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

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Dumb AI Size Queens

No matter how big Big Data gets it will still be dumb data.

More Futurological Brickbats here.

Course Prep

I'm buried in books today.

Today's Random Stevie

Fourteen-year-old, why must you giggle and dote,
Fourteen-year-old, why are you such a goat?
I'm fourteen years old, that is the reason,
I giggle and dote in season.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Survival

Funny how often survivalists and people around them don't survive.

So Not A Cult

Eliezer_Yudkowsky 20 April 2011 09:13PM:
Having some kind of global rationalist community come into existence seems like a quite extremely good idea. The NYLW [New York Less Wrong] group is the forerunner of that, the first group of LW-style rationalists to form a real community, and to confront the challenges involved in staying on track while growing as a community. "Stay on track toward what?" you ask, and my best shot at describing the vision is as follows: "Through rationality we shall become awesome, and invent and test systematic methods for making people awesome, and plot to optimize everything in sight, and the more fun we have the more people will want to join us."
The piece, entitled (I kid you not), "Epistle to the New York Less Wrongians" continues on from there. I for one wish the "Less Wrongians" the best of luck "staying on track" toward "making people awesome, and plot[ting] to optimize everything in sight" in their separatist enclave, wherever that ends up being, an abandoned oil platform fiefdom with libertopian anti-tolerance activist Peter Thiel (conspicuous donor to Singularitarian causes that he is), perhaps, or under a bubble-dome in a high-tech sooper city beneath the sea or sooper-genius lab in the asteroid belt. I encourage readers to post their personal favorite bits from the rest of the Epistle in comments. I cannot decide whether the rampaging lack of self-awareness in the become more self-aware section or the whole Singularity Needs Women section is the more laugh-out-funny, so I will leave those delightful determinations to others.

Make the Case; or, BooMan Versus Atrios on the Down Turn

Atrios is gloomy about the latest GDP number and declares it an augury of "Austerity Forever!" Of course, that's never exactly a  bad bet when Pain Caucus corporatists have their hand on or near the tiller, but I don't really approve Atrios' broad brush, since it has been one of the comparative accomplishments of the Obama admninistration thus far that austerian macroeconomic illiterates have gotten far less of their way than one would have expected all along, pushing for and getting a measure of stimulus over and over again (too much in the form of tax cuts, sure, and sometimes little more than the also morally necessary extensions of unemployment benefits, but stimulus nonetheless). I think BooMan's take is the better one by far:
The last quarter saw a 22% reduction in defense spending, which is the largest quarterly drop since 1972, during the wind-down of the Vietnam War. That, combined with mayhem caused by Superstorm Sandy, caused the economy to contract at a 0.1 annual rate. Basically, the Bush wars have been serving as a form of economic stimulus... Anyone who is complaining about a disappointing fourth quarter should ask themselves if they want to live in a country where economic growth is dependent on a permanent state of war.
The upcoming sequester is only going to exacerbate this quandary, and the Keynesian-literate left is really going to have to put on their grown-up pants (that means you) and actually make the case that Defense has always functioned as stealthed economic planning and stimulus in the US that loudmouth libertopian small-gu'ment Republicans pretend isn't happening so they can have their cake and eat it too. Essentially, Defense spending is the disavowed public face of the founding bad faith of Republican Big Government championed as "small government," just as Forced Pregnancy Zealotry is the conspicuous private face of the founding bad faith of Republican Big Government championed as "small government." Of course, what the GOP has always meant by "smaller government" has never been anything other than "less democracy," but that is another topic.

As we wind down the horror show of Afghanistan and resist the neocon trumpets whomping up a replacement war in Iran the left will need to expose the disavowed stimulus of the military-industrial complex and make a very different case. Congress will never pass as much stimulus as the situation calls for in the face of conservative opposition representing moneyed interests worried about higher taxes (because too many of them are selfish to a sociopathic degree) and inflation (because too many of them are risk-averse to a paranoid degree). These conservative forces are mostly in the GOP but there are plenty of Dems on the take, too. All of that actually goes without saying, and the point is that there are other things to say that may be more important here and now. The fact remains that the palpable co-existence of a crisis of massive unemployment, the fact of bargain basement interest rates, and the crying need for hardened infrastructure and renewable energy investment in the belly of the beast of anthropogenic climate change does offer up as obvious a case for countercyclical stimulus, especially at the zero bound, as one could wish for.

Given the climate-change denialism and macroeconomic illiteracy and white racist figuration of the "unworthy poor" that suffuses especially the GOP, and especially in the House, it is highly likely that the votes simply aren't there for anything like the stimulus we need this time around, and it is exactly as useless wishing those numbers away as is wishing away climate change. One can only keep repeating as often and as loudly as possible what the real problems and real solutions are, and then do one's best to help out-organize the Republicans in the hope that the mid-term elections will change the numbers for the better. This is going to be a heavy lift given the gerrymandering for the House and the Senate math this mid-term.

Demoralizing prophesies of inevitable doom and continued dysfunction are good bets but I don't happen to think it is better to be right in one's cynicism than it is to be useful in one's efforts. And definitely false equivalencies blaming "all sides" of fiddling while Rome burns aren't helpful either -- which is not to deny the measure of obvious truth in such diagnoses either. My advice to Atrios, who hasn't really been the same since Bush left office though I continue to read him faithfully, is that if he really is going to remain in the slough of despond through another Obama term he really needs to be telling funnier jokes. Jokes are useful.

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.

Hopey Changey

So, we went over the Cliff and Republicans raised taxes on the rich without spending cuts. So, Republicans gave up their "serious leverage" of making the debt ceiling a hostage crisis after all. So, serious gun safety regulation is back on the menu. So, not bad bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform has come out of the Senate this morning. So, I hear the Boy Scouts are ending the gay ban. So, what's next? Enough Supremes to endorse gay marriage? Obama's EPA regulating carbon emissions and propping up domestic solar and hybrid industries with executive orders retrofitting government buildings and replacing vehicular fleets? More neo-confederate governors caving on ACA for Medicaid cash? Single payer appearing in Vermont or California? Perp walks for banksters in New York City? An agreement with Iran? Repealing the "emergency decree" authorizing the global war on terror before the end of the second term? Next up, our first madam President?

Revisited

Feeling a bit despondent yesterday, I pulled out my Brideshead DVDs and watched about seven hours of that big blanket under a big blanket and felt much better. Mean to finish the set today.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Universities Are Either About Access To Knowledge Or They Are Not

Tenure is a special public affordance, and to those to whom much is given much is rightly demanded. Tenure reviews should give absolutely no consideration to any writing or result that is not made freely available to the general public, without any fees, access restrictions, or proprietary/security expurgations at all.

More Wrong

Upgraded and adapted from the Moot to the prior post, "JimF" commented:
The rigid, analytical math-oriented bias of that approach to AI [that is, the approach of the singularitarian/Less Wrong/Bayesian triumphalist Robot Cult sect over which guru-wannabe Eliezer Yudkowsky presides] 1) harks back to the GOFAI of the 50s and 60s, when some folks expected the whole thing to be soluble by a smart grad student spending a summer on it 2) reinforces Yudkowsky's own dear image of himself as a consummate mathematician 3) is congruent with the kind of Ayn Randian, libertopian bias among so many of the SF-fan, >Hist crowd.
I think there are enormously clarifying observations packed into that paragraph, and folks really should re-read it.

Speaking of the way such singularitarians and their singularipope hark back to the most failed, most inept, most sociopathic, most boyz-n-toys AI discourse of mid-century Gernsbackian-pulp post-WW2 U!S!A! footurism, I can't help but cite another passage from "Less Wrong" that JimF drew to my attention in a private e-mail a couple of days ago. In it "Stuart_Armstrong" declares:

I've just been through the proposal for the Dartmouth AI conference of 1956, and it's a surprising read. All I really knew about it was its absurd optimism, as typified by the quote:
An attempt will be made to find how to make machines use language, form abstractions and concepts, solve kinds of problems now reserved for humans, and improve themselves. We think that a significant advance can be made in one or more of these problems if a carefully selected group of scientists work on it together for a summer.
But then I read the rest of the document, and was... impressed. Go ahead and read it, and give me your thoughts. Given what was known in 1955, they were grappling with the right issues, and seemed to be making progress in the right directions and have plans and models for how to progress further. Seeing the phenomenally smart people who were behind this (McCarthy, Minsky, Rochester, Shannon), and given the impressive progress that computers had been making in what seemed very hard areas of cognition (remember that this was before we discovered Moravec's paradox)... I have to say that had I read this back in 1955, I think the rational belief would have been [emphasis added] 'AI is probably imminent'. Some overconfidence, no doubt, but no good reason to expect these prominent thinkers to be so spectacularly wrong on something they were experts in.


Although our so-wrong less-wrongist Robot Cultist cannot help but point to the "overconfidence" of these sentiments -- given the actual, factual reality of their complete flabbergasting serial failedness and wrongness and ridiculousness -- you can tell his heart just isn't in all that.

Where sensible people look at these pronouncements and see the radically impoverished conception of intelligence and ridiculously triumphalist conception of technoscience driving the discourse, the Robot Cultist finds himself saying... Dag, those dumb sociopathic white guys were really onto something there! Man, were they rational and right or what to believe so irrationally in what was so wrong! Gosh, I sure love those guys! Notice that even the retroactive assessment of the Bayesian triumphalist cannot let the, you know, reality of how "spectacularly wrong" they all were to provide a "good reason" getting in the way of the still-unqualitifed still-energetic assertion that this army of fail was filled to the brim with "prominent thinkers" and "experts" in sound AI.

About Jim's glancing reference to the Randroidal pot-boiler & pulp SF associations of this Bayes/AI-fandom I'll add my own glancing references, noting first that the entitative figuration of their AI discourse remains far more beholden to sfnal conceits than software practice, and also pausing momentarily to observe how curiously often sooper-genius Yudkowsky's highest profile formulations have seemed to depend on frankly facile, rather ungainly, high-school English level appropriations from popular fiction like Flowers for Algernon or Harry Potter. No doubt a paradigm-shattering "metaethical" treatise riffing on I Am the Cheese is soon forthcoming.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

A Robot God Apostle's Creed for the "Less Wrong" Throng

The singularitarian and techno-immortalist Robot Cultists who throng the tinpot-fiefdom of Less Wrong apparently had a minor tempest in their teapot half a year or so ago in which some of the faithful dared declare that their sub(cult)ure might benefit from more contrarians and skeptics here and there, especially given the high-profile in so many of their self-congratulatory self-promotional utterances about how marvelously self-critical and bias-fumigated they all are compared to Outsiders. But at least one Believer was having none of it, declaring:
I think the Sequences got everything right and I agree with them completely... Even the controversial things, like: I think the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics is the closest to correct and you're dreaming if you think the true answer will have no splitting (or I simply do not know enough physics to know why Eliezer is wrong, which I think is pretty unlikely but not totally discountable). I think cryonics is a swell idea and an obvious thing to sign up for if you value staying alive and have enough money and can tolerate the social costs. I think mainstream science is too slow and we mere mortals can do better with Bayes. I am a utilitarian consequentialist and think that if allow someone to die through inaction, you're just as culpable as a murderer. I completely accept the conclusion that it is worse to put dust specks in 3^^^3 people's eyes than to torture one person for fifty years. I came up with it independently, so maybe it doesn't count; whatever. I tentatively accept Eliezer's metaethics, considering how unlikely it is that there will be a better one (maybe morality is in the gluons?) "People are crazy, the world is mad," is sufficient for explaining most human failure, even to curious people, so long as they know the heuristics and biases literature.
Yes, of course it is ridiculous to pretend that the many worlds interpretation is so non-problematic and non-controversial that one would have to be "dreaming" to entertain the possibility that it may one day be supplanted by a better theory that looks more like alternatives already on offer -- and, yes, it is especially ridiculous to pretend so on the basis of not knowing more about physics than a non-physicist high school drop-out guru-wannabe who thinks he is leading a movement to code a history-shattering Robot God who will solve all our problems for us any time soon.

Yes, of course it is ridiculous to believe that your frozen, glassified, hamburgerized brain will be revived and sooper-enhanced and possibly immortalized by swarms of billions of robust reliably controllable and programmable self-replicating nanobots, and/or your info-soul "migrated" via scanning into a cyberspatial Holodeck Heaven where it will cavort bug-and-crash-and-spam free for all eternity among the sexy sexbots.

Yes, of course it is ridiculous to imagine non-scientists in an online Bayes-Theorem fandom can help accomplish warranted scientific results faster than common or garden variety real scientists can themselves by running probability simulations in your club chairs or on computer programs in addition to or even instead of anybody engaging in actually documentable, repeatable, testable experiments, publishing the results, and discussing them with people actually qualified to re-run and adapt and comment on them as peers.

Yes, of course it is ridiculous to think of oneself as the literal murderer of every one of the countless distant but conceivably reachable people who share the world with you but are menaced by violence, starvation, or neglected but treatable health conditions even if it is true that not caring at all about such people would make you a terrible asshole -- and, yes, it is ridiculous to fall for the undergraduate fantasy that probabilistic formulae might enable us to transform questions of what we should do into questions of fact in the first place.

Yes, of course it is ridiculous to say so many nonsensical things and then declare the rest of the world mad.

Yes, it is ridiculous that the very same Eliezer Yudkowsky treated as the paragon against whose views all competing theories of physics are measured is the very same person endorsed a few sentences later as the meta-ethical paragon compared to whose views all competing moral philosophies are judged wanting. Sure, sure, your online autodidact high priest deserves the Nobel Prize for Physics and the Nobel Peace Prize on top of it in addition to all that cash libertopian anti-multiculturalist reactionary and pop-tech CEO-celebrity Peter Thiel keeps giving him for being an even better Singularipope than Kurzweil. Who could doubt it?

Perhaps grasping the kind of spectacle he is making of himself, our True Believer offers up this defensive little bit of pre-emptive PR-management in his post (not that it yields any actual qualification of the views he espouses or anything): "This of course makes me a deranged, non-thinking, Eliezer-worshiping fanatic for whom the singularity is a substitute religion." Hey, pal, if the shoe hurts, you're probably wearing it.

By the way, if anybody is wondering just what The Sequences are, you know, the ones that presumably "get everything right" -- no, nothing culty there -- they are topical anthologies of posts that have appeared on Less Wrong (major contributions written by, you guessed it, Eliezer Yudkowsky, naturellement) and function more or less as site FAQs with delusions of grandeur. While not everything in The Sequences is wrong, little that isn't wrong in them isn't also widely grasped and often endorsed by all sorts of folks who aren't also members of Robot Cults who think they are the only ones who aren't wrong, er, are "less wrong" -- which is the usual futurological soft shoe routine, after all.

Inspired by the aggressive-defensive post I have been dissecting so far, another True Believer offered up -- again, all in good funny fun, right, right? -- the following intriguing, revealing Robot God Apostle's Creed for the Less Wrong Throng, which I reproduce here for your delight and edification:
I believe in Probability Theory, the Foundation, the wellspring of knowledge,
I believe in Bayes, Its only Interpretation, our Method.
It was discovered by the power of Induction and given form by the Elder Jaynes.
It suffered from the lack of priors, was complicated, obscure, and forgotten.
It descended into AI winter. In the third millennium it rose again.
It ascended into relevance and is seated at the core of our FAI.
It will be implemented to judge the true and the false.
I believe in the Sequences,
Many Worlds, too slow science,
the solution of metaethics,
the cryopreservation of the brain,
and sanity everlasting.
Phyg.
Nothing to see here, folks. For more on how totally not a cult the Robot Cult is, see this and this; and for more on the damage even so silly a cult as the Robot Cult can do, see this and this.

On the Need for More Plainspoken Anti-Futurology

Oakland Futurist has kindly commented on some of my criticisms of the futurologists. This is a slightly edited and adapted version of my response to the piece, the original of which is available at the end of the link in its comments section.

Thanks for your attention. It's true that I like to ridicule the ridiculous, but if you read me for long you will discover soon enough that it isn't ONLY the futurologists I find ridiculous enough to ridicule.

I am an academic in the humanities and like most folks who spend time in rarefied disciplinary environments the style of our communication can seem off-putting to those who are not likewise immersed in it. Your particular charge that I must be a "postmodernist" -- which I have discovered is a term that means so many different things to so many different people it may be more trouble than it is worth -- is one I talk about specifically here, and I will let you judge whether you still think so after you think about it more. I am a champion of consensus science, public investment in science education and r&d, and I am a cheerful nonjudgemental atheist champion of secular pluralist culture in the context of democratic equity-in-diversity. Is that modernist, postmodernist, post-postmodernist, a-modernist, or what? You decide.

I do find it a bit strange that so many futurologists seem to complain so much about how very difficult my writing is -- especially since so many futurologists also seem to think themselves such paragons of sooper-intelligence, but also because one would think folks so enthusiastic about living in a world of enhanced biological and robotic sooper-intelligent beings would be able to cope a bit better with the modestly different thinking and writing styles merely human humanities academics exhibit. Be that as it may, I do think it is possible to express at least some of my anti-futurological critique in pretty straightforward ways that even people who prefer to read People Magazine can readily grapple with.

Not to put too fine a point on it, I think futurism is redundant, since I think one can be an actual scientist or policymaker if you want to contribute to technodevelopment, and one can be an sf fan (like I am myself, as it happens!) if you want to be excited about highly speculative projected technoscience. It seems to me there is already too much press release hyperbole and infomercial marketing in the pop-tech press, loose talk-tech already dominates misleading advertizing imagery and pops up in political promises and public disasterbation. Why create or prop up a whole pseudo-intellectual pseudo-scientific pseudo-professional pseudo-discipline devoted to still more of that stuff?

Subjected to sustained scrutiny futurology is, on the one hand, so general in its claims, but on the other hand so focused on indefinitely projected outcomes (such that enormous numbers of crucial intermediary steps requiring key discovery, funding, regulation, implementation steps stand between where we are and where the futurologists are fixated) it tends to function more as a kind of allegorical discourse on current problems that are better discussed in their actually existing terms and stakes, or it tends to function as a reactionary defense for current elites promising they will eventually deliver paradise whatever their current limitations if we just stay faithful to them, or it tends to indulge in pseudo-scientific wish-fulfillment fantasizing for True Believers who want to live forever in paradise but who speak in superficially technical rather than conspicuously religious terms so that the dream seems a bit more plausible in a more secular-skeptical society. It's high time to bag it for disposal.

Anarcho-Transhumanoid Condemns My Rejection of Paramilitary Gun-Nuttery

The anarcho-transhumanoid author of the "Queer Singularity" website has predictably condemned my rejection of paramilitary gun-nuttery (for example, most recently, here and here). The following is edited and adapted from my response to this critique, the original version of which appears in the comments at the end of the link provided above (UPDATE: It hasn't appeared there yet, actually, it is apparently under moderation. UPDATE TWO: Apparently the text did not pass muster according to the stringent standards of this free-thinking self-critical anti-authoritarian total anarchist).

First things first. The declaration in your piece that I "promote bureaucratized coercion" is false. The further declaration that I repeatedly assert "the United States is a [fully accomplished] accountable and democratic state" is also false. The still further declaration that "Defending the U.S. state’s integrity means supporting settler colonialism" and presumably constitutes a celebration of this country's horrific history of genocidal territorial expansion is not only false, but also an arrant absurdity.

It is true that I refuse the facile anarchist identification of the state-form with violence as such: This is because I recognize that violence both precedes and exceeds the state-form and that not even the most tyrannical state is exhaustively characterized by the violence it undertakes and exacerbates.

And it is true that I refuse the facile anarchist identification of nonviolence with anti-statism, because I recognize that whatever measure of accountably elected leadership, accountably administered maintenance of public and common goods, protected nonviolent expression, free assembly and organization, equitable legal recourse, and public provision of general welfare to ensure actually legibly informed nonduressed consent to the terms of everyday commerce is available in any particular state-form is indispensable to provide alternatives for the nonviolent adjudication of disputes (including disputes over what is regarded as violence) and toward the attainment of the democratic value of equity-in-diversity.

These positions hardly lead me to deny the many conspicuous historical and ongoing instances in which particular states have undertaken particular acts of violence and exploitation. Indeed, I endlessly call attention to such acts and condemn them and actively educate, agitate, and organize in resistance to them.

I also take great pains to point out the permanent vulnerability of state-formations to corruption, abuse, violation, expropriation as an indispensable part of any substantial project to democratize the terms of public life. Such recognitions do not properly endorse infantile tantrums to smash the state, but should fuel our resolve to democratize the state.

In this post you identify in an unqualified way as a "transhumanist," although eugenicism, unsustainable hyper-consumerism, techno-fetishistic triumphalism, pseudo-science, and technofixated PR and apologiae for corporate-military elites are all prevalent throughout that movement, indeed are essential to it. You also seem to think it is not only valid but even cute to equate the politics of a lifelong activist and teacher of environmentalism, nonviolence, social democracy and democratic socialism, queer feminism, and art with the politics of white-racist patriarchal paramilitary gun-nuttery.

You have lost your way.

The Future's Fun

For generations now science fiction cover art has prophetically anticipated the breathtaking future of America's amusement parks.

More Futurological Brickbats here.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Long Teaching Day

Fridays are going to be my long day this term, my grad seminar Fetish, Figure, Fact from nine to noon, and then my MA thesis cohort from one to four. Sleepy.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Today's Random Stevie

People who are always praising the past
And especially the times of faith as best
Ought to go and live in the Middle Ages
And be burnt at the stake as witches and sages.

New WFS Post Is Up

Went ahead and republished yesterday's piece on Tim O'Reilly over at the World Future Society.

Kiss Off Cousin

Not pleased to discover that the Virginia GOP's infamous power-grab bill approved by its subcommittee in the Virginia Senate yesterday, a bill to split the state's electoral votes among candidates by district and in a way that ultimately apportions those votes to reflect the empty acreage of the districts won over the actually cast votes of its citizens, a bill that had it been the law last November would have meant that President Obama would have decisively lost Virginia despite winning the popular vote there by a respectable margin, a bill that reflects yet again the complete contempt of Republicans for the will and diversity of the actual people they seek to control (as if that is a surprise to anyone at this point), on top of everything else, that this bill was authored by Bill Carrico, who is probably distantly related to me. Shudder.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Tim O'Reilly on "The Golden Age"

Also published at the World Future Society.

Claiming he has "lived with the shadow of the fall of Rome, [and] the failure of its intellectual culture," Tim O'Reilly fears that too many today "lack the will and the foresight to face the world's problems squarely, but will instead retreat from them into superstition and ignorance." More specifically, he warns that "conservative, backward-looking movements often arise under conditions of economic stress" and worries that when "conservative elements in American religion and politics refuse to accept scientific knowledge, deride their opponents for being 'reality based,'" this is evidence of dangerous reactionary forces that may pose in our own day the sort of threat that overcame Rome. "[T]he so-called dark ages," he writes, "were not something imposed from without, a breakdown of civilization due to barbarian invasions, but a choice, a turning away from knowledge and discovery into a kind of religious fundamentalism."

Quibbles over details aside (monocausal accounts of the Fall of Rome are never really the best idea), I find a lot to sympathize with in the thrust of O'Reilly's point so far. Definitely I agree that the threat of reactionaries denying the separation of church and state, denying catastrophic anthropocentric climate change, denying evolutionary biology, denying the benefits of sex-education, denying the promise of investment in medical and renewable energy research and development, denying the efficacy of harm-reduction policy models, denying Keynes-Hicks macroeconomics and so much more are indeed very real threats, especially since so many of the shared problems that only sound, sensible, scientifically warranted approaches would address are so urgent in their dangers to us all, here and now.

What worries me about O'Reilly's worry, however, is that it seems to me in his righteous jeremiad against "anti-science" "anti-problem solving" "anti-intellectualism" he is actually buoying up one of the most relentlessly reactionary, pseudo-scientific, anti-intellectual cohorts of wish-fulfillment fantasists imaginable: mainstream and superlative futurologists. "Yes," O'Reilly enthuses, "we may find technological solutions that propel us into a new golden age of robots, collective intelligence, and an economy built around 'the creative class.' But it's at least as probable that as we fail to find those solutions quickly enough, the world falls into apathy, disbelief in science and progress, and after a melancholy decline, a new dark age."

Let just take a minute to be very clear about this, shall we?

First: Any "golden age of robots" will require more than the solution of technical problems, but political organization to ensure that the productivity gains of automation are distributed to all the stakeholders to production else they will yield -- as they have done throughout the "golden age" of corporate think-tanks and futurological discourse -- ever greater wealth concentration among the richest members of society while the security and satisfaction of the overwhelming majority of people who work for a living grows ever more precarious.

Second: Any "collective intelligence" facilitated by peer-to-peer networked media formations that is not supported and subsidized by a considerable collective investment financially supporting the contributors to that intelligent expressivity, enthusiasm, problem-solving, and criticism amounts to an apologia for outsourcing, crowdsourcing, archive looting, deregulatory trolling, IP-imperialism, misinformational fraud, yielding ever greater wealth-capture by the richest members of society from the precarious majority.

Third: Any identification of a "creative class" that does not testify to the primary contribution to actual creation, to actual productivity, to actual discovery and development of the majority of people who work for a living doing the research and implementing its results always amounts to a self-congratulatory celebration of financial fraudsters and PR flacks, attesting to their indispensability as a way of rationalizing, for themselves and to the world, their indulgence in endless highly profitable but scarcely productive skimming and scamming off of the toil and genius of the precarious majority.

O'Reilly writes that "[f]or so many in the techno-elite, even those who don't entirely subscribe to the unlimited optimism of the Singularity, the notion of perpetual progress and economic growth is somehow taken for granted." Again, this is a little tricky to parse. Ecological insights give the lie to fantasies of perpetual progress through economic growth, certainly, and it is indeed dangerously anti-intellectual and anti-scientific to deny the lesson of these insights. By the way, it is worth mentioning that re-orienting our economic policy to facilitate investment in the satisfaction of real needs and the solution of real problems instead of facile fantasies of perpetual growth in a finite world is indeed quite possible, further that there is no reason why we cannot struggle to ensure that our societies are at once more equitable and more celebratory of their diversity as well, and so there is no reason at all to give up the struggle for substantial progress, properly construed.

I would like to think this is something like the lesson O'Reilly means for us to take from his piece, but I fear that his warning is intended to rouse futurologists from a complacent expectation that their views will inevitably prevail against faith-based anti-intellectualism, rather than a warning that their views constitute one of many variations of that faith-based anti-intellectualism, and one to which his particular readership has demonstrated itself to be especially prone.

In offering up warm words for Robot Cultists like the Singularitarians, O'Reilly is not so much attacking religious fundamentalism the better to defend secular multicultural democratic pragmatism (which is a worthy endeavor, indeed, I agree), as taking sides in a non-adjudicable clash of religious fundamentalisms between Robot Cultists and America's reactionary Christianists. If you wonder what I mean by "warm words" let me put it this way: I do not agree that there is anything either "optimistic" or "elite" about an article of faith that serially failed AI dead-enders are coding a history-shattering Robot God who is going to solve all our problems for us any day now.

O'Reilly declares "it's wise to imagine widely divergent futures," and it may seem hard to take issue with that. Of course, every actually legibly constituted disciplinary discourse or professional practice has a foresight dimension. Part of what it means to know something is to be able to provide advice from the limited but real perspective of that knowledge that helps us make better plans. When policy-makers offer up proposals to guide public deliberation about public investments of attention and effort and money over which of our shared problems are the most urgent ones, which of our investments will benefit the most people at the least cost, they rightly consult the warranted verdicts of relevant experts who provide just this kind of foresight.

Now, I have quipped that "Futurologists keep confusing making bets with having thoughts" and that "Whenever I hear the word 'trend' I reach for my brain." But there are real, serious questions whether the acts of imaginative futurological scenario building so beloved in boardroom PowerPoints and by TED Talk tech-crowds, coming from corporate-military think-tanks and suffusing corporate-military advertising imagery, are really providing resources of disciplinary foresight for representatives, activists, policy-makers, concerned citizens at all, or whether they really are little more than broad-brush abstractions, fun-house mirrors reflecting and amplifying the parochial preoccupations of elite-incumbent interests from the present back to the present promising ever more present in the name of "accelerating change" or "progressive futures." What if speculating on "imaginary futures" actually functions as a distraction away from "finding solutions" (as O'Reilly claims to want most of all, and rightly so) or even functions to disavow altogether the reality of the problems for which we need to find solutions in the first place? Religious fundamentalists may deny God will allow climate change to destroy the human world, but futurological geo-engineering fantasists allow Exxon-Mobil's CEO to claim an easy techno-fix is around the corner, resulting in the very same supernatural denialism and parochially profitable complacency.

By way of conclusion let me turn my attention briefly to another aspect of the argument. O'Reilly's sketch of the reasons for the fall of Rome (which didn't so much fall, after all, really, as shift geographically into the Byzantine Empire, and then the Holy Roman Empire, and then, look, it's the Treaty of Westphalia and early modern Europe) is just that, a sketch, and so I'm sure he would provide a more complex account involving both interior and exterior dynamics if he was really pushed on the question. There is good reason to think that climate-change was a part of the story then as it is again now, for example. But as far as obviously oversimplifying monocausal explanations go, the rise of anti-intellectual Christianity isn't half bad as a candidate for the primary reason for the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, as punchy numbers on the theme by Edward Gibbon and Gore Vidal, say, amply attest. Given space limitations, then, I can't fault O'Reilly's Roman sketch, but given the same limitations it is worth pondering why he chose to frame his case through the lens of such an oversimplified conjuration of Roman decline in the first place. In this connection, I will note that the trope of an American decline prophetically announced by Roman decline -- but this time brought about by the demands of the unworthy poor, useless eaters, takers over makers, barbarians shepherded to the gates by misguided do-gooder idealists or menacingly feminist and relativist intellectuals of the effete elite aesthete varieties -- is used BY reactionaries quite as often as it is used AGAINST them.

While I am quite as worried about the dangers of politically organized formations of religious fundamentalism, anti-intellectualism, and pseudo-science as Tim O'Reilly claims to be, I would be rather more confident about being on his side if I didn't think he might think Singularitarian Robot Cultists like guru-wannabe Ray Kurzweil are "optimists" and among the "techno elite." While I am quite as worried about the dangers of politically organized formations of reaction and neo-feudalism as Tim O'Reilly claims to be, I would be rather more confident about being on his side if I didn't think he might think celebrity tech CEOs and corporate-military PR think tanks constitute the "creative class" that is the protagonist of real progressive history.

Today's Random Stevie

We should not believe fairy stories if we wish to be good.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Isaac Julian

Only half of his films are available on DVD, any region, or any other format. This is very frustrating. I find this is almost as annoying as the Jack Smith on DVD (not) situation.

Today's Random Stevie

I’m alive today, therefore I’m just as much a part of our time as everybody else. The times will just have to enlarge themselves to make room for me, won’t they, and for everybody else.

Teaching Day

First day of my undergraduate critical theory survey course in the City. Feeling a bit stunned stepping out for the train as if into the night and not the morning, cold and dark, rubbing my hands, and muzzy still waiting for my caffeine to kick in. Fortunately, the first day is a bit perfunctory, and I should be home early, perhaps some blogging to come later in the day.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Losers, Losing, Lost

TPM:
[S]eizing on the absence of a Democratic senator who happens to be a veteran of the civil rights movement and was in Washington, on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, for the second inauguration of the country’s first black president, Republicans in the evenly split Virginia state Senate pushed through a surprise mid-decade redistricting plan to try to gain decisive control of the body in the next election… At the end of this wild day, the “Senate adjourned in memory [of] General Thomas J. ‘Stonewall’ Jackson,” according to the minutes of the session. Jan. 21 is the Confederate general’s birthday.
Today's Republican Party, ladies and gentlemen.

Futurologists Welcome Our New Neanderthal Neighbors

Yes, George Church thinks we'll be able to clone a Neanderthal any moment now, and he thinks we should do so, because it would be so useful to observe them. As for me, I tend to agree instead with Alex Knapp's contrarian view:
Setting aside the ethical issues behind creating the lone survivor of an extinct human species, doomed to be a freak under the microscope of celebrity his or her entire life, I have to question Dr. Church’s contention that it would really be that easy to clone a Neanderthal. There are a host of unanswered questions and many as yet undiscovered technologies that would need to be developed before this could be approached as a serious issue.
I have to say that Church is terribly unconvincing in his anticipations of or responses to both of these forceful objections. To the objection that this outcome actually requires specific kinds of answers to as yet unanswered questions and specific developments of as yet non-existing technical capacities, Church resorts, I'm sorry to say, to the usual futurological handwaving through which such actually-existing barriers are now typically dismissed, with accelerationalizations: "The reason I would consider it a possibility is that a bunch of technologies are developing faster than ever before."

Let us dispense yet again with such futurological accelerationalization. It actually matters that the acceleration of certain research programs and developmental pathways does not imply comparable discovery and development in every area of research and development. It actually matters that research that is going well one day can be stymied the next, that discovery often raises as many questions as it answers. It actually matters that technodevelopmental acceleration is at best a perspectival effect, not all researchers in all labs feel that their work is accelerating, and for many stakeholders to technoscientific change what looks like acceleration to some may look instead like disruption, provocation, questioning to others. It matters that talking about the complexities of technoscientific change in terms of "acceleration" is a metaphor, and just because acceleration and momentum can create what seems a kind of irresistible force in the commonplace domains of experience from which the metaphor is drawn does not actually give anybody good reason to believe that technology so conceived also has a momentum or destiny that will inevitably solve every problem, overcome every barrier, enable every desire.

Earlier today even PZ Myers seems less skeptical and critical than he can usually be trusted to be about the technical feasibility of Neanderthal cloning because he, too, has bought into that old time futurological religion, or at any rate its go-to accelerationalizations. On the "question of technical feasibility," writes Myers,
Church thinks it’s going to be entirely possible in the near future… I agree entirely: no problem. [!] It would be very hard and expensive to do right now, but not impossible. [I am pretty sure that this is straightforwardly incorrect. --d] Biotechnology is advancing at such a rapid rate, though, that in 5 years it will be difficult but within the range of what a few well-funded labs could do, in ten years it will look like a straightforward, simple exercise, and in 20 years high school kids will be doing it in their garage.
Even the inevitable "in twenty years" claim appears here! You know, AI is always twenty years away. The singularity, too. Nanotech genies-in-a-bottle (or desktop pseudo-replicators at any rate), twenty years, natch. Same, sexy sexbots, virtual heavens, Mars bases, orbital hotels, genetic fountains of youth. Always safely, untestably, enticingly, twenty years away. Quite apart from the pretense that all the presently unanswered technical questions will be answered in twenty years and answered always only in ways that enable Neanderthal cloning, what serious person really believes that social, cultural, political, legal, regulatory, funding dynamics would likewise enable so utterly sweepingly transformative an outcome so very soon? Twenty years is a distance in time from now which would take us in the other direction to the year 1993. Think of the world in 1993 and the world in 2013, and then do please get serious and set aside the flabbergasting nonsense of futurological utterances to the effect that after the passage of the same time frame high school kids might be cloning Neanderthals in the garage.

Even granting hyperbole and humor and so on, it actually matters that public discourse is suffused with this sort of faith-based futurological foolishness and with serious consequences, too: Look how futurological bullshit about longevity medicine facilitates politicians who want to delay the retirement age of working class citizens whose life expectancies at retirement are scarcely greater than they were when the Social Security program was created. Look how futurological bullshit about "geo-engineering" lets Exxon-Mobil's CEO shift from profitable climate-change denialism to equally profitable technofix complacency.

Myers is a bit more nuanced in pondering ethical implications, but I must say I despair a bit at the way indulgence in neoliberal bioethical jawboning over various techno-transcendentalizing articles of faith always conduces inappropriately to the benefit of futurological plausibility even when there are no technical justifications for any such concessions of this plausibility, simply because these debates on the moral dimensions of these imaginary outcomes assume their material terms. Nothing pleases techno-immortalists more than discussions about whether or not immortality would still be enjoyable, worthwhile, meaningful, human, or what have you because even when an interlocutor disagrees with the techno-immortalists about the desirability of their various pop-tech wish-fulfillment fantasies, the fact remains that so long as serious people are taking techno-immortalism seriously at all they are granting it a substance that the science certainly never does or usually could.

I mentioned that Church himself conspicuously fails to answer either of Knapp's key objections. To Knapp's objection that we actually cannot yet clone a Neanderthal and hence one should qualify triumphalist claims predicting we certainly will and soon, Church offers up not scientific but the metaphorical support of accelerationalist rhetoric. As for Knapp's objection that it seems unethical on its face to bring into existence a unique experiential experimental person destined for utter alienation and isolation -- and, even worse, in the expectation that this being would come to exist not as an end in herself but as a means to human ends of discovery or utility -- what Church actually proposes is that we not only clone a Neanderthal but clone so many that they can form "a cohort," assert an "identity," make a go at having a "culture" of their own. One has to question just how much serious thought Church can have given to this proposal (or whether anybody should). Strictly speaking, this glib aspiration to create an autonomous community of cloned Neanderthals is hard to square with Church's own stated motivation to clone Neanderthals so that we can observe them for our own purposes, without a thought to the unknowable purposes they might propose to our attention. Also, given the sentient personhood of millions of apes and cetaceans who already share the world with us and yet are hunted, hounded, slaughtered, penned as spectacles, experimented on for human cures and cosmetics (not to mention the human mistreatment and instrumentalization of so many different humans!), one wonders just how many Neanderthals would need to be cloned to give them a real chance to organize on their own behalf politically. I think there are good reasons -- indeed pretty decisive ones, among them a lack of relevant knowledge, political will, moral justification, or reliable funding -- to think we will not be able to clone any Neanderthals any time soon, but, I mean, thousands? millions? Seriously? As usual, the indulgence in futurology provides us with a lot of loose talk that doesn't qualify as real science, serious policy, substantial thinking, or even good science fiction.

Sure, dumb Dvorsky is predictably enthused at the prospect of corralling women into accepting their proper role as incubators for his cloned Neanderthal neighbors of the near future as he continues to stink up the place at io9 with his usual futurological flim-flammery more generally, but I must say I really would appreciate it if actually technoscientifically literate and technodevelopmentally concerned progressive folks wouldn't fall for this stuff so very eagerly.

We Suddenly Know What Heaven We're In

Pruning and polishing syllabi online while the inauguration parades by in another window, three new courses begin this week, lots of my favorite critical theory in both my undergraduate and graduate courses this term. Many beginnings.

Winner

AI As Fetish

"Artificial Intelligence" is always an essentially fetishistic misrecognition of computer-mediated relations among intelligent humans.

More Futurological Brickbats here.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Today's Random Wilde

We are often told that the poor are grateful for charity. Some of them are, no doubt, but the best amongst the poor are never grateful. They are ungrateful, discontented, disobedient, and rebellious. They are quite right to be so. Charity they feel to be a ridiculously inadequate mode of partial restitution, or a sentimental dole, usually accompanied by some impertinent attempt on the part of the sentimentalist to tyrannise over their private lives. Why should they be grateful for the crumbs that fall from the rich man’s table? They should be seated at the board, and are beginning to know it.

Must We Be Nice to Paramilitary Gun-Nuts and Forced-Pregnancy Zealots?

Upgraded and adapted from the Moot to this post, "Sierra Peterson" commented:
In the previous post mentioned you stated that secessionists should be held liable for treason, a crime punishable by a minimum of at least 5 years in prison, then later backtracked, stating instead that what you really meant was imposing sanctions. These are two vastly different strategies with fundamentally different meanings and the first clearly involves implementing military police state tactics against ostensibly sovereign communities. Given how fundamentally unstable and irrationally violent many within the citizen militia demographic can be, how is it unreasonable to state that calling for their imprisonment could lead to a state of civil war? Clearly that's not what you intended by use of the word treason but for that reason your post could used some clarification, since throwing around legal terms without regard for their consequences has the potential to be unnecessarily inflammatory. In the past week there has already been a sheriff in Mississippi talking about having a "bloodbath" in his county if the Feds come in to take all their guns, with numerous other sheriffs refusing to enforce the gun bans. Any talk of treason simply panders to paranoid anti-state fantasies and further justifies unilateral militarization.
Now, I don't agree that I "backtracked" in my response to Sierra at all -- Literal secession would be literal treason and if we are not talking about poetic utterances here but actionable conduct it is presumably punishable as such. If saying so hurts the fee fees of literal armed insurrectionists that sound you hear is me playing the world's smallest violin as background accompaniment for their tantrum on this score. Also, I do not doubt at all that many gun nuts are dreaming dreams of literal and figural insurrection in all sorts of senses you might care to think of, but I don't see how anybody could mistake a post saying so as the passing of an actual legal sentence -- on who exactly? and who made me a judge anyway? and why wasn't I informed? and shouldn't I be paid better?

Many criminals are emotionally unstable, are you afraid that pointing out criminals who get caught go to jail is "unreasonable" also? Why is it "pandering" to paramilitary irrationality to describe it as irrational when it is? Why wouldn't actually clarifying the stakes of their stand by exposing its anti-social assumptions and ultimate consequences more likely change the minds of the reachable, scare the timid, and put a useful spotlight on the actually dangerous remaining few?

You know, paramilitary gun-nuts don't want to smash the state because liberals aren't being nice to them and patting their heads enough and telling them how smart and handsome they are. And since there actually is NO justification for unilateral militarization I fail to see how actually describing what they are doing "further justifies" what they are doing.

This kind of pre-emptive surrender to dangerous reactionary minorities reminds me of a generation of choice advocates pretending we just needed to find a nicer way to talk to forced-pregnancy zealots and they would stop trying to kill women by denying them healthcare. Few who claim to be anti-choice really want to treat abortion literally as murder in the law or fail to grasp the complexities of the issue when somebody they actually know and love is faced with it. So why did we allow the issue to be framed in the terms of an anti-abortionist minority in ways that materially eroded access to healthcare when majorities disapprove that outcome? So, too, majorities think assault weapons should be banned and they are right to think so. If a handful a white-racist swinging dick survivalists disagree let them make their case and lose on the merits and then face the consequences if they try to act on their anti-civilizational convictions.

You seem to be afraid that sheriffs across the country are really going to take up arms against the country just because a few pricks are strutting around saying they will. Don't get suckered into accepting the skewed terms on which the gun-nuts themselves envision America. Actually, even in the most benighted region of the country few would stand for literal insurrection for any length of time at all. We already had a Civil War in this country and the South lost it. Hell, the Southern governors are all going to accept the ACAs Medicaid expansion in a few years' time despite their big talk just because they want the money.

You think these bullies and loons are an existential threat to America if we actually fight them? I doubt they can stand up to sustained scrutiny and ridicule let alone actually organized resistance. Almost nobody actually wants to secede and most who think they do would stop wanting it the moment they actually gave it a try for a week and the remaining few would fail utterly in no time flat.

Stop being afraid of reactionary assholes -- call them out, marginalize them into comparative harmlessness through clear education about the stakes and facts, and then throw the few truly dangerous extremists into jail when they try to act on their assholery in actually violent ways. Is it really hard to have the courage of such convictions?

"Sierra Peterson" responded:
Ok, if sitting behind a computer throwing insults at already disenfranchised blue collar survivalists that are just as much the casualties of neoliberal policies as any other demographic is what you consider "courage", then so be it. Did you know that the life expectancy for whites without a high school education is actually lower than it is for blacks and Latinos of equal education levels? This is the kind of scenario that feeds into the phobias of many of a survivalist and it seems doubtful that your insulting much of their community will outweigh the real life economic immiseration that led to the impulse for insurrection in the first place. And as has been stated here previously, the radical fringe actually can have a major effect on the political process by providing external influence that drives the mainstream further away from the center. Ron Paul and Glenn Beck are evidence enough of that pattern. As for your lack of support for secessionists' imprisonment for treason, your statement that they should "face the consequences" of their actions renders that claim rather dubious.
Sierra implies that I am merely "sitting behind a computer throwing insults at already disenfranchised blue collar survivalists that are just as much the casualties of neoliberal policies as any other demographic." Is Sierra claiming that more guns fights poverty somehow? Sierra points out that "the life expectancy for whites without a high school education is actually lower than it is for blacks and Latinos of equal education levels." Is Sierra claiming more guns increases life expectancy?

The main reason I want private military weapons banned is because they are demonstrably dangerous and serve no legitimate purpose. I also do think the discourse of paramilitary gun-nuttery is suffused with anarchist and secessionist conceits and I think it is well-worth calling attention to this reality and contemplating its impact deranging sensible public deliberation about the issue. I think all of this is pretty obvious. Saying so, according to Sierra "feeds into the phobias of many of a survivalist and it seems doubtful that your insulting much of their community will outweigh the real life economic immiseration that led to the impulse for insurrection in the first place."

Now, not everybody who is poor in America is building private arsenals of military weapons, and not everybody who is building private arsenals of military weapons is poor. For those few poor folks who are paramilitary gun-nuts it isn't exactly irrelevant to point out that hoarding military weapons isn't an anti-poverty program and that the existence of military weapons hoards endangers everybody in society, including them. Sierra thinks we should not make this case as clearly as we can do, because paramilitary gun-nuts will respond badly to such forthrightness. Sierra worries that "the radical fringe actually can have a major effect on the political process by providing external influence that drives the mainstream further away from the center."

But, once again, I think the evidence is entirely in the opposite direction. And it is to amplify this point in particular that I thought it worthy to republish this exchange as a post in its own right. A majority of people hold reasonable views on gun safety regulation -- that background checks should be universal, that people too irresponsible to use guns safely, young children, emotionally unstable or chronically depressed people, people with anger management issues should not be able to pass a screen to gun access, that military weapons should be banned altogether, and so on -- and empirically-testable harm-reduction models of good governance fully substantiate this majority view... and yet an objectively incorrect, dangerous view of the issue framed in hyperbolic terms by a small majority of zealots has made it impossible for the majority to prevail and do the right thing.

It is the timidity of the correct in the face of the organizational strength of a zealous minority of profitable gun manufacturers whomping up the irrational passions of a fringe that is responsible for all these unnecessary deaths. Again, those who are right need to have the courage of their convictions and stop this killing. If paramilitary gun-nuts are insulted by any of this, that is neither here nor there. Fortunately, they have Sierra to blow kisses at them.

As it happens, the same harm-reduction model of governance and the same majority support regulation of the abuses of for-profit insurance, the rich paying more taxes, the maintenance and expansion of social security, medicare, medicaid, food stamps, public education, and a host of other programs that objectively help the poor, supported by the same people who support gun safety regulation, impeded by exactly the same kind of moneyed interests, who whomp up the same kinds of irrational racial and religious hysteria and class resentments to convince people to vote against their own best interests in the service of outcomes they actually disapprove with the rhetoric of death panels, hunting rifle confiscation, FEMA concentration camps, UN takeover, and all the rest.

Should we really allow these wrongheaded irrational deranging terms to define public policy deliberation by relinquishing the discursive field for fear of insulting poor white people or making unstable people more mad? Does anybody honestly think that makes any kind of sense at all?

Sierra's closing comment was among the most perplexing of all for me: "As for your lack of support for secessionists' imprisonment for treason, your statement that they should 'face the consequences' of their actions renders that claim rather dubious." I honestly cannot for the life of me figure out what Sierra is talking about. Obviously, not everybody who talks about American decline or the need for radical change in this country (among whom I am conspicuously one myself) is literally a secessionist, literally engaged in treasonable efforts. But presumably at least some people might describe them as such. Again, and just as obviously, we have a first amendment right to free expression and peacable assembly in this country. Dissent and activism are patriotic in my view. But if somebody is hoarding military weapons in their compound planning to gun down first responders as an opening salvo in their race war or resistance to the Obama socialist or UN takeover or whatever they are an objective threat to the peace, safety, and welfare of American citizens and should be stopped and then face criminal prosecution. Everybody faces such consequences. Sierra seems to think at least some paramilitary gun-nuts should not have to. If I am reading Sierra's position correctly, I think it is fair to say I think Sierra is simply wrong.

World's Top 100 Billionaires Increased Their Fortunes in 2012 Enough To End World Poverty

Oxfam:
Over the last thirty years inequality has grown dramatically in many countries. In the US the share of national income going to the top 1% has doubled since 1980 from 10 to 20%. For the top 0.01% it has quadrupled to levels never seen before. At a global level, the top 1% (60 million people), and particularly the even more select few in the top 0.01% (600,000 individuals -- there are around 1200 billionaires in the world), the last thirty years has been an incredible feeding frenzy. This is not confined to the US, or indeed to rich countries. In the UK inequality is rapidly returning to levels not seen since the time of Charles Dickens. In China the top 10% now take home nearly 60% of the income. Chinese inequality levels are now similar to those in South Africa, which are now the most unequal country on earth and significantly more unequal than at the end of apartheid. Even in many of the poorest countries, inequality has rapidly grown… There quite simply is a limit to how many luxury yachts a person could want or own. Wages in many countries have barely risen in real terms for many years, with the majority of the gains being to capital instead. If this money were instead more evenly spread across the population then it would give more people more spending power, which in turn would drive growth and drive down inequality. The top 100 billionaires added $240 billion to their wealth in 2012 -- enough to end world poverty four times over.
Steeply progressive income and property taxes to fund universal healthcare, education, housing, food, income, and equitable access to law is absolutely and obviously possible -- and since providing everybody the basic security and education from which to consent in legibly informed nonduressed terms to interpersonal commerce and remains perfectly compatible with the existence of personal fortunes for those lucky enough or pathetic enough to accumulate and maintain them, one could just as easily describe advocacy for these outcomes championing free enterprise as calling it socialism.

UPDATE, an exchange with "jollyspaniard" in the Moot to this post:
"jollyspaniard" commented: I've only one caveat to add when this stuff gets talked about. While the playing field should be leveled we can't fool ourselves into thinking that we can solve our problems by increasing consumption by us working class types. You're not mentioning it here but that's usually how this issue is framed when it's brought up. If we trade in billionaire's yachts in exchange for a surge of budget flight driven drinking on the beach holidays that may be more equitable but it isn't ecologicaly sound either. The political will doesn't exsist yet but I'm hoping we can use this idle capital to solve the world's energy and climate problems. And improve the lot of working class people everywhere in ways that don't involve increased ecologicaly unsound consumption.
I agreed and amplified: The 20C faith in perpetual growth and ever increasing consumption definitely hits hard ecological limits well before it eliminates poverty and exploitation in the world, hence redistribution and regulation are necessary to achieve the democratic value of equity-in-diversity. A burgeoning social science and psychological literature also strongly indicates that wealth accumulation beyond the meeting of basic needs does not yield happiness for anybody, and also that wealth concentration corrupts institutions tasked with enforcing meritocratic norms for everybody. It seems to me this research provides ample ground for a new social democratic case that the redistribution necessary for equity need not diminish happiness or prosperity or lifeway diversity. Since it would seem that sustainability and equity cannot be accomplished without such redistribution and regulation that seems a terribly welcome result. When I speak of "[s]teeply progressive income and property taxes to fund universal healthcare, education, housing, food, income, and equitable access to law" it is to create a security floor from which consensual equity-and-diversity can flourish, not to stimulate more consumption or fuel perpetual growth. Such stimulative arguments have a certain utility right now in defiance of macroeconomically illiterate elite calls for austerity, but I agree with you that planetary economics and ecologics ultimately trump these national/ international formulations.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Wouldn't Ya Like To Be A Prepper Too?

Earlier today I derided the double derangement of paramilitary gun-nuttery -- in imagining that any private arsenal could be equal to the arsenal of the state in the first place but, second, in failing to grasp that the existence of even a notionally accountable and democratic state actually renders the elaborate but pathetically inadequate paramilitary paraphernalia of armor, walled compounds, and private arsenals altogether unnecessary for legitimate security or defense in any case.

I was surprised by the responses these obvious observations occasioned: Someone claimed I was declaring a "civil war" on secessionists, apparently without irony, and threatened that banning the private ownership of assault weapons would "unleash bloodshed," apparently disregarding the bloodshed already unleashed by assault weapons in private hands. Another commenter suggested I was being unfair to those who are building private arsenals in anticipation of an imminent failure of the state.

Of course, the military institutions of a failed state would likely outlast its civic institutions in any case, and so it seems to me that the nonsense I pointed out from the beginning, that of imagining paramilitary non-state actors a material threat to states backed by actual armed forces (more of a threat, that is to say, than common or garden variety organized criminals or gangs manage to be). And even in the wildest post-apocalyptic fantasies of paramilitary gun-nuts it is likely that few of these armchair arsenal builders would actually survive the raid of a well-armed gang, even in the post-peak-everything dystopia or anarcho-capitalist utopia to which they have surrendered their reason.

And I really must add that for people who are presumably not pining to smash the state but only preparing for its eventual eclipse these preppers seem to me more often than not to be weirdly enthusiastic in their merely prudent anticipations of catastrophe. And even the preppers who are not transparently expressing a wish for catastrophe in the form of a concern with catastrophe, when asked to patiently delineate the reasons why they expect the revolutionary devolutionary decline they are prepping for almost inevitably express assumptions about society and politics indistinguishable from the most reactionary anti-democratic state smashers anyway, full of masculinism, puritanism, conspiracism, racism, and on and on and on.

Sympathizing with paramilitary preppers seems to me nearly as foolish as being too scared of them to do something about their dangerous nonsense.

Automatic Against the People

Those who worry about workers being replaced by robots fail to grasp that workers being treated AS robots is always a more urgent worry -- and sets the terms for their robotic replacement as well.

More Futurological Brickbats here.

Stop Faking Sense... About the Moon Landing



The reason the compelling proof provided in this video will not put an end to the conspiracists who say we faked the moon landing is because the conspiracists who say we faked the moon landing are faking being the sorts of people who find proof like this compelling.

Apart from finding this effort rather quixotic, though, I also have to say I don't agree that the word "conspiracy" is a good one to describe the incumbent corporate-military interests that lead to the unnecessary and immoral Iraq War and occupation, the war crimes of torture and indefinite detention perpetuated in our names, or the bailout rather than prosecution of a minority of financial fraudsters at the expense of the still suffering majority they defrauded, and so I don't really agree with the larger lesson of the video either, namely, that the necessity of criticizing and organizing to resist such evils really stands to benefit from directing conspiracists away from moon-landing hoaxes to these targets instead. I say this having noticed that conspiracists who do focus on these targets tend to say things about them that are equally nonsensical as saying we faked the moon landing, things about controlled demolition, reptile aliens, the Bilderberg Group, chemtrails, and the gold standard.

Now, I'm a sucker for deadpan narration over NASA archival footage, and so I might have enjoyed this video even though it cannot actually succeed in doing what it appears on the surface to be doing, that is to say convincing moon-landing hoax conspiracists who are contemptuous of proof that they are wrong with proof, and even though I question its deeper premise that one best transforms the useless paranoid mindset of conspiracism into the indispensable mindset of critical citizenship by going down the conpiracist's rabbit hole and debating their pseudo-technical fixations of the moment on the actual merits -- but then on top of everything else the narrator made a completely gratuitous anti-gay joke in that same deadpan tone at the end that made me feel like a real sucker for having liked the guy and for thinking his heart was more or less in the right place right up to that point.

Was he was faking that all along? Kinda like I'm faking being homo sapiens even though I'm a homo, I guess.

Gun Nut Separatism

The weird fantasy-fortified wingnut walled towns these killer clowns are coming up with obviously couldn't withstand the firepower of the state. But more to the point, if I may, fortified walled neo-feudal villages are also unnecessary because of the state, you know, existing and stuff. It's stupid to have a big gun because you think that you and your gun can fight the state when you can't, but it's just as stupid to want a big gun when much of what the state is for is to ensure no citizen needs one.

I said this was obvious, and it is, but I think it is actually important to grasp the irrational rationality driving these fantasies and really to think through the quite nonsensical state of mind one would have to be in to indulge them.

You see, I do not think libertopian wingnut separatists are marginal to gun-nuttery, but are very clarifying symptoms of its underlying assumptions and aspirations: The ruggedized individual civilian toting his military-style weapon is clearly "standing his ground" in what he imagines to be "the state of nature" -- but in the midst of what is actually the state of democratic civilization. This is at best a paranoid delusion and at worst an active declaration of treasonable intent. I mean, I'm a critic of plutocratic corporate-militarism and all, but I have no illusions that we are pre Treaty of Westphalia here.

As often happens, a commonplace joke expresses the logic of the situation perfectly: No private person is qualified to possess a military-style weapon who would want one. The desire for possession itself is immediately disqualifying for possession once we understand what these weapons do.

These arsenal builders are not "hunters" or "sportsmen" but are actively indicating a refusal of the very idea of democratic citizenship. The clear intent of the Constitution's second amendment, yoking the right to bear arms to a "well-regulated militia" indicates that private gun-ownership is not meant as a threat but as a buttress to the republic of laws, and not of men (with the biggest guns).

A ban on the private possession of these weapons is actually indispensable to the sound maintenance of a working civilization, because a working civilization facilitates the safety and prosperity of its citizens, but not only because of that, but also because a dis-identification with citizenship coupled with the assumption of military might is literally treasonable and should be so treated.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Singularity Sing-A-Long

"The Singularity" happens not at the moment when machines become more intelligent than humans, but at the moment when the way humans talk about machines makes them less intelligent.

More Futurological Brickbats here.

Superlative Summary Now Even More Superlative

I've completely updated and re-organized The Superlative Summary. I can't believe how long it took to do this, but I am hoping it is a more useful reference now -- and I welcome comments or suggestions about missing categories or critiques.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Today's Random Stevie

Our Bog is dood, our Bog is dood,
They lisped in accents mild,
But when I asked them to explain
They grew a little wild.
How do you know your Bog is dood
My darling little child?

We know because we wish it so
That is enough, they cried,
And straight within each infant eye
Stood up the flame of pride,
And if you do not think it so
You shall be crucified.

Then tell me, darling little ones,
What's dood, suppose Bog is?
Just what we think, the answer came,
Just what we think it is.
They bowed their heads. Our Bog is ours
And we are wholly his.

But when they raised them up again
They had forgotten me
Each one upon each other glared
In pride and misery
For what was dood, and what their Bog
They never could agree.

Oh sweet it was to leave them then,
And sweeter not to see,
And sweetest of all to walk alone
Beside the encroaching sea,
The sea that soon should drown them all,
That never yet drowned me.

Dispatch Dappering

Another spate of pruning and polishing, this time to my Dispatches from Libertopia anthology.

Dispatches from Libertopia

Capitalism is everywhere, but it never arrives.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Brickbat Brightening

I have polished and pruned my Futurological Brickbats anthology, bagging many of the less aphoristic entries for disposal. I think it makes for a punchier read now.

Testy

The Turing Test only tests us.

More Futurological Brickbats here.

Internet Fabulization

Adam Fish helpfully summarizes libertechian, technoprogressive, Great Man, and peer-to-peer narratives of the creation of the internet (narratives that dominate technodevelopmental fables more generally). He is correct to identify me with what he is calling the "technoprogressive" framing of this history (quibbles coming at the conclusion), and although I also sympathize with the peer-to-peer framing he prefers (my sympathy doesn't amount to a preference though) I agree with his larger point that the internet should be regarded as an assemblage in which all the protagonists of all these narratives and more have their part, agreement with which makes me leery of his claim that the peer-to-peer frame is the "most correct" of the four.
Manjoo explained, “In tech, no one does anything on his own. … in the tech industry, it takes a village.” Manjoo critiqued Crovitz’s… ignorance that Vint Cerf was a federal employee as was his co-creator of TCP/IP Robert Kahn an employee of the Defense Department… and his mistake in not recognizing that packet-switching technology was developed at RAND, a government funded think tank… He concludes: “The Internet, the Web, the microprocessor, GPS, batteries, the electric grid—if you’ve built a thriving company that depends on any of these things, you didn’t get there on your own. Or, as the president once said ‘You didn’t build that.’”

Manjoo’s discourse on the origins of the internet can be conceptualized as technoprogressive, aligned as it is with the historical and present US progressive movement, social liberalism, and social Democrats. This view acknowledges the role of the state in funding technology and science while addressing the shared costs and responsibilities of a state-supported networked society. Technoprogress has been theorized by Douglas Rushkoff, Donna Haraway, Mark Dery, James Hughes in the form of “democratic transhumanism,” and Dale Carrico. Hughes and Carrico, for instance, have been affiliated with the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technology, which forms the technoprogressive answer to the Technology Liberation Front’s technolibertarianism. Carrico says that technoprogressivism “assumes that technoscientific developments can be empowering and emancipatory so long as they are regulated by legitimate democratic and accountable authorities.” Manjoo, and President Obama before him, embodied technoprogressivism by claiming that it was the democratic and regulatory mechanisms, not to mention the US federal funding, that made the internet possible.
By way of conclusion, let me remind readers who might regard me, as Fish seems to do, as "affiliated" with IEET of this. And although I am well pleased to be corralled into the company of Donna Haraway and Mark Dery, about James Hughes let me direct interested readers to this and this.

Fraud Is the Futurological Common Denominator

Successful mainstream futurology is essentially a matter of amplifying irrational consumption through marketing hype and of making profitable short term predictions for the benefit of investors, the only reliable source for which is insider information. Successful superlative futurology is essentially a matter of amplifying irrational greed and terror through the conjuration of a techno-transcendent vision of "The Future" peddled as long-term predictions the faithful in which provide unearned attention and money for the benefit of guru-wannabes and pseudo-experts, the source for which is inevitably science fiction mistaken for science practice and science policy. You will have noticed that fraud is the indispensable common denominator of futurology in both its mainstream and superlative modes.

More Futurological Brickbats here.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Suicidal Sociopathy of the Tech Sector

Upgraded and adapted from the Moot to this post, a reader asks:
Absolutely excellent rebuttal against libertarian verbal and "intellectual" diarrhea! You touched on on one issue I would like you to elaborate on. For example when you rebutted this statement: "The men behind the private space programs have built up personal fortunes in the tens of billions of dollars while establishing track records of creating and running companies worth hundreds of billions of dollars"; [you responded:] "Can I have some of whatever you're smoking, Clint?" Care to elaborate why you find his claim preposterous? That's my only gripe. Otherwise a fantastic piece that I will add to my intellectual arsenal against the sheer, utter, unapologetic and unabashed lunacy of libertarian- anarchists- conservatives.
America crows about being a free rather than a planned economy -- but of course we do plan the economy, ineptly, under the name of "Defense."

The dependency of especially tech companies on tax-payer subsidized research via public universities via government grants via public infrastructure via defense department programs is ubiquitous at every level of development, and is especially indispensable at the outset of the R&D path. This is setting aside the larger issue of the necessity for profitable enterprise of a stable context of educated citizens, sufficiently disseminated prosperity, actually functioning law, meritocratic norms, trust (that regulations will be enforced, that public institutions will be adequately funded and competently administered), infrastructural affordances (utilities, highways, the internet itself) -- all of which are seriously under threat because of the tireless work of plutocratic libertopian ideologues but remain sufficiently in force even now to keep the old heap on the road in spite of the suicidal insanity of the greatest beneficiaries of this stability forever struggling to disable it for the shortest-term gains imaginable.

The self-congratulatory fantasy of so many of the biggest beneficiaries of our system that their success is a function of their kick-ass superhuman superiority rather than of their luck to live in a society that values their efforts and abilities (and the successful usually are lucky in more ways than that) is of course a commonplace irrationality of the privileged throughout history and across cultures, but I must say it also constitutes in tech enthusiasts a kind of total amnesia and systematic disavowal of the ongoing reality of public investment and support that is little short of psychotic.

In the so-called technological sector this schizophrenic anti-governmentality coupled to abject government dependence, the eagerness of "elite" greedhead minorities to monetize free collective geek creativity for personal gain, the superficiality and misdirection of advertorial pop-tech journalism, an endless susceptibility to irrational exuberance mobilized by press release hyperbole and celebrity-CEO PR in a general atmosphere of get-rich-quick credulity, a ubiquity of vaporware scams and everyday fraud as culturally accepted norm are worse than in pretty much any other area of the economy or professional endeavor I can think of.

As a more general matter, perhaps the only thing more comical than the cocksure declarations of our mediocre government-dependent and labor-dependent elites that they are supersovereign superheroic supermen is the related but more disseminated cocksure declarations of our conformist crap-consumerist anti-intellectual masses that they are rebels and independents.

That, at any rate, is the beginning of my answer to your question. A warning: Skip lunch if you mean to dig into the specifics of the computer, software, aeronautics, arms, or pharmaceutical industries -- because, believe me, you won't look long without needing to ralph.

"Taxation Without Representation"

Washington Post:
President Obama announced Tuesday that the District’s politically charged “taxation without representation” license plates will be placed on all presidential limousines this weekend, a move city leaders have been waiting on for four years. In a statement, White House officials said Obama will use the protest license plate because after living in the city for four years, he has seen “first-hand how patently unfair it is for working families in D.C. to work hard, raise children and pay taxes, without having a vote in Congress. Attaching these plates to the presidential vehicles demonstrates the President’s commitment to the principle of full representation for the people of the District of Columbia and his willingness to fight for voting rights, Home Rule and budget autonomy for the District,” the statement said. White House and Secret Service officials will place the plates on presidential vehicles before Monday’s inaugural parade, which is expected to draw tens of millions of viewers around the world. White House officials stressed that the new plates will remain on presidential vehicles for all of Obama’s second term. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D), Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), D.C. Council members and voting rights activists were thrilled by the news, hailing it as a small but important step in the decades-long fight for voting rights or statehood. “It’s very exciting, and I see this as a step toward a lot of things down the road,” Gray said.
Earlier today I proposed that statehood for DC and Puerto Rico would not only be victories for democracy in America, but specific victories for Democrats in America, countervailing GOP efforts to game the electoral college to win elections with their ever more marginal minority since they are giving up actually trying to change to appeal to majorities in a diversifying, secularizing, planetizing nation. When we ponder the symbolic value of Obama's choice of license plates, it may be useful to include as part of that symbolism a signal about his awareness and willingness to engage in Democratic options to circumvent anti-democratic GOP shenanigans.

The Voice of Libertopian Space Takes Me To Task

Clint Johnson writes:
Dale Carrico believes he is a smarter businessman than Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Paul Allen, Larry Page, Eric Schmidt, Eric Anderson, Charles Simonyi, K. Ram Shriram, Ross Perot, Jr, Robert Bigelow, John Carmack, Burt Rutan and Richard Branson… combined. I do not agree.
I agree with Clint's disagreement, at least I think I do, since I am not a businessman at all, even though as a general matter I don't see much reason to connect the word "smart" with the word "businessman" anyway. I haven't actually declared any of the individuals in Clint's list to be less smart than me, nor can I honestly say I am particularly wedded to the assumption that I am as smart as all that personally -- knowing my limitations as I do -- and I don't doubt that many of Clint's heroes are very nice people, kind to dogs and so on, even if they are as foolishly misguided about private space industry, such as it is, as Clint definitely is.
A few days back, Dale Carrico posted an attempt to sum up why he believes there is no possible way for private industry to have anything but a supporting role in space. https://www.wfs.org/blogs/dale-carrico/private-space-follies
That is true. Note that I did and do approve the idea that private industry may have a useful role in the exploration of space. But this is not enough for Clint Johnson.
He is spectacularly wrong.
You see?
I have already commented on Mars One and I am willing to go on record as saying I don’t think the reality show has much chance of getting on the air, let alone sending anyone to Mars.
A brave stance from our man Clint, "on the record" and all that, in the service of the flabbergastingly obvious.
Dale starts off by ridiculing Mars One in an attempt to implicitly tie it to all proposals for private enterprise in space. It is like insisting on starting a discussion on the viability of mining by attacking Discovery Channel’s "Gold Rush".
Well, I have indeed chronicled libertopian space cheerleaders saying all sorts of nutty things of which the Mars One reality tee vee show is the latest, but my specific criticism of this specific proposal would be analogous to Clint's "Gold Rush" thought-experiment only if a mining proposal expected an airing of "Gold Rush" on the Discovery Channel to fund the whole enterprise and also render the proposal credible (whatever the actual merits). Yes, that would be absurd. Yes, that would be my point.
I don’t believe this is simply an ignorant oversight on his part, but a deliberate rhetorical subterfuge to damn by association something that he has an ideological antipathy toward. You would not be remiss in assuming Dale Carrico’s area of expertise is talking rather than doing.
Strictly speaking, talking is doing something (as is writing, teaching, activism, all of which I also do), but I daresay saying all this will only confirm Clint in his suspicion that I am one of them elite effete aesthete academic types who aren't into serious kick ass Action of the kind celebrity CEOs devote their lives to in Ayn Rand novels and such. I would appear to be cast in an Ellsworth Toohey sort of role in this particular libertopian fantasia, hence exposing the palpable absurdity of the Mars One premise must be a matter not of judging a proposal on the merits, but a deliberate subterfuge falsely associating a proposal with its publicly asserted terms. Pretty sinister stuff.
In that post, Dale shows a fundamental lack of understanding of markets, libertarianism, NASA, the goals of private space enterprises, and the dynamics of government spending versus private investment… I struggle to see where he has a grasp on any portion of this debate?
Shorter Clint on markets, libertarianism, private space enterprises, I'm guessing: Awesome!
His insistence on using what he seems to believe are cutesy insults every time he references anything related to the free market indicates his argument is driven by his emotional aversion to individualism and capitalism.
Of course, I am a champion of actual individual rights and responsibilities and equity-in-diversity while at once fully aware of the interdependence of individuals and their dependence on a shared inheritance of cultures, common and public goods, laws, norms, vocabularies, and infrastructural affordances; and I am also a champion of actually free commerce to the extent that its terms are made genuinely consensual, which requires among other things that they are not misinformed or duressed by violence, threat, fraud, miseducation, unequal access to law, or the precarity of illness, hunger, poverty. The fantasy of "rugged individualism" is not indispensable to the defense of real individuality, the fantasy of "natural" markets as "spontaneous orders" rather than ritual and artifactual accomplishments of laws, customs, and material affordances, impeded rather than enabled by good governance, is not indispensable to the defense of real free enterprise. Quite the contrary. Now, I ridicule the ridiculous because it is ridiculous, and I do hope in the aftermath of Clint's unsolicited effort to therapize, sight-unseen, my presumably "emotional" denial of his awesome totally commonsensical manly fantasy of individualism and capitalism there isn't a bill on the way. Because as a therapist, Clint, you suck. Oh, there I go with the cutesy insults again.
He is like the western apologists for the Soviet Union and Maoist China from the middle of last century insisting that there is no way for the capitalist pigs of the West to equal the efficiency of a properly commanded economy.
Who, reading my testimony to the values I champion above, does not feel against their neck the steely jackboot of Stalin and Mao, after all?
The polite name for these people was "useful innocents".
Very polite. Some (but not me) might be tempted to cry, "cutesy insult"!
I am sore tempted to use the less polite version even though I don’t believe Dale to be an idiot… but I have even less faith that he is an innocent.
Mwa-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!
Just because a government purchases goods or services from a private company, does not make them an arm of the government. With hundreds of millions of dollars in industry launches on its manifest, SpaceX has a private space "program" just like Ford Motor Company has a private automobile "program".
Yeah, except, you know, without a coherent business plan and without much in the way of tangible goods on offer. Otherwise, totes true that, man.
For decades, the communication satellite industry has been a multi-billion dollar per year "for-profit space program"- and while it has been piggybacking on the national space program, SpaceX is showing that to have been a detriment rather than an asset.
Yeah, as they beg for more government handouts and contracts.
By its very nature, government is at least an order of magnitude less efficient and cost effective than private industry.
Can you say healthcare?
I suppose it shouldn't be surprising that a statist can’t comprehend this fundamental efficacy gap and so would be unable understand the economics of utilizing resources in, and from, space. He is told by the government that mining an asteroid or setting up a moon base as a $50-100 billion project and so sees a $30 billion return on investment as a losing proposition.
If my position renders me a "statist," I can only assume Clint fancies himself an "anarchist" of the anarcho-capitalist variety. I invite Clint and his libertopian friends to launch their private space industry from Somalia where they won't have pesky statism interfering with their innovative entrepreneurial kick-assery.
Like a blind man trying to imagine the colour red, he simply can’t wrap his mind around private industry getting it done for $5-10 billion.
What is this free? dom? of which you speak...? Blind and brain-deprived as I am, the way I'd put this is, more simply, I'm right and you're wrong, Clint. Macroeconomic illiteracy (yeah, I'm talking about Polanyi, Keynes-Hicks, Galbraith, Clint, your worst fears realized) is a knowledge-denialism as injurious to serious champions of space science and exploration as would be flat-earthism. You are an ignoramus who fancies himself an illuminati. It's embarrassing, Clint.
The men behind the private space programs have built up personal fortunes in the tens of billions of dollars while establishing track records of creating and running companies worth hundreds of billions of dollars.
Can I have some of whatever you're smoking, Clint?
Rational people are influenced by the fact that, after thoroughly investigating the science, technology and market- these extremely capable and very intelligent men are investing their own money in private enterprises in space.
Clint seems very impressed with pop-tech scam and skim operators of the celebrity-CEO variety who don't have much to show for themselves apart from a penchant for PR self-congratulation and a whole lot of government handouts, I must say. Not exactly Randroidal/ Heinleinian archetypes, these guys, if you ask me.
One of the more pointless statement of his is "no extraterrestrial site more hospitable than the least hospitable place on earth". Building comfortable and safe habitats in space is an engineering exercise, neither intractable nor overly complicated.
Get back to me when you or any of your heroes actually manage the trick, Clint. For now, file this under "[we] would not be remiss in assuming [Clint Johnson]'s area of expertise is talking rather than doing," shall we?
The statement that betrays Dale’s biggest lack of understanding of the social motive for colonizing space is "there will be no extraterrestrial colonies to re-enact brutal "Age of Discovery" exploitation fantasies". I am not sure what delusions Dale is suffering from but: 1) If there were anyone out there, libertarians would not have fantasies about subverting the most basic foundation of their philosophy. 2) There is nobody out there to exploit!
This is a fair point. I do think libertopian wet-dreams of wildly profitable space industry derive their plausibility not from the actual merits of their case but from the activation of a cultural archive of conquest and exploitation, from the Age of Discovery to Manifest Destiny to Colonialism to corporate-military globalization, and it is true that a disavowed undercurrent of genocide has enabled the fortunes of the conquerors in ways that wouldn't literally play out in a profitable space industry since there are no "natives" to violate. Clint is right that my analogy here is inexact. But I do not think the analogy uselessly inapt, since past looks not to be prologue empirically when it comes to the shift from historical frontiers to "the final frontier" however intuitively plausible the application of the rhetoric of the former to the latter may feel to us, its inheritors (which is, after all, my point) but also since no doubt an exploitation of labor would be indispensable to the process even without an indigenous population available for that purpose -- exploitation in the inevitable eventual diversion of public moneys to enable private profits, the foisting of the perilous building and maintenance of its vulnerable infrastructure onto the precarious, the incredible disproportionate dangers to the explorers themselves, and so on. Interestingly, we are offered a premonition of the latter exploitation in the absurd Mars One's proposal to fund their self-declared idealism with a gaudy game show documenting a suicide mission, the proposal that inspired the critique to which Clint is presumably responding.
Dale goes on insist that it won’t relieve overpopulation pressure… even when rational people understand that the "population bomb" is yet another failed Malthusian prophecy. We won’t see even 10 billion people on the planet earth- of course there will be billions more off the planet but they will mostly be born there, not emigrate there.
So, I suppose we can add to Clint's macroeconomic illiteracy his dismissal of the threat of overpopulation to the carrying capacity of our planetary ecosystem. Nice. Of course, billions of humans will not be born in the airless, icy, barren, irradiated hells of extraterrestrial planets, indeed few would long survive exposure to these places, let alone carry babies to term or raise families in them. Not to put too fine a point on it, not only is Clint's declaration to the contrary not obvious -- "of course there will be billions more off the planet" Clint insists -- not only is Clint's declaration not that of all "rational people" as he assures us, but this article of faith of his is frankly, completely, utterly, batshit crazy.
The crux of Dale’s apoplexy over private space enterprises is encapsulated in his statement: "Indeed there will be no escape hatches via space from any of our urgent and intractable political or environmental problems." To those with this mindset, the only thing worse than these "urgent and intractable" problems is to have them solved by individuals and businesses.
It is curious, the rather calm bemusement with which I experience the state of apparent apoplexy out of which my critiques of libertopian and futurological falsehoods are issued... Since democratic governments are of, by, and for the people, it would seem that my insistence that urgent and intractable social and environmental problems require collective address through the agency of accountable governance would actually still involve their solution by "individuals" -- and since I have conceded there may be a useful supportive role in these solution for private enterprise as well, it seems that neither are "businesses" excluded from my vision either -- but "my" Stalinist/ Maoist mindset as unearthed by Clint Johnson's clever corporate libertopian mindset can think of nothing worse than the actually realer real individuals and businesses of libertopia solving anything. I would object that libertopia doesn't exist and neither, I fear, do the really realer real individuals and businesses of libertopia to whom Clint is devoted, and so my concern is simply that one wants actual real agencies to be equal to actually real problems like climate change, overpopulation, poverty, and precarity. It isn't clear to me that Clint think these are even real problems anyway, rather than rhetorical subterfuges designed to shackle the creative genius of the sooper-men of business Clint cherishes and I apoplectically revile given my extreme emotionalism and such.
Dale continues with more ridiculing of "libertopian SpaceX Cadets" and "Heinleinian flim-flammery" while insisting that the "collective accomplishment" is the only justification possible for going to Mars. Setting aside that calls to the "collective" directly led to the slaughter of almost a hundred million people last century, what he sees as justification is actually a horrendous waste of other people’s money on his intellectual masturbation.
Since the collective accomplishments I specifically associate with space science and exploration are advances in discovery, knowledge, technical ability, and the spectacle of heroic feats against tremendous odds, one wonders if Clint thinks the Apollo program "directly led to the slaughter of almost a hundred million people last century" somehow, or something. I suspect he just assumes the very appearance of the word "collective" inevitably constitutes an endorsement of Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, blah blah blah. Since we are close to the end of this number I think it is high time to lug out the ultimate weapon at this point: Hey, Clint, you sure seem smart.
If there is no private case for space, there is no case for space.
Needless to say (except to our Clint, poor mite), there are plenty of things plenty worth doing that are not and cannot be profitable, and plenty of things that could not be profitable if they were not supported by public investment and service that is not driven by considerations of parochial profitability but public good. I don't expect Clint to agree with this, but I do think it is wholesome to ridicule him into a comparatively harmless marginality together with the other dangerous fools who agree with him, while at once reminding those available to sense of a few home truths.