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Friday, June 22, 2012

Robot Cultist Admits He's A Robot Cultist -- Yet Again

Transhumanoid luminary Giulio Prisco, commenting over at Queering the Singularity wrote of me that:
Dale is, and has always been, right in considering transhumanism as religious aesthetics. Transhumanism is a strong emotional impulse to transcend, inspired by but not derived from modern science and technology. I saw this immediately when I started reading the Extropy list in the 90s. The difference, of course, is that I find transhumanist aesthetics beautiful and Dale finds it ugly.
Needless to say, few of Prisco's fellow-transhumanoids agree with this admission that "transhumanism" is essentially a science-fiction and pop-tech journalism fandom qua religion (as even he well knows). And even if few of them grudgingly make this admission fewer still do so with any consistency -- I don't really think even Prisco is consistent about this, when it comes to his published beliefs about what “will” happen in "The Future" and what technoscientific priorities “should be” for technoscientifically literate and technodevelopmentally concerned citizens, it seems to me he is more than happy to pretend he is a champion of science rather than serially clinging to the extreme margins of technoscience speculation when he is not indulging in outright pseudo-scientific handwaving. And until the transhumanoids, singularitarians, techno-immortalists, nano-cornucopiasts, greenwashing geo-engineers, and digital utopians do admit theirs is a pop fandom and faith-based initiative without claim of relevance to consensus science or legitimate science policy discourse Prisco and the rest can be sure I will continue to tell the truth on this subject as I see it. Meanwhile, all of that is quite apart from my disapproval of the apologiae for eugenics, consumerism, corporatism, and neoliberal developmentalism to which so much futurological discourse is devoted, sometimes on the lips of folks who think themselves opposed to such outcomes even as they contribute to them. I'll continue to talk about that, too.

Now, as it happens, I am a life-long geek and a science fiction fan myself and, contrary to Prisco's declaration otherwise, I don’t find anything the least bit "ugly" in peoples’ enjoyment of what ever literary enthusiasms or consensual lifeways or creative expressivities move them. I’ve said this and acted on this in every area of my life -- on my blog, in my feminist, queer, anti-racist, anti-war, nonviolent, multicultural political activism, and in my teaching practice among Berkeley undergraduates interested in critical theory and democratic activism as well as among the actual artists in the San Francisco Art Institute for years and years and years now. When it comes to flying their freak flag as freaks, I am more than freak enough myself to say, to the transhumanoids and to Prisco and to myself, as I always have done, let a bazillions flowers bloom. It is true that transhumanoids say a whole lot of things I find rather facile and incoherent and unoriginal and regressive and delusive and silly. My saying so is part of the free expression Prisco presumably champions and, if he'll forgive my saying so, saying so about things he is actually publishing and so offering up to public scrutiny is surely something he should have expected from somebody in that public as a matter of course.

Let me add, just for clarity's sake, that I think scientism is wrong, that I think reductionism is wrong, that I think technological determinism is wrong, that I think the ideology of natural progress is wrong, that I think the idea of technical without social progress is wrong, that I think the idea of technocracy is wrong, that I think the idea of eugenicism is wrong, that I think the ideas of neoliberalism are wrong, and also that I believe many, even most, self-identified "transhumanists" advocate some or all of these ideas as indispensable dimensions of their transhumanism -- and more, that even some transhumanoids who might disapprove of some of these ideas in their bald expression fail or refuse to grasp their role within transhumanist discourse and hence are also supporting them nonetheless, possibly somewhat inadvertently, through ignorance or error or dumb stubborn cussedness. All the more reason, this, as far as I'm concerned, to continue talking about this as long as I am able.

9 comments:

pleasegodno said...

What are 'transhumanist aesthetics'?

Dale Carrico said...

What are 'transhumanist aesthetics'?

As far as I've been able to ascertain in long years of patient research, they amount to fairly lowest common denominator soft porn and late nite infomercial imagery, but with highly-muscled bald bluish guys (blues and violets seem to connote data-ness over flesh-ness for some reason) and ladies with big boobies and scales for skin and borg implants. Explore the laugh out loud crayon scribbles and photoshop hackwork of transhumanoid "art movement" luminary, Natasha Vita-More, for more of what I'm talking about. Like the terminally awful Giulio Prisco, she's another one of these flabbergasting muckety-mucks of the Very Serious futurologists of the Robot Cult I honestly couldn't make up if I tried.

jimf said...

> blues and violets seem to connote data-ness over flesh-ness for some reason

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/d/dd/Taelon.jpg

pleasegodno said...

Oh Natasha's 'art' never fails to entertain.

As for the blue bald guys, those come close second in number to pictures of hands or skulls overlaid with pictures of microcircuitry.

jimf said...

> Explore the laugh out loud crayon scribbles and photoshop
> hackwork of transhumanoid "art movement" luminary. . .

To be fair, there is some halfway-decent "transhumanist" art out there.
E.g. Anders Sandberg does it well enough to be on book covers
(at least Damien Broderick's book covers). syd Mead he's not,
but. . .

http://www.orionsarm.com/eg-topic/45c53f5eca9d9
http://www.orionsarm.com/eg-topic/4802965d60802
http://www.orionsarm.com/eg-article/47b8f4b9a611f
http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41DDYVW5QGL.jpg
http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51ejE9aoBAL._SS500_.jpg

http://www.nada.kth.se/~asa/ray.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anders_Sandberg

Dale Carrico said...

I dunno, there have been many great science fiction cover illustrators. For someone to do more or less the very same thing then claim that this is now somehow "transhumanist art" seems to me rather of a piece with the way transhumanoids like to appropriate centuries-old notions of culture or education or science advocacy and pretend these are uniquely "transhumanist concepts" as a way of sanewashing the more actually distinctive and definitive (eg, batshit crazy) concepts of the Robot Cult -- nanobotic treasure caves until in shiny robot bodies with slinky sexbots until the Robot God uploads their "data-selves" into Holodeck Heaven after the singularity.

There have been many illustrators who could evoke these sorts of images historically, just as there are many actual artists who grapple in very serious and inspiring ways with technodevelopmental quandaries (they tend to seem more like critiques and even lampoons of facile transhumanoid conceits, if anything), but the Robot Cultists don't seem to me to have much to do with any of that, or to have done anything original in the least. As in so much else, they seem to me mostly frauds and dupes, and often both (which makes them nice symptoms of the neoliberal epoch of global capital, actually).

I have said that superlative futurology is an extreme amplification of prevailing corporate-military marketing and promotional discourse in which they hyperbole and the greed and the greed actually take on the cadences of outright religiosity. It isn't hard to see the stamp of marketing forms in the work of Natasha Vita-More, she slavishly copies them, her "work" is something like a cross between an online dating profile peddling herself and a consumer's valentine to the forever unrequited "future" of a million advertizing promises of youthful skin, satisfying sex, flextime freedom, cool gadgets, and an end to psychic alienation via utter world alienation.

jimf said...

> http://web.uct.ac.za/org/gwsafrica/knowledge/amanda_clip_image002.jpg

Hmm...

This transhuman appears to have lost her contact lenses in
a black-tiled bathroom with a very low ceiling.

jimf said...

> [Giulio Prisco wrote]
> Transhumanism is a strong emotional impulse to transcend,
> inspired by but not derived from modern science and technology.
> I saw this immediately when I started reading the Extropy
> list in the 90s. The difference, of course, is that I find
> transhumanist aesthetics beautiful and Dale finds it ugly.

Apart from the artwork, I **think** I understand what Prisco
is getting at here.

I got a thrill out of the **idea** of transhumanism (in some
sense) when I first saw the old _Outer Limits_ episode "The Sixth
Finger" on the eve of my 11th birthday
( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Sixth_Finger ),
though I didn't realize until quite recently that a passage
of dialog at the very end is lifted almost verbatim from
Shaw's _Back to Methuselah_.

I felt the same frisson quite soon afterward when I read
Clarke's _Profiles of the Future_. It wasn't until a bit
later that I managed to locate some of the works alluded
to in _Profiles_, including Clarke's own _The City and
the Stars_ and Olaf Stapledon's _Last and First Men_
and _Star Maker_ (and the much more poignant _Odd John_
and _Sirius_).

And I'll admit that I got a similar frisson when I first
stumbled across Eliezer Yudkowsky's "Staring Into the
Singularity" almost exactly 15 years ago.

As "aesthetic" experiences, all this is fine.

The aspect of the on-line transhumanist **community**
that tripped my alarms, also (as with Prisco) engendered by reading
(and participating on, briefly) the Extropians' list
(in my case in the late 90s and early 00s)
was the cluster of characteristics that reminded me of
other penny-ante (and not so penny-ante) **cults**.
The group-think. The dogmatism, and the outright **rejection**
of science when it threatened the sacred cows of
group membership (like the long-accumulating evidence that GOFAI is
probably a dead end). The politics that isn't acknowledged
as politics (much less as the reactionary politics that it
usually is). The smug elitism (quite unjustified). The whiffs
of outright Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Naive
theories of "rationality" that serve to justify **irrationality**.
The tendencies to circle the wagons when prevailing
orthodoxy is threatened.

Those characteristics (independently of the "literary" aspects
of the movement, such as they are) are indeed ugly, in
my view.

Dale Carrico said...

The transhumanoids aren't the first to get sfnal sensawunda and neither have they contributed much or anything to it of their own imho (Eli never did it for me at all). Their efforts to pretend the joys of fandom are a form of consensus science practice or a form of science/development policy deliberation or a form of ethnicity sustaining a political identity movement of sooper-genius protagonists that will sweep the world and install "The Future" are all utterly misguided, to be polite about it, and quite apart from the psychic damage done by and to the ones caught up in the authoritarian circuit of True Believers/guru-wannabes in a defensive aggressive marginal sub(cult)ure (admittedly with a little bit of debatability give, but still recognizably static and constrained) the transhumanoids symptomize extreme forms of some of the worst pathologies of our society's consumer techno-fetishism and complacent indulgence in a kind of schizo combination of techno-triumphalism coupled with disasterbatory acquiescence to the suicidal-homicidal work of corporate-military elites in the midst of a public life suffused with the deceptive hyperbolic misinformation fraud and ubiquitous commodification of marketing and promotional norms and forms. YMMV.