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

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Response to a Critic

From a post entitled Nick Bostrom Makes Me Wonder Whether I'm Really a Transhumanist from a blog called Queering the Singularity:
This post comes as a response to rereading Bostrom and Dale Carrico for the last session of David Correia‘s class on cyborg society and techno-futures…. Dale Carrico, on the other hand, inspires me to wear the transhumanist identity proudly. Though to be fair ey has encouraged me to rethink my engagement with the Singularity scene, eir utter disdain for ambitious social transformation convinces me of the revolutionary potential in transhumanism. Carrico’s dismissal of the desire to overcome biological limits such as aging as insane and infantile demonstrates the ideology’s distinctiveness despite eir fervent protests to the contrary. Ey contradicts himself by claiming transhumanists offer nothing new yet simultaneously constitute a pernicious robot death cult.

Here is what I had to say about this. The blog's proprietor moderates comments, as do I, and mine has not yet appeared there. (UPDATE: My comment has not yet appeared, though another, submitted later, has, so poosibly mine did not "pass muster," a matter which I am content to let readers ponder the significance of to their own amusement.) I've corrected a couple of grammatical errors and added some links in the following:

"I'm assuming the piece of mine you read actually provided a critique of futurology? Clicking the link in your post here just sent me to my blog -- a blog in which I talk about lots of political, philosophical, and pop cultural topics remote from the subjects of futurology, robot cults, technoscience I would scarcely expect transhumanists to care about particularly...

"Let me add, as an advocate of the planetary provision of universal healthcare, lifelong education, and basic guaranteed income, as well as the democratization of global governance currently beholden to incumbent-elite corporate-military interests, it is patently ridiculous for you to accuse me of "utter disdain for ambitious social transformation" just because I don't buy into your own pet techno-transcendentalizing hopes.

"As an advocate of healthcare, scientific research, and actually informed, non-duressed consensual prosthetic self-determination (of a piece with my advocacy of pro-choice and multicultural politics more generally), it is simply straightforwardly weird for you to ascribe to me hostility to overcoming disease and biological distress. Any honest reader of mine knows I disapprove what I take to be the eugenic pretense of transhumanists that they know in advance of what 'enhancement' necessarily consists when these values are crucially under contestation.

"I also do indeed regard transhumanist preoccupations with immortality, omniscience, and invulnerability to be facile citations of the age-old deceptions of authoritarian organized religiosity. As I have said many times before the technodevelopmental calling into question of biological limits does not end human finitude but expresses it, as we no longer know exactly what our limits are and what they mean. You'll forgive me if I do not turn to the circus barkers of transhumanism for insights into such dilemmas.

"Denialism, reductionism, scientism, technological determinism, parochialism are none of them new, but they are plenty pernicious come what may, and in extreme subcultures can readily lend themselves to authoritarian and even cult-like formations. No doubt it is my own "insanity" and "infantilism" that blinds me to the contradiction expressed in pointing out such a truism."


jimf said...

> Carrico’s dismissal of the desire to overcome biological limits such
> as aging as insane. . .

Nobody dismisses the desire to (or actually spending time and money to)
eliminate, ameliorate, or postpone the plagues associated with
aging (heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer's, to name the three
most obvious) as "insane".

Framing that project (or subsuming it under the purely
rhetorical "project") of "overcom[ing] biological limits"
starts to spin the discussion in a distinctly SFnal
direction, to say the least.

Imagining that "overcoming. . . aging" is an obvious
extrapolation from technological and medical developments
to date ("Moore's Law has held for the past 50 years,
therefore. . ."), or that it's a foregone conclusion, or
inevitable, or clearly on the horizon, does seem to indicate
a parting of ways with reality as delineated by scientific
consensus. Is it "insane"? Well, metaphorically I suppose
it could be (as in "You ate a bag of potato chips for breakfast?
Are you insane?"), but it's not necessarily literally psychotic.
It is at least as patholgical as believing in UFOs (a la Joe Firmage)
or as believing in L. Ron Hubbard's version of the origins of
the human race on this planet, if those things can be fairly
characterized as pathological (I think they can).

Dale Carrico said...

Yes, it is the familiar Robot Cult conceit -- repackage a commonplace with a neologism (healthcare becomes "longevism" or "immortalism," network security becomes "Friendly AI," molecular biochemistry or materials science becomes "nanotech," and so on), then invest the neologism with quasi-religious transcendental significance all the while relying on the original commonplace for whatever plausibility you need to sell whatever futurological scam you are on about -- be it singularitarianism, utility fog, post-human enhancement, whatever (and usually with the benefit not only of the disavowed commonplace but also the citation of age-old narrative, figurative, topological conceits that freight the western magickal/technological imaginary, from faust, prometheus, icarus, to the fountain of youth, frankenstein, the golem, the sorcerer's apprentice, the philosopher's stone, brave new world, and so on and so forth).

jollyspaniard said...

Interesting thinking in the comments section on Assinimov's blog (which I haven't checked out in a long time). A prevailing sentiment seems to be that since the West has invented many great things which have benefited the world, it's ok for any government or corporation to act like explotational assholes. Don't criticize Halliburton, have we forgotten the contribution that the printing press has made to the world? We should be thankful to Halliburton for all the lovely books.

jimf said...

> A prevailing sentiment seems to be that since the
> West has invented many great things which have benefited
> the world, it's ok for any government or corporation to
> act like explotational assholes.

There's nothing new about this. I can remember back in 2000,
prior to George W.'s election, when I was actively involved
on the Extropians' mailing list, the pre-eminent Singularitarian
there (not Anissimov [Assinimov? was that supposed to be a
joke? :-0], this was shortly before his time) claimed that
a "rational" Singularitarian would vote Republican, simply
because the Republicans would be less likely to interfere
with the flows of capital that, if left unimpeded, will
bring about the Singularity sooner rather than later.

And they call themselves apolitical!

And then there was the scandal after 9/11, when one of the
heretofore pre-eminent Extropians suggested, in all seriousness,
that it would be perfectly moral (and advisable) for
the U.S. to launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike against
the Middle East (the region, not any particular country),
because their culture is an implicit threat to Western
values. This proved too much even for the Extropians,
who banned him from the list, at least for a while.
However, it seems the guy was only parrotting the dicta
of the Ayn Rand Institute, which had come to the same
conclusion. They abhor the "initiation" of violence,
but if you've "rationally" concluded that somebody's **existence** is
an implicit threat to your own, well then, the other guy
"initiated" it. These people are incapable of seeing the
irony in this position, because, well, they don't "do"
irony. For one thing, La Rand disapproved of it.