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

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Under A Blanket

I finished teaching the first of my three summer intensives Thursday (well, there is still grading to do, but the high pressure public lecturing part is done), and my body reacted the way it used to react to the end of each semester back when I was an undergraduate: I woke up the next morning feeling deathly ill, coughing like crazy and lumbering around with muscles that seem to have transformed overnight into bags of cement, probably because I had been shunting off allowing myself to feel whatever bug I had for days while I was busy preparing for finals until I had a break in which to let the pent up havoc to wreak itself. Of course, I'm not really in such a break now -- my second summer intensive is already underway and my third one begins Tuesday, so I don't really have the time to really wallow in illness, but -- silly body! -- it seems I am to spend this long weekend under a blanket watching Sigourney Weaver flicks (weekend illnesses are made for theme-DVD marathons, I find) and drinking hot theraflu whether I really want to or not. Occasionally, I grade somebody's final paper from my to-do pile in moments of comparative lucidity, but otherwise I'm a bit out of commission. I can't promise my usual steady stream of weekend anti-futurology or anti-GOP fulmination, but tomorrow is a new day so we'll see.

Friday, June 29, 2012

The Artificial Man and the Mouse Child Who Said What She Saw

I wrote this fairy tell-tale six months ago, but maybe folks are in a better frame of mind to read it now...


Okay, so, rather a long time ago I noticed that somebody had created and, it seems, still occasionally polishes and prunes a wikipedia page about me. This is something I try not to pay attention to because it's all rather appalling when you think about it, but I do know that students of mine often check that thing out when they are shopping for courses to take at Berkeley and at SFAI, and heaven only knows why they would go on to take a class with me on the basis of whatever it is that they are finding there. Now, obviously, I cannot in good conscience have anything to do with editing that page personally, since that would be too much like indulging in ugly self-promotional antics and actually seems actively unethical, come to think on it... But, if any of the people who are maintaining that page happen to number among my readers I really do ask you to think about the second sentence at any rate: "He is best known for proposing techno-progressivism as a more rational and sophisticated alternative to both transhumanism and bioconservatism." I mean, quite apart from the, let's face it, graceless and also weirdly congratulatory advertorial tone of that "more rational and sophisticated" remark, which surely has no place in what is supposed to be a reference piece, is it really true that I am "best known" (if I am "known," stricto sensu, at all) for my brief terminological flirtation with that "technoprogressive" tag -- a term I actively disavowed half a decade ago? Surely, I'm better known (if page views are any sort of indication) for my critiques of "geo-engineering" (like this one published by the World Future Society) and, obviously, of futurology (for instance, a bit notoriously, this), of transhumanism, singularitarianism, techno-immortalism, and so on. I also notice that some of the copy for the page is lifted from an old profile published by SFAI, which has since been updated in a way that better reflects my actual work: "Dale Carrico teaches philosophy, critical theory, and science and technology studies, focusing on the planetarity of both environmental concerns and peer-to-peer media formations... and writes about the politics of technoscience, developmentalist ideology, futurological subcultures, and the suffusion of public life by marketing norms on his blog, Amor Mundi." I daresay I'm making too much of this, having just looked at the thing and being a bit heeby-geebied by it, not to mention being terribly passive-aggressive about it, too, but honestly that page really is something of an embarrassment.

Today's Abandum Wilde

Wicked people bother one. Good people bore one. That is the only difference between them.

What is this?

Today's Random Wilde

Every effect that one produces gives one an enemy. To be popular one must be a mediocrity.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Which Side Are You On?

Healthcare Reform Upheld

No longer interminably ineffectually punching the air, the framework still exists within which reforms of the worst abuses of for-profit insurance and toward state by state implementation of single-payer can proceed apace. This is not the end of the road, this is an indispensable step along the road, and it has been a long hard road so it is as good to feel good this morning as it would be wrong to feel done. Late to work now, cya!

What's In Romney's Brief Case?

Long Day's Journey

Marx in the City this morning in my critical theory intensive, then in my Classical Rhetoric intensive at Berkeley we're finishing up Petronius' Satyricon (we got through many orgies and vulgar feasts yesterday but hadn't gotten to the impotence crisis and cannibalism yet) and then finishing with Libanius' Silence of Socrates, after which the Dark Ages -- that is to say, a weekend grading finals.

Today's Abandum Wilde

People never marry the ones they flirt with. They don't think it right.

What is this?

Today's Random Wilde

LADY BRACKNELL: Are your parents living?

JACK: I have lost both my parents.

LADY BRACKNELL:Both? To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

National Geographic: "Nearly 65% Think Barack Obama Would Be Better Suited Than Mitt Romney To Handle An Alien Invasion"

If only Obama were better suited to handle the present corporate invasion. Of course, Romney could not so much be expected to "handle" that one either since he is rather busy leading it. I wonder if the results would have been different if they had asked about robots? The results are here.

Satyr But Wiser

Another long teaching day ahead in the last week of my Classical Rhetoric intensive at Berkeley, and today we're tackling Petronius and the Satyricon. Seneca's pumpkin- apotheosis satire of poor dead Claudius yesterday was meant to prepare them to grapple with this much more sprawling and ambitious satire, with which we circle back ironically and acerbically to themes from the Iliad with which we began six over five weeks ago, but I fear that many of them are sweating out their final papers and skipping the readings for this last week a bit. Understandable, but three hours lecturing an anxious exhausted saucer-eyed throng on a text they've skimmed at best isn't exactly a thrilling prospect. Here we go.

Today's Abandum Wilde

Twenty years of romance make a person look like a ruin; but twenty years of marriage make one something like a public building.

What is this?

Today's Random Wilde

It is very much more difficult to talk about a thing than to do it.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Long Slog

Gone before eight back after eight again today. Teaching Nietzsche's Ecce Homo in the City nine to noon, then later in the afternoon, at Berkeley, it's Suetonius on Caligula and Seneca's Apocolocyntosis (it's bad dads day). This is the last week of the first of my three intensives already, two to go, and an avalanche of grading ahead. So, low to no blogging for a while, possibly.

Today's Abandum Wilde

Lovers are not meant to judge us, but to forgive us when we need forgiveness. Pardon, not punishment, is their mission.

What is this?

Today's Random Wilde

Those who have much are often greedy. Those who have little always share.

Monday, June 25, 2012


Love this!
OccuPride, the Occupy movement for Gay Pride, temporarily blocked the San Francisco Gay Pride Parade today, effectively slowing down the route for contingents while making their presence known in a peaceful manner. An estimated hundred or so protesters intercepted annual walk up Market Street. The group chanted such gems as, "Out of the sidewalks into the streets," "Community, not commodity," and "We're here, we're queer, we're not going shopping."

Madonna Is Living In A Cyberpunk Dystopia

William Gibson is credited with the famous observation that “The future has arrived -- it's just not evenly distributed yet.” Clearly, sooper-celebrities have garnered more than their fair share of that future, along with the money, attention, and ego. JimF directed my attention to this little number, in which we discover that
Madonna… fears her fans may just want to steal her DNA. So she does what any normal person would do: She has a "sterilization team" charged with wiping down her dressing room after every gig so that no stray hair, skin, or saliva remains… Madonna's team also builds the entire dressing area using fake ceilings and walls, to ensure there are no hidden cameras.
Sounds like the Material Girl isn't letting any materials stray that might get cloned into competitors any time soon.

Obama: Live Long and Prosper!

I know this picture has done the rounds and is doing so again, but it just makes me happy. Those who are newcomers to Amor Mundi may as well know the full, embarrassing truth:  Vulcan Wannabe and Raised Vulcan Eyebrows and Hopeless Human Hopes.

Pennsylvania Republican Crows About "Accomplishments": Celebrating Mass Slaughter in the Streets? Done! Destroying Women's Health? Done! Disenfranchising Citizens So Republicans Can Steal Elections They Can't Win Otherwise? Done!

"Pro-Second Amendment? The Castle Doctrine, it's done. First pro-life legislation -- abortion facility regulations -- in 22 years, done. Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done." -- Pennsylvania House Majority Leader, Republican Mike Turzai
Today's Republican party, ladies and gentlemen.

Today's Abandum Wilde

It is only very ugly or very beautiful people who ever hide their faces.

What is this?

Today's Random Wilde

Life's aim, if it has one, is simply to be always looking for temptations. There are not nearly enough. I sometimes pass a whole day without coming across a single one.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Leaven Your Pride With A Little Shame

An Amor Mundi Pride Day tradition...

Is this a dream?

I've been angry and sad about things that you do.

Life without life has no reason or rhyme left.

Is There A Transhumanoid Art Movement Apart From Prevailing Corporate-Military PR Practices?

Upgraded and adapted from the Moot to this post, in a discussion that had begun to ridicule exponents of the transhumanoid "art movement" like the terminally awful Natasha Vita-More, reader JimF (no fan of the Robot Cultists, by any stretch of the imagination) put in this generous word:
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...
Not one to let even a momentary generous impulse mis-directed toward futurological fraudsters go unpunished (I keed! I keed!), I reply:

I dunno, there have been many great science fiction cover illustrators, you know. Even granting Sandberg's competence (not to mention Mead's genius, no transhumanoid he), which I am happy to do, I would think that for someone to do more or less the very same thing non-transhumanoid illustrators have long done well but 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 scientific method (usually going on to debauch them, natch) and pretend these are uniquely "transhumanist concepts" as a way of sanewashing the more actually distinctive and definitive (eg, batshit crazy) True Beliefs of the Robot Cult -- you know, dreams of wallowing in nanobotic treasure caves in shiny robot bodies with slinky sexbots until the Robot God uploads their "data-selves" into Holodeck Heaven after the Singularity, blah blah blah.

There have been many sfnal illustrators who could evoke urban and space-based mega-engineering sensawunda imagery historically, just as there are many actual artists who grapple in very serious and inspiring ways with actual technodevelopmental quandaries (needless to say, many of my own marvelous students at SFAI fit this description, though their work tends to provide more 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).

By the way, DOES Sandberg actually claim to be doing something distinctively "transhumanist" in his illustration the way Vita-More laughably claims to do in her... er... practice? I mean, a Roman Catholic can be painter without being a Roman Catholic painter, as it were, and so, too, presumably, a Robot Cultist can be an illustrator, even an sf illustrator, without fancying themselves an avatar of some vital "transhumanist art movement," surely? Disagree with him though I do on many issues, Sandberg has always struck me as a rather affable and modest sort of person.

Anyway, I have said that superlative futurology is an extreme amplification of prevailing corporate-military marketing and promotional discourse in which the hyperbole and the deception 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: Indeed, she slavishly copies them. If there really were something like a self-conscious and/or symptomatic futurological art movement apart from the gross reality of prevailing corporate-military PR practices in general, she seems a very fine exemplar of what it would be, her "work" is something like a cross between an online dating profile peddling herself to anyone and everyone at once 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.

Today's Abandum Wilde

The only way a lover can reform a partner is by boring them so completely that they lose all interest in life.

What is this?

Today's Random Wilde

He is old enough to know worse.

But Why So Negative?

This is a reply in an exchange with another critic, this one making the now endlessly familiar complaints that I am not giving people enough credit, that I am assigning too much blame, that I am demoralizingly pessimistic, that I need to stop and smell the roses, that I need to realize there are smart suave techno-elites out there who know more than I do whose self-interest will save us from the shitter, and so on.

My reply:
Watch a commercial for your common or garden variety consumer gadget, awash with promises of emancipation and youth and cool and sex, and compare it to the gadget itself, a piece of landfill destined dysfunctional toxic crap usually assembled under conditions akin to slavery in some overexploited region of the world. The truth is that most people are alienated and behaving against their self-interest, in thrall to elite-incumbent powers deceiving them through a complete suffusion of public life by the deceptive hyperbolic norms and forms of marketing and promotional discourse all the while forms of disinformation, exploitation, informalization, precarity, and outright police brutality duress the scene of individual consent beyond bearing while extractive-industrial-petrochemical corporate-military surveillance fraud and force exacerbate catastrophic anthropogenic climate change and multiple vectors of resource descent to the brink of historically unprecedented slaughter. That's the big picture. It is actually beyond question that people are not thinking critically enough about their purchases or life-ways and it is beyond question that elite-incumbents are indulging in reckless, deceptive, and exploitative behavior for the most parochial of gains to the ruin of us all, including, eventually, them. I get it that you think I should qualify my case more, or watch the over-generalizations, or remember that people have brains, or not forget how nice people are and how nice it is to be nice and so on, and I am sensitive to these things, and I realize that mobilizing fragile agency while documenting devastating reality involves the threading of a fraught needle, but the truth is that I am already soft-pedaling the case by my lights to facilitate the better angels of progressive and democratizing technodevelopmental social struggle (the key site of historical change at this juncture). It is impossible to "accentuate the positive" more than I already do without abetting the crime, becoming a collaborator in destruction and self-destruction, and I just won't do it and if anything I worry I already do it too much.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Man Who Kept the Rainbow Flag Free

The rainbow flag is known all over the world as a symbol of LGBT rights and acceptance. Here in San Francisco, a huge rainbow flag waves over the Castro District. But that flag came close to being a trademarked symbol that could have kept it from public use. In 1978 Gilbert Baker, the person who created the flag, came to the Castro law office of a young LGBT civil rights attorney in private practice named Matt Coles. Baker explained that he created the flag for everyone and wanted it to remain free for public use. He needed an attorney to represent him to challenge an attempt from an advocacy organization to trademark it. He didn't have any money, but Matt agreed to represent him. Today, the rainbow flags that symbolize Pride Month are a symbol for the people.
Read the rather wonderful profile of Matt Coles by Danielle Riendeau of the Northern California Chapter of the ACLU (proud card-carrying member here).

Pansy Poetry Preceding Pride's Petty Purchases

More Aesthete Than Ascetic: A Preliminary Biographical Sketch of a Slightly More Critical Cyborgism

This post consists of the latest episode in a marvelous exchange with a reader (left unnamed, unless he lets me know he would prefer it otherwise) that I thought might be edifying for some other readers of mine, too:
I am going to try a little fisking in the hope you might enjoy it -- if not -- I don't expect a response. Back in November 2007 you wrote:
"Eric and I possess no car, no laptop, no cellphone, no clothes dryer, no marriage license... and we disapprove of them and also of you, at least a little bit, in a friendly sort of way, for thinking you can't live without them yourself despite the fact that they are destroying the planet, diminishing your liberty, giving you cancer, and confusing you into mistaking possession for love. We are cantankerous and judgmental and are enjoying ourselves immensely."
I will reflect on these items and your disapproval of each one in turn because I think you may be onto something -- but I am not sure what that thing exactly is right now -- I will also read more of your Blog. In any case, I am entirely comfortable with disapproval -- I think I can even make an email out of it -- let's see... So, at the moment I can't help but see the moral conflict -- hmmm, no, more like ambivalence perhaps -- when you generously email me to say: "I am far from having no technology." Specifically, I can't make any sense of what could impel you to explicitly make what I think is a trivial distinction between a desktop computer and a laptop almost into a minor point of principle. My own interpretation is that you are trying in the quoted section to persuade me, your reader to turn my gaze towards a more primitivistic horizon than the majority -- which might be cool -- but the implication that I might follow your example... and ditch my laptop in favor of a desktop seems... bonkers. Your aside about what technology means in the broader sense I cannot disagree with, neither would I want to -- I regularly go barefoot for example. I also concur with your view of the misuse of the word, "Luddites" but on this, other point of detail about technology (where I mean as shorthand for I.T.) I think the very best we can achieve here is to agree that the potential for misunderstanding is something we at least both share in roughly equal measure. btw: this without prejudice to my ongoing and escalating commitment to distrusting pedagogues.
Hi, _____. First of all, I'll cheerfully concede the distinction of a desktop from a laptop isn't exactly an earthshattering one. Now that I think about that line more carefully, I realize that in writing it that way I was generating a sentence that recapitulated my biography from a certain angle of view, "no car, no laptop, no cellphone, no clothes dryer" were a series of choices I made, first alone and then eventually with my partner as to gadgets I could have purchased and woven into my everydayness but chose instead either to eschew or to remove instead.

I removed myself from car culture quite young -- and have stuck to that even when living in regions of the country in which public transportation was a more quixotic venture than it is here in the comparatively more civilized Bay Area -- because I decided that the costs and risks and expenses and planetary pollution and the kinds of experiences of anxiety and gridlock that cars tend to get people into aren't worth the benefits, because on reflection I decided that what is peddled as an emancipatory instrument of American individualism really is (like so much that gets peddled as American individualism, which I find as a rule rather sadly conformist and consumer-fetishistic and anti-intellectual as ways of being in the world go) instead a way of embedding Americans in a kind of self-destructive world-destroying collaboration in their own suicidal serfdom -- if I can put the point a tad more dramatically than it probably deserves.

Since the late eighties I have bought three desktop computers -- which is rather more consumer churn than I usually permit myself where other sorts of appliances are concerned, especially ones so expensive. And yet it does seem to me I keep computers much longer than most people do -- who inevitably express shock and dismay at my apparently primitive tool-set even when it seems to me perfectly adequate to my purposes. I remember when I chose my second computer I contemplated a laptop and deliberately chose to keep to a desktop, because it seemed to me that laptops were treated more dispensably, they were more accident and mischief prone, and I also wasn't sure I wanted my computer to leave the precinct of my desk at home, surrounded by my books and their silence. There was something about people bringing their laptops onto the bus or into the cafe that made me uneasy in the same way cellphones would come to do not long after I made the decision not to re-write my being in the world in a laptop-lifeway. I decided I would rather stare out the window of the bus while musing about a passage I had read in a book, I would rather people-watch than huddle over a screen and circumscribe my attentions to premeditated searches and distracted surfing online, at the beck and call of co-workers via obsessively checked e-mail and so on. Cellphones and handhelds seem to me a terrible impertinence, buzzing at us at all hours, surveilling us and harassing us to distraction with imbecilic ads, and those who fixate on these postage stamp screens appear to me to be sleepwalkers in a world crying out for shepherding attentions.

Similarly, when the dryer that came with our rented bungalow gave out we were told we could buy our own, and thinking about it after a lifetime of clothes driers for both of us, my partner and I decided a couple of drying racks could do the job quite as well without the expense of a new machine or the energy waste of its use. It required a minute initial adjustment, but I see no difference in results or efforts nowadays, and hence think we were right to judge the machine a wasteful superfluity.

I guess in writing that line of text that perplexed you something like that string of life decisions was packed inside it, a series of decisions that seemed to me to bespeak an underlying thread of critical engagement with our gadgets. Although you are right to say the difference between a laptop and a desktop is not really so dramatic as all that, I think the distinction looms larger for me in the context of a trajectory of decisions of which I experience it as a part, ongoing decisions that have lead me into quite a few choices that seem strange to many of my fellows but not the least bit strange to me.

Now, when you go on to say that you experience that line as one that recommends a kind of primitivity to my readers, I do want to insist that I mean nothing of the sort. I don't think my way of life is more primitive in the least than that of folks who rely on their cars, laptops, handhelds, and clothes dryers. There are sophisticated technologies to which I have chosen to make regular recourse precisely because I think they make my life better accord with my values -- like subway trains, like vegan shoes made of super-strong synthetic materials, like my desktop and my online connection at home, like medicine and books and streaming media.

I just think people should be considerably more mindful about the artifacts they take up, they should be aware of the costs that freight their benefits, their impacts on the world, the alternatives that are available to choose from. Which is far from saying that I think people might not mindfully find their way to very different decisions from the ones I've made myself. Now, I think it would be profoundly mistaken to imagine my life as substantially or even aspirationally one of "voluntary simplicity" or "luddism" or "primitivity": I am far more aesthete than ascetic, even if I have decided for what seem to me good reasons to do without some gadgets that have become more or less ubiquitous among my peers.

I personally regard all culture as prosthetic and all prostheses as culture, and so I regard a bleeding-edge techno-fashionista of the silicon valley as no more cyborgic than a language-using paleolithic hunter-gatherer in the absolute sense. This doesn't mean that I regard them as indistinguishable but that I try to be very conscious and critical about the differences that make the differences between them.

We tend to naturalize the terms of the material and ritual artifice that besets us with its familiarity, so that it is only "new" techs barking at us on screens for us to purchase or to fear that seem to us actually technological at all -- and these are often merely repackaged as "new" by promotional discourse in a restless attentional economy. And it seems to me we tend to react more emotionally than not to their unfamiliarity rather than critically to their substance, investing them with vast inchoate anxieties, terror, greed, lust in the midst of our dislocated sociocultural distress. My fellow Americans, especially, it seems to me often purchase things in the bubble of our terrible privilege, using them as much to advertize subcultural affiliations and aspirations as to use them, forever acting out dramas written by scriptwriters we never know for audiences we cannot clearly explain. We Americans, believe me, are perfectly capable of eating the world without ever feeling the least bit satisfied with the meal, dimly aware that we are surrounded by starvation all the while, unsure what better alternatives are available that accord with values we ourselves fervently attest to but rarely act on in our confusion.

Although we live in an historical era and in a social milieu that thinks itself technology-obsessed and technology savvy it seems to me that it is with a complete fantasy of "technology" as some monolithically capacitating or incapacitating stormcloud, some weirdly worldly and yet transcendental burning bush, that we are really mostly obsessed, and to the cost of decency and sense. I fear that we attend very little if at all to the ways in which techniques and artifacts materialize historically in complex stakeholder struggles with situationally specific and ineradicably diverse costs risks and benefits. So much of our technoscientific "knowing" is an energetic insistence on ignorance in fact of the role of technologies in our lives, in our psyches, in our communities, in our economic relations, in our ecosystems. A teacher by profession, a sometime writer, even an occasional activist, I am devoted to provoking people into an alienated relation to their commonsense the better to shape it, I hope, more critically in the direction of more sustainable, equitable, consensual, convivial, creative values.

I don't want to seem to put too much weight on a pragmatic decision made years ago to keep my desktop rather than take on a laptop, but all the threads have their place in the pattern, I guess. Thank you for provoking me into thinking more clearly about this by pressuring that sentence that perplexed you in my writing. Far from being annoyed by or defensive about your interrogation, I consider it a gift and a sigil of that best respect among conversational partners out of which all the magic happens.

Hope all is well in your world, d

Today's Abandum Wilde

Everyone is a rebel, usually in wild revolt against ourselves.

What is this?

Today's Random Wilde

There is something about success, actual success, that is a little unscrupulous, something about ambition that is unscrupulous always.

Romney Jobs Plan: Build Your Own Coffins

Just to let you know, there is more than enough material in Romney's ugly awful predatory past for superPACs supporting Obama's re-election to create devastating negative advertizing like this for every single day from now to the election.

Friday, June 22, 2012

This Queer Won't Swallow Your Pride

Not straight, not narrow, not getting married, not shooting a gun, not having a baby, and not going shopping this weekend.


Stealth Robot Cultist Peter Wicks writes of me:
Carrico’s reference to the “fearless credulity of transhumanists” would be poignant if it applied accurately to all transhumanists[.]
One wonders just how characteristic, just how prevalent, just how many transhumanist-identified people have to exhibit this sort of undercritical technophilic credulity before Peter Wicks will grant my point some "poignance"? One wonders just how many serially false predictions, how many distractions from current and urgent technoscience issues into hyperbolic daydreams, how many deranging reframings of technodevelopmental quandaries from issues of equity and safety into wish-fulfillment fantasies of technotranscendence, how many crowdsourced fanwanking marketing efforts for hyperbolic loose talking Big Pharma press releases and DARPA wet-dreams, how many apologiae for elite-incumbent corporate-military extractive-consumer interests, how many dumb pampered suburban kids wheedled into blowing a decade or so of their lives as True Believers in a crappy Ayn Raelian Robot Cult Peter Wicks personally has to facilitate before he will grant some "poignance," after all, to these little points I'm making? It will take more than the publication of a contrarian article (Wicks might contemplate that once upon a time IEET published many contrarian articles BY me, before the legitimizing value to them, as a comparatively stealthy Robot Cult outfit, of seeming open to critics of transhumanism was outweighed by the actual impact of my criticisms on their ongoing proselytizing efforts) to alter the dangerous, damaging, deranging thrust of IEET's mission in this time of urgent technoscience and technodevelopmental quandaries in the midst of ubiquitous marketing misinformation, techno-fetishizing mass-consumption, unsustainable extractive-indistrialization, and precarizing neoliberal developmentalism enforced at gunpoint by remote control.

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.

Today's Abandum Wilde

The amount of people in London who flirt with their own partners is perfectly scandalous. It looks so bad. It is simply washing one's clean linen in public.

What is this?

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Long Day's Journey

I'll be mapping social, cultural, and exegetical strains of critical theory and then playing with Wildean paradox in "Soul of Man Under Socialism" in the City this morning, then we have Juvenal's Satires at Berkeley later in the afternoon. Leave before eight, return after eight, so expect blogging to be low to no, I'm afraid.

Today's Random Wilde

A man once greeted Oscar Wilde in the street, saying "Hello, Oscar!" and heartily slapping him on the shoulder. "I don't know you by sight," Wilde responded, "but your manner is familiar."

Today's Abandum Wilde

People have a wonderful instinct about things. They can discover everything but the obvious.

What is this?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

My Entire "Philosophy" HANGS from These Cheekbones

If Ayn Rand were Edwina Monsoon.

I mean, given the narcissism and sociopathy and stuff it isn't exactly a surprising linkage, but come to think of it, Eddy really does have more than her share of sublimely bonkers Randroidal moments...
EDDY: Why, oh why, do we pay taxes, hmmm? I mean, just to have bloody parking restrictions and BUGGERY-UGLY traffic wardens, and BOLLOCKY pedestrian BLOODY crossings?... and those BASTARD railings outside shops windows, making it so difficult so you can't even get in them! I mean, I know they're there to stop stupid people running into the street and killing themselves! But we're not all stupid! We don't all need nurse-maiding. I mean, why not just have a Stupidity Tax? Just tax the stupid people!
Of course, there is no Edwina Monsoon Institute filled with earnest white skinned suburban shut-ins quoting Ab Fab episodes and declaring her the Daughter of Aristotle, but that may be an American versus British thing.

Today's Abandum Wilde

Crying is the refuge of plain people, but the ruin of pretty ones.

Wilde didn't actually say this, he said something rather sexist instead.

Over the years on this blog, I've posted hundreds upon hundreds of Wildean quips under the recurring heading, "Today's Random Wilde." I adore Wilde, endlessly re-read him, get a kick out of him, take him very seriously, teach him to my students, and so on.

But, you know, there are a host of witticisms I have always shunned because they always annoyed me in their misogyny. Of course, Wilde was certainly capable of witty deconstructions of prevailing sex-gender norms, too. I always rather like posting, "Football is all very well as a game for rough girls, but is hardly suitable for delicate boys" on Superbowl Sundays, for example. And "The queen is not a subject" has been my personal .sig motto since I've had one. He meant something else by that than I do, but the funny is a beast best ridden bareback, all puns intended. Not to mention, even I find some of Wilde's genuflections to his own era's cramped conventions a little funny on their terms, even if I disapprove of them. Humor is too capacious to be treated as sermonizing.

Anyway, I am not interested in fumigating or politically correctifying Wilde, it just occurred to me I could gendertweak some of the Wildeisms I normally fastidiously feministically eschew, tapping away at what look to me like clowdy crystals with Nietzsche's little jewelry hammer to find new gems embedded there. (What, you always thought Nietzsche meant philosophizing with a sledge hammer? He wasn't a Nazi, remember, it's that some of his dumb readers always are.)

Anyway, since I'm going to be given over to the demands of teaching three or four days a week till my summer intensives are over in a couple of months (angels and ministers of grace, preserve me) I thought I could at least pad the blog reasonably effortlessly on week-days with a recurrent feature, "The Abandum Wilde," confiscating by misquoting Wilde in a more genially feminist way (for me, your feminism may vary), just for the hell of it. I won't promise results that are more than mildly amusing. I mean, the first effort, off the top of my head, quoted above, is just so-so, after all. But, it's something.


Quintilian later this afternoon, which is rather like teaching an encyclopedia in three hours. Grading papers felt rather more demanding this time around than it usually does, possibly just because there is so much else seducing my attention. I suspect for the next eight weeks my blogging may be confined to a week-end pleasure.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Long Teaching Day Ahead

I didn't finish all my grading yesterday, so I'm starting off behind (always a nice feeling). The students won't suffer too terribly getting their papers back tomorrow instead, still, in the intensity of summer each little delay shrinks the time available to prepare for everything else to be done. Now that my second intensive has begun, it means leaving the house before eight in the morning and returning after eight at night. Why, it's positively Dickensian. This morning in the City will be administrivial, a few introductions, going over the syllabus, a few running themes in critical theory, going around the room getting a feel for names, that sort of thing. This afternoon at Berkeley, it's Terence's Eunuchus.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Who Is "Overbuck"?

A person with that handle keeps directing io9 traffic to Amor Mundi. Is it somebody who comments here under a different moniker? Somebody, get that highly enlightened and tasteful individual on the payroll!

io9 Rolls Eyes At Climate Change

The voracious geek-hipster maw demands environmentalists provide them richer and fresher images.

Why can't environmental catastrophe be more entertaining? You know, more like Cabin in the Woods? Images of drought, famine, fire, plague aren't worth a thousand words, but only four we are told, "Oh dear, not again." I know, right? Let's move on to the real slaughter, gun-toting neo-confederate Pentecostals wading through cities knee-deep in Greenhouse swamp would be sexier, don't you think? That would kick ass!

An image of the earth on fire held in a human hand "has spread across the internet like a weed" and presumably, like a weed, should be rooted out. A close reading of the image follows: "What is it saying? Something about the planet being on fire? And also held in the palm of your hand? Perhaps if you're holding the planet in the palm of your hand, and it's on fire, you should drop it? Or put it in some water? Maybe the point is that it's your responsibility to stop the planet burning? Oh, I don't know."

What terrible messages to convey at a time when denialism about catastrophic anthropogenic climate change is at a belligerent high in the nations contributing most to it. Hipster is having none of it. What is this earnest obvious crap? Ooh, so subtle! Geek-hipster is, like, totally cracking himself UP. After all, the destruction of the planet in order to coddle a handful of rich assholes who won't give up lifestyles that make them miserable while killing billions is, after all, really so subtle a problem when you think about it. Also: Don't think about it!

And sheesh! What's this now? An image of London undwerwater? Geek-hipster wants to knock on your forehead, hello? Anybody home? Everybody knows "the UK is basically rich enough to make sure this doesn't happen." Oh, really? Of course, this is io9 so geek-hipster probably expects Very Serious futurological nanobot swarms and and mile wide orbiting space mirrors to solve all this for huge profits while the rest of us keep on dancing. Anyway, this is just "a bad scenario in a future that is beyond our lifetimes." Apres nous le deluge, suckers!

"Sad Earth is sad," hisses our courageous contrarian of yet another image's failure to be slick and awesome. An hypothesis may be ticking at the edge of your consciousness right about now... I hear tell that sociopaths aren't moved by anything? An image of a peasant and dog lugging water across a cracked desert in two plastic pails is provided this caption: "Climate change will probably cause droughts that will affect people in hats. Yep, got that." Ha ha ha! Yeah, we "got it," too. You're an asshole.

Another caption: "Here, ice is melting. It could be in the Arctic, or it could be in Scotland. Props to the Guardian, though -- this image can basically illustrate any climate change article you've got lying around. It's not just the Guardian, either. Whoever took the photo must be raking it in." I wonder why this image can be used in so many contexts. Oh, that's right, because the earth is fracking warming everywhere and ice is fracking melting everywhere and the people causing the problems still just want to swap their toxic landfill destined gizmos every two months and keep their crappy green-lawned McMansions in Arizona air-conditioned and have their cheap plane travel and quarter pounder hamburger life styles subsidized by the state so much that if any of their pointless world destroying activities go up by so much as a penny in price they'll just vote for Republicans who want to put everybody but the rich and a few photogenic slaves in concentration camps but who cares, we'll do it, man, we'll do it!

Look, a vulnerability to kitsch is the inevitable complement to any political campaign requiring empathy and earnestness rather than simply cruel cynical calculation to sell it. Oscar Wilde already put this point to bed when he observed that "One would have to have a heart of stone to read the death of Little Nell without laughing." Kitsch isn't exactly any thinking person's favored object of contemplation, but it's not like anybody is forcing intellectuals to dwell on unsubtle agitprop images for a good cause instead of reading Thomas Bernhard novels if that's what they would really rather be doing (I know I would). And, did I say intellectual? Needless to say, this little piece of effortless over-it-ness isn't exactly evidence of a stunningly subtle mind, when all is said and done, nor even immune to the counter charge that it is indulging in its own tired denialist kitsch schtick. It is hard to believe, given what people who actually know anything about how advertizing works know about the power of simplicity, fixation, repetition, branding, our hipster really believes his own hastily contrived alibi for this awful piece of denialist crap, namely "[t]o really get the message across, perhaps a richer, more subtle medium is necessary" -- especially when this "proposal" turns out to be nothing but the set-up for another lame joke, a link to some earnest academic who wants to use interpretative dance to raise awareness of climate change. I mean, sure, it's silly, but look at the alternative we're being offered: "So what's the answer? I reckon it's just too tricky to communicate about complicated subjects like climate change using crude images." Since the author has also just dismissed the use of graphs and diagrams demonstrating the problems objectively as "impenetrable" it is clear that the "answer" is "give up."

About catastrophic anthropogenic climate change and efforts to communicate our urgent shared problems the better to mobilize their collective address the author has one simple message: "Why should you care? You probably shouldn't."

io9, with its recent hire of Robot Cultist George Dvorsky to peddle his pseudo-scientific nonsense and with this sort of crap is rather going to the dogs these days. It should stick to literature, film, culture, and geek fandom, in which it has always been refreshing and sometimes fresh. Climate change denialism isn't fracking cute. -- h/t Chad Lott

The Proof of the Singularity Is That There Is No Proof, Man!

Cue the 90s trance beat soundtrack, we're on a rocketship to the future here. Transdoodist Jason Silva explains John Smart's Darned Smart proposal that the Fermi Paradox (eg, so much universe to be an alien civilization in, but so no alien civilizations on view) provides the evidence through providing no evidence of the existence of post-singularity civilizations that have shrunk into femtopockets of sooper-stuff we can't observe. The always available, always irresistible Eniac to iPod illustration of our own instatic trajectory toward inner-space is trotted out in the usual manner, inducing futurological ahs and oms all round. The Very Serious futurological contribution here is the compression of the words Space, Time, Energy and Matter into a futurological acronym STEM, denoting the wished-for compression of transhumanoids into a solipsistic retreat into "black hole like conditions." I eagerly await Silva's elaboration of the SEEDS and STEMS compression that accounts more specifically for his futurological stylings. I, of course, proposed my own solution to the Fermi Paradox as a Futurological Brickbat several years ago,
XXII. The answer to the Fermi Paradox may simply be that we aren't invited to the party because so many humans are boring assholes. As one small evidence in this matter it is noteworthy that so many humans would appear to be so flabbergastingly immodest and immature as to think it a "paradoxical" result to discover the Universe is not an infinitely faceted mirror reflecting back at us on its every face our own incarnations and exhibitions of intelligence.

Grading, Prepping

Today is mostly given over to school stuff, I'm afraid. Still grading mid-terms from my Berkeley summer intensive to hand in tomorrow. Also, prepping the week ahead, Terence, Quintilian, Juvenal at Berkeley, intro lecture on Critical Theory and then Oscar Wilde in the City. And the hits keep coming.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Is It "Visionaries" Who Really Do the Work of Making Tomorrow Better?

Upgraded and adapted from an exchange in the Moot for this post with "Giovanni Santostasi" (whose comments are first, italicized):
Imagine we were in the middle ages. There is no real democracy. There is widespread poverty, people die young. Disease, wars, ignorance are dominant. You get the picture. Imagine that I'm a visionary and I see how it is possible to go from where we are in the middle ages to where we could be let's say in a modern western country circa 2012. Of course this would be amazing and such a futurist would have an incredible visionary outlook, but not utterly impossible, right? (and I'm using this as an extreme to make a point). Then I start to write pamphlets about the future and what is the path for mankind. I introduce the concept of democracy, of the scientific method, how we should get rid of the power of kings and church, how we should give free education to the children, women included, that science will help us to produce more food, that people would not work in the field all their lives, that we can defeat disease, bring water to the houses, have machine to transport to places, communicate with people over enormous distance, we could travel to the moon. Continue this list and add anything you are so familiar with and take for granted from your experience. Think how a middle ages man, even a very clever and open minded one, would react to such fantasies about the future. The car-cultish people are ridiculous, extend life to 80 years for the majority of people when most humans die before reaching 30? Give rights to women, what is next allow sodomites to have sex without being harshly punished? Or maybe going to bed every day with a full stomach? Such foolish, elitist thing to say, these airplane-cultist they think they can fly, like witches do. It is ridiculous and full of hubris. I can go for ever and if this seems stupid, it is because it is stupid. No imagination man, it is a medieval sin in particular for a so called artist.
Needless to say, while you find me lacking in imagination, so might I find your own vision lacking in originality, interest, use, or promise as well. It's not that neither of us have an imagination, it's that what we value as imagination is so different that we find it difficult to value both. Even if we can't overcome that impasse, I do think we might clarify its stakes. Let me make three brief comments about your thought experiment here, which I do think captures certain futurological commonsense intuitions quite well and which, as it happens, I also think gets things mostly rather wrong.

First, while I do not deny that visionaries can sometimes be splendidly visionary, and the ones who do (Leonardo, say) are, well, splendid, the fact remains that folks who want to justify their marginal views sometimes point to this fact all the while forgetting that many more of the claims in the past from so-called visionaries were in fact just as ridiculous as they appeared. We tend to focus instead on the success stories or on the skeptics who denigrated the few success stories, and this skews the way this sort of story gets told.

Second, I actually do not think it is right to assign causal force to those who are so visionary that they get incredibly distant outcomes more or less right. This is an enormously important point to grasp. I think progress actually results from people solving the problems that beset them, including solving the problems created by the solutions to the problems that beset them before. I think this is true both of progressive political reform, and the solution of instrumental problems as well. I think the shape and substance of outcomes far in our future will be determined by what we do about our present problems and the problems that shape intermediate developments along the path to these eventual outcomes. If some "futurist" guesses some of this correctly it seems to me much more a matter of luck than a matter of his grasping some deep underlying principle more clearly than others do. But even if it isn't luck, even if she has hit upon the right solutions centuries before anybody else, that is far from meaning that their eventual realization owes much of anything to the force of her insights in particular. Democratization has been a convulsive struggle among actually-existing stakeholders beset by actually-existing present problems -- look at how our present democratic forms are indebted to historical events in which aristocrats sought rights that undermined absolute monarchs, struggles that hardly yielded anything remotely democratic as a reality in those historical societies. History is not a matter of majorities of inferiors struggling imperfectly and managing only asymptotically to implement logical ideals imagined well in advance by superior minorities of elite visionaries, it is a matter of the collective address of shared problems, peer to peer, ever in the face of ignorance, error, greed, inequity, of slowly coming up with good normative and instrumental notions worth keeping. I think futurologists battling over competing visions of the world a century away will have a vanishingly negligible impact on what the world a century away will be like (although they have in my view a mostly damaging, distracting, deranging impact on our grasp of and in the present), while people solving urgent shared problems of the present are creating the legal, normative, infrastructural, and even aspirational landscape on which the next problem solvers will grapple in ways that have incomparably greater impact on tomorrow's presents to come.

Third, I do want to point out that there is a difference between

[a] those futurological proposals I find too marginal from scientific consensus to take as seriously as transhumanists tend to do -- for example, the idea that robust, reliable, programmable, multi-purpose, room-temperature desktop nanofactories are eventually going to be cheap enough to be practical, let alone adequate to unleash a superabundance that overcomes the impasse of stakeholder politics -- and

[b] those futurological proposals I find too marginal from the current state of the art to be proximate enough to deserve serious attention when there are urgent priorities in the very same domains of concern demanding our attention now -- which is, for example, how I would characterize SENS and comparable superlongevity preoccupations as compared to addressable problems of access to clean water and to family planning and to available treatments for neglected diseases in the overexploited regions of the world -- and

[c] those futurological proposals which I regard as conceptually incoherent and impossible in principle, whatever timeline is being bandied about -- for example, the idea of "uploading" which at once declares consciousness a material phenomenon (which I agree that it is) while proposing the actual material incarnation of consciousness in an organismic brain is somehow negligible or irrelevant to it (while I am open to the logic possibility of differently materialized intelligences or quasi-intelligences, it remains the case that human intelligence is materialized in organismic brains and in social settings, as a matter of fact), usually trying to brush this aside by pretending a metaphor like "migration" or "translation" can stand in for a testable hypothesis (it can't), or pretending to believe a picture of something is the same thing as the something it pictures (it isn't), or accusing those who point these things out of being "vitalists" or "deathists" (we aren't, or at any rate, to the extent that "vitalism" means believing life is supernatural or "deathism" means believing suffering and death are, other things equal, lovely, I'm certainly not).

It is crucial to grasp the difference between those who told the Wright Brothers humans would never travel through the air and those who insisted that schemes to square the circle or distill the immortalizing elixir of life were engaging in fools errands or arrant frauds: Anybody who has watched a leaf fall from a tree knows that heavier than air objects can remain afloat for sustained periods but nobody has ever encountered a non-biological intelligence, or a living but immortal self. Wishing doesn't make it so. Even simply structured asexually reproducing presumably immortal jellyfish -- not remotely complex enough to incarnate what passes for legible selfhood -- regenerate out of their prior incarnations in a process of creative destruction as akin to mortality as to immortality. Life and death appear to be intractably metabolically interdependent (you don't even have to bring the heat death of the universe into it), not to mention the structural limits that seem to bedevil narrative selfhood even under conditions of our present longevity, after all these centuries still rarely exceeding the Bible's three score and ten. It's true that one should suspect the scientificity of one who is drawn not only to one but to one after another after another belief marginal to scientific consensus, but quite apart from this problem, futurologists seem in their pining after transcendence to stumble into conceptual incoherences they rarely bother to admit of let alone address in any sustained fashion. Indeed, I suspect that transhumanists are not just willing to entertain possibilities that are implausible, I believe that they are drawn to very specific implausibilties that resonate with very old, very deep tropes and conceits that are freighted with magickal significance, mobilizing the loose technological faith of a consumer society to re-write the conventional omni-predicated of theology into a techno-trasncendental system of faith offering very familiar promises (advertized as radical change) not of omnipotence but of sooper-powers and sooper-longevity, not of omniscience but of sooper-intelligence, not of omnibenevolence but of a sooper-abundance that ends history as social struggle. Let me add, by way of conclusion, that this is not the whole of my critique of transhumanism (which I also regard as a subversion of science by pseudo-science and which I also regard as conducive to inequitable, anti-democratic, unsustainable, eugenic reactionary politics, even granting that some of its adherents abhor these outcomes all the while contributing to them nonetheless), but that I do believe that this complex of issues around transhumanoid "vision" and "aspiration" and "imagination" (which I view as deranging, domesticating, and reactionary) is well worth sustained attention on its own.

This! Changes! Everything! The Impoverished Transhumanoid Vision of Freedom and Change

Upgraded and adapted from an interesting ongoing exchange in the Moot to this post with "summerspeaker" (whose comments are italicized, follow the length for the full exchange):

On the conceptual level, I find the Singularitarian obsession with everything changing useful... contemplating superhuman intelligence and/or molecular manufacturing serves as way to think beyond the status quo.

It may seem paradoxical, but I am suspicious of what singularitarians are counting as a belief in Changing Everything. As I said, I think the belief that the emergence of the digital internet was a qualitative event that Changed Everything is a profound misrecognition of what was in fact a quantitative re-materialization, the latest chapter in the Long Century of the Internet (beginning with telegraphy, then telephony, incorporating subsequent iterations of publication, broadcast radio and television video and cable). One way of looking at it is to say it was this inaugural misrecognition was the enabling Hype that gave rise to the serial hype that subsequently attached to so much discourse about the internet (crypto-anarchy! virtual sex! uploading!).

On this view, faith in the singularity itself is the ultimate hype, hype deranged into religious claims for techno-transcendence. But I also think it pays to look closely into the nature of these claims, as you say, "conceptually."

I know the transhumanists like to advertize themselves as more brave in their willingness to contemplate total transformation than mehum sheeple types like me who fail to measure up to their futurological shock levels and all that assertive nerd-jock nonsense, but have you noticed how utterly reassuring the furniture of their futures tend to be?

It is one thing to claim to embrace "total change" but it is quite another to indulge in infantile wish-fulfillment fantasies of a return to the ease and plenitude of mama's breast. The Robot God takes care of you, nano-genies give you everything you want for free, "enhancement" gives you back your youth, but even makes you the better you you dreamed about staring youthfully in the mirror pining for buff Biff and your own pony, superintelligence protects you from the humiliations of being caught out in an error or ignorance or humiliated (think of the geeks whose daydreams these are!), and then, a SENS technician with his wrench or a deed freeze and leap into holodeck heaven -- and you don't even have to die!

Quite apart from the delusiveness of all this nonsense (and my ire at those who debauch science by claiming serial marginality from scientific consensus is actually a sign of transhumanoid championing of science when it is the opposite) and the distraction of all this nonsense (you know what I think we should be doing -- applying shared knowledge to our shared problems, struggling to distribute the risks, costs, and benefits of technoscientific change equitably to diversity of its actual shareholders, a permanent and fraught progressive struggle we happen to be losing), it seems to me profoundly questionable to describe this as a true openness to change at all.

Daydreams of an amplification of your current capacities and an amplification of your present satisfaction isn't really change at all, it is just me now -- but better! (and better very much in the terms me now thinks in), it is just now -- but better! (more now, more!). It looks to me very much the same as the "imagination" that drives television commercials and marketing more generally -- youth! sex! riches! more!

I describe "futurity" as that aspect of openness in the present that arises from the fact that presence-together is both shared and contended by an ineradicably diverse plurality of stakeholders with different capacities, histories, hopes. I agree with Arendt that the "stuff" of which freedom is made is the res publica, "the public thing," what the Founders called "public happiness" that emerges in this midst of this sharing/ contestation. I believe that "The Future" of the futurologists, refiguring futurity from its political substance into an imaginary unitary destination actually obliterates our grasp of freedom, rewriting the openness of freedom in the image of closure. The futurologists misconstrue freedom in instrumental terms (precisely as one would expect of techno-fetishists), thinking it as amplifying capacitation rather than as collective re-conciliation, re-opening, re-figuration.

(If nothing else, asteroids and gamma ray bursts indicate that Change Everything events occasionally do come from nowhere or at least outer space.)

You could get run over by a car tomorrow. A dirty bomb could go off in a major city. Resource descent could choke off the petrochemical bubble of "Western Civilization." Hell, you could fall in love with the wrong person and screw up your life. Sure, an asteroid could hit earth. Life is bedeviled (and inspired) by accident, we are mortal, aging, vulnerable, error-prone, clumsy communicators, heartbroken, frustrated beings. The word for it is finitude. And far from embracing it, the transhumanoids spend most of their time in profoundly unhealthy denial of it.

we've got a number of vastly wealthy and capable folks working on computing hardware and software. According to Lanier, most of them subscribe to the Singularity worldview. It's a historical trends bolstered by considerable present-day effort and a compelling (at least to adherents) ideology. I'm not confident they won't succeed at some level, as unpleasant as the results might be for the rest of us.

Well, the neocons were the latest to remind us that a small klatch of white guys who are sure they are the smartest people in the room saying flabbergastingly idiotic things everybody laughs at can manage through perseverance and saying things rich powerful want to hear to find their way to a position to do unspeakable damage to the world. So, silly as they are, I agree they can have a terrible impact -- in fact already have in terms of the media frames through which urgent technodevelopmental deliberation is happening, to the cost of sense and equity. I am assuming you are describing the wealthy celebrity tech-CEOs as "capable" with your tongue in cheek -- of course they are mostly garish impresarios who are taking personal credit and appropriating personal profit for collective accomplishments. If you are referring to the guru-wannabes with the Robot Cult, you'll forgive me but I don't think any of them exhibit more than quotidian intelligence, although some have the kind of drive that gets stuff done while destroying the lives of everybody around them, their own first of all, I'll grant you that.

Amor Mundi Father's Day Special

It's become something of a tradition.

Saturday, June 16, 2012


Briefly mis-posted Wednesday's readings from Quintillian for my classical rhet course at Berkeley onto this blog -- fear not, readers, you will not be quizzed.


From the exposure of reactionary guru-priests who peddle the unbearable stasis of "accelerating change" as techno-transcendence, here's a little taste of substantial ec-static promise and provocation from some true bacchanalian postulates.

Singularitarian Hype and the Denial of History

In his excellent book The Victorian Internet, Tom Standage proposes, in effect, that the birth of the internet should be located with the invention of the telegraph and the development over the second half of the nineteenth century of the global telegraphy network. Of course, the way Standage tells his story is to remind online enthusiasts at the height of the irrational exuberance of the era (his book was published in 1998) of the endlessly many analogies between the ways telegraphy was incorporated into corporate, military, and mass-media formations and materialized in everyday lives in splashy tales of online romance, gossip, criminal detection, threats to privacy over a century ago, and the commonplace experiences of his own readers as networked personal computers were incorporated in their everyday lives and as these networked computers digitally incorporated in turn the prior iterations of inter-networked media forms, books, journalism, telegraphy, telephony, cinema, radio, television, cable, journals/zines, and so on.

What is crucial about this framing of the digital moment was its recognition that the emergence of telegraphy represented an incomparably more qualitative social and cultural phenomenon than was the emergence of the internet, which was the latest in a series of quantitative amplifications of an already-existing network embedded in the material and ritual artifice of our leading institutions and interpersonal dynamisms. The point of such an observation is not to deny the significance to individuals of the actual prosthetic forms their culture takes from moment to moment -- the material furniture of everyday life always matters, it is how lifeways literally matter, that is to say are literally materialized, in history -- but to warn us about the ways we are liable both to hyperbolize the discontinuity of our own moment in history, caught up as we are in its distresses, as well as to naturalize the continuities of our own moment in history, consoled as we are by its familiarities.

Contrary to the parochial triumphalism of a pop guru like Raymond Kurzweil, scholars like Standage tell a tale of the Long Century of the Internet not as a self-congratulatory fable of Manifest Destiny -- in which the characteristic desires of Kurzweil's privileged techno-fetishizing readership are declared to be prevailing over the available co-ordinates of existence in ever-accelerating ever-amplifying ever-consolidating ways on their way toward heaven as a mirror in which we see nothing but ourselves as we think we want to be, the reactionary imagination of futurological transcendence -- but instead as a tale of ongoing opportunistic unpredictable technodevelopmental changes, incorporations, provocations. Neither is Standage telling, by the way, a tale of Spenglerian decadence, though the realization that the fantasized "spirit-stuff" of which "Cyberspace, the Home of Mind" is actually made is fueled by poison gas and coal and accessed on toxic devices made by slaves and destined for landfill suggests all too palpably that such a narrative may be more apt.

Singularitarianism usually amounts to the claim that "accelerating change" has a kind of material momentum drawing humanity irresistibly toward some history-shattering discontinuity (sometimes, instead, it is an hypothesized Event, connected to the creation of a post-biological "super-intelligence," possibly created by humans, possibly arising spontaneously out of creations by humans, possibly created from "enhanced" humans themselves), whatever it is imagined unimaginably and often rather unimaginatively to be, and it tends to function as kind of black box into which its enthusiasts stuff all sorts of transcendent dreams and apocalyptic nightmares of theirs.

It seems to me crucial to point out that this singularitarian faith is mobilized out of two fundamental misrecognitions: First, singularitarianism arises out of the misrecognition of the emergence of the late twentieth century form of the internet as an historical discontinuity prefiguring another, wishful, historical discontinuity, rather than as yet another episodic, quantitative re-materialization in the Long Century of the Internet. Second, singularitarianism arises out of the misrecognition of privileged people of the destabilizing experience of precarity and distress provoked by the outsourcing, union-busting, deregulation, austerity, and financial fraud of neoliberal globalization -- facilitated by digital networked monetary transfer, targeted marketing, and surveillance -- as instead an experience of promising and progressive "accelerating change."

Rachel Lichtman's would-be prophetic tweet, re-posted above, that "Twitter is the telegraph of the impending Singularity" is a perfect symptom of these enabling singularitarian misrecognitions. What she is treating as an analogy illuminating "The Future" for the present is in fact an assertion of ignorance in the present of the past on which that present depends. Twitter as an internet form is a vestigial echo of the now-disavowed birth of internet in networked telegraphy. In the mostly vacuous stream of tweets, testifying in real time to the most ephemeral present -- the state of one's digestion, impressions, off-the-cuff observations, unjustified opinions -- the Singularitarian discerns an accelerationalization for a wish-fulfillment fantasy of an urgent forward progressive momentum leading irresistibly out of the historical planetary quandaries (environmental catastrophes, widespread exploitation, amplifying war-making) that have come to seem too hard to grapple with on the only terms available to actually progressive technodevelopmental social struggle, the terms of education, agitation, organization, and legislation to ensure that the costs, risks, and benefits of technoscientific change are equitably distributed to the diversity of stakeholders to that change.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Suzanne Somers, Queen of the Transhumanoids

“Why is pig thyroid good for us, but horse urine bad?”

Move over Natasha Vita-More, people actually know who Suzanne Somers is! --h/t JimF

At the Heart of the "Financial Singularity" There Is Not Mystery But Fraud

[It s]ounds a bit like a science fiction novel; are the financial algorithms, models and computers taking over from their human creators? Have we reached a financial singularity? Is this what a world created by the demonic love child of Gordon Gekko and Bill Gates would look like? This would be an amusing thought if it had not leapt from our collective Kindle screens and into our real world economy. But as Eric B. and Rakim might say, this ain’t no joke. Have we reached the point where our financial markets are so complex that we no longer understand how they really work? And if so, how can we manage what we don’t understand?
It is true that many did not understand what was going on when the digitization of planetary monetary transfer enabled a handful of predatory con-artists to engage in incomparably vast-scaled rapid-paced looting and fraud via financial algorithms and financial instruments like the bundling of subprime mortgages into phony prime assets. But, then, it is always true that the marks don't understand what is going on when a scam is underway.

What it is crucial to emphasize about this provocative little science-fictionalized ditty about a "financial singularity" is that -- even if it is coming from a place a disgust and despair about our unprecedented economic distress and about the suffering and injustice it has brought about -- this way of framing the crisis functionally abets the scam it decries.

It is not computers and programs and autonomous techno-agents who are the protagonists of the still unfolding crime of predatory plutocratic wealth-concentration and anti-democratizing austerity. The villains of this bloodsoaked epic are the bankers and auditors and captured-regulators and neoliberal ministers who employed these programs and instruments for parochial gain and who then exonerated and rationalized and still enable their crimes.

Our financial markets are not so complex we no longer understand them. In fact everybody knows exactly what is going on. Everybody understands everything. Fraudsters engaged in very conventional, very recognizable, very straightforward but unprecedentedly massive acts of fraud and theft under the cover of lies, and have very nearly destroyed civilization in so doing. If our governing institutions cannot recover quickly enough to become capable of organizing an effective and equitable collective address of catastrophic anthropogenic climate change and resource descent then they will have succeeded in fact in destroying civilization.

The very experience of "accelerating change" that has preoccupied the discourse of the digital-utopians and futurologists throughout the post-Reagan neoliberal era has always, in my view, simply been the way increasing precarity for ever vaster portions of humanity and earthly life -- produced by outsourcing, crowdsourcing, externalizing, informalizing, union-busting, welfare-looting, deregulatory, race-to-the-bottom globalization -- is experienced and described from the vantage of the privileged people who either benefit from this destabilization or who (rightly or wrongly) identify with the beneficiaries of that destabilization.

When it comes to the financial crisis, we are not living in a science fiction novel, we are living in a bleak naturalist novel.

Sanewashing Lamewashing Blamewashing

I've noticed that transhumanists and singularitarians and techno-immortalists will sometimes attempt in public to engage in what I call "sanewashing" -- they will declare in all innocence, "but transhumanism is really just the idea that evolution isn't the last word," or that "people can become better when they're smarter," or that sort of thing. Of course, we already have the perfectly good and widely understood and broadly affirmed (and also, I should add, rather problematic) words "culture" and "education" to name these ideas, and nobody was crying out for a group of Robot Cultists to re-invent those wheels and then claim to be their spokespeople, especially since these Robot Cultists also happen more distinctively to desire and believe, you know, that many will be able, and much sooner than non-Robot Cultists think, to live in genetically and prosthetically tweaked sooper-bodies with comic-book sooper-powers in free nanobotic-cornucopia-filled treasure caves, attended by very sexy sexbots, very possibly in outer space, until they decide to upload their "informational-selves" forever into a cyber-heaven that will be even more awesome still, as it will be under the ministrations of a sooper-intelligent post-parental history-ending Robot God of infinite loving grace.

Now, it is also true that medical research and development is indeed chugging along and producing some marvelous new genetic, prosthetic, and therapeutic advances: improved pacemakers and prosthetic limbs, better treatments for cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer's and so on. It's also true that there are a constellation of ARTs (assistive reproductive technologies) on offer. I don't include same-sex procreation or reproductive cloning among these because it seems to me the splashy pop-journalism utterances on these topics [this post began its life as the response to a comment at the World Future Society by self-identified "bioconservative" John Howard accusing me of "celebrating same-sex procreation" -- which upsets him terribly despite the fact that it doesn't exist -- because of my defense of sane adults making informed nonduressed consensual recourse to EXISTING wanted medicine, whether normalizing or not, if it is safe, accessible and accountably regulated] are about equally vague and sensational now as they were when I heard variations on them a decade or more ago. Like so many other results that find their way to the spotlight occasionally for pop-tech fandoms to hyperventilate over in ecstatic or panic-stricken ways, I simply don't think it makes much sense to get exercised over them, to grapple with "policy" toward them, when it isn't clear how costly or effective or safe or actually wanted as compared to other techniques they will be until they are considerably more proximate. Indeed, it is actually rather obfuscating to declare the objects of such speculation a "they" or "it" in the first place, when nobody really knows of what this object would actually consist. Although such results can add to our general knowledge, I think that popular speculations on these questions tend to function instead as allegorical lenses through which people are expressing anxieties and concerns about contemporary issues, intergenerational tensions, fraught raced and gendered relations, alienation, anomie, lost trust in institutions, and so on. I tend to think these questions are better addressed in more direct ways that name more clearly the actual stakes and stakeholders involved. I daresay such attitudes are among the reasons why I was invited to publish among futurologists as a more contrarian voice in the first place.

The "sanewashing" I mentioned superlative futurologists indulging in doesn't end in their occasional efforts to pretend they are really just champions of scientific research or education or convivial cultural (when their literal preoccupations are so clearly more idiosyncratic and questionable), I would go on to say that there tends to be a kernel of legitimate technoscientific substance at the heart of most of the sects of the Robot Cult deranged into nonsense by them so that this kernel becomes a black box into which they plug their techno-transcendentalizing wish-fulfillment fantasies: There really are endlessly many issues of research priorities, regulation, access to techniques, access-to-information, exploitation, neglect, and duress in contemporary medicine that get hyperbolized by transhumanists into sooper-power fantasies of an "optimally enhanced" post-biological Being, a so-called homo superior by their idiosyncratic but would-be universalized standards. There really are network security issues, issues of user-friendly automation, issues of better expert systems that get hyperbolized by Singularitarians into sooper-intelligence fantasies of a post-biological history-ending Robot God. There really are enormously interesting scientific discoveries and technical applications in molecular biology and biochemistry and nanoscale science that get hyperbolized by Nano-Cornucopiasts into sooper-abundance fantasies of treasure too cheap to meter (exactly as anxieties about nuclear holocaust long generated compensatory fantasies of sooper-abundant nuclear energy too cheap to meter) and hence a post-historical overcoming of the impasse of stakeholder politics. As I said, there really have been therapeutic advances toward the treatment of heart disease and memory loss that can yield increased healthy longevity when coupled with a more nutritious diet and exercise (in terms of increased longevity on a planetary scale what Mike Davis said a decade ago remains true: access to clean water remains the greatest miracle drug in the whole world) that get hyperbolized by Techno-Immortalists as Vegas supplemental scams and tee vee anti-aging cream scams and LA plastic surgery scams and SENS-repairman scams and cryonic hambergerization scams and wooly metaphorical talk of "soul migration" from organismic brains into the cyberspatial sprawl. In each case a loose grasp of technoscientific substance squeezed through selective reading of pop-tech journalism, hyperbolic press releases, and science fiction transubstantiates that substance into an insubstantial occasion for transcendental wish-fulfillment fantasizing. When I point out that nobody needs to join a Robot Cult to grasp the importance of the techno-scientific kernel transhumanists have glommed onto in each of these cases, that indeed Robot Cultists have little interest in that kernel apart from the way it seems to provide an alibi for their indulgence in techno-transcendental True Belief, and that certainly few if any folks actually contributing to the substance of that science are in the Robot Cult, I might be said to be engaging rhetorically in something like the reverse discourse of their own "sanewashing" self-rationalization: let's call it "lamewashing" Robot Cultism.

John Howard demonstrates a third, and related, rhetorical operation in play. Because Robot Cultists hyperbolize substantial technoscience into transcendental wish-fulfillment, self-described "bioconservatives" like John Howard can potentially attribute such techno-transcendence to almost anybody who champions substantial technoscience and struggles for progressive, that is to say equitable, diversifying, consensualizing technodevelopmental change. Let's call this, for the sake of euphony, "blamewashing" secular progressive technoscience. I daresay that whenever technodevelopmental changes threaten (or seem so to threaten) given social or morphological norms this temptation to bioconservative "blamewashing" might be especially acute. Although I think John Howard is offering up a rather terrible example here, I do think there will often be something usefully corrective and critical in such "blamewashing" skepticism -- since I think the astonishingly superficial popular grasp of consensus science and progressive science policy coupled with the intense popular focus on technoscience questions creates a great vulnerability to contrary impulses to hyperbole, derangement, wish-fulfillment, complacency, disasterbation, and scam-artistry. I don't mind "bioconservatives" and other skeptics spotlighting my own susceptibility to such confusions, as a skeptic myself I welcome the exposure of any of my own failures to be duly critical. And, after all, I am a product of an at once techno-triumphalist and yet anti-intellectual, reductionist and yet faithful society like most of the people I write about, and I am trained in the humanities and not the sciences end of the academy to boot.

I would describe myself as a technoscientifically literate and technodevelopmentally concerned secular progressive who believes there should be much greater public investment in critical thinking and science education and medical research and renewable energy research and sustainable agriculture research and sustainable infrastructure and space science and discovery more generally. I also believe that all culture is prosthetic and all prostheses are culture, and that technodevelopmental social struggle is progressive when the costs, risks, and benefits of technoscientific change are equitably distributed among the actual diversity of stakeholders to that change, and when all sane responsible informed non-duressed consenting adults can make recourse to or refrain from recourse to prosthetic/cultural affordances on their own terms, whether normalizing or not. I think the Robot Cultists distract our attention from the accomplishments and demands of actually existing and proximately emerging technodevelopmental social struggle and derange our collective capacity to deliberate in the sensible urgently necessary way we need to do given our shared planetary problems (especially environmental crises, global inequity, and ramifying implements of war). That is why I enagage in "lamewashing" critiques of what I take to be futurological derangements and deride Robot Cultsits in their propagandistic efforts at "sanewashing" their beliefs for the general public. If these efforts invite occasionally "blamewashing" invective from the less serious precincts of bioconservativsm, that seems a rather small -- though I will admit sometimes rather discomfiting -- price to pay.


Was Depressed. Am Not. Here's Why.

Thursday, June 14, 2012


My lecture at Berkeley today begins with Book II of Cicero's De Oratore and then turns to the delightfully hard-boiled election advice Commentariolum Petitionis attributed to his brother. It is hard to read Cicero's lamentations about the ubiquitous corruption and plutocratic-sponsored warlordism of his failng Republic, on the verge of its Augustan reconstitution as an outright imperial tyranny but not before still more civil war and anarchy will provide cover for Cicero's political enemies to have both him and his brother murdered for their pains.

I am a bit flabbergasted at the relentlessly stupid and negative coverage of the Obama administration as we head into the Presidential homestretch. As billionaire Adelson throws Romney a hundred million dollars and declares there is no limit to the money spigot he'll turn on to get rid of Obama a saturation bombing of derision and deception is investing Washington and its commentariat in its doom and gloom. Even Greg Sargent, who is a very sharp and astute progressive commentator says of a new Romney ad not that it is a despicable lie, but that it is "tough."

The ad is still spinning from the so-called Obama "gaffe" from last week that wasn't a gaffe. It closes with the line: “Doing fine? How can Obama fix the economy if he doesn’t understand that it’s broken?” Of course, the line to which the ad refers took place in the question and answer session following a special national press conference convened by the president to discuss the recent bad economic picture and the danger that still greater economic woes in Europe posed for hopes of an American recovery. The press conference happened only because Obama knows the economy is broken and wanted to discuss this with the American people.

Even the line "doing fine" referred not to "the economy" but to the fact that the public sector has been bleeding jobs and feeding a crisis of unemployment while the numbers for private sector growth have been rising in comparison. Sargent declares, "This ad shows just how bad a screw up Obama’s remark really was." If Obama's slightly less than perfect off-the-cuff formulation of an actually complicated point represents a "bad... screw up" just because Romney is willing to lie about it so egregiously, then honestly why even bother?

Such minutely infelicitous formulations will inevitably continue. Even the hyper-discipline of the Obama campaign won't be able to perform that smoothly: Nobody can. I will say that the endless round of stories about Obama's gaffe all week long preceding the ad created a context in which the lie it tells has the purchase to seem so devastating -- but I am honestly quite sure the Romney campaign would have made it even in the absence of the firestorm, likely with much the same idiotic effect anyway.

Of course, everybody knows that one of the main problems the economy faces is that the conspicuous remedies available to government in times like these (jobs bills swelling the public sector, vast investments in infrastructure repair and construction at a time of historically low interest rates, cramdown for underwater home mortgages, sweeping student debt forgiveness, raising taxes on the wealthy who can afford it and treating capital gains as regular taxable income, instituting a financial transaction tax, making medicare buy-in available to all citizens, and raising the cap on income going to social security) are all being prevented by monolithic GOP obstructionism, just as everybody knows that the sources of the problem were the pre-emptive wars based on lies waged by a Republican president with Republican majorities at his disposal at the same time as the taxes to pay for them were slashed on the rich and the obliteration of regulations on financial fraud and speculative looting of banking assets inspired by market fundamentalist ideology began to do their predictable (and predicted) catastrophic work.

These Republicans are the only ones who are beneficiaries of all this negative coverage of the President, and they also happen to be the ones who want more tax cuts for the rich while dismantling the safety net further still. Everything they want to do is known to be catastrophic by everybody who actually understands the policy, everything they want to do is unpopular with the people, but Romney is going to drench our days in deception and complexities will vanish behind self-serving lies propelled by billions, and little doubts and little dreads will germinate from that spreading of poisoned seeds and we may, like sleepwalkers, open the door with our own slack hand that lets our murderers in.