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

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Prosthetic Self-Determination and Polyculture In the Real World

Upgraded and adapted from the Moot. A rather interesting exchange took place in the Moot with regular reader "Jay" who begins by quoting from a recent post of mine here.
To treat as "settled" or as "neutral" value questions that are and should remain under contestation about what human ends are worth optimizing for and what human lifeways are actually wanted is to circumscribe the terms of what is humanly possible and important in a profound violence that tends to precede and indeed function as the precondition for certain techno-fixated and techno-transcendental eugenic discourses on "enhancement" that like to promote themselves as celebrations of choice. [I have quoted the whole sentence, which "Jay" actually snipped a bit to focus on just the first part, with what seems to me a possible loss of sense for those who haven't actually read the post that prompted the intervention. Also, the unexpurgated quote better sets the stage for how I will come to respond to the intervention in my view. --d]
then goes on to comment:

"That's a pretty good definition of freedom of religion. The simple facts are that people seriously disagree about what gives life value, if anything, and that attempting to settle the question has resulted in far more carnage than clarity, a dozen Boko Harams for every Gandhi. Leaving the matter perpetually peacefully contested is the best compromise we've worked out so far."

To this I replied, perhaps a bit glibly:
Quite so, which is why I'm a cheerfully nonjudgmental atheistic aesthete, so long as people don't try to pretend their faithful/tasteful oughts are pragmatic/scientific ises.
That exchange set the stage then for this more substantial subsequent one, beginning with "Jay":

"Jay again. That doesn't leave you much room to judge anyone who wants to enhance themselves (whatever they decide that enhancement is). You can, on an aesthetic basis, say that they're icky. That shouldn't carry any more weight than the opinion of tens of millions that your lifestyle is icky. If some harebrained "enhancement" scheme is what they choose to give their life meaning, on what basis could you challenge that?"

I replied:
In the piece into which these paragraphs have been inserted and in the companion piece on prosthetic self-determination/morphological freedom to which they refer, I make something like that very claim.

Of course, when "enhancement" is discussed in a futurological context this may come to seem rather fraught and thrilling, but only because futurologists tend to discuss "enhancement" in comic book terms that ill connect to reality. (Sooper powers, godlike amplifications, sooper-villains, clone armies -- all hyperbolizing deliberation-deranging rot.)

An informed, consenting adult getting a graduate education, getting a tattoo or their ears pierced, enjoying a recreational substance in the privacy of their own home, or choosing to get an abortion provide more relevant contexts for the contemplation of the stakes of "enhancement" in my view.

Should anything like the more fanciful non-normativizing "techno"-medical interventions transhumanoids and their ilk pine over ever arrive on the scene, one can be sure that they would be rightly regulated for safety considerations, to ensure the practitioners providing them were competent, that subjects choosing these procedures were well informed about their objective costs and risks and not under duress and not subject to fraud and so on. And so they should be on my view, else the intervention could not be undertaken in a legibly consensual way.

So long as "harebrained enhancement schemes" by my lights are not unduly unsafe or peddled with false claims or undertaken by unlicensed practitioners, then I think it is a good thing that those actually informed, actually competent, actually consenting adults who actually want to undergo them are not unduly constrained by my aesthetic taste or moralism from doing so.

But as you see, as with most topics that have been futurologically flummoxed, my position is not utopian but pragmatic, not anarchic but civil libertarian, not market libertopian but articulated by well-regulated sustainable social democratic equity-in-diversity. Futurists tend to skew the topic -- as most topics -- from a technical, pragmatic, legal, moral, ethical, aesthetic, and political vantage. How unfortunate, then, that theirs are the terms through which non-normativizing "enhancement" medicine fetishized as "technological" (no medicine isn't, of course, which is why I say "fetishized") tends to be imagined when it is imagined.


Raymond Johnson said...

SpaceX Cargo Capsule Leaves Space Station For Home
Posted by samzenpus on Sunday May 18, 2014 @02:56PM
from the home-sweet-home dept.
An anonymous reader writes
"The commercial cargo ship Dragon left the International Space Station, and is heading home with nearly two tons of science experiments and old equipment. From the article: 'The unpiloted Dragon departed the International Space Station at 9:26 a.m. EDT to begin a trip expected to culminate just after 3 p.m. with a parachute-assisted splashdown in the Pacific Ocean, about 300 miles west of Baja California. NASA astronaut and station commander Steve Swanson controlled a 58-foot robotic arm that pulled the Dragon from its Harmony node port at 8 a.m., then released the capsule into space 266 miles over the ocean south of Australia.'"

Dale Carrico said...

Uh, cool, thread hijack attempt notwithstanding. Have you graduated "Raymond" from being an opportunistically rancid homophobic troll to being a SpaceX promotional spambot or something?

Esebian said...

Wherever I see "enhancement" I see just the same old ways of self-centered, rich racist patriarchal heteronormative white males to impose their views on the rest of the world, smiting any divergent culture under their boot.

Ol' Gernsback, inventor of the SF fandom and possibly Nerd(TM) subculture in general, already fantasized about fixing humanity before the transhumanuts were a twinkle in their parents' eyes. That his idea to "solve" racism by... building a skin-bleaching gadget/process to make blacks white materialized in the real world a Nazi doktors blinding KZ inmates by injecting blue dye into their eyes should say you something about the foundation and goals of the entire "enhancement" woo complex.

Maybe in the future we will finally be able to "enhance" lazy, stupid Africans to get jobs and build an appropriate society with enough BigMacs to eat for everyone, skyscraper forests blotting out the sun and actual forests an hour driving away if we spritz them anti-heavy metal genes so their cancer-riddled don't litter the mountains of our electronics waste and implant direct neural interfaces streaming A&E into their skulls? HEIL FORTSCHRITT

Dale Carrico said...

You are not wrong to say so. The "competitiveness" in the service of which "optimization" is always imagined and argued for always rationalizes plutocracy as (if) meritocracy "at home" and imperial/colonial exploitation as (if) progressive development "abroad" -- competition always naturalizes corporate-militarist norms and forms. And white racism (not to mention patriarchy) is always there at the heartless heart of corporate militarism, not only as a foundational history reverberating into those norms and forms but as an ongoing set of structural forces and unconscious biases enabling their maintenance. Of course the techno-transcendentalists will deny this -- but there would be no techno-fixation or techno-utopianism without a whole hell of a lot of bad faith and fetishisms roiling beneath the surface fueling its mania and denial.