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

Monday, January 28, 2013

Is It Wrong To Take Futurology Seriously At All?

Upgraded from the Moot

It is important to expose even the wackier Robot Cultists to the extent that

[1] they are saying things that certain elite-incumbents like to hear however ridiculous on the merits -- eg, skim-scam tech celebrity ceos looking to be cast as the protagonists of history, petrochemical ceos looking for profitable geo-engineering rationales rather than regulatory interventions that impact their bottom lines, corporate-militarists on the lookout for existential threat techno-terror frames that justify big budget boondoggles -- the example of the belligerent neocon militarists and macroeconomically illiterate neolib market ideologues should be ever before us in recalling this;

[2] they are saying things that in their extremity actually expose the underlying assumptions, aspirations, and pathologies of more mainstream and prevalent scientism, evo-psycho/evo-devo reductionism, eugenic "optimal" health norms, techno-fetishism, techno-triumphalism, unsustainable consumption, digi-utopianism, exploitative fraudulent global developmentalism in neoliberal discourses and practices;

[3] they are doing real damage to real people in real time in organizational and media contexts by mobilizing guru-wannabe, pseudo-expertise, True Believer dynamics at whatever scale.


Dale Carrico said...

I realize that I have written something like a hundred variations on this post since I created this blog, but it seems to be a point that keeps on needing to get said.

jimf said...

> [3] they are doing real damage to real people in real time in
> organizational and media contexts by mobilizing guru-wannabe,
> pseudo-expertise, True Believer dynamics at whatever scale.

Western democracies have not come up with a satisfactory
solution to the kind of problem posed by a wealthy cult with
a delusional leader holding sway over followers who are
True Believers. We have freedom of religion, dontcha know
(and also tax-exempt status for churches).

Even cults less popular and widespread (and wealthy) than
the Scientologists can do enough harm to eventuate in
shocking international news stories -- Jonestown, Heaven's Gate,
Aum Shinrikyo. There was also that astonishing story of Antelope,
Oregon, a town that was basically taken over by a cult in the 1980s
(and renamed "Rajneeshpuram"). The second in command of the
cult (a woman called "Ma Anand Sheela") orchestrated an attempt
to make voters sick with salmonella poisoning in order to
sway a county election. There was a _New Yorker_ piece on that,
too, some 30 years ago. (Montclair, NJ, a very upscale town
where the cult was parked before they moved west, isn't
far from where I live now. It's where I go to visit Whole
Foods. ;-> )

People who really think they are Saving The World (or even saving
their own and their families' eternal souls) can rationalize
**any** behavior if it can be justified on that basis.
And liberal democracies don't have a satisfactory
defense against that sort of thing (the phenomenon certainly wasn't
mentioned in public schools in my day, and even colleges, I
suspect, didn't mention it except in specialized courses
in religion or psychology).

And by the way, it would be naive to imagine that the kind
of talk indulged in by the Singularity Institute (or on LessWrong)
couldn't possibly lead to anything like the crimes attributed
to Scientology, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and his lieutenants, or
many other cults (and dare we mention the early history of the Mormons,
or the recent scandals involving the Catholic Church?).

It was clear to me a decade ago that the kind of rhetoric the
Singularitarians were deploying constitutes playing with fire,
and that fact has also been mentioned by more recent commentators
on the Web. E.g.,
"To be fair, 'they might commit violence' is not an abstract concern,
given one of the reasons Eliezer went all censorious on the idiot
discussion of consequentialist reasons for killing tobacco company
executives was that someone read that, thought it was actually a good
idea and had to be talked out of it. (I can't find the post,
there's ~500 long-winded responses already to the thread saying
this shit wasn't on.) If you claim there are not nutters who will
take LessWrong memes and add 2+2 to get 666, I will say you are
demonstrably wrong. I see Gwern has edited his essay on slowing
Moore's law because even more people took it as advocacy of mass
sabotage of fabs. Responsibility for the implications of what one
writes are a goddamn pain in the arse, because idiots reading what
one writes are so very creatively stupid (and that one I've had people
email me who I then had to tell 'no, Gwern is not actually a terrorist,
David Gerard (talk) 22:14, 1 January 2013 (UTC)

jollyspaniard said...

Scientology is a withered husk of it's former self at this stage and it's tapering off. Far more influential and much more dangerous is Quantum Homeopathy which styles itself on Scientology right down to their use of Auditing (rebranded as The Intention Experiment and a dozen other thingys). Whereas Scientology went after Pyschiatry Quantum Homeopathic gurus (it's a decentralized movement of a few dozen L Ron Hubbard wannabees) have gone after vaccinations. As a result any hopes of eliminating Measles have been dashed. It's not a massive problem in the west where kids are well fed and have access to healthcare but it kills hundreds of thousands of kids a year. There's been at least one minor outbreak in South America attributable to some nutter in Europe who wouldn't vaccinate their child. That child then spread measles while on vacation in South America.

I lost one of my best friends to one of these gurus. She used to be a lovely lady now she's an evil nasty bitch who precipitates everyone leaving the room shortly after she enters it. She's absolutely nuts, verbally abusive and has become physically violent.

Ironically Scientology has started resorting to taking cues from the Quantum Homeopathic gurus in a lot of cases. Lowering the cost of entry and changing their business model so that they can extract what they can from people in places where they don't have much presence much in the same way the Quantum Homeopaths do.

Scientology is a tarnished brand and it's woo is a bit behind the times. The in thing is to invoke Quantum Mechanics with your hand waving nowadays. It's the magic wand of woo at the moment.

Esebian said...

Dear Mr. Carrico, I really like reading your thoughts, but would you mind breaking down what you personally mean by "corporate-military complex" and "neoconservative/-liberal"?

All I can see is a politico-plutocratic command chain where the moneybags hand down their orders to one of the two sets of marionettes in the big circus tent to make it look like the democratic process.

jollyspaniard said...

The military complex is the sharp end of trade policies that favour large incumbent business interests that are the recipients of the largess generated by these operations. The most glaring example would be the middle east not just in term of the the Iraq war but also in terms of the arms deals that underpin the oil monarchies. These military endeavours aren't based on ideology but some predatory commerce practices that favour priviledged elites at the expense of poor muckety mucks the world over.

Liberal Neoconservative, consider that the drumbeat of the Iraq War began in the pages of the New York Times. And during the height of the Iraq war all of the countries major liberal papers were extremely tepid in their criticism. What criticism that did exsist cited unnamed government officials that almost certainly were managed leaks. Take a look at a random article on the Iraq War written back in the day by the LA Times or the New York Times and check the sourcing, you'd be suprised. Even the anti war voices in the liberal papers were dancing to the neocon tune.

As to your last comment, there is no puppetmaster running both parties. The reality is several orders of magnitude more complicated than that.