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

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


Yahoo News:
A former housekeeper to California Republican gubernatorial nominee Meg Whitman surfaced on Wednesday to say that the former eBay executive knowingly employed her illegally and treated her poorly…. The accusations by Diaz come one day after the first debate between Brown and Whitman in a tight campaign in which both sides have courted the Latino vote, and could prove damaging to the Silicon Valley billionaire if they gain traction. [Diaz' attorney] Allred said that Whitman... failed to pay her for all of the hours she was hired to work. Allred also said that Whitman disregarded letters from the Social Security Administration notifying her that there were discrepancies with the Social Security number Diaz provided.

It's the last claim which, if true, gives this story legs.

Otherwise, this is just a bit of circus freakery knocking Whitman off her game a month before the election and the day after a key debate performance few if any think she won.

The general and growing ugliness of the picture of a stinking rich dot.bomb narcissist thinking she can buy the governor's mansion after thirty years without so much as voting by carpet-bombing the tee vee with millions of dollars of ads for months and months, and now possibly revealed to be true-to-type mistreating precarious laborers in a browning state can't be doing ewMeg any favors either.

Boomerang Culture Wars: Democrats Should Bring God, Guns, and Gays Back to the Campaign Trail and Motivate Our Base

The Obama Administration is far too tepid on civil rights for queer folks, celebrating diversity of belief and fighting anti-abortion extremists. The left actually won the Culture Wars and we have not yet grasped the treasure our victory has placed in our grasp. We should re-energize the Base, especially the youth vote, by running a god, guns, and gays victory lap and exposing the white-racist patriarchal-prick fundy-taliban warmongers as the mean dumb assholes and dinosaurs they are.

Their noisy minority never really was a silent majority, their cul-de-sac of busybodies, hypocrites, and closet-cases never really was a moral majority, their woman-hating gun-loving wars-and-executions wet dream death cult never really was pro life, their money-grubbing war-mongering intolerance never made them real values votes, their marginal reactionary neo-confederate rump never was the real America, but the difference is that now we know it and now we know them and now we know where we are going in this debased, distressed, duressed, deranged but beautifully browning, greening, renewing, secularizing, learning social democracy, peer to peer.

They lost the culture wars, and the hysteria of their denial is the register of much of the so-called enthusiasm gap -- we should make them pay, we should break the disciplinary ferocity of their hysterical denialism and make them face facts and stop wasting our time and making mischief in the face of the present planetary precarity of shattering social injustice and climate catastrophe. The sooner these cultural reactionaries grasp the magnitude of their loss the sooner they can pick up the pieces and join in the shared work of defeating the social reactionaries gaming them for their gain, a shared work from which they too will benefit in ways they cannot know now in their ignorance, terror, rage, and despair.

Democratic Enthusiasm, Snap!

"Pocket Pledge" Still Presumes Republicans Read At All

Given their apparent belief that the Biblical Jesus demanded we bomb brown-skinned babies, screw the poor, execute women's healthcare providers, and keep The Gay in the closet at all costs one wonders if reading really is part of this generation's Republican skill-set. Nevertheless, according to PolitcalWire:
[T]he Republican Party has created a smaller, two-page "pocket card" version of its "Pledge to America" after complaints from some Tea Party activists about the original document. The original document, by contrast, is 45 pages long.

tl;dr! In the next version of the Pledge a five dollar will be paper-clipped to a picture of President Obama with a Hitler mustache and a bone through his nose.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Addendumb on Race

Yes, I really did say that some of this going on and on about how insulting it is to be told it would be foolish not to vote for those who want to achieve more of what you do rather than voting for (or enabling by not voting at all) those want to achieve the opposite of what you do feels a little bit weird and racialized to me.

I am a white guy, my beloved boyfriend of eight years is a white guy, a non-negligible minority of my marvelous students at the San Francisco Art Institute and at Berkeley have been white guys, clearly there is nothing wrong with being a white guy nor do I think every white guy is inevitably inherently racist. Nothing in the first paragraph implies otherwise, so don't be stupid if you can help it, and don't expect me to publish racist crap in the Moot.

I must say, I happen to believe that part of what it means to be an anti-racist white guy (of whom I believe and hope and mean to be one, as is my boyfriend, and, yes, of course, as are many other white guys I fondly know and don't) is to be aware of the ways in which as white guys we are beneficiaries of white-racist privilege, which, among other things, means that we may not be aware of some of the costs exacted on others by racism unless we devote effort to that awareness (as surely we should if we want to declare ourselves to be anti-racist, right?) simply by virtue of the fact that those are not costs we bear, especially given the other costs that no doubt demand our attentions on our own terms.

You may recall the absurd brou-ha-ha that erupted during the 2008 Presidential campaign when Obama spoke in a San Francisco rally to the reasonable bitterness that settles in after generations of neoliberal abandonment of the middle class and wealth concentration and then was criticized by both McCain and Clinton as "condescending" in his choice of the word "bitter" to describe this state of mind. It wasn't difficult to discern the facile cultural politics of staging a stealthy confrontation of San Francisco values against small town 'Murcan values in this criticism, nor were many blind to the opportunistic mobilization of available racial resentments in the attack.

I am starting to feel comparably creeped out at least some of the time when I hear people drawing attention first of all, over and over again, very particularly to the ways in which they feel insulted, denigrated, patronized by the Administration's attitude toward criticisms from "the left" or "the base" (and almost invariably the insulted person feels themselves to represent that base and feels that their prioritization of concern with feeling insulted is likewise representative). I also think there is a certain privilege, not exclusive to but certainly inclusive of race-privilege, that drives some of the more flabbergastingly unrealistic expectations of some Obama critics who seem to have expected dramatically more progressive reform at dramatically lower cost in terms of struggle dramatically more rapidly and deeply from this Administration and its actually precarious majorities in a moment characterized by unprecedentedly irresponsible Republican obstructionism, global financial collapse, and (at least) two catastrophic wars, and all in less than two years' time.

I'm not saying that all Obama critics are racist. At least not all the ones from the left. After all, right here on this blog this very day I have mentioned a number of critiques of the Obama Administration -- from white guys, yet -- with which I personally sympathize (HAMP, civil liberties, imperial executive, and don't get me started on drone attacks).

I'm just saying that there is an available raced privilege likely inflecting and maybe opportunistically mobilized in at least some of what is read (misread?) as a "punch the hippies first" strategy on the part of the Obama Administration.

And it is precisely because most of those critics would presumably earnestly want and mean to be anti-racist themselves that they might want to pause and think about the extent to which their personalization of the case for voting their objective interest whatever their disappointments as an insult rather than an appeal and the scope of the expectations which have been disappointed in the first place may reflect privilege as well.

If your criticisms aren't racist, great. I'm just as sure that sometimes that's true as I'm sure that more often than we'd like it isn't.

The Black Man Needs to Ask Me to Vote in My Own Best Interest More Graciously and Politely

At least that's the way too much of this is starting to feel to me. It's getting weird and icky, frankly.

Never Mind the Gap?

"Enthusiasm Gap" Closing:
A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll "shows that the battle for control of Congress has tightened, as key Democratic-leaning demographic groups are expressing more enthusiasm about the upcoming midterms." Among likely voters, Republicans now hold a three-point lead in the generic-ballot... down from their nine-point lead last month. Among registered voters are split evenly... The pollsters "attribute the tightening to increased enthusiasm for the upcoming midterms by African Americans (who saw a six-point gain in high interest) and Hispanics (who saw an 11-point gain). But young voters, who helped fuel Obama's presidential victory in 2008, are now sitting on the sidelines. Just 35 percent of those ages 18-34 are enthusiastic about the election in November, versus 65 percent of seniors who say that."

I wonder what proportion of that 35 percent of those ages 18-34 who remain enthusiastic are also African-American and Hispanic? My guess is that it is a higher proportion than is represented among the cohort of those whose public comments about an "enthusiasm gap" are widely read and discussed.

Are We the Ones We Are Looking For?

Sometimes I wonder how much of this "enthusiasm gap" business ever really was much about the mostly white middle-aged guys who seem to feel they are targeted so outrageously unfairly -- whether they are right or wrong in this impression -- by the occasional castigation by Administration figures of "the professional left" or the inadequately "buck[ed] up."

"Rand Paul Is Off the Wall"

Back to the Poorhouse! How's that for a slogan?

"Try selling that in an election, heh heh heh," says Rand Paul.

Indeed. Why, it would look a little something like this:

Interminable Meta Mid-Term

I want to say something about why I like both Atrios and BooMan, even though I think both their substance and their tones are rather different in ways you might expect to matter more to me than they do. And through this discussion I mean, somehow, on top of that, also to talk a bit about the larger question of the so-called "enthusiasm gap" and the relation of the blogipelagic-left to the Democratic Party in the face of looming mid-term losses that may or may not be terrible for the country in ways that will have to be paid for in some awful fashion.

This is obviously a stupid kind of thing to wade into when all is said and done, since it is surely too meta to play out in differences in actual behavior and hence isn't a difference that makes the least difference from a pragmatic standpoint (and that's quite apart from consideration of how utterly marginal is the blog in which these meta comments are being published in the first place), but, what the hell. Just writing it down helps to clarify my thoughts, and maybe will provoke responses that clarify them further still.

Atrios has been making the point repeatedly lately that Democrats are in trouble for the mid-terms mostly because the economy sucks, which is at least partly but definitely not entirely because the policies the Obama Administration championed didn't work out as promised. Since Atrios has been pretty much in the same boat with Krugman in predicting that these policies would not work out as promised and saying why, it seems to me his rather contrarian tone and current disgruntlement are reasonably well justified.

He even totally gets the critiques from folks like BooMan, who rightly insists we pay attention to process constraints that shape stated policy aims and not jump the gun and assume compromised efforts always signal true ideological commitments, since there is always a crucial gap between the logical and the political route from where we are to an outcome. In other words, rather than pretending that Obama doesn't understand the logical case for single-payer or that the failure of the public option was the result of his stealthy devotion to corporatist ideology, one should take into account whether or not Democrats ever actually had the votes to get a public option under the present circumstances and whether that kind of calculation should or should not figure in the strategy of a President one votes for to govern as well as to move the country in a more progressive direction. Among other reasons, that's why Atrios has focused so much attention on HAMP -- where the disastrous outcome wasn't ordained by legislative constraints but shaped by palpably false economic assumptions and aspirations.

Anyway, Atrios also says that he plans to vote for Democrats in November and he seems to expect most of the people who care enough to know enough about the things he is talking about on his blog are likely to vote for Democrats in November, too, and so he is saying it doesn't make a lot of sense to accuse him and other righteous higher-profile critics of certain Administration policies (and I mean righteous in a good way not a sarcastic way, Glenn Greenwald's critique of Obama's civil liberties record seems to me another example of such) of having a major hand in the "enthusiasm gap" that is figuring in likely Democratic losses in November.

BooMan, on the other hand, thinks it is better to direct attention to the batshit insanity of Republicans and to the average Americans who really benefit concretely from compromised but still progressive investment via the stimulus and auto bailout in American jobs, health insurance reforms, student loan reforms, credit card reforms, financial regulation and so on. I happen to see the sense of both of their points, and don't consider them as particularly incompatible.

Noises from the Administration excoriating "the professional left" or demanding the Base "buck up" or "stop whining" seem weird to Atrios (whereas they seem to put wind in BooMan's sails a bit, especially to the extent that he thinks they are directed very particularly at Jane Hamsher -- I keed! I keed!) because Atrios doesn't believe that the political junkie contingent is really what Democrats should rightly be worrying about, first of all because Atrios expects them to vote the right way anyway (although one wonders whether he expects them also to be doing more-than-negligible GOTV as well), whatever their disgruntlement, and second of all because he thinks they tend not to be the ones suffering the worst want and insecurity or at any rate to be uninformed enough to be blaming such suffering and insecurity on Democrats more than Republicans who are really fuelling the enthusiasm gap, such as it is. (Not included in any of this riff, by the way, is the real possibility five weeks out that crazytown Republicans peaked too soon and Democrats might well surge in time to curtail unmanageable damage to precarious Democratic majorities.)

I think that Atrios is pretty persuasive on this -- as on many things. I have spent plenty of time excoriating self-appointed more-radical-than-thou folks who comment in the Moot here at Amor Mundi, just because I think I have attracted more than my fair share of commenters whose radicalism takes the form of arrantly foolish declarations of GOP/Dem equivalence and palpably defeatist declarations that they plan to take their ball and go home, not vote, embark on yet another quixotic Third Party circle-jerk, or what have you. Such people certainly do exist, and I certainly do think they are wrong (however much I usually share their sense of what ideal outcomes would look like in the social justice and permaculture fronts, and even if I do at any rate agree with such of their critiques that focus especially on the growth of the Imperial Executive and the Surveillance-Security State under Obama, not that I understand why agreement there produces much reason to sit out this mid-term election or hand it to Republicans of all people), but I think that in focusing on them I have sometimes had a skewed sense of the prevalence of their mindset among those who are described as "unenthusiastic" Democratic voters.

All that said, while I do largely agree with Atrios that his refusal to "clap louder" in Obama's general direction is the farthest imaginable thing from a problem the Administration needs to be focusing on (if that's even what they are doing when they say these "buck up" sorts of things), I do also think Atrios underestimates the potential force of his blog as an incubator of ideas, connections, pithy formulations, useful frames that might have a hand in mobilizing greater enthusiasm.

I'm not saying he's not the problem but he's not the solution either -- since laughing at stupidity really surely is part of the solution -- and I'm not presumptuous enough to think I have a right to tell Atrios what he should use his blog for when what he is doing is plenty valuable as is to many folks, me included, and bloggers should determine for themselves what their blogs are for -- but I do happen to think that Atrios has seemed a bit demoralized this last year, and I wonder if part of that demoralization has to do with the loss of the hope that he could make more of a difference with his blogging than he thinks he has done, a lack I think is a premise of his conclusion that the question of his personal impact on the "enthusiasm gap" is exhausted by the fact that he is personally voting rather than whether others might vote or not, differently or not, according to what he does as a blogger.

To shift my attention back to another blogger I regularly read, to both my profit and pleasure, although I think BooMan's posts sometimes seem irritatingly pedantic or apologetic to engaged left commentators of the blogipelago when he delves into procedural and structural constraints that hobble more desirable healthcare or financial policy outcomes and then dismisses the more readily digestable logical and ideological cases one finds elsewhere in the blogipelago for those more desirable outcomes (need I say, overgeneralizations are rampant here in what I'm saying?), I think it is crucial to grasp that the substance of what BooMan is providing does not seem to me to be castigation so much as education. Part of the reason I mention this is because it seems to me Atrios at his best has been as much an educator as a gadfly, and I'm not sure he has found his way yet to doing both things in the Obama era as he did so wittily and devastatingly in the Bush era, at least not as much.

I do think that it is crucial to hammer over and over again on procedural realities precisely because people tend to want to focus on figures and narratives congenial to a moral vantage on the political and are hence enormously vulnerable to demoralization in the face of the exhausting, heartbreaking, convulsive progress of reform and governance. I think BooMan's repeated insistence that we remember what unprecedented GOP obstructionism in the Senate has meant is indispensable when the contrary narrative glibly refers to ineffectual Democratic majorities, as if the GOP is irrelevant to the picture. Without the constant reminder of the structural constraints that form the procedural context for legislative outcomes one tends instead simply to create cartoon caricatures of Democrats just as bad as Republicans even when, for example, 96% of Democrats voted to facilitate the repeal of DADT and 100% of Republicans voted to frustrate the repeal of DADT, in others to treat an instance of nearly perfect antagonism instead as a difference that makes no ideological difference.

The radical but still partisan-reformist Democratic left in the blogosphere must in my opinion never forget the phrase (I believe it originating with the Fabian socialists, but it has been taken up across the labor and anarchist lefts as well) "educate, agitate, organize" -- my former students reading this blog are no doubt rolling their eyes at my endlessly repeated recourse to this phrase -- and the indispensability of each to the work of ongoing reform from where we are, peer to peer, toward sustainable equitable diverse consensual secular social democracy in our shared world.

I think progressive minded people have something of a tendency to forget the ongoing need to make the case for elementary notions -- such as why, even at their worst, accountable governments devoted to the general welfare are indispensable to the provision of some public goods that "competitive private enterprise," even at their best, are structurally incapable of providing, such as why taxes are not theft but the price we pay to live in a civilization and those who benefit most from physical and legal infrastructure of civilization should expect to pay more to maintain that civilization from which they have benefited more so that those who are no less indispensable to civilization may also contribute to it as peers, such as why those who decry central planning of the economy and equity for all citizens but who advocate public spending on defense in an era of industrial/informational/technoscientific competition are advocating central planning stealthed as Defense and welfare only for the rich beneficiaries of military contracts, such as that given the existence of tax brackets even the richest of the rich only pay the highest tax rates on that highest portion of their wealth and hence there is little disincentive to common collective enterprise, risk-taking, and problem-solving imposed by the higher taxation of the flukes of fashion, random windfalls, and inheritance that the highest tax rates address themselves to in the democratizing effort to ameliorate pernicious aristocratic wealth concentration.

I think the left forgets to repeat what has become obvious to us, forgetting that repetition of the obvious forms the sound discursive foundation on which progressive reform depends to provide reassurance and solace and context in the belly of the beast of the vexations of reform itself.

The blogipelago has not yet revealed the full extent to which it can contribute to the education, agitation, and organization on which progressive reform depends. That is the context, I think, in which we should weigh overwrought meta ruminations of the kind in which this post has so foolishly indulged. I do hope folks keep reading Atrios and BooMan both, but neither of those worthy fellows need my endorsement to draw eyeballs their way! Whether or not demoralization is present in our neck of the global media complex, whether or not that demoralization is a factor in an enthusiasm gap between Democrats and Republicans heading into these mid-term elections, whether or not that enthusiasm gap will lose Democrats Congressional majorities to the ample cost and distrust of this Republic are separate question from the question whether or not bloggers can contribute to the educational, agitational, organizations resources on which ongoing and upcoming reform in the service of social justice and sustainability depend for their indispensable flourishing.

Somebody, Get That Witch Some Veritaserum

Steve Benen on Republican Christine O'Donnell:
[W]hen O'Donnell said she studied at Oxford, that appears to be a lie. When she said she had earned a degree before she actually had, that was a lie, too. When she pointed to post-grad work at Princeton, that was also a lie…. Asked if she would lie to Nazis during World War II who showed up at her door looking for homes harboring Jews, O'Donnell replied, "You never have to practice deception." Unless, apparently, you're trying to deceive people about your academic background.


First California Gubernatorial Debate Today

UC Davis is providing a live stream of the debate right here from 6 to 7 p.m. PDT, later today, that is to say Tuesday, Sept. 28. For folks here in the Bay Area -- of all political stripes -- I understand all people so inclined are invited to UC Berkeley’s Institute of Government Studies, 109 Moses Hall, at 6 p.m. to see the debate on a big screen and even to enjoy some light refreshments. Sounds like highly geeky fun for all.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Totalitarian Information Awareness

Xeni Jardin has a nice and handy round-up of links to and excerpts from pieces providing good background and commentary on the Obama Administration's ongoing efforts to gain direct access to all forms of digital communication. Quite apart from debates we have about electing Republicans versus Democrats, it is important to remember that the positional politics between and within branches and layers of government have their own anti-democratizing vicissitudes, inertias, and momenta. Especially given the force of military agency in the face of legislative deadlock, as well as the force of the bully pulpit in celebrity culture, the catastrophic ongoing shoring up of the imperial presidency -- whether it happens to be a Republican or a Democrat enjoying the imperial perquisites -- is something that we must resist as citizens and especially through the legislative and judiciary branches at whose institutional expense the executive is amplified.

So Funny I Forgot to Laugh

Hypocritical Patriarchal Homophobic White-Racist Christianist-Taliban Know-Nothing Climate-Change/Darwin Denialist Greedhead Gun-Nut Neo-Feudalists say the darnedest most hilarious things. And soon they will be saying them from the floors of the House and Senate.

Porn Again

Lizz Winstead tweets:
"Seems that Porn Again Christians are the fastest growing religious group in America."

Will the Republicans Listen to the Actually Real America on Healthcare Reform They Monolithically Undermined and Obstructed and Now Run on Repealing?

Americans who think President Obama's health care law should have gone further outnumber the ones who think the government should stay out of health care by 2 to 1. Roughly four in 10 adults think the new law did not go far enough to change the health care system, regardless of whether they support it, while just one in five say they oppose the law because they think the federal government should not be involved in health care at all.

PS: The answer to the question posed by the title of this post is: "Of course they won't."

Alan Grayson Fearlessly Takes On Authoritarian Christianism in Latest Ad

Look what happens when secular social Democrats actually run as secular social Democrats in what is actually a secular social Democracy:

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Still Hope for Reform of the Senate Filibuster

The Hill:
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin said Tuesday's failed cloture vote on a military policy bill has strengthened Democratic hopes to change the chamber's filibuster rules next year…. "I don't think a filibuster before has ever prevented the Senate from getting to a defense authorization," Levin said. "These filibusters on motions to proceed cannot be allowed to prevent us from getting our work done." Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) held a Rules Committee hearing Wednesday on ideas to change the Senate's filibuster rules. The hearing -- the committee's fifth on the topic -- featured Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who has been pushing for filibuster reform since 1995. Levin said Tuesday's vote was "a very powerful argument for why we should change the rules."

If Democrats retain their Senate majority they can change the filibuster rule (like other comparable procedural rules) at the opening of the next session with that simple majority -- although any time after that such a rules change would require the prohibitively high bar of a supermajority. It is even more likely that the Democrats will retain their Senate majority than that they will manage the feat in the House (though I still have my fingers crossed that Democratic majorities will be retained in both houses, but slimmed of a few odious Blue Dogs), and so it seems to me rank and file Democrats like us should be devoted not just to GOTV in these last weeks but also writing letters to our representatives letting them know that filibuster reform is very much on the minds of constituents who want electoral mandates to enable the enactments of the change we voted for, whatever the irresponsible obstructionism of the opposition and the shenanigans at the right-most edges of our caucus.

Babel Fish Republican Pledge

Digby Deciphers

Appiah Predicts "The Future"

What will future generations condemn us for?
Once, pretty much everywhere, beating your wife and children was regarded as a father's duty, homosexuality was a hanging offense, and waterboarding was approved… Looking back at such horrors, it is easy to ask: What were people thinking? Yet, the chances are that our own descendants will ask the same question, with the same incomprehension, about some of our practices today. Is there a way to guess which ones?

Kwame Appiah predicts that our descendants will feel about our own callous crowded prisons, our nightmarish factory farms, our isolated and neglected elders, and our reckless destruction of the biosphere on which we depend for survival as we feel now about the slavery, torture, and dehumanized homosexuals of those from whom we are ourselves descended.

Curiously enough, many people of the left already feel about our prisons, factory farms, neglected elders, and poisoning of our environment the way Appiah claims people of "The Future" will feel, meanwhile many people of the right still feel about extreme human exploitation, righteous torture, and vicious homosexuals exactly the way we have now presumably relegated to "The Past."

It will come as no surprise that I personally hope Appiah's predictions will come true, the sooner the better. But much more to the point, this is because I likely share many of the ethical assumptions and aspirations that are actually driving his "predictions."

That is why I must say I still disapprove of his derangement of what should be normative deliberation about the present-world in the present, in the presence of the diversity of peers with whom we presently share it into a futurological discourse making "predictions" to be debated as if they were competing hypothetical would-be factual accounts.

The appeal of his ethical universe scarcely recommends his own futurological retreat from it, and I find his indulgence in such futurology quite as pernicious as I do the, to me, more ethically obnoxious mainstream futurology of neoliberal corporate advertising hyperbole and military think-tank position papers or the profoundly delusive superlative futurology of techno-utopian Robot Cultists to which I devote much more disapproving attention here on Amor Mundi.

Ben Stein Is An Asshole

Bill Maher makes hilariously plain what is already known by all.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Writing Regress Report

I've extensively revised a post from 2007 entitled The Technodevelopmental Quartet and added it to the posts archived under the heading Futurology Against Ecology. Comments and criticisms welcome. I've been working all month trying to see whether I could actually produce from re-arrangements, elaborations and amplifications these posts a more conventionally publishable worthwhile book. The provisional title for the project is Hole Earth: Futurology Against Ecology. Comments, criticisms, suggestion about that are welcome, too. I find the work harder than expected and provocative of many ambivalences. I really begin to wonder whether I am temperamentally unsuited to the book-form: heaven knows I found thesis-writing and dissertating painful in the extreme. What is it about the provisional and improvisatory formats of blog-posts and lecture-notes that seems to me so much more congenial?

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

This afternoon only two of the faces of featured authors at the website of the stealth Robot Cult outfit IEET, the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, is not the face of a guy, only one is not white.

Only a minority of people in the world are white guys. Only a minority of people with whom tomorrow will be made and shared are white guys. Only a minority of people in the world impacted by technodevelopmental changes are white guys. 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.

The relentless non-representativeness I have been documenting for months now over at IEET, supposedly the most "academic," "moderate," "respectable" of the membership organizations in the futurological Robot Cult archipelago, is just one of the more obvious symptoms of the profound marginality of what I call superlative sub(cult)ural futurology.

For analysis of more glaring conceptual and political problems with these White Guys of "The Future" I recommend interested readers begin with my Condensed Critique of Transhumanism.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Larry Summers Fails His Way Back to Harvard

The White House this afternoon announced that Larry Summers will retire at the end of the year… the third high-profile member of President Obama's economic team to depart in recent weeks… a West Wing shakeup hailed by progressives who never liked Summers with such a key position given his economic stances and comments he made about women and their abilities to do math. The White House said Summers, who serves as Obama's chief advisor and who is rumored to have sparred with other West Wing staffers, will go back to job teaching economics.

Mid-Term Happy Talk?

Nate Silver:
Generic Ballots May Underestimate Democrats… [L]ocal polls seem to point toward a House vote that would be about evenly divided.

Simon Rosenberg:
Both the Real Clear Politics Congressional Generic average and the new Gallup track show similar national trend lines -- Dems gaining ground, GOP dropping…. The underlining favorability of the Republican Party is still far below that of the Dems and Obama. This election has never been like 1994 where at this point there had been both a fall of the Dems and a rise in the GOP. The memory of the disasterous GOP reign in the last decade is still too fresh, their leaders still to[o] unreformed, their candidates far too wacky, and their ideas still to[o]reckless for the current GOP to have fully taken advantage of the Democratic underpeformance this past cycle.

Markos Moulitsas:
[W]hatever their flaws, Democrats are closing strong. And while the GOP couldn't stop releasing internal poll numbers all spring and summer (with nary a Democratic response), suddenly the roles are reversed -- it's the Democrats who are dumping scads of great-looking internal polling, while Republicans have gone suspiciously silent…. [T]he GOP will make significant gains this November.... But if we hold the House and Senate, at the cost of a few dozen Blue Dogs, it won't just be a victory for us, but it'll sunder the GOP. They expect to win both chambers. If we stop them, the simmering battle between the teabaggers and GOP establishment will be epic. So GOTV like mad. The numbers are trending in our direction. We just have to close the deal.

So Many Crusty Bigoted Old White Farts

Our glorious Senate.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Your Reading Assignment

I've gone back and tinkered a bit more with my response to the Counterpunch Singularity expose. It's the best thing I've written in a while, so go read that if you haven't yet, and I'll post more later. I've got letters of recommendation and student thesis proposals to read to keep me otherwise occupied today anyway.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Galloping Third Party Nonsense

Americans' desires for a third political party are as high as they have been in seven years. Fifty-eight percent of Americans believe a third major political party is needed because the Republican and Democratic Parties do a poor job of representing the American people. That is a significant increase from 2008 and ties the high Gallup has recorded for this measure since 2003.

For this factoidal hairball to have any substance at all one would need to know that this "majority" of Americans was interested in the same "third political party" (which they certainly are not) and for it to do any good at all one would have to believe that those who take third political parties seriously do so in a way that manifests itself first of all in the federal or state-by-state implementation of instant-runoff-voting to ensure that third party votes do not function primarily as counter-productive spoilers and also addresses the rules that ensure that one has to caucus with one of the two major parties come what may to have a non-negligible impact as a congressional representative in the system as it actually exists (which vanishingly few of them do).

If the Greens or Democratic Socialists managed such feats, I would likely change my registration from the Democrats, too, especially if we are pretending that the purpose of such registration is affiliation on the basis of guiding ideals rather than one's sense of the left wing of the possible. As it is, it seems to me that the Democratic Party remains the best actually-existing tool at hand to facilitate the emergence of sustainable secular social democracy in America (it is to be regretted that the Republican Base appears to believe that of the Democratic Party more than the Democratic Base does), and so we need to be pushing Democrats from the Democratic Wing of the Party, especially to the extent that this pushing strengthens rather than weakens Democratic electoral and policy prospects given the actually-existing constraints at hand.

My Response to the Counterpunch Expose of Singularitarianism

Part One

Many people have asked for my comments about David Correia's recent expose in Counterpunch of the organized Singularitarian transhumanist sect of the Robot Cult archipelago.

The easy answer is, "what's not to like?"

My longer answer will elaborate some quibbles, but I will say at the outset that I think these mostly arise from the fact that Correia is writing an accessible journalistic piece rather than a formal theoretical critique.

I'll get to some of my theory-head quibbles in a moment, but let me linger for a moment longer in a more "what's not to like?" frame of mind. I must say that I was pleased to read the piece, and I am pleased that lots of folks seem to be reading it. That can only be a good thing. I consider Correia's expose to be the latest among a small number of comparable contrarian offerings over the last couple of decades of utterly prevalent mass-mediated corporate-militarist techno-utopian enthusiasm that I regularly direct to the attention of my students (as I now will also recommend the Correia piece), among them:
The California Ideology, Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron, (1995)
God of the Digirati, Jedediah Purdy (1998)
One Half A Manifesto, Jaron Lanier (2000)

In the piece, Correia quoted other scholars whose writings I also consider relevant in the struggle against reactionary futurological discourses, both mainstream and superlative, like Katherine Hayles, Leo Marx, Lewis Mumford, Langdon Winner. He might easily have added work by Paulina Borsook and David Noble, among others, which provides similar insights in an accessible way.

Needless to say, I would include some of my own (admittedly, usually less accessible) contributions to this burgeoning discourse, especially the works corralled under the Condensed Critique of Transhumanism and Futurology Against Ecology and also, in this context, Sanewashing Singularity (For A More Gentle Seduction).

My own theoretical and political orientation on questions of technodevelopmental social struggle is most legible in the context of the theory, research and activism of Science and Technology Studies (STS), work by folks like Donna Haraway, Bruno Latour, Andrew Pickering, Anna Tsing, and the Environmental Justice Movement (EJ), work by folks like Robert Bullard, Vandana Shiva, Rachel Stein, and works in so-called "New Media" Studies that manage to resist the impulse to promotional celebration, like Jodi Dean and Geert Lovink. For me, the political thinking of Hannah Arendt and Roland Barthes' work on the mythology of technoscientific progress is also especially indispensable. While few of these figures take on superlative futurology explicitly (although some of them have nibbled at the edges of such critique), what is more important to me is that when one engages technodevelopmental social struggles from a vantage informed by such analysis and activism I find one is on the whole less susceptible to the facile and reactionary seductions of the futurological in the first place.

Part Two

Now, let me quote from Correia's forceful concluding paragraphs both to provide a clear sense of why this intervention seems to me so valuable as well as to pressure some of the terms he uses in ways that I think enable us usefully to extend his critique.
The silly Techno-capitalist-transcendent language of the singularity movement finds broad social acceptance because of a remarkably underdeveloped politics of technology on the political left.

Part of the reason the left might lack a more "developed politics of technology" in Correia's phrase might be that to name such an aspiration in just those terms seems to me to commit us already to a profoundly reactionary politics. As I never tire of saying, there is no such thing as "technology in general" that pre-exists for a "politics" subsequently to take up. There is, crucially, politics in the selective imagination, invention, maintanence, taking up of some artifacts and techniques and then designating just them and not others as "technological."

It is crucial to grasp that there is a politics in the discursive practices that yield our sense of what is technological or not in the first place. It is crucial to grasp that what this politics produces tends to be a field of artifacts, techniques, and capacities that is treated as prior to politics, merely technical, factual, apolitical. It is crucial to grasp that what we stabilize and nominalize as "technology" might just as easily be contemplated as collective, collaborative, contestatory processes of invention, testing, publication, elaboration, funding, regulation, application, marketing, appropriation every one of which is palpably political through and through. It is crucial to grasp that every single heterogeneous instance sloppily subsumed within the constellation of artifacts, techniques, and capacities presumably captured by the concept of "technology" is imagined and understood, is taken up and taken on by, is impacting a diversity of stakeholders whose different situations, histories, hopes determine whether technoscientific changes are progressive or emancipatory or violent or exploitative in their different lives. It is crucial to grasp that questions of progressive or reactionary technodevelopment in a general political sense must always be a matter of finding our way to a most sustainable, equitable, consensual possible distribution of the costs, risks, and benefits of technoscientific changes to the diversity of stakeholders to those changes.

When we speak of a left politics of "technology" as if we already know in advance what technology is or is not, as if the politics here is a matter of applying left democratic as against right authoritarian intuitions to "technology in general" I fear that we have already swept off the table the whole field of democratizing and anti-democratizing collective struggles through which we arrive at "the technological" as an emancipatory imaginary in the first place.

The technological is not just a political production but it offers itself up as an alternative to the political -- it is forever confusing technical capacitation with political freedom, and, indeed, not just confusing these, but offering the one in place of the other, as a seduction to dispense with the one for the other.

And this is especially unfortunate since the "technological," precisely like the political, is freighted with the daydreams and nightmares of agency. "The technological imaginary" does not just disavow its politics and then proffer itself as a substitute for politics in this way, it is also suffused very particularly with the pathologies at the limit-instances of the political, that is to say, where the politics of disruption, violation, failure, revolution, insurrection, emergency, emancipation bedevil the fraught boundaries of the political and the provisionally non-political: persuasion/violence, opinion/fact. Notice that when we speak of "technology" we tend to have in mind not the quotidian furniture and techniques of the familiar everyday world, even though we might just as well, but instead very particularly those techniques and artifacts that seem to promise or threaten disruption, denaturalization, alienation, transcendence, windfall profits, miracle cures, apocalyptic wars, pandemics, environmental catastrophes.

Part of what I am getting at here is to provide a sketch of what Correia bemoans the lack of -- namely, the "remarkably underdeveloped politics of technology on the political left" -- and, let me emphasize, this is a sketch familiar from and to the many theorists and activists I named above, I don't have any illusions about my own contribution to addressing this lack.

The devastating prevalence of the promotional-futurological mindset in the neoliberal rationalizations and neoconservative bombs and bullets of corporate-militarist incumbent-elites happens to find its way to a certain clarifying extremity in the superlative futurology of the singularitarians and transhumanists. But it is not true that the left lacks altogether a critique and archive of activism one might hope would be equal to this authoritarian anti-democratizing anti-consensualizing unsustainable precarizing reductionist monocultural triumphalist corporate-military-industrial-broadcast reactionary retro-futurism.

I daresay interventions like Correia's are indispensable efforts in that larger struggle. But, more pointedly, I propose that his intervention might be more powerful still if he would stop using the word "technology" in the way he repeatedly does. I find that substituting gawky, awkward phrases like "technodevelopmental social struggle" or "more equitable distribution of the costs, risks, and benefits of technoscientific changes to the diversity of their stakeholders" for the word "technology" goes a long way toward short-circuiting the reactionary "naturalization" or de-politicization of "the technological imaginary" and helps keep a wider range of options on the table, open to collective contestation and subversive appropriation, where they should be. The discomfort and opacity of such formulations might bespeak the breaking of a reassuring spell, a comfortable delusion.
To the easily fooled, The Singularity looks like a) a good idea, b) a baffling idea beyond the ability of radical politics to critique, or c) a silly science-fictiony idea not worth addressing. But it’s none of the above. Instead it represents the highest aspirations of reactionary politics to foreclose the possibility of radical social change.

This is both true and important. The extreme formulations of the Robot Cultists are often so ridiculous that they deserve nothing but ridicule on their own terms. However it is important to grasp that even the ridiculous, when contemplated as a symptom of broader historical or discursive or structural forces and formations, can be discussed quite seriously indeed. Needless to say, such serious discussions will not seem "serious" to the adherents of sub(cult)ural futurological formations themselves, since, as for most True Believers, the precondition for the recognition of any engagement as "serious" will demand the prior acceptance of key tenets beyond which disagreements are scarcely threatening to the faith but only endlessly re-confirm its relevance on its own terms.

But it is also important to realize that the level of sophistication and abstraction demanded for the mastery of the relevant controversies associated with the mathematical, cosmological, physical, medical, biological and biochemical, and engineering disciplines at which futurological discourses tend to genuflect truly are baffling even to well informed and educated citizens whose responsibility is, nonetheless, to deliberate about sustainable, equitable, and consensual developmental policies arising out of these controversies. Where true technoscientific understanding is impossible to all but specialists but passionate anxieties and hungers provoked by technodevelopmental dislocations are visceral one has found one's way, to be sure, to a fertile ground for cranks, scam artists, and would-be gurus, especially in a sensationalist broadcast-media environment and celebrity-culture such as our own.

The futurological hyperbole and self-promotion and fraud that suffuses the marketing discourses that prevail as the "public realm" under neoliberal-neoconservative corporate-militarist global-developmentalism is especially clear and pronounced in the superlative sub(cult)ural futurology of the Robot Cult archipelago to which Correia directs our attention, in which advertising hyperbole and fraud is exacerbated into outright religiosity and self-promotion and profit is amplified into wish-fulfillment fantasies of outright transcendence of human finitude.

The scam becomes quite familiar when analogized to conventional evangelism, in which suave would-be priests and gurus preying on fears (death, contingency, as usual) and greed (girls, guns, as usual) tell their just-so stories to entertain, anesthetize, flatter, and cajole (providing the grace of faith, the consolation of philosophy, the dis-alienation of critique, or the ideological fetish mistaken for mastery in the face of neoliberal precarity and developmental dislocation) always with an eye to the passage through the pews of the collection plate.
So, what would such a critical politics of technology look like? And how can a radical politics of technology overcome the widely held belief that technology is always and everywhere a progressive force?

I refer you back to my response above, of course, but I hope the force of what I said then is at least a little clearer in part because in reading Correia's framing of this urgent demand in terms of "technology in general" you are already a little worried that he has foreclosed too much of what such a critical politics must foreground if it is to do what he and we want from such politics. Needless to say, for ecologically-minded, democratically-minded people, any technodevelopmental vicissitude will be progressive precisely to the extent that its actual costs, risks, and benefits are equitably and accountably distributed among the diversity of actual stakeholders to its changes as they would legitimately represent them to be.
First, we need to take “things” seriously. As Langdon Winner has argued, the artifacts of technology, once unleashed, advance a politics the reveal the inner logic of their design. The ridiculously low bridges Robert Moses constructed on the Long Island Parkway were designed to exclude the poor and people of color. The low bridges excluded all but single passenger cars and reserved the beaches for middle and upper class New Yorkers. Moses’s bridges were technological tools of racist city planning.

This is all very good, reading the historical and political assumptions and aspirations that guide the design, development, implementation, materialization, use, understanding of the furniture of the world, so that politics is not imagined as an impoverished deployment of things to political ends but grasped as the struggle out of which things emerge and play out in the world in the first place. I would caution, though, that this important intervention needs to bear in mind that both because humans have an unconscious and because the street finds it own uses for things that more is revealed in the storm-churn of technodevelopment than just the "inner-logic" of designs as their designers understand them from moment to moment.
Many of the technologies that singularity movement scientists celebrate are funded by corporate behemoths and the U.S. military.

I hate to be a stickler about the obvious, but I happen to think it matters that most of the "technologies" singularitarians, transhumanists, techno-immortalists, and nano-cornucopiasts "celebrate" (well, no doubt, most of them are fond of pencils and penicillin like the rest of us are, but I assume Correia means to emphasize the preoccupations unique to Robot Cultists) are not "technologies" at all.

I say this not just for the reasons I mentioned above pressuring the very notion of "technology," but in this case for the glaring reason that none of these celebrated artifacts or techniques actually exist. I think it is a terrible thing to pretend that the non-existing non-sense that preoccupies the celebrants of superlative futurology should be treated even incidentally as real by their critics, when so much of the problem with futurology is precisely that it requires we confuse hype with substance, empty promises with products, arrows rocketing up graphs with political promising, debt with development, ponzi schemes with investments, and science fiction with science.

This is even worse when we are talking about the paraphernalia of the Robot Cult imaginary: when, for example, "post-biological super-intelligence" is under discussion. Not only does "post-biological super-intelligence" not exist, but "it" cannot coherently exist inasmuch as all intelligence hitherto has been incarnated in biological brains and expressed in human lifeways. While anyone who is disinclined to propose that intelligence is supernatural must be open to the possibility that there might be alternate materializations than squishy brains and historical struggles for intelligence, one also has to accept actually-existing materialization as non-negligible to the intelligence so incarnated. This seems to me to have the implication that "artificial" intelligences might be sufficiently different from human ones to require a different term to denote them, with different historical associations (rights bearing? property-inhering? reasonable? responsible?). And if this-worldly intelligence is indeed non-negligibly materialized then certainly all the glib fancies of personally omnipotizing and immortalizing "migrations" of intelligence from one material substrate to another material substrate -- say, from squishy brains into the cyberspatial sprawl or shiny robot bodies under the sooper-parental gaze of a "Friendly" Robot God -- so beloved of Robot Cultists, might not make a whole hell of a lot of sense however loudly the techno-enthusiasts clap to the contrary.
If the costs of the benefits of technology are paid with our own techno-dependence, then the technologies of the singularity movement promise to intensify corporate control and military authority in society.

I maintain that the prosthetic is more or less co-extensive with the cultural, which means -- apart from the fact that here we are talking yet again about epic-scaled generalizations when we should probably be focused instead on historical specificities -- that our collective elaboration of agency is always indispensably prosthetic, which means in turn that what counts as our dependencies and inter-dependencies and comparative independence in the first place are all determined in our ongoing technodevelopmental social struggles. Part of the reason I disapprove glib references to "technology in general" is not just that it makes us vulnerable to mistaking the familiar with the inevitable, and the parochially attractive with the universally beneficial, but it tempts us to fancy that the space of a radical resistance to reactionary technodevelopment is to be found in some equally fanciful "outside" of "technology-in-general."

But it seems to me that no such outside exists or would be desirable: It is, after all, because we are inter-dependent that we can be co-responsible, just as it is because we are always constituted in language and history (both prosthetic through and through) that we are always open to connection and persuasion and change for the better.

If we are to speak of technodevelopmental costs and benefits as Correia rightly demands we should, it seems crucial to me that we not retreat into narratives about generalized protagonists like "technology" and "humanity" imposing or paying the price of a generalized "dependence" against which an imaginary "outside" beyond "technology" and "dependence" is delusively proffered, but instead turn our attention to the actual situation and testimony of the actual diversity of stakeholders to the technoscientific and technodevelopmental vicissitudes particularly under consideration. What that will tend to look like, in my opinion, are the ethnographies and documentaries typical of Science and Technology Studies (STS) and the policy papers written from the vantage of the Environmental Justice Movement (EJ), so possibly what Correia needs to be doing is directing more people's attention to this sort of work so that it will capture more of the imagination, education, agitation, and organization of the left, such as it is.
Second, SM draws its intellectual force from a long history of technoscience claims to human perfectibility, such as the eugenics movement. Just as the language of science and the “inevitability” of technological progress blinded millions to the darker side of eugenics, the arrogant, uncritical celebration of technotranscendence disguises the reactionary logic of The Singularity. The transcendence implies an eclipse of biological limits and therefore of social relations thus foreclosing the possibility of social and political struggle.

Certainly I agree with the spirit of this critique. I have written extensively (among other places, here) that the glib transhumanist discussion of "enhancement" as such pretends that consensus exists where certainly it does not about just what would seem an "enhancement" to whom, in the service of what ends among others, to the frustration of what possibilities, at what costs to whom, and so on, and that this de-politicized discourse is inherently eugenic. And this is so even when its adherents honestly abhor the violence of historical eugenic practices like white racist medical experiments and sterilizations in the United States or Nazi rationalizations for genocide.

It is true that the "post-biological super-intelligence" Singularitarians pine for aspires after an "eclipse of the biological" in Correia's term, but we should pressure that aspiration not only on their own rather facile terms but on our own more critical ones as well.

The same hostility to biological materiality crops up in sect after sect of the futurological -- the Cyberpunks famously disdained "the meat body" (merely amplifying in superlative cadences the mainstream Boomer futurology of botox and boner pills proliferating on the teevee) the crypto-anarchist Cypherpunks disdained the material body of the nation state no less viscerally (merely amplifying in superlative cadences the mainstream neoliberal futurology that celebrated "frictionless flows of global digital capital"), techno-immortalists would "transcend" the flesh through fanciful "uploading" into a faux-spiritualized cyberspace or invulnerable cyborg-shell (the Extropian sect of transhumanism made famous by Wired magazine at the height of the irrational exuberance of the dot.bomb epoch declared themselves a movement dedicated to the end of both Death and Taxes, merely amplifying in superlative cadences the mainstream neoliberal futurology of corporate anti-governmentality, smarmy self-actualization seminars, and Randian-New Age narcissisms, and the demand for endless growth in defiance of ecosystemic limits, the usual braying confidence of the privileged that limits are finally unreal just because there have always been and so will always be other lesser beings around to clean up all their messes for them), the nano-cornucopiasts expect nanoscale robots to assemble superabundance on the cheap and bypass the intractable impasse of reconciling the limitless diversity of aspirations of the diversity of stakeholders to a shared and limited world in the muscular materiality of social struggle in history (merely amplifying in superlative cadences the fragile, hysterical petrochemical bubble on which North Atlantic civilization, such as it is, has always precariously depended, and in this the nano-cornucopiasts are merely the latest delusive aspirants after a techno-utopian end of history: following the worshipers of a plastic plenitude turned to toxic landfill -- a nuclear energy too cheap to meter to ward off the permanent specter of apocalypse at our disposal -- the ponzi scheme of input-intensive petrochemical industrial agriculture, "The Green Revolution" of soil and aquifer depletion and genetically engineered brand loyalty -- the paperless office of computation that now brings our bosses into the private precincts of our pants pockets and "leisure" hours -- the productivity and efficiency gains of automation and mediation that were to liberate the masses but have exacerbated wealth concentration and created a planetary precariat -- and on and on and on).

It is intriguing to note that this techno-transcendental eclipse of the biological has been the occasion for a ferocious compensatory biologization of the public forces of criticism and politics that would educate, agitate, and organize against the restless reactionary work of "post-biological" futurology, as our ideas are denigrated by futurology into "memes" and our arguments denigrated into "viral contagion" and our social and cultural distinctiveness denigrated into reductive evolutionary psychologisms and greed and exploitation and parochialism are celebrated in the dreary return of Social Darwinism.

But the final pressure we might put on this notion of a techno-transcendental "eclipse of the biological" is to recall that "the biological" as it plays out in ramifying dynamisms and lifeways in the world is finally no more monolithic than is "the technological," especially for those of us who would come to terms politically with biological vulnerabilities, possibilities, and limits. While for the infantile wish-fulfillment fantasists of futurology "the biological" is the register of finitude, of hated contingency, feared vulnerability, of the pleasure principle confronted with the reality principle in a tantrum of tool-making, the abject rejected in a blessed rage for order, it is also true that those who are born in the world will make of it what we know not, and that in every word and deed we re-enact that birth and release forces of disruption and novelty into the shared world, and that we truly cannot know what our ingenuity is capable of, and that in bodily lives whose bounds have been bedeviled by sonograms and defibrillators we cannot know even what our lives have in store for us in brute biological terms. I have always found it intriguing that the superlative futurologists are always so quick to read in this present confusion of the limiting terms of the human biological condition the end of all limits, rather than the arrival of the new, humbling limit that we can no longer know with anything like the certainty our ancestors had just what our limits and their saliences will be.
The sparkling promise of technoscience blinds even the most obvious critics to this frightening premise.

I wouldn't mind some examples of such critics, since it seems to me a commonplace in the few critics of techno-utopian discourses to emphasize this sort of parochialism and reductionism.
The Singularity does not anticipate human liberation but instead announces the zenith of bourgeois values like efficiency, productivity and standardization germlined into the human genome.

This is certainly true, but I might add that well before futurologically-rationalized practices would "germline" these bourgeois values (I happen to think "industrial" -- with its implications of elite capital intensivity, and hence centralization, and hence professional-credentialization, and hence massified audiences/consumers, and hence its monologism, monoculturism, and homogenization -- is a better word than "bourgeois" for these pernicious values at this historical juncture) into the genome, they are first and primarily engaged in the struggle to re-write the human condition in the present into such reductive terms so that any eventual "germlining" would not be experienced so much as a circumscription of human possibility at all, but a kind of confirmation of what we already have come to "know" about human possibility through what we have come to ignore about human possibility.
But is all off this even possible? Isn’t this all just technological pie in the sky? Probably, The Singularity moment is after all not science, but rather ideology.

This is the crucial point, and another one I insist on again and again -- as, for example, here. The force of mainstream and superlative futurology is not so much that it might facilitate or frustrate outcomes in "The Future" but that through the fervency of its advocacy and the beliefs of the faithful it organizes our grasp of what it possible and important in the present in ways that preferentially benefit incumbent interests. There is no such thing as "The Future," after all, its whole substance is what it forecloses in the presence of the open futurity, peer to peer, of political freedom.
But that’s just the thing the left refuses to say.

I suppose I understand what Correia is saying here, but I think it actually matters that while only too few people are engaging in a serious critique of mainstream and superlative futurological ideology in the midst of our distress in the catastrophic consummation of neoliberal-neoconservative corporate-militarism, it is also true that pretty much the only people who actually are saying the sorts of things that need saying are indeed on the left. That last sentence of his, that pious moment of preferential disdain for the left from the left when only the left provides any actually available measure of hope or sense, is probably the single sentence in the whole piece which I find most disagreeable. I daresay it is also the reason I won't ever perform the kind of radicalism, whatever my substantial radicalism, that gets one published in Counterpunch.

Why the Radical Gay Agenda Has Its Assimilationist Moments

Upgraded and adapted from the Moot, a reader troubled about my celebration of Lady Gaga's recent public activism against the U.S. military's anti-gay "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy writes:
I would much rather see the queer community renounce and oppose the military en masse.

Sure, I'm personally dedicated to nonviolence myself (I was trained in nonviolence by the King Center in Atlanta, and teach peace theory to college students to this day) and anti-militarism, too, since I think military hierarchy and the maintenance of an imperial archipelago of global military bases and state secrets and military budgetary priorities is among the most profoundly corrosive anti-democratizing forces in our Republic, together with the predominance of the sociopathic corporate formation with its relentless marketing fraud-hyperbole, proprietary secrets, and commons capture. Indeed, if Amor Mundi has a consistent villain it is corporate-militarism, the interdependent neoliberal/neoconservative circuit that is consummated in my view in the ideology of anti-ecology/futurology.

Just for the hell of it, let me add that I happen to believe that the institution of marriage is a vestige of human trafficking and that it promotes the false, often outright pathological, romantic fantasy of the Other that will Complete us for us.

And yet it is crucial to grasp that the specific exclusion of queer folks from these prevalent institutions -- marriage, the military -- functions primarily to marginalize and precarize queers, and that one struggles to include queers precisely to overcome this marginalization and precarization.

Those of us who would struggle against militarization and possessive affiliation delude ourselves if we think there is anything radical about collaborating with the incumbent-authoritarian status quo in the ongoing exclusion of queer folks from these practices and formations. That is just another supple heteronormative patriarchal ruse, I think, of which incumbent-authoritarian formations always have endlessly many effortlessly ready to hand simply by virtue of their prevalence.

Only when queer folks are welcomed into conventional marriage and into the military, and as queers, only when we are fully legible as good citizen-subjects, and yet resist and reject these, then and only then will our repudiations and elaborations specifically as queers take on the force of radicalism in my view.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Travie McCoy Helps Keep Amor Mundi More Positive

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

This afternoon only two of the faces of featured authors at the website of the stealth Robot Cult outfit IEET, the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, so-called, is not the face of a white guy. That's one less than last week, for those keeping score at home, and one of the two refers to a piece and author that was already there last week.

And yet it remains just as true this week as it was last week and every other week in the month's long the stretch of time during which I have been making these little reports, that only a minority of people in the world are white guys, only a minority of people with whom tomorrow will be made and shared are white guys, 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.

The relentless non-representativeness I have been documenting for all this time over at IEET (supposedly the most "academic," "moderate," "respectable" of the membership organizations in the futurological Robot Cult archipelago) is, for me, just one of the more obvious symptoms -- one among many others -- of the profound out-to-lunch bonkers out-of-touch marginality of what I call superlative sub(cult)ural futurology.

This goes for the self-described "transhumanists," the "singularitarians," the techno-immortalists, the digital utopians and cybernetic totalists, the nano-cornucopiasts, the greenwashing geo-engineers, the Ayn Raelian "extropians" and all the rest of the Robot Cultists corralled kookily together there at IEET. Whatever attention these superlative futurologists manage to attract in mainstream media outlets or among corporate-militarist funders or naive academics with their over-dramatic over-simplified over-sold over-kill narrative derangements of actually urgent technoscience and global development issues, they are and remain utterly marginal and profoundly unserious in my view, and they call into question the seriousness of any organization, enterprise, address that responds to them uncritically.

For analysis of more glaring conceptual and political problems with these White Guys of "The Future" I recommend interested readers begin with my Condensed Critique of Transhumanism.

Republicans Can't Control the Beast They Unleashed

...but we must do so even if they cannot, and I have to add, I do believe that this "we" pretty much has to be progressives working through the Democratic Party.

What BooMan said:
Republicans are getting thrown out of office because they aren't crazy. But that's because they've been teaching their base to be crazy for so long that they've finally started to demand that their representatives be crazy, too.

To the extent that the Republican Party represents first of all the interests of a minority of corporate-military elite-incumbents in a representative republic that still demands the manufacture of either majority support or majority indifference to implement a party's agenda even if does not serve the interests of majorities, Republicans have, since the New Deal, been forced to foster divisions that undermine progressive efforts as well as masquerade as the agent of any reactionary impulse that has enough appeal to contribute to a coalition sufficient to control the minority who do participate.

It cannot be stressed enough that Movement Republicanism is a reaction to the New Deal, the Great Society, and the secular middle-class multiculture that arose as an embryonic secular social democracy out of these limited but still transformative progressive accomplishments. Big Business -- which in the 20C had been an opportunistic but disorganized force -- became explicitly politicized and organized (the story is told concisely by Kim Phillips-Fein in Invisible Hands: The Making of the Conservative Movement from the New Deal to Reagan, among many other texts written by scholars from Richard Hofstadter to Rick Perlstein) in the New Deal period and its aftermath, and so too the Religious Right was politicized and organized in the aftermath of Truman's integration of the armed forces and in the civil rights struggles of the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations and crystallized as frowny-faced Nixon's "Silent Majority" and smiley-faced Reagan's "Moral Majority" (some of this story is well captured in Frank Shaeffer's Crazy for God and texts by William C. Martin, Chris Hedges, Sidney Blumenthal, many of which are rather more polemical than the texts I have cited for the Big Business side of this story for whatever reason).

What I want to stress is that it is not just that Movement Republicans created the Beast of an indoctrinated crazytown base of Randroidal-Friedmaniacal market fundamentalists and Christianist Talibanists that they led by the nose to the benefit of cynical elite-incumbents (as well as the usual straightforward scam artists making a quick buck through corrupt Machine politics or evangelical flock-fleecing -- or the new variation in which one gloms onto political forms for the purposes of a celebrity media self-promotion -- amplified via mass-media and military might onto a National and globe-girdling scale) and can no longer control, but it is also that Republicanism had no choice but to create this Beast if they were not to concede the basic terms of secular social democracy as Europe's conservative parties do and Eisenhower -- the second best Republican President of the 20C, after Clinton -- more or less did at the crucial post-war moment.

Part of the reason this is so important is that it highlights the scope of the existential crisis that faces the Republican Party once the demographic reality that has short-circuited the white-racist Southern Strategy and the reality that the Right actually lost the Culture Wars (the loss of the Gay as scapegoat and specter, and the current ultimately abortive absurd effort to replace the Gay with an Islamofascist Fifth Column) finally sets in. The intensity of this crisis exacerbates the threat of the craziness of this moment in Movement Republicanism and makes the necessary effort to re-align the parties incomparably more difficult. My own desire is for the Democratic party to become a more legible vehicle for sustainable secular social democracy, while the Republican party reflects the inevitable interests of organized incumbency but in a way that permanently marginalizes dangerously racist and authoritarian elements. This outcome is by no means guaranteed, and our own moment is as definitive as the Truman/Eisenhower moment was in articulating the terms through which the possible and the important will be contested in what remains of my generation and the next.

By the way, I do not deny that there has been a long history of organized religion and organized business shaping American political institutions and events and that these histories are often illuminating to the imperial postwar period consummated in the George W. Bush Killer Clown Administration, nor do I deny that there are larger anti-democratizing structural features associated with the formation of conscience in the context of market orders, white racism, heteronormative patriarchy, default religiosity, manufactured individuation, celebrity culture and so on that demand address in ways that render the partisan divide of Democrats and Republicans considerably less salient because the politics of both parties express these ideological and institutional assumptions and aspirations. The danger of an exclusive focus at this level of historical narrative or ideological- or discourse-critique, however indispensable it may be to provide contextualization and guiding ideals, is that it can blind us to differences that make a difference in our sense of what is possible, important, threatening, constraining, promising, opportunistically available for education, agitation, and organization in the actually-existing formations at hand.

If one does not embrace violent revolutionary tactics (and I do not, though I must say it is unclear to me why some of my self-nominated more-radical critics do not) it seems to me that there is little point in fixing one's political critique at a level that induces indifference to the actual and hence potential differences between Republicans and Democrats, even if ascension to such critique provides indispensable contexts and ideals to help resist any counter-revolutionary assimilation to the maintenance of the catastrophe of the present.

I suspect that the Republicans are going to be destroyed by the Beast they created, but it remains to the rest of us to ensure that the Republic is not likewise destroyed by it -- that is to say, in the short term which happens to co-incide with planetary environmental, military, and social disasters faciliated in no small part by the key beneficiaries of the creation of the Beast in the first place.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Fiorina: "I'm Proud of What I Did at HP"


Futurologist Andrew Maynard Wants Nano-Santa to Solve the Climate Crisis With A Geo-Engineering Technofix

Global warming may require not just one futurological fantasy to solve it, but two futurological fantasies in combination:
[The] idea is to engineer discs around 10 micrometers across and 50 nanometers thick, with a core of aluminum, a top layer of aluminum oxide, and a bottom layer of barium titanate. Injected high enough

What could possibly go wrong?
into the atmosphere (so Brownian motion didn’t muck things up)

What could possibly go wrong?
the discs should align

What could possibly go wrong?
with the lighter aluminum/aluminum oxide side facing up, and the heavier barium titanate side facing down. This is important

Very Serious!
because the way these two surfaces interact with air molecules when the particles heat up -- as they would do in sunlight -- means that there would be a net force pushing the discs up

What could possibly go wrong?

In effect

As it were.
the particles would levitate to a stable position

What could possibly go wrong?
in the atmosphere, while keeping their shiny side to the sun -- thus reflecting sunlight away from the earth (or increasing albedo)….

By engineering nanoparticles appropriately

What could possibly go wrong?
it might also be possible

Might be possible? Hell, sign me up!
to control where they go even further -- by introducing a magnetic component

Wingardium leviosa!
for instance, so they follow the Earth’s magnetic field. The idea is an intriguing one

Very Serious!
which admittedly is broad brushstrokes science

Nevertheless, Very Serious!
is plausible

Very Plausible!
The forces on discs the size he suggests should be sufficient

What could possibly go wrong?
to keep them aligned in the upper atmosphere -- even when the Sun isn’t present for short periods of time. And if sufficient quantities could be produced

What could possibly go wrong?
they should have a measurable

cooling effect….

A Special Effect.
Around 10 billion kg of these nano-discs would be needed.

What could possibly go wrong?
That’s a lot

Ya think?
but probably economically viable

Steal underpants… Profit!
with large-scale investment in production

After all, it's not like we could spend that money on wind-turbines, solar-rooftops, high-speed rail, energy-efficiency retrofitting, education programs, soot filters, subsidizing suburban appropriate/edible landscaping, or anything else actually known to be useful that doesn't pretend the climate crisis is a plot point in a science fiction novel.
If the use of such particles was ever explored seriously -- even at the laboratory scale – it goes without saying that parallel studies would be needed to understand how they might interact with the atmosphere, environment and people in less than helpful ways.

What could possibly go wrong?
What if the particles were engineered to have a finite lifespan, so that potential adverse impacts were minimized?

What could possibly go wrong?
This might

What could possibly go wrong?
be done… by designing particles that degrade over time under UV radiation and a constant assault from oxygen radicals in the atmosphere. Safety by design.

After all, who needs regulations when corporate-military engineers working for profit or national security however the cowboys conceive of it at the moment can always be trusted to produce the safest most wholesome most efficient possible result for all stakeholders.
At present, geoengineering the climate using engineered nanoparticles is just an idea

You don't say!
but it is a plausible one

You keep using that word… I do not think it means what you think it does…
and shows

Wait, something has been "shown"?
what can happen

Wait, something is "happening"?
when different technologies

Different, and also, not that it would matter to a futurologist, non-existing.
and ideas begin to converge

Look! Ideas converging… into also an idea.
One to watch in the future I suspect.

Yes, this is a line in futurological hype I suspect we all need to be watching for in The Future, and with all due diligence.

For more, have a look at "Geo-Engineering" As Futurological Greenwashing, "Geo-Engineering" Is A Declaration of War That Doesn't Care About Democracy, and other posts corralled together under the heading Futurology Against Ecology and see also Nanosantalogical Feasibility and Superlative Futurology.

Whitman Dances With Her Deceptive Ad

Lady Gaga Fighting DADT

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Sensible Sam and Sarah

You'll Look Fifty Soon Enough

Why rush things? That's my advice to all the young guys growing big bushy beards all over the Bay Area at the moment.

My Boyfriend Is Strange

So, my grandmother died this weekend (I called her Mamaw, no condolences necessary, I haven't seen her for years and years, she was a nice lady but we weren't close or anything) and Eric and I were having brunch at Clairemont Cafe and talk turned naturally enough to deaths in the family. And, out of the blue, Eric tells me that while his female relatives all live forever his male relatives have tended to die young. Asked for details, I was told that one died from exploding Japanese depth charges in a submarine, one died from bullet wounds in an attempted jailbreak, another was a prospector eaten by mountain lions, and another was a reporter on deadline who tried and failed to jump a chasm on his motorbike and plummeted to his death. I'm pretty sure that all of my male relatives die in late middle age from congestive heart failure. Here's my point, though. Can you imagine that Eric and I have been together for over eight years, in more or less constant contact and more or less continuous conversation the whole time and he has never managed to tell me any of those stories before? He cracks me up, he truly does. We were together for three years before he happened to mention dancing with Madonna in a gay bar when he was a teenager and being told by her that he and his boyfriend at the time were cute. For a typical guy, that would be first date anecdote material.

The Good News Is the Bad News

A handful of batshit crazies won GOP primaries instead of the usual scoundrels last night, making it more likely that Democrats will be elected to those seats this November. A handful of batshit crazies won the GOP primaries instead of the usual scoundrels last night, making it more likely that batshit crazies will be elected to those seats this November.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

I Think More People Will Read About Marzipan Dildoes Than Arendt's Treatment of Mores and Ethos As Synonymous

Upgraded and adapted from the Moot, "Thanatz" writes:
Does Arendt not remind us that "morals" derive from mores, a word which, as the translation for ethos, bespeaks both habit and habitation? I ask: what could the polis be without habitation? While not asserting their isomorphism, can politics and habitation simply be divorced and one discarded like a useless marzipan dildo? Isn't the problem not the confusion of morality and the political as such but the oblivion of the originary sense of the polis itself?

I elaborate more where I am coming from on this question here, if you are interested in the topic.

It's true that Arendt treated mores and ethos as roughly synonymous, but I would argue that one of the crucial effects of the quarrel of the ancients and moderns is the fraught demarcation of these domains -- in my view, under the various modern assertions (and I include among these assertions romanticism, various avant-gardisms and pan-movements, post-modernism, post-post-modernism, alter-modernism, a-modernism, you name it, it's a big story) mores becomes "we-intentions" while ethos conjures, via public-ation, an imaginary audience including more than we-as-we-are-now, with certain extraordinary results (among them, finally, the modern Nation-State and, one hopes, soon a sustainable secular social democratic planetary polity).

Correct me if I'm wrong, but when you talk about oblivion to the originary sense of the polis, I wonder if you aren't mistaking Arendt's project in especially The Human Condition, as nostalgic when her point of departure there really was that the ancient world was gone for good. I agree that Arendt was enormously concerned with the loss of possibility that comes from a loss of awareness (which often follows from a loss of narrative remembrance) -- especially keen for her the loss of a sense of governance as civitas rather than as force, and the loss of a sense of politics not reducible to governance -- but still hers was not a project for the reclamation of the originary so much as an effort at rearticulation in the present from fragments at hand, among them pieces of the past make visible through argument, narrative, figuration.

My own understanding of a demarcation of mores and ethos is Arendtian in spirit (at least so it seems to me), and part of what makes it attractive to me is that it sheds light on some of the questions about the role of judgment that preoccupied Arendt's last theoretical works -- but you are right that this is a departure from Arendt, strictly speaking.

I would say assertions of modernity create its characteristic agon, especially one we might denominate "the cultural" (which seems to me defined by normative contestations between the work of morals and ethics in ways that would be unintelligible in their stakes to the ancients) and another "the social" (which seems to me defined by consensual contestations between the work of science and politics in ways and with stakes likewise unintelligible to the ancients).

Arendt has a lot of trouble with "the social" (consider its different treatment in On Revolution as against "Reflections on Little Rock," which has its share of problems, certainly), and my thinking about this -- which takes much from Arendt's "On Violence" as well as "The Conquest of Space and the Stature of Man" -- has helped me reconcile my take on Arendt with my feminism, and especially the centrality of Butler to my sense of gender politics.

You know, this is the sort of discussion that really sets me on fire, but which almost never finds its way to the blog, I must say. One ends up telescoping so much of what you are calling on in thinking through such questions that it ends up excluding too many folks who would otherwise read you, or else you end up producing a fully polished account you might as well publish in a more traditional way, since it ends up being more a settlement than an exploration anyway (and blogs, I think, are for exploring and connecting and contesting). Usually, these theoretical considerations appear instead as the iceberg tips in more conventional and polemical political formulations. Anyway, blah blah blah, thanks for the question.

By way of conclusion, let me add that I do not concede that a marzipan dildo would be useless. Off the top of my head I can think of any number of uses for one. Curses, I want my goddamn marzipan dildo!