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

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Resisting Futurological Assimilation

Upgraded and adapted from the Moot, in response to this comment by longtime friend of blog "jollyspaniard":
[T]he UN isn't running the models in and of itself. Their reports are the result of a political process which has been repeatedly criticised by climate scientists. Humankind has been making climate forecasts since stonehenge. The druids weren't futurists they were guiding people in the here and now. Agriculture requires some foreknowledge to plan effectively. As to climate science some scientists would still be doing some of this research even if AGW wasn't a factor, albeit with a lot less resources, interest, urgency or controversy.
Your first sentences make points that are very well taken -- the provenance of UN reports wasn't my focus, but obviously I agree with you, and I even think the force of your right observations lends weight to what has been my focus, namely the complexity of technodevelopmental social struggle and the indispensability of proper political analysis (of a kind which futurology rarely is and often actively disdains) to any understanding of these struggles or facilitation of progressive outcomes of them.

As to your latter points, I caution great care. It is important to preserve the distinction between pseudo-science and science in the defense of science especially when pseudo-scientists who claim to be champions of science manage to rewrite science in the image of their pet pieties, just as it is important to distinguish criteria of warranted belief proper to the separate domains of belief especially when reductionist fundamentalists who claim to be champions of reason declare such pragmatic pluralism to be relativism.

Precisely because futurological discourses have commandeered so much of the terminological and conceptual terrain of the "scenario," "forecast," "foresight," "vision," and so on we need to be more careful than hitherto in making glib references to forecasting and foreknowledges in legitimate knowledge production. Again, as I have now repeatedly said over the course of these exchanges -- and that isn't impatience you are hearing, but gravity -- every legibly constituted discipline produces suggestive models and every legibly constituted discipline has a foresight dimension precisely because an understanding of phenomena changes expectations, conduct, priorities, plans.

But the just-so stories of techno-transcendental futurology in the Robot Cult that preoccupy so much of my attention should be regarded as the revealingly pathological extremities of what are in fact utterly mainstream techno-fixated techno-fetishistic techno-triumphalist neoliberal and neoconservative developmental discourses, from marketing, to policy-making, to corporate-military rationalizations for exploitation and stratification. It is crucial to understand the underlying assumptions, energizing aspirations, enabling conceits of these discourses (an understanding facilitated by grasping their essential character as derivative literary and extreme marketing genres in my view) and it is also crucial to resist accommodating or assimilating to them in their prevalence in an easy bid for legibility at the cost of supporting reductionism, determinism, eugenicism, death denialism, productivism and a host of other pernicious false idols of our epoch.

That's why I stress these apparently abstruse points so much.


Esebian said...

While we're at "assimilation", Dumb Dvorsky wants humanity to go "hivemind" and thinks the Google Goggles are the First Step Towards The Future.

Dale Carrico said...

For the faith-based futurologist, artifacts/techniques are never to be judged for their costs, risks, benefits to their stakeholders but as signs for the faithful that a humanity longing for post-humanity has taken one more step along the techno-transcendenalizing road to "The Future."

jollyspaniard said...

The UN process has come under fire for soft pedaling the gravity of the issue. But this goes back to your point about this being a political struggle. The UN process is that struggle writ large.

I wouldn't conflate folks using stone circles to predict when they should plant their crops with what the IEET does. I'm sure the druids used their imaginations but they didn't use their imaginations to determine when they should plant their crops.