Another seven days have passed, and I've made my usual jaunt to the website of the Robot Cult outfit, IEET, the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies.

This week's verse, same as the first, and most of the next and the rest... Although only a minority of people in the world are white guys, and only a minority of people with whom tomorrow will be made and shared are white guys, and only a minority of people in the world impacted by technodevelopmental changes are white guys, and only a minority of people in the world who are well informed and have important things to say about matters of technoscience are white guys, nevertheless I can report that yet again this week, of the fifteen portraits of today's featured authors and speakers there you will find nobody who is not a white guy. This is still as weird and wrong as it was when I reported it in weeks prior to this one. Not that there aren't endlessly many other weird and wrong things to say about the Robot Cultists (for some of which, go here), but still.

"Revolutionary" Robot Cultists

It is actually quite crucial in my view to grasp how the technoscientifically literate technodevelopmentally concerned mainstream-legible "progressive" strain with which I personally sympathize (and which I used to denominate as technoprogressive until the Robot Cultists appropriated the term to help separate rubes from their money) differs from both the fraudulent hyperbole of prevailing neoliberal consumerist-developmentalist futurology as well as from the techno-transcendentalizing sub(cult)ural faith-based initiatives of superlative futurology.

Here is an exchange from the Moot with one "Summerspeaker":
I wrote: "'The Future' is a scam, its prophets are parasites draining the life out of the open futurity inhering in the diversity of peers acting in the present."

"Summerspeaker" replied: Again, I cannot but consider this stance fundamentally anti-revolutionary.

To my way of thinking my point is radically democratic, and the farthest thing from counter-revolutionary. The openness I am talking about, the futurity inhering in the present, in the presented diversity of peers to peers, is the space of possible freedom itself in my view.

"The Future" which we encounter in flat-footed science fiction, in breathless pop futurism, in suave corporate-militarist scenario-building, in manic promotional discourse and advertising, in self-actualization guru spiels, in hyperbolic pharmaceutical and biotech and media-gizmo press releases is always just an amplification of anxieties, fears, desires TODAY masquerading as a conjuration of TOMORROW.

For more, Roland Barthes Mythologies is indispensable reading in my view -- especially his very short essays on Jules Verne, "The Nautilus and the Drunken Boat," and on "Plastic."

My understanding of revolutionary politics is informed by what I take to be a real transformation of revolutionary praxis through the nonviolence of Gandhi and King (and many more) as well as the resigned violence of Fanon, and especially by the account of politics scattered among the books of Hannah Arendt (more here). I believe the classic Revolutionaries, the professional Revolutionaries have tended opportunistically to glom onto insurrectionary eruptions and then seek to dominate, domesticate, and typically altogether kill the democratizing energies they unleashed in the service of a parochial ideologically-correct vision of revolution with which they happen to identify (usually the result of swallowing some pseudo-economic sophisms). The professional revolutionary is always a self-appointed avant-gardist, and right there is the authoritarian kernel that has throttled back every Revolution but America's (the key to which, I believe, is the genius not of the Declaration, but of the Constitution, that unsettling settlement that set us on the path of interminable democratizing reformism and experimentalism) -- which is not to say that I have forgotten or disagree with Lenin's critique of the fantasy of spontaneism.

"The Future," so-called, is the functional closure of futurity, it is the political price the futurologist inevitably pays for his alliance with incumbent interests (the "utopian" amplification of whose terms he designates as "The Future" in the first place), that is to say, for his parochial post-human dis-identification with the diversity of actual and wanted and flourishing human lifeways in the present world whose collaboration and contestation open the futurity always inhering in the present, peer-to-peer.

It is an interesting exercise, by the way, to substitute for the word "futurologist" in that sentence the word "economist": to do so is to go a long way toward understanding the havoc wreaked by the circumvention and even attempted dis-invention of Keynesian macroeconomics by the devastating ascendancy of the crypto-feudalist pseudo-economic sophisms of Hayek and Friedman (Mises, Hazlitt, and even La Rand also have places at this ignominious table). In a book like the flabbergastingly false and fantastically facile The Long Boom by Peter Schwartz and a few other exemplary mainstream neoliberal futurologists the inextricability of reactionary politics (incumbency as meritocracy, eg), spontaneist figuration (self-regulating markets as spontaneous order, eg), and the futurological form (technofixes to infinity and beyond, eg) compels attention to how thoroughly not only the argumentative framework for our present distress depends on interdependent market justifications and futurological promises, but how the style of our epoch attests as well to this interdependence: the immaterialism of neoliberal financialization and logo-ization of the economy finds its consummation in the digital utopianism of futurological discourse, the hyperbole and fraud that suffuses the marketing and promotional discursive motor of the corporate-militarist order finds its consummation in the literally techno-transcendentalizing aspirations of superlative futurology.
Do futurist visions differ so completely from traditional leftist dreams a better society?

Oh, my heavens, yes. Every commercial on television roars with the infantile demand for MORE! Futurologists handwaving about how awesome superintelligence, superlongevity, and superabundance would be, will be, must be are little more than greedy consumer appetites writ large, squalling ids clothing their infantilism in the techno-whizbang they sell themselves and seek to sell others as science (to the cost of real science and sensible policy).

Me, me, me, mine, mine, mine, munch, munch, munch! Can you really not discern the difference between such squalid tantrums and the democratizing work to implement ever greater equity in diversity, ever more informed and ever less duressed consent, to enable ever more people with ever more of a say in the decisions that affect them?

Boner pill press releases and annual declarations that a space hotel and a conscious computer are in the works (in just twenty years at most!) aren't the same thing as radical manifestos for heaven's sake. Every fast-talking grifter with some granny's scarcely ever driven used car and every priest peddling a pastel-hued hereafter is an avatar of the Revolutionary Spirit if the cybernetic-totalists, comicbook-eugenicists, techno-immortalists, and nano-cornucopiasts of the Robot Cult are to be so garlanded.

The eerily static Drexlerian and Vingean tableaux Robot Cultists have been handwaving about for generations now are unspeakably shabby impoverished straightjacketed things compared to the open futurity inhering in the present, peer to peer, the collaboratory and contestatory making and re-making of the shared public world every today of which already viscerally aspires toward such tomorrows as have any reality at all.

Every futurism is a retro-futurism, every futurological prospect is shaped by the nostalgia and anxieties and brutalizing greed of some parochial and defensive or aggressive inhabitation of the present. "The Future" is always some parochial present amplified and expanded into the openness of presence, its futurity, closing it off for itself, filling it up with itself. In one especially poignant example, notice that what the Robot Cultists like to peddle as the "acceleration of accelerating change" is little but the abject precarity of neoliberal financialization of the economy in a neoconservative hail of bullets, as described from the vantage of the relative beneficiaries of that horror or those who shabbily and selfishly with those beneficiaries.

There is nothing remotely revolutionary or even progressive in the circus barkery of the superlative futurologists and their Robot Cult (indeed, there is little that is progressive in many progressivisms, to the extent that they function as naturalizing apologiae for the self-indulgent elitism of the self-appointed elites).

There is no question that the technoscientific address of shared human problems is indispensable. But when the Robot Cultists confuse science fiction with either science proper or science policy, as well as when they champion at once reductive and triumphalist scientism, they indulge in distortions and derangements and debaucheries of science quite as dreadful as the Know Nothings of fundamentalist religiosity and the frauds and corruption of incumbent interests. Only a consensus science confined to its proper precinct in a secular multiculture, directed by democratically deliberative technodevelopment to ensure its costs, risks, and benefits are distributed equitably to the diversity of its stakeholders can properly be said to be emancipatory.

I would argue that we have already long since arrived at a technoscientific level such that we could technically emancipate all living human beings by way of a universal basic income guarantee, universal health care and life-long access to reliable knowledge and education. I agree with Walter Benjamin that we have diverted our technique into the war machine lest that available emancipation obliterate the hierarchies cherished by those who benefit from them, just as I agree with Guy Debord (and, later, Naomi Klein) that we have diverted likewise our technique into a war against the living earth to render that emancipation unavailable in spite of ourselves, while diverting our attentions to the pseudo-needs of phony lifestyle-individuation lest that still-available emancipation from the actual needs of life we all share obliterate the hierarchies cherished by those few who reside at their summits.

I want to live in a society in which people have a real say in the public decisions that affect them (my definition of democracy), in which people can consent in an informed and nonduressed way (which requires access to education and reliable knowledge and certified professions as well as equal recourse to the law and freedom from the fear of violence, penury, and undue harm) as to the cultural-prosthetic terms of their self-determination. I want to live in a working secular sustainable social democracy with public welfare and education and healthcare, funded through the progressive taxation of income, including investment income, and property. I want the institutions of global governance that already exist to be democratized and health education and welfare to be planetary entitlements. I think the planetary perspective of globe-girdling network formations and the global character of environmental, weapons proliferation, and poverty politics are already enabling such transformations.

Action as presence always reverberates with historicity and aspires as an openness onto elsewhere and otherwise. Everything emancipatory attributed to "The Future" has been stolen from the openness and potential inhering in the futurity in presence: stolen the better to be substituted with some crassly amplified incumbent parochialism peddled as "The Future."

The social struggle for greater democracy over authoritarian incumbency, the implementation of a scene of ever more informed, ever less duressed consent, the provision of equity in the face of the ongoing reconciliation of the diverse aspiration of our peers, the assertive judgments and expressivities offered up to the judgments of our fellows all together delineate the promise and problems of freedom as it presents itself in the present, peer to peer, provide the substance of open futurity in the living public world.

Rachel Maddow on the Obama Years... So Far

Futurological Brickbats

Futurological "optimism" is always a crassly opportunistic affair. Whenever a pop technologist puts his "Can Do" face on, you can be sure he fancies he sees a mark. Futurological declarations that there are No Limits! always ultimately translate to the customary conviction of very pampered and irresponsible people that there will always be other folks on hand to clean up their messes for them.

For more Futurological Brickbats, go here.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Radicals, Reformists, Revolutionaries

If one's sociopolitical aspirations and historical/policy analyses are more radical than those of the political platforms and welcome constituencies of America's actually constituted political parties, it seems to me you can
either treat partisan politics as a reformist pathway in the direction of your aspirations while struggling as well within the party that best reflects that direction to adopt a platform closer still to your more radical terms,

or you can treat such partisan politics as an insurmountable barrier of incumbency, corruption, and falsehood to your aspirations leading you to revolutionary remedies instead.

However disappointed and frustrated you may be at actual partisan and reformist outcomes, as a person like me whose left-wing convictions are more radical than constituted parties and available reformism can accommodate, if you nonetheless remain wedded to the heartbreaking path of that reformism as the left wing of the possible and continue to vote for More, and Better Democrats, pushing and pushing and pushing all the while from the left on particular policy questions, then you are in much the same position as I am.

If instead you truly decide to eschew the path of best possible progressive reform within the constraints at hand, then this is a decision I can certainly respect (tho' it is not my own decision), but only if that decision truly cashes out in actual revolutionary action instead. Otherwise it's just narcissistic tantrum throwing pretending to be political radicalism as far as I can tell.

It is one thing to feel enraged or broken-hearted by DNC/Obama deficiencies, it is another (and false) thing to propose Dem-Rep equivalency theses. It is one thing to recognize that no party platform is adequate to one's radicalism, it is another (and false) thing to propose as a practical solution a third-party alternative when representatives independent of America's two parties are forced nevertheless to caucus with one of these parties in any case to have any actual agency in governance and in the absence of instant runoff voting to insulate third-party runs from functioning as spoilers.

Of course, radicals should continue to make their more radical cases, offer up their more radical accounts and proposals, provide more radical alternatives to think about and hope for and so on. I certainly will. But it is crucial that one grasp the differences between such activities and actual reformist or revolutionary activity on the ground.

It pays to be sensitive to the differences between campaigns that are intended to be reformist and those that claim to be revolutionary, the differences between analyses involving ideal cases as against best probable outcomes, and that one not use criteria more appropriate to the one to drive our sole evaluation of the other, and so on.

This is actually hard to do, and hard to keep in mind in the heat of conflict, and easy to get wrong case by case.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

What Theda Said

Republicans are Undercutting National Economic Recovery -- and Dems Need to Say So 24/7.

Hard to Hide the Crazy and the Hate

Before the Republican Party became lunatic fringe enough for their tastes Teabbager types like Sharon Angle tended to cozy up to other lunatic fringe outfits in which were said all sorts of lunatic fringe things that lunatic fringe folks like actually Sharon Angle believe and now have to hide if they want to get elected.

This November, bring popcorn.

1994 IAP 16 Page Newspaper Insert

Is Sam Seder Going to Save This Country Single-Handed?

In a separate question -- could Sam Seder be any cuter?

The answers, just like the answer to the question whether there is a Social Security Crisis, according to the answers in back of the book, are "no" and "no."

Run Haley Run!

As Haley Barbour continues brushing aside speculation about his presidential prospects, the Mississippi governor is discreetly building a complex political operation rivaling those of any other 2012 GOP presidential prospects…. A Republican operative close to Barbour said the governor is strongly inclined to run for president because he sees weakness in the field of likely candidates and strength in his own political operation.

Oil-slick chocolate mousse in every pot!

Vicious Circle Jerk

Congress has a twenty percent approval rating, largely because of the pain and fear of joblessness in this "recovery-qua-still-further-wealth-concentration" we are abjectly living through. The Republican minority has clearly decided that they will benefit from this hostility to Congress and gain seats in a general anti-incumbency wave, despite the fact that it is their overwhelming obstructionism that is keeping Congress from doing anything meaningful about this pain and fear (like today's failure, yet again, to extend unemployment benefits). A flood of ads needs to be targeted directly at States whose Republican representatives and candidates are opportunistically seeking to benefit from these profoundly heartless and irresponsible strategies. Only by informing the people who are being played in this manner can the terms of these vicious and destructive games be altered or ended. These cynical obstructionist tactics should ruin Republican chances for election, not strengthen them. The facts and the values are on our side, but they cannot do their wholesome work unless they are communicated effectively to those whose actual votes will render the decisive verdicts in the matter. Elections are opportunities for education, and we must seize them.

"The Future" Is Nothing But An Ad

Jamais Cascio, the only self-described futurist I take the least bit seriously, upon seeing in a store window the slogan "The Future Is Not Something We Enter It's Something We Create" asks the question, "Is something still meaningful and true, even when it's been turned into a marketing slogan?"

It is interesting to note that this is a different question from asking whether a Debordian bon mot loses its critical force when it becomes a graffiti-scrawl in a Parisian alleyway cluttered with bloody broken bottles and suffused with tear gas. The slogan in the window to which Cascio refers also looks homemade and may aspire more to a situationist sort of impulse (and hence looks to me to be a misguided misfire of a different kind than the one Cascio is talking about), rather than to the sort of awfulness that worries him, the sort through which, say, the Death-Eaters of Nike seek to appropriate the emancipatory energies of Burroughs to sell slave-made shoes or the mall rats of Apple seek to appropriate the genius of Einstein to peddle their conformist crapola.

Be all that as it may, the appropriation of Shakespearean aphorisms and Wildean paradoxes and world-historical Presidential phrasemaking by advertising sloganeers amply shows such insights easily survive these opportunistic flash-in-the-pan commercial parasitisms. But I would argue that while the critical or world-building force of a fine thought wrapped in a fine phrase is usually capable of re-activation once it is re-encountered in a more proper context, it is true nonetheless that a person encountering such a phrase first or only in a marketing context has had much if not all of its potential for meaning and emancipation stolen from her to be replaced by some huckster's crap product. This is a terrible thing and it is a phenomenon that looks to me to be destroying America more generally, as it happens.

Nevertheless, the deeper question for Cascio in particular in all of this, of course, is whether or not futurological discourse as such is or ever has been anything other than marketing and promotional discourse writ large, however much it pretends to be a mode of technoscientific or technodevelopmental deliberation.

Alas, I have come to the conclusion that futurology is little more than a Mythological discourse in Roland Barthes' phrase, a disseminated advertisement and valentine that endorses, naturalizes, promotes the incumbent-elite developmental assumptions and aspirations of our corporate-militarist extractive-industrial-broadcast-surveillance complex endlessly to itself for itself, a futurism that is always actually an insistent retro-futurism, and that it is not only not true but actively obfuscatory and falsifying in its force, that it is not only not meaningful but actively deranging and distracting in its work.

My only quibble with the very healthy self-questioning Cascio testifies to in his post (this vital self-questioning of his is the reason that Cascio is the only self-described futurist I take the least bit seriously), is that it seems to imply that the particular slogan here in question was meaningful prior to its appropriation by the suave fraud of corporate advertising in the first place (hence his question's "still").

I disagree that the slogan was ever a meaningful one, and I think the meaninglessness of the phrase "The Future Is Not Something We Enter It's Something We Create" is relevant to the larger questions of Cascio's post.

"The Future" is not some "thing" at all in my view: it has no autonomous existence nor will it ever have one, it's "life," such as it is, is drawn entirely from a parochial inhabitation of the present. What futurists are talking about when they are talking about "The Future" is always about their anxieties, their hostilities, and their alienation in the present and in the terms in which presence is lived (namely, its finitide, its contingent historicity, it vulnerable biology, it frustrating and error-prone sociality).

Those in the present who imagine or aspire to the future are entering thereby not into "The Future" but into a changed relation to that present and the peers with whom they are sharing, contesting, making it. There is futurity in the present, just as there is history reverberating into it, but "The Future" is a profound denigration and falsification of that openness in presence, not a celebration of it. To live for "The Future" is to deny the living futurity in the present, just as to identify with the post-human is to dis-identify with the diversity of human lifeways in the present. Indeed, these two deathly repudiations are deeply connected, and help account for the tendency of futurological discourses to give rise to marginal insular sub(cult)ural futurological formations. As I put the point in my Futurological Brickbats:
Futurity is a register of freedom, "The Future" another prison-house built to confine it. Futurity is the openness in the present arising out of the ineradicable diversity of calculating, contending, and collaborative stakeholders who struggle to make and remake the shared world, peer to peer. Futurity cannot be delineated but only lived, in serial presents attesting always unpredictably to struggle and to expression. "The Future," to the contrary, brandishing the shackle of its definite article, is always described from a parochial present and is always a funhouse mirror reflecting a parochial present back to itself, amplifying its desires and fears, confirming its prejudices, reassuring its Believers that the Key to History is in their hands…. To speak of "The Future" is always to indulge in reaction. All futurisms are finally retro-futurisms.

Cascio's blog is entitled "Open the Future" and I have always considered that title to reflect his ambivalent awareness and exploration of this very tension, which is brought to crisis within what he takes to be his own futurological discourse, between the futurity in the present and in the presence of our peers that is and must remain open and what his fellow-futurists and would-be prophets and guru-wannabes denominate "The Future" their scenario-fabulizing and ad-copy would presumably disclose but at the threatened cost of futurity's closure. Indeed, I think it is something like this very point that Cascio discerns, through a glass darkly, as the meaningfulness of the slogan threatened by a pernicious marketing impulse that I suspect actually inspired the phrase in the first place.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

And Now A Little Love for the Haters

For a year or so now, I've been very critical of some on the left whose relentless criticisms of these first months of Democratically-controlled post-Bush politics has seemed to me to be altogether too unrealistic in its ambitions in terms of the pace and scope of change possible given the power of anti-democratic stakeholders and given the unprecedented obstructionism of the still-substantial Republican minority over the passage of progressive legislation through the Senate. I've been especially critical of the exemplars of this vantage who have seen fit to snipe at me personally in the Moot! Now, I still think there is something rather silly about those whose disappointments with the way the left wing of the possible seems to be playing out inspire them to propose Bush-Obama equivalency theses or pine after quixotic Third Party spoiler politics. And I do continue to think the Netroots still has a steep learning curve to climb on the way to grasping the legal, social, and institutional constraints of the legislative and other reformist processes truly at hand, the better to pressure them in new and actually useful ways given the still under-explored strengths and limits of peer-to-peer educational, agitational, and organizational formations.

But I do think I am ready now to make a baby-step in the direction of a concession to the haters.

It is one thing to worry that the pace of possible reform may be inadequate in the face of the reality of climate change or weapons proliferation or corporate-militarism -- that's a legitimate concern, and I think people of good will may choose revolution over reform as their best judgment dictates, even though I cast my own lot with the heartbreaking path of slow and steady reform, such as it is. However, it has been my greatest fear and frustration with the Obama-disparagement brigade that they refuse actually to own up to the demands and costs of an actually revolutionary orientation, but thereupon invest altogether unrealistic demands and hopes on reform that were provoking disproportionate despair in ways that would be demoralizing and self-defeating to that reform on its own terms.

Primary contests so far have been assuaging these fears of mine somewhat. Although folks are still making big noises about the enthusiasm gap that separates Republican and Democratic voters, it is becoming clearer that:

One: As happened continuously during the healthcare debates of last year, it is highly misleading to treat opposition to progressive reform from the right as monolithically of a piece with opposition to its inadequacy from the left. Few who are disappointed with reform and want more are disappointed enough to prefer nothing to anything, and hence the aftermath of that reform tends to be far more demoralizing for those to whom, to the contrary, anything in the way of reform feels like the loss of everything they were struggling to prevent (and that demoralization tends to be amplified the longer their defeat fails to materialize in the catastrophes the fear of which drove their resistance to reform in the first place). The Republican retreat from "running on repeal" of reformist accomplishment testifies to the dynamics of this difference.

Two: As Tom Jensen of Public Policy Polling notes,
most poll answering Democrats who say they're unexcited about voting are still doing so in the races we've had thus far this cycle, so getting too excited about large Republican leads with highly enthused voters when the overall numbers tell a different story is somewhat misleading. An unexcited vote counts just the same as a very excited one.

That is to say, if frustrated Democrats are still voting, then their frustration is as much a strength as a threat. Democrats outnumber Republicans and when we vote we win. Democratic representatives may not be as progressive as their constituencies but they are usually incomparably more progressive than are the Republican alternatives, and the more Democrats in office the more of a voice the more progressive members of the caucus can have, especially when the Democratic base is alert, engaged, and pushing. Democrats do need to be pressured from the left against the inertial forces of incumbency and authoritarian tendencies of prevailing corporate-militarism.

While I still celebrate Obama as likely the most progressive President since FDR this is far from a celebration of all of his separate appointments and policies, many of which I disapprove of as strongly as and for the same reasons as many do who then go on to condemn Obama in the direst terms, which I definitely do not (I truly wonder how much people can actually know of FDR who seem to find this to be a paradoxical attitude for me to take), and so I do cheerfully concede that it is vitally important that fighting liberals and radical democrats provide a countervailing power to the inertial and authoritarian forces of incumbency always already in play. I would like to think I add my own voice to that countervailing power on many issues (lgbt issues, military issues, etc.), despite being dismissed as an uncritical Obamabot by some critics in the Moot.

While I still think there is plenty to disagree with on a case to case basis with many of the most strident attacks on Obama and the Democrats one hears, given what seem to me to be the actually-existing constraining realities at hand, I am becoming less worried that these attacks are crystallizing as a general demoralization that would keep people away from the polls and out of the streets and hence defeat the purpose of radical critique altogether. And hence I am feeling a bit less hostile to the haters for the time being. Especially given how many of them are vegetarian hippy pinko pacifist queers and punks and bleeding hearts like me, when all is said and done.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Free The Pill!

In honor of the fiftieth anniversary of its approval by the FDA, it's time to make an over-the-counter version available without a prescription for women whose lack of access to a doctor or other circumstances have unjustly limited their access to The Pill and for no good reason. Follow the link to read Kelly Blanchard's excellent case, and reasonable caveats.

Dispatches from the Something for Nothing Crowd

Mercury News
Counties that provide most of the state's revenue streams like income and sales taxes reliably elect Democrats…. And counties whose Republican representatives argue most vociferously for social services cuts draw, per capita, the most state aid. The breakdown, prepared by the Legislative Analyst's Office for the office of Assemblywoman Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa… adds new color to the prevailing portrait of poverty for many Californians — it's not fundamentally an urban problem… [R]ural residents would be most affected by the drastic cuts being considered to health and human services programs. The report shows the Bay Area's blue counties are, in many ways, a revenue lifeline for the rural Republican red.

Act surprised. --h/t Eric

The Revolutionary Fanwanking of the Robot Cultists

Adapted and upgraded from the Moot
Commenting on my post The Fandom Menace "Summerspeaker" proposes that
While fandom as you describe it is one element of transhumanism, the movement contains a meaningful political ideology as well. Like Marxism, anarchism, and radical feminism, it advocates fundamental change in the world and a path to get there. It's this unabashedly revolutionary spirit that I find so thoroughly appealing.

Let's take a look at the key bits one at a time:
the movement contains a meaningful political ideology

I disagree. To the extent that ideology is present in futurological discourse it is usually altogether familiar left-progressive or reactionary-oligarchic ideology onto which a bit of big-talk techno-whizbang has been awkwardly appended in my view. I daresay sometimes transhumanists will also introduce a dose of reductionist-scientism and/or eugenicism into the mix, which I will admit are also fully-fledged ideologies. But, again, these are neither of them exactly new or unique to transhumanism, just, you know, ugly and wrongheaded in well-understood ways.
advocates fundamental change in the world and a path to get there

It is a commonplace to say that technoscientific change has historically been and can be expected to remain fundamental in at least some of its aspects in times to come. One need not turn to silly Robot Cultists of all people for insights or guidance in these matters. Handwaving that "science" will soon spit out a superlative toy pile delivering superintelligence, superlongevity, and superabundance hardly looks like "advocat[ing]... a path," properly so-called, in my book. But, then, I have actual standards.
unabashedly revolutionary spirit

I do realize that we have all been so regularly bombarded with advertizing claims that this or that landfill-destined gew-gaw represents a consumer revolution (join the shaving revolution with five blades! now with the revolutionary EZ-pour spout! now with revolutionary extra stain remover packet!) that we have allowed that term to be evacuated of all content, but as a student of revolutionary phenomena I must say that I for one fail to see how pining for capacitition via undercritical faith in technoscientific progress amounts to "unabashed revolutionism." May I recommend, at a bare minimum, that you read at least Arendt's On Revolution before falling for such PR crapola? Is every dot-eyed fundy praying to their sooper-parental Sky Daddy for eternal life among harp-strings and roseate clouds an "unabashed revolutionary" in your view, just because they think big even if their thinking isn't really very thought-like come to think of it?

McChrystal and the School for Scandal

Everybody is reading the Rolling Stone article to lap up McChrystal's insubordinate comments, but what actually matters is simply that everybody is reading the article. Gates has publicly rebuked McChrystal while plenty of other voices are still calling for him to be fired. I can't say what happens next, but I can say that whatever happens is just so much distraction.

All this gossiping and fluttering and scolding (the only modes of discourse capable of holding the attention of our debased punditocracts at this point, it would seem) over McChrystals's insubordinate comments is, I suppose, a nice reminder that our volunteer armed services (consisting of too many recruits whose poverty, mis-education, and informal citizenship status provide a context of duress into service as an only resort that should make anyone at least a little uncomfortable about using that term "voluntary" too chirpily) are under civilian control in our democracy (although one only need imagine McChrystal skipping off to better pay in some unaccountable mercenary war-profiteering outfit where he can get a pork-fat tax-payer funded private contract to behave like a swinging dick in the name of the U S of A all he wants anyhow to grasp the militarist bloat that menaces that civilian democracy).

But whatever scandal mongering draws all the eyeballs to the article what matters is that this tide of attention might work to transform its author's best hopes into an accomplishment, namely:
[R]ising anti-war sentiment at home doesn't begin to reflect how deeply fucked up things are in Afghanistan. "If Americans pulled back and started paying attention to this war, it would become even less popular," a senior adviser to McChrystal says. Such realism, however, doesn't prevent advocates of counterinsurgency from dreaming big: Instead of beginning to withdraw troops next year, as Obama promised, the military hopes to ramp up its counterinsurgency campaign even further. "There's a possibility we could ask for another surge of U.S. forces next summer if we see success here," a senior military official in Kabul tells me.

Now, I was one of those hippy pinko faggot aesthetes opposed to our bloody Afghan Adventure even before the crime of Iraq and was never one of those liberals who wanted to prove his hard-cock credential through the pretense that Afghanistan was The Good War to Iraq's Bad One, so it will scarcely come as a surprise to hear that for me few of the rationales for our remaining in Afghanistan make much in the way of sense to me at all when exposed to scrutiny, although I will grant the hopeless horrible responsibilities of those who break it having in some form always then to buy it. Nevertheless, however ill-conceived it remains a bitter truth that the stubborn gravity-well of occupation seems eventually to skew the perceptions of the participating players and planners and deaden the drive to withdraw from even the most nonsensical and suicidal missions. As in Iraq, the statisticians and bomb-builders will always remain more fixated on their tales of falling dominoes or their imposing castles in the air than on the gore and waste through which their fancies are vainly executed on the ground, however much they sanctimoniously tut tut to the contrary for the cameras.

For now, the Obama Administration continues to hold firm to its promise to withdraw troops from Afghanistan next summer. That's good news, but it isn't exactly something you can take to the bank. The pressure to stick to that commitment will have to come from the people, because you can be sure the swinging dicks will have a million excuses and dreams to resist with. As the Rolling Stone article puts the point, that necessary pressure will only come if the people pay attention to what is happening.

I think this McChrystal brouhaha is essentially a distraction from the substance of the article and the horrific situation in Afghanistan which it documents, but it is a distraction that is actually provoking and diverting attention right to the place where it needs to be right now if we are truly to begin to end Bush the Boy-King's War Adventures in Desert Places for good.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

OFA As Agent of Transformation

In an enormously welcome surprise move, the DNC has decided to direct fifty million dollars to OFA. About the decision BooMan writes (and I heartily agree with him):
Organizing for America, the grassroots, progressive wing of the Democratic National Committee, is getting all the love and attention they could want, and we should be ecstatic. But don't expect any love or approval from the white blogosphere, who will interpret this as an abandonment of traditional progressive groups… This strategy is transformative because it does the opposite of taking the black and latino and youth vote for granted. If you want progressive policies, you have to start with a progressive coalition. The Democratic Party has to come to believe in the power of their progressive constituency. If they learn that they win elections by mobilizing the marginalized… they will evolve to reflect that new reality… This confirms my belief in Obama's core convictions, and it's precisely the opposite of what [most?] online progressives would advise. That's because this strategy e[s]chews traditional progressive organizations in favor of Obama's true base.

"It's Not Helping Us"

Republicans really do prefer protecting elite profits over everyday people and corporate rule over democratic government, and the fact that they are finding it enormously difficult not to say so in public places in the aftermath of the BP oil disaster really is the gift that keeps on giving.

Although Joe Barton was forced to apologize for his fawning apology to BP for being held the least bit accountable for its crimes, the fact that Barton was echoing in his statement the exact wording of the Republican Study Group of which he is a member along with well over a hundred Congressional Republicans on this question suggests rich untapped opportunities for Republican exposure and humiliation on this key issue in the days and months to come before November.

Here is Republican intellectual eminence Bill Kristol decrying just this morning Obama's "bullying" of the poor corporations to whom we all owe so so so much:.

Here are those last words again, for those of you who missed them: "[I]t’s not healthy for the country, for the economy as a whole, for the President to bully different companies and different industries and I think it’s not helping us."

Keep it up Republicans, keep on showing your true colors, keep on weeping for the keen distress of your corporatist masters as they suffer the injustice of accountability in their yachts. The American people could not disagree more with Kristol's assessment of the role of holding corporate criminals responsible to the health of our country, nor could I be better pleased as a Democrat to note how these incessant apparently irrepressible Republican statements to the contrary are indeed helping us.


Among Ari N. Schulman's many amusing and provocative Assorted impressions and scenes from the H+ Summit was the evergreen hilarity of this by now inevitable observation:
The talks on the first day were plagued by various technical problems, particularly on Apple computers, that delayed the presentations. The organizers joke this off by noting that at least it’s not as bad as Steve Jobs’s recent embarrassment with Apple products not working at an Apple conference. Yeah, except Steve Jobs is only suggesting that we purchase his computers, not that we literally live in them.

Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse Eloquently Decries Corporatism on the Senate Floor

I find especially interesting Whitehouse's repeated insistence in his speech on describing the corporate capture of various regulatory agencies and the more general influence of corporations on elections via unlimited contributions using terms like "tentacles" (repeated over and over again), and also "lurking," "silent," "secret," "insidious" (also repeated many times) followed by a call to action expressed in terms of "stem[ming] the tide." I can't say I was the least bit surprised given this narrativization of the problem of corruption of democratic governance by corporate interests that Whitehouse's practical recommendation was that the Attorney General of the United Stated be empowered and tasked with the work of auditing regulatory agencies across the layers of federal governance to "root out" (again, his term) corporate influence.

I have long wondered what the Democrats would do to address the "burrowed" Bush Administration anti-government hacks and corporatist shills given career appointments throughout our institutions of governance, too many of them incompetents hired for reasons of ideological purity, too many of them more accountable to incumbent interests than to the people whose government this is. Whitehouse calls explicitly for a "house cleaning" rather than a "purge," but I do hope the incumbent interests he is targeting are alive to the historical resonances of his evocation of "tentacles" and "rooting out" "secretive" "insidious" anti-democratic forces and "turning the tide," and I hope they are rendered just a bit more canny and careful and fearful to grasp their role in the narrative Whitehouse has framed. That is to say, I hope I am right to discern in Whitehouse's rhetoric a real threat, and I hope that incumbents heard that threat and will grasp the potential power in it.

Although the Red Menace was a paranoid fantasy deployed to unravel some of the cultural accomplishments of the New Deal most despised by powerful reactionaries in our society, the Corporatist Menace is of course palpably real, just as it was when FDR named it "Economic Royalism" (at a time when its influence was less ramified and intensive than it is today) and directed his righteous anger and our collective attention to resist it in the name of our ongoing democratic revolution. Part of the reason corporatism has become so much more ramified and intensive was precisely because FDR in waging WWII re-organized the US economy (as in the New Deal he had already radically accelerated the ongoing post-Progressive era re-organization of governance into the administration of social democracy) into a military-industrial complex, the immediate forerunner to our contemporary neoliberal-neoconservative corporate-militarist complex.

Even the best elected politicians and professional administrators of the left have taken on as part of their real responsibility the maintenance of aspects of this system, even as they would resist its anti-democratizing effects. I don't think enough of us grasp the fraught and paradoxical demands of democratic-progressives living in the belly of the beast of corporate-militarist institutions and norms who would still seek to administer such social justice as is available in our system while at once pushing to overcome the authoritarianism inhering it. It seems to me that opportunistically re-establishing regulations and oversight over corporate profit-taking and military secrets, gradually returning from the orgy of privateering and profiteering and contracting out of public services -- both civilian and military -- to hiring and service provision in house, and finally, eventually introducing some sanity into our elections through public financing and the institution of something like instant runoff voting across the board to overcome the US Party Duopoly is the re-democratizing path out of our current corporate-militarist distress.

No doubt the struggle along that path will be compromised and heartbreakingly slow, certainly the key actors implementing the path will often appear so compromised as to be anything but allies in the struggle from moment to moment as it plays out, possibly the struggle of an engaged organized public in partnership with imperfect but best available elected representatives and professional politicians will not be equal this time to the incumbent forces arrayed against them, perhaps the work of gathering authoritarianism and know-nothingism and massively destructive instrumentalities and forces of climate catastrophe will outpace the political and educational and institutional resources to which and processes through which we must avail ourselves.

Come what may, it seems to me that one of the ways it might look for us to set out on the path toward an overcoming of the anti-democratizing evil of corporate-militarism in our time, given the resources at hand and the processes in motion, might look like a taking up of the language and recommendations in Sheldon Whitehouse's speech on the Senate floor. It is easy to make fun of the inadequacy of his gesture, but it would be, well, something to make something of it instead. A gathering of inadequate somethings is as good as a revolution if you can just keep your eyes open and spirits up long enough to see them through.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Take That, Tony Hayward!

According to TPM, the disgraced displaced Tony Hayward has returned home in well-deserved defeat, to watch his yacht compete in the J.P. Morgan Asset Management Round the Island Race in the Isle of Wight. Funny how much flabbergastingly better this villain's worst-case scenario looks than most honest hard-working law-abiding tax-paying citizens' best-case scenarios look. Needless to say, Hayward is such an obviously brilliant and talented not to mention physically beautiful being it just plain makes sense that he would be treated like a god even now.

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

Another seven days have passed, how fleetly they fly! And I have made my weekly jaunt to the website of the Robot Cult outfit, IEET, the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies.

As always, the techno-faithful are busy confusing science fiction for science and still seem to fancy that indulging in wish-fulfillment fantasizing constitutes serious policy deliberation or even scientific research somehow. Also, it still seems to be the case that our brave Robot Cultists have not only seen "The Future" but have seen it naked. And it has a white penis.

Yes, I can report that yet again this week, of the fifteen portraits of today's featured authors and speakers there you will find nobody who is not a white guy. You may remember that in the months I've been doing these weekly reports that, apart from the occasional cartoon robot or alien, it is the rarest of rare things to find a person depicted on the website who is not a white guy.

Since only a minority of people in the world are white guys, and only a minority of people with whom tomorrow will be made and shared, peer to peer, are white guys, and only a minority of people in the world impacted by technodevelopmental changes are white guys, and only a minority of people in the world who are well informed and have important things to say about matters of technoscience are white guys, IEET's endless parade of techno-transcendentalizing white guys declaring themselves spokesmen for "The Future" is actually enormously perplexing and it is a glaring problem whether they choose to recognize it or not.

The white boys of the Robot Cult continue praying to and braying about their imaginary toys all in the palpably deranged hope that superlative technologies will soon arrive to facilitate their personal transcendence of their mortal aging flesh, of their limited dependent capacities, of their error-prone organismic brains, of their inhabitation of a history suffused with diversity and struggle, peer to peer. There is of course nothing the least scientific or progressive or enlightened in any of this sad spectacle, quite apart from the alarm-bell conspicuous weirdness of its relentless whiteness and boyness. For more, I invite you to read the six pieces assembled in this Condensed Critique of Transhumanism.

Randroid Paul to Unemployed Folks: Quit Whining You Lazy Pigs and Go Back to Work

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Rand Paul on Friday urged Americans who have been unemployed for many months to consider returning to the workforce in less desirable jobs rather than continue relying on government unemployment assistance.

Perhaps these lazy undeserving poor folks could work as human toilets for the rich.

Not only would this provide nutritional supplements for the ingrates, but think of the healthy workout the lazy bums would get following the rich around on leashes. Innovation! Although, come to think of it, probably the rich should be compensated for providing all these health benefits, otherwise the rich would be reduced to slavery by the poor parasites in this scenario when you really think deeply and Randroidally about it. You know, principles?

The usual grotesque right-wing oligarchic "beyond-left-and-right" libertarianism.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Twitness to An Execution

Twitter continues its ongoing invasion, occupation, and devastation of public discourse.

Gizmodo reports on Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff's frankly disgusting faux-sanctimonious real-time tweeting about Ronnie Lee Gardner's execution by firing squad.

I have little doubt that plenty of latter day American Imperialists are smacking their lips in anticipation of the brutal and bloody outpouring of tweeted reportage from the Colosseum of our prison-industrial complex for which Shurtleff's nasty little e-pustules promise to be the preface.

A demoralizing dehumanizing tide of tasteless jokes and "edgy" confessions of sexual arousal can be depended upon edifyingly to turn the stomachs of the self-appointed Serious (in a bad way) and the Hipsters (in a wanted way) from the spectators of America's serial ceremonial bloodlettings in the years to come. But how much more demoralizing will be the more "reflective" declarations of "Scary!" "Gross!" "sad :(" we can expect to accompany the fart jokes and orgasms, if twitter's appalling archive is any guide?

How little distinguishable is the real-time bumper sticker "The Punishment Is A Crime" in its actual substantial deliberative heft (however much I agree with the sentiment) from the cutesy announcements certain to come as well concerning the effects of an execution on one's digestion, or indeed to Shurtleff's own inaugural contribution to this already debased and debasing genre of chattering-tweetery, his pithy one-word he-man verdict, "Justice."

This is just another milestone, another millstone around our necks, in the ongoing voluntary evacuation of difficult deliberation and complex convivial multiculture by an already defiantly and gleefully and suicidally anti-intellectual populace, the better to be replaced by the discursive equivalent of a infant's gurgling or the spiel of a home shopping cable channel or a housecat's fleeting sensations of satisfaction and discomfort playing meaninglessly out over the course of any given day on the way to the grave.

Sam Seder Calls It Again

Also, "tuberkeleyosis"? So cute!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Back to Work

My brief break has flown by and I'm already resuming work. My summer course at SFAI begins this morning -- and a second intensive begins after Independence Day (how apt) at Berkeley. Here's the Syllabus for the course beginning today:

Critical Theory A, "The Point Is to Change It," San Francisco Art Institute, Summer 2010

Instructor: Dale Carrico;;

Course Site:

Grade Breakdown: Att/Part 15%; Precis/Cofac 20%; Essay 1 35%; Essay 2 40%

Provisional Schedule of Meetings:


Week One
Mon 14 Administrative Introduction | Personal Introductions.
Wed 16 Course Introduction | Oscar Wilde, "Soul of Man Under Socialism"

Week Two
Mon 21 Nietzsche: Ecce Homo
Wed 23 Marx on Idealism and Materialism and on Commodity Fetishism

Week Three
Mon 28 Sigmund Freud, Schreber (Handout)
Wed 30 Walter Benjamin, "Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproducibility" | Adorno and Horkheimer, "The Culture Industry"


Week Four
Mon 5 Independence Day Holiday
Wed 7 Roland Barthes, Mythologies

Week Five
Mon 12 Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle | Naomi Klein, No Logo One and Two
Wed 14 Carpenter (dir.), They Live, In-Class Screening

Hand in Mid-Term Essay

Week Six
Mon 19 Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish, History of Sexuality, College de France lecture excerpts (Handout)
Wed 21 William Burroughs, "Immortality" and "Coincidence" | Valerie Solanas, "SCUM Manifesto"

Week Seven
Mon 26 Hannah Arendt, "On Violence" | Must Eichmann Hang? and Human Condition Section 33 (Handout)
Wed 28 Franz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, Purchase or Check Out Whole Book! also excerpts from Judith Butler Undoing Gender, and "Precarious Life"


Week Eight
Mon 2 Hannah Arendt, Conquest of Space | CS Lewis Abolition of Man
Wed 4 Week Fifteen | December 8 -- Donna Haraway, “A Manifesto for Cyborgs” | Bruno Latour, A Plea for Earthly Science

Hand in Final Essay

Course Objectives:

Contextualizing Contemporary Critical Theory: The inaugural Platonic repudiation of rhetoric and poetry, Vita Activa/Vita Contemplativa, Marx's last Thesis on Feuerbach, Kantian Critique, the Frankfurt School, Exegetical and Hermeneutic Traditions, Literary and Cultural Theory from the Restoration period through New Criticism, from Philosophy to Post-Philosophy: Marx, Nietzsche, Freud.

Survey of Key Themes in Critical Theory: Scientificity, Figurality, Humanism, Post-Humanism, Judgment, Equity-in-Diversity.

Survey of Key Critical Methodologies: Critique of Ideology, Post-Marxism, Psychoanalysis, Foucauldian Discourse Analysis, Critical Race Theory, Gender Theory, Science and Technology Studies.

Connecting theoria and poiesis: thinking and acting, theory and practice, creative expressivity as aesthetic judgment and critical theory as poetic refiguration, etc.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Fandom Menace

To clarify my last post --

There's nothing wrong with fandoms. I'm a big sf geek, Eric and I collect comics and toy spaceships, my Planet of the Apes DVD set is lodged in a near life-sized Ceasar Bust with combable hair presently wearing a Devo energy dome, so suck it.

I also have graduate degrees in both philosophy and rhetoric, and have been teaching these subjects in university settings for fifteen years. Fandoms are not philosophies: whatever they do they don't do the things that philosophies, properly so called, do.

Talking about science fiction or indulging in futurolgical blue-skying (especially since a futurist is just a science fiction writer who lacks the talent to write science fiction with characterization, plotting, integrated themes, organic social settings -- and believe me, sf isn't exactly the literary genre with the highest bar in these areas) is not philosophizing, it is not doing science, it is not policy analysis, it is not political activism.

I'm not saying it can't be edifying.

I'm not saying it's not worth doing.

I'm saying that none of the things the transhumanists say they are up to when they want to justify their faith that they are a "movement" that is sweeping the world or "serious thinkers" addressing actual problems are things they are actually doing.

Look: It is important that policy-makers address the inequitable and unsustainable distribution of costs, risks, and benefits of technoscientific change to the diversity of stakeholders to that change. It is important that scientists are educated, funded, supported, regulated to address shared problems. It is important that human beings be taught and encouraged to subject their prejudices to scrutiny, to think what they are doing, and to make sense of their circumstances by means of philosophy, poetry, therapy, religion or what have you. It is important that citizens educate, agitate, and organize to make the world more democratic, more equitable, more consensual, more diverse.

These are all too important to mistake them for things they are not.

Transhumanists have fixated on a handful of imaginary gadgets (and a few real gadgets they care about not so much because of what they are or what they do but because they see them as premonitory stepping stones bolstering their faith in the inevitable and proximate arrival of the imaginary gadgets they are actually fixated on) about which they gather together online and in conferences to handwave and to cheerlead and to enthuse.

Transhumanism is a fandom.

As a general rule, I am rather charmed by fandoms. I am not charmed by frauds, charlatans, advertising, pop psychology, pseudo-science, or know-nothings who fancy themselves avatars of Enlightenment.

On a separate note, however, and by way of conclusion, I will add that not only is transhumanism a fandom and nothing else (well, it is also a fraud because it insists it is something else, and a dangerous fraud because it sometimes succeeds in its bamboozlement to the cost and confusion of the important work of the things it actually isn't but sells itself as), but as fandoms go I have to admit that the transhumanists and singularitarians seem one of the most relentlessly humorless unoriginal tedious fandoms I know of, consisting of even more over-compensating white guys than is already usual among sf-fandoms, and so even as a fandom they kinda sorta, you know, suck.

Note to Transhumanists

Your enthusiasm for a few gadgets -- whether real or imaginary or imaginary treated delusively as real -- is a Fandom and not a Philosophy.

Atheist, Pervert, Pluralist

Upgraded from my exchange with Jim in the Moot:
Jim wrote: For [C.S.] Lewis, this [anti-materialist] line of argument is simply a way to keep God in the picture.

There's a whole lot of that going on, in my experience.

My own position is rather idiosyncratic because I am a crusty atheist and champion of consensus science on the one hand, but a pluralist about reasonableness on the other, in that I think different criteria warrant as reasonable our judgments about scientific, legal, aesthetic, moral, ethical, political, even more circumscribed professional questions.

Sometimes I sympathize more with the arguments of religious folks (of whom I am not one) against atheists (of whom I am one) who want to be too imperializing about reducing all endeavor and value into terms they fancy to be properly scientific -- a project that seems to me to have nothing to do with science (let alone atheism), properly so-called.

While I don't believe in God I do follow a path of perverse private perfections exploring and appreciating the delights of the world or the pursuit of my own thoughts in ways that are far from entirely justified by the terms that justify and warrant (and rightly so) our beliefs in respect to consensus science where matters of prediction and control are concerned. A reasonable person is not only capacitated but capacious, and this is all good.

When a materialist declares a pragmatist to be relativist you can be sure he is revealing that his is a fundamentalist rather than properly scientific materialism. When a naturalist declares pluralism supernatural you can be sure he is revealing that his science has been commandeered by a reductionist project that has nothing to do with science properly so-called.

On the other hand, I do wish that those who complain about materialism or naturalism or science and then always freight these terms with words like "merely," "simply," "random" and so on [as many do in the examples Jim provides in his exposition in the Moot --d] would be much clearer that it is reductionism and scientism that they really oppose. Opposing these leaves plenty of reasonable conceptions of consensus science, materialism, naturalism cheerfully intact -- and it provides nothing I can see to reassure the faithful in their beliefs in a creator-god or guardian angel or eternal life or a superhuman judge punishing the wicked and rewarding the well-meaning after life as too rarely happens, demoralizingly enough, here on earth.

Metaphors Aren't Hobgoblins (Unless You're Speaking Metaphorically)

Upgraded from the Moot:

Metaphors are of course natural rather than supernatural phenomena: materialized as are all signifiers in events, marks, noises in the world and materialized as are all signifieds as electrochemical dispositions in brains that register, among other things, the organized attention and responsiveness of organisms to impingements upon their sense receptors of streams of energy articulated by the negotiation of a demanding environment by those organisms. I don't see how materiality or reality are imperiled particularly by recognitions of the dynamism of the literal-figural distinction, or any of the series of post-Nietzschean (among which, American pragmatist) recognitions: namely, that science yields confidence but not certainty, truths are good but not final, salient associations can be familiar or not, we are on our own but have each other, and so on.

Parlor Trick Clarification

Upgraded and adapted from my exchange in the Moot with Jim:

When I said that those who dismissed as "self-referential incoherence" Nietzsche's "truth and illusion" declaration were indulging in a parlor trick, my point was that they're either impatiently misunderstanding or dishonestly circumventing -- rather than "refuting" -- Nietzsche through a stubborn clinging to the customary definitions of truth and illusion it is Nietzsche's whole point to trouble in the passage.

If some illusions under Nietzsche's perspectivism can be good in the way of belief then it will not be a distinction between truth and illusion premised on Platonic essentialism or naive correspondence that facilitates our reasonable or warranted beliefs. That is to say, when mobile metaphors replace word-world correspondence, when occasion replaces certainty it no longer makes much sense to declare as forceful a truth-illusion distinction in the way those asserting the formulation to be self-refuting are doing.

What they are really saying is something like, "Nietzsche is using the words truth and illusion in uncustomary ways." Thus rephrased, their objection not only no longer seems a stunning refutation but seems instead to name the obvious in the clumsiest most clueless manner imaginable. Of course, Nietzsche depends on an awareness of both the customary and non-customary usages and the play between them for the force of his point. Hence, the "parlor trick distraction for undergraduate theory-head pricks" comment.

I am far from saying that self-referential incoherence is always a useless parlor trick. Indeed, scouting for logical, topical, tropological incoherences butters your bread if you are in the business -- as I am -- of textual close reading!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Quite a Project, Indeed

Ari Schulman's live-blogging of the Humanity-Plus-Tron Robot Cult Parade Float really is just a feast of little ironic gems:
Psychology assumes the existence of death; government assumes earthly bounds; economics assumes the existence of scarcity; computer science assumes a human/non-human divide. Majoring in any of these disciplines will no longer be relevant, [President of Harvard's "Future Society" Kevin Jain] says, as the assumptions on which they're based change. Jain says he's devising a new kind of textbook that takes account of the changes in these assumptions. That's quite a project.


Rhetoric and Nonviolence

While persuasion is traditionally figured as "an outside" to coercion, or to the violent adjudication of disputes, it is also true that in order for persuasion to do its work its parties must already share or find their way to a shared framework the force of which always forecloses what might otherwise be deemed possible or important, yielding a violence of a different kind in enabling a nonviolence.

I don't think this gives the lie to those who would substitute discourse for violence (that's just a facile relativism), but I do think it means that those devoted to nonviolence have to attend to a kind of traffic between modes of violence.

In testifying to the violence in one register, testimony and even attention to violence of another is comparatively foreclosed. Consider that to open up to debate the "question" of the humanity of a person of color or a queer person is already to dehumanize the person of color or queer person by treating their humanity debatable as a "topic" -- and yet the violence inhering in the closure of that debate is not rendered thereby non-real nor irrelevant, and exacts its own dehumanizing toll. Or consider how many good moral people collaborate every day in propping up evil ethical norms and political institutions just through their under-critical acceptance of some customary attitudes or through their patterns of consumption. To declare such people simply morally "bad" is to refuse the definitive demand of the ethical that it be excessive and the ineradicable price of the political that it remain contingent, it is to fail to grasp the enabling paradox of nonviolent practice that it is at once impossible and necessary.

Slavoj Zizek genuflects at this notion of a traffic between registers of violence in his book on Violence, especially when he points to Brecht's famous quip, "What is the crime of robbing a bank compared with the crime of founding one?"

To digress a moment, I disapprove of the tripartite "objective-subjective-symbolic" schema of violence Zizek then uses to elaborate his helpful hunch into a mousetrap with his usual iconic laconic Lacanic mechanic morsel of cheese. It is only because violences are stabilized into legibility, and hence become obligating, at the cost of destabilizations of other possibilities and importances (violences themselves) that render illegible and ineligible other experiences of and testimonies to violence that Zizek proposes his demarcations at all. But it seems to me he would domesticate the force of this insight and our grasp of its demand by assigning to moments in the costly and heartbreaking (also promising, in a sense that takes us back, as always, to Arendt) dynamic of stabilizations and destabilizations the status of "objective" and "subjective," or to the traffic itself a mechanistic construal of the "symbolic." If you ask me, to fancy that we can definitively or even usefully declare of a testimonial to violence (not only of violation, but of violence) that it is "subjective" or "objective" is to attempt to circumvent the costly, deranging force of obligation for the pleasurable or consoling distractions of philosophy.

It pays to remember that rhetoric, together with the poetry of which it seems to me essentially to be a subgenre, is the classic, indeed inaugural, antagonist of the Western philosophical imaginary. Rhetoric has also, and I believe rightly, seemed especially attuned to the aspiration toward nonviolence. As it happens, this is the connection which drew me to the study and teaching of rhetoric in the first place.

The special relevance of rhetoric to the aspiration of nonviolence does not only derive from the way rhetoric concerns itself with the techniques, occasions, and benefits of persuasion (which have their own troubled affinities with coercion, after all, something that becomes clear enough the moment you meditate on the multiple senses in which we use the word "conviction"). More crucial by far to rhetoric's nonviolent ethos, in my view, is that it has always concerned itself definitively with the relation of literal and figurative language. Indeed, I would insist that it is the prior fixation on the figural that drives rhetoric's concern with persuasion and not vice versa.

Forgive the furious concentration of especially the next six paragraphs -- I am used to devoting hours and even weeks to the elaboration of these ideas in teaching settings:

Figurative language denotes deviations from (or violations of) customary usage that nonetheless make meaning, make sense. These deviations are the "turns" to which the term trope, from tropos, refers. Notice that these turns need not always be exactly spastic, anarchic, however:

The distance between the literal and the figurative is nothing like the ineradicable gulf that separates world and word (true whether the words are taken literally or figurally, and true despite the fact that all words are as worldly as billiard balls, marks and noises making their play in the environment). The distance between the literal comparison of the simile (love is like a rose) and the figural substitution of the metaphor (love is a rose) is a difference of degree that functions, for a time, as a difference of kind. Everything is at once infinitely similar and infinitely different from everything else, and it could be the work of a lifetime to testify to the similarities or differences obtaining between any two events. It is the work of language to organize the interminable play of differences (all always also susceptible to description as similitudes) provisionally into salience, according to whatever quandary in that play of differences they would answer to and answer for: confidence, science; belonging, morals; equity, ethics; reconciliation, politics, and so on.

All the Four Master Tropes of which Burke wrote most provocatively and of which metaphor is the first -- the others are metonymy, synecdoche, irony -- propose associations that are not (yet) literal but are nonetheless governed by relations of contiguity, containment, reversal that have logical and topical as well as these tropological variations (not to mention correlates in the classic Freudian account of the creative unconscious).

If one wants to take the figure of catachresis instead of metaphor as the point of departure through which to grasp the relation of the literal and figural, this presumably provides for a more radical account, since catachresis refers to coinages or outright commandeerings of terminology in the face of novelty, rather than, as with metaphor, substitutions of the figural where literal language is nonetheless available. But we know from Saussure that the circuit of the sign is abstract through and through, the material form of the signifier which becomes the placeholder for the conceptual content of the signified corrals indefinitely many instances of materially distinguishable marks and noises as instead sufficiently similar signifiers no less than the indefinitely many also distinguishable-but-sufficiently-similar referents corralled together conceptually by the signified.

Catachresis re-enacts the arbitrary proposal of a material event as sign, but all figurative language -- and not just the schemic figures like alliteration, chiasmus, onomatopoeia -- foregrounds the materiality that typically must be disavowed for the sign to do its literal work (a material disavowal on which Barthes depends when he proposes in Mythologies that ideology is likewise structured like a language, but disavowing the materiality of history as social struggle in order to naturalize the status quo to the benefit of incumbents). Metaphor, for its part, re-enacts the arbitrary association through which language organizes the play of differences into provisional salience.

Donald Davidson famously observed: "Once upon a time, I suppose, rivers and bottles did not, as they do now, literally have mouths." What it is crucial to understand -- and especially crucial in connection with my specific question here of the special relevance of rhetoric, via its concern with the figurative, to the aspiration to nonviolence, is that these "dead metaphors" can be read as the dying into literality of a once-vital figure, or just as well as the coming into lively literality of a once idiosyncratic figure. If one happens to be paying special attention to the vitality of the poet who calls forth a meaning equal to the novelty and dynamism of material reality through the assertion of the special force of some material event (mark, noise, gesture, image) and manages to make the assertion stick, then one will tend to speak of a dying into literality of vital figurality. But if one happens to be paying special attention instead to the vitality of the scientist or ethician who manages through the public ritual of testing and publication to translate idiosyncratic hunches or parochial intuitions into reasonable and warranted expectations of prediction and control or the equitable and accountable government of "laws and not men," then one will tend to speak of coming into a lively literality of a shaggy figure. What matters to me most of all is the insistence that neither of these perspectives is rightly to be preferred over the other in every instance, that each captures a no-less primordial, indispensable, vital dimension of the agentic work of language.

Nietzsche famously said of truth that it is
A mobile army of metaphors, metonyms, and anthropomorphisms -- in short, a sum of human relations which have been enhanced, transposed, and embellished poetically and rhetorically, and which after long use seem firm, canonical, and obligatory to a people: truths are illusions about which one has forgotten that this is what they are; metaphors which are worn out and without sensuous power; coins which have lost their pictures and now matter only as metal, no longer as coins.

Richard Rorty once chided this statement as apparently self-refuting. Does Nietzsche mean for his own utterance to be taken as a truth or as an illusion, after all? Of course, every good pragmatist knows (and I'm one who defends Rorty as one of the best pragmatists we've had), after James, that truths are only "the good in the way of belief" and I daresay it isn't exactly a stretch to propose that some illusions, certain perspectival effects, are good enough in the way of belief that we might be warranted at once in assigning them the status of the illusory and the true. And hence the worrisome whiff of self-refutation is resolved, no muss no fuss (the concern was always mostly a parlor trick distraction for undergraduate theory-head pricks anyway). While I do think Nietzsche is rather over-dramatic and Romantic in denouncing, apparently, literal truths as "worn out" metaphors here, what has always seemed to me most promising in his formulation is his insistence that this is in army in motion. An mobilized army is one the movements of which are usefully tracked, armies often move messily and unpredictably, they lag sometimes and then launch into a quick-march, they find their way to critical encounters they scarcely planned for as often as they arrive at their imagined destinations, and as often as not they back-peddle, they get stuck, they retreat, they go home, about which more in a moment. To insist too much on Nietzsche's self-referential incoherence is to risk the embarrassment of mistaking a rhetorician for a philosopher and making something of a fool of oneself, not to mention simply making too much methodologically of Nietzsche's temperamental annoyance -- shared with his truest contemporary Oscar Wilde -- with the statisticians and sticks-in-the-mud of the world.

It would be a characteristic gesture of philosophy to valorize one side of literal-figural distinction and then seek to subsume meaning-making under the terms of whichever pole happens to be the preferred one for whatever philosopher is making her separate case. After all, the quintessential gesture of all philosophy is its designation of a First Philosophy, whatever it may be, against which or in terms of which philosophizing will measure all endeavor, including its own philosophizing: Hence while it is customary to point out that philosophy names the "love of wisdom," from philo-, love, and sophia, wisdom, it is important to remember that Plato's inaugural repudiation of rhetoric, sophistry, which constituted the Western philosophical imaginary, was an inaugural repudiation that first re-figured wisdom as "The Way," the One True Knowledge, philosophy as the super-science, the queen of the disciplines, the meta-physics. But the characteristic gesture of rhetoric, to the contrary, would be to attend to the traffic between the literal and the figural, to document the historical vicissitudes through which the figure is literalized, the literal figured, the moribund figural within the literal re-activated, yielding what different vitalities and problems along the way, providing what tools to which we might avail ourselves under what occasions, and so on.

The traffic between modes of violence to which those who would be nonviolent should properly attend -- lest they become uncritical or complacent collaborators in this or that systemic violence playing out elsewhere, whatever the keenness of their efforts to ameliorate this or that violation or injustice here and now, or vice versa -- is of a piece with the traffic between the literal and figurative. Let me be clear about this: my point is not to assign to violence of some particular type the moniker "figurative" and to others "literal" and then offer up an account of mechanisms through which the one is predictably frustrated by attention to the other. As I said in connection to Zizek before, it seems to me these terminological assignments are far less clarifying than they may seem, and indeed function to circumvent or domesticate the excessively costly derangements that often attend actual ethical obligation for the pleasures and consolations of philosophy. The rhetorician knows that there is no final assignment to be made to the word of the status of the literal or the figural -- that army is mobile, recall -- the rhetorician knows the at once enabling and subversive possibility of the other always resonates in the most secure stabilization of the word at one pole or the other for the moment. It is the rhetorician's attunement to the traffic between the different vitalities and demands of the literal and the figurative that affords her the sensitivity to the violence through which other violence becomes susceptible to its necessary redress and that makes rhetoric the space for a hope for nonviolence that it has traditionally and rightly been taken to be, and not, of all thing, its supposed mastery of some one rhetorical method -- Aristotelian, Toulminian, Kingian, Rogerian -- that "masters" violence.

Pragmatism works to dispense with the philosophical fantasy that the universe has a language the terms of which it prefers to be spoken in and the authoritative speakers of which it anoints its worldly Priests (naturally, the philosophers themselves, or scientists, politicians, religious leaders indulging in philosophical salesmanship peddled as science, policy-making, or religion when it is not and always in a quest for control), and pragmatism defends the reasonable confidence inspired by warranted beliefs and the capacitation and capaciousness that follows from reasonable belief. But pragmatism denies certainty or finality to warranted belief and denies supremacy to one mode of reasonable belief over all others whatever their occasion (scientific belief, say, over moral, ethical, political belief), and pragmatism repudiates the philosophical fancy that to deny the first is somehow to call into question the existence of reality or that to deny the second is somehow to embrace relativism or that either denial demands a descent into madness or anarchy. Still profoundly unfinished in my view is the work of pragmatism to grasp that obligation is like any other fact -- a thing made, or done -- and exerts its worldly force, its truth, on us no less tangibly and indispensably, but also no more finally, certainly, or supremely. Until it makes more headway in this effort, until it shrugs off its philosophical vestiges and embraces its rhetorical heritage more fully, it cannot properly contribute as it should to the address of the deepest paradox of nonviolence of all: Namely, that human beings themselves are incarnated poems, and our freedom depends for its intelligibility and force at once both on our legibility within the terms of vocabularies, norms, customs, laws on offer (to be illegible or partially legible to the eye of the law is so often to suffer abjection, humiliation, exploitation, violation, death) as well as on our confounding excessiveness in those terms (to be reduced to the terms of the already-legible is to be rendered an object and not a peer). Like any words making their play in the world, wordy-worldly we must resonate both with literality and figurality if we would be forceful, and if we would be free.

The aspiration to nonviolence must be attentive then not only to the ways in which we risk violence in the necessary work of rendering violence capable of address, but also to the ways in which every address of one who might be the subject or object of violence obligates us to embrace an encounter in which we might be violated in our own selfhood (confounded in our deepest prejudices, beliefs, or desires as we potentially are by any good poem) as the condition of a nonviolence that takes freedom seriously. For me the resources available for this work, and for thinking our way through it, are mostly to be found in the archive of rhetoric, as well as in those works of philosophy and critical theory that come closest to repudiating philosophy for rhetoric (Hannah Arendt, Judith Butler, and the American Pragmatists).