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

Friday, May 16, 2014

The Freedom to Enhance

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. Theirs is a choice impoverished from the outset, offering always only choices to enhance competitive performance or to enhance the consumption of available entertainments, always in the paradoxical service of incumbency figured as "the future." Freedom reduced to the "freedom to enhance" risks the foreclosure of freedoms in the name of freedom and, worse, looks so to misconstrue freedom as an engineering matter rather than a political experience that it threatens to undermine freedom altogether.

It is no surprise that advocates of "optimality" that declare themselves committed to the usual libertarian conceptions of impoverished voluntarism and vacuous consent will nonetheless propose policies in which the individual choice to maintain or craft a "suboptimal" morphology or capacity (on competitive productivist or consumerist terms that are neither settled nor neutral) is to be treated as generating an externality imposing social costs that must be re-internalized: This amounts to the proposal of a punitive legal and incentivizing regulatory framework naturalizing a permanent arms race of force-amplification in the service of eternal accumulation as an unexamined end-in-itself.

The democratic value of equity-in-diversity (and the interminable democratic contestation over its terms and forms) is neither equality-as-homogeneity nor aspiration-toward-optimization.

I have added these passages to clarify and elaborate an earlier piece of mine, Eugenics and the Denigration of Consent, posted years ago but which receives ongoing attention.


Unknown said...

Jay here.

To treat as ... 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

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.

Dale Carrico said...

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.

Unknown said...

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?

Dale Carrico said...

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 your ears pierced, enjoying a recreational substance in the privacy of her home, 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.

So long as a harebrained enhancement scheme by my lights is 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 them are not 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 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.