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Sunday, October 19, 2014

R.U. Sirius on Transhumanism

A recent episode of Klint Finley and Chris Dancy's "Mindful Cyborgs" podcast featured an ongoing conversation with dashing cyberkardashian R.U. Sirius. Although his futurological antics annoy me as much as they do when others indulge them, I have always wanted to like R.U. Sirius and often have succeeded, not least because futurology is deadly in earnest but in his irony sometimes manages to assume instead the force of critique. Athena Andreadis likes to call the transhumanists "transhumorists," because their pseudo-scientific facts and their pseudo-progressive values are a bad joke at best. R.U. Sirius is not a less silly name than, say, Max More, but it is funnier and manages to be self-conscious rather than symptomatic about it, and so I give him the benefit of the doubt (not to mention noticing that he benefits from doubt, unlike Max More). In such moments, R.U. Sirius manages to be something of a stand-up transhumorist, a camp futurist, rather than just a bad futurological joke on us.

I'll say a few more comparatively generous things by way of conclusion at the end, but first I am a critic and I criticize. I must say, I was interested to notice how interested R.U. Sirius seemed to be in having folks not notice the extent of his connection to the transhumanist sect of techno-transcendentalist robocultism. After ending his stint as editor of h+ magazine (h+ stands for humanity-plus, which in turn is the PR repackaging of the transhumanist term itself -- and if you didn't know that already or question any of that, many transhumanoids would no doubt deem you humanity-minus), R.U. insinuates that he has somewhat lost touch with the many fleeting and competing sub(cult)ural strands of "the transhumanist movement." He also takes great care to express dissatisfaction with what he regards as the reactionary politics and Randroidal stylings of Zoltan Istvan, who he seems to consider a rather looming recent mouthpiece for transhumanism more generally and perhaps the symptom of a worrying turn.

I sympathize with the judgment that it is no easy thing to keep up with all the wacky twists and turns of robocultism and even harder to justify the effort given the marginality and imbecility of so much of it. And needless to say I quite agree that all these transhumanists, singularitarians, techno-immortalists, digi-utopians, nano-cornucopiasts, geo-engineers, and so on are indulging and elaborating an essentially reactionary ideology, and some of them are well-funded and organized enough to do real damage in the world. None of this is the least bit new, however, and R.U. Sirius, while he may never have endorsed any of this always infantile and usually reactionary nonsense in an explicit or unqualified form, has been up to his neck in this stuff for as long as anybody else.

The two instances that strike me as most relevant to my point are responses R.U. Sirius published in answer to earlier critiques of the reactionary politics of transhumanism, Annalee Newitz' Extropian Trash from 2004, and Charlie Stross' Deconstructing Our Future from 2012.

First, in response to the Newitz piece, R.U. Sirius (and quite serious he seems to be), said the following (I found this transcript in an old Cyborg Democracy archive, and would be pleased if anybody has a better or more substantial reference):
NEOFILES: I was a little surprised by your take on transhumanism. Sure, the sensibilities that seem to accompany a lot of this is sort of Heinleinian “Amazing Stories” ubergeek; not particularly sly or post-punk. But I would expect you to be more aligned with James Hughes and his lefty-oriented “Democratic Transhumanism” (he links to you) than to just sort of nay-say longevity, bio-enhancement, and all these areas of intrigue, given your previous radical pro-tech “biopunk” writings. It seems to me that once you say “yeah”! to biopunk -- decentralized, independent noodling with life forms … biology (presumably including our own) … you’re about 99.9% of the way to a transhumanist perspective (and in some ways, beyond it). I mean, we’re talking TRANS here, right? TRANShumanity, TRANSexuality (that’s all about self enhancement too. So why is this one’s challenge to biological destiny hip and trendy and the other one gauche?) Recontextualizations, reconfigurations, moving into zones of uncertainty where positive mutation might occur: this is all in the spirit of the “Cyborg Manifesto,” no?
This paragraph red-lights the whole control board for me, and so let me just make a few almost random critical interventions at a run, starting at the end and working my way to the beginning. First, I think it is a profound misreading of Haraway's "Manifesto for Cyborgs," to describe its "spirit" as the least bit allied to faith-based futurology and hyper-consumerist gizmo-fetishism. In a later interview published as the final chapter of The Haraway Reader (Routledge, 2004) she says all you need to know about the loose ascription R.U. Sirius is proposing here:
There were some who regarded it [The Cyborg Manifesto] as… promoting a kind of blissed-out, techno-sublime euphoria. Those readers completely failed to see the critique. They would read things that for me are highly ironic and angry… they would read these things… as if I was embracing and affirming what I am describing with barely restrained fury… I have had people, like Wired Magazine readers, interviewing and writing about the Cyborg Manifesto from what I see as a very blissed-out, techno-sublime position.
I have similar objections to his free associational leap from "biopunk" to what he calls a "radical pro-tech" position. Quite apart from the fact that there are too many differences that make a difference among the capacities and applications of the events and artifacts that get called "tech" for it to make any kind of sense to be monolithically either "pro" or "con" that whole mess and then go on to describe such an utterly confused state of mind as in any sense a "radical" one, the fact is that "biopunk" as a discourse, a literary genre, and a cultural site is enormously critical and skeptical and nuanced in ways all his glib talk here disavows utterly. I taught a course at Berkeley years ago about bioethical discourse and biopunk literature (the syllabus is still available here, the bioethical articles and op-eds we read are not included, unfortunately, since they were always assigned one week in advance because I tried to make them as topical as possible and they often were published just days or weeks before we read them in the course itself), and it seems to me that the vitality of biopunk is indeed allied to the spirit of Haraway's manifesto, in ways that R.U. Sirius is utterly missing here and encouraging others to miss at the same time. I do not regard this as innocent in one both so knowledgeable and aware. Further, I regard his cheerleading of the essentially eugenicist project of transhumanist "enhancement" as terribly wrongheaded and his effort to repackage it as appealingly "pro-choice" through a glib slippage of transhuman optimally-profitable people-engineering into a celebration of transsexual queerness very familiar and very pernicious indeed.

For the purposes of the argument at hand, though, all I need to point out is that R.U. Sirius was pushing back in 2004 against a critique of the very kind R.U. Sirius in 2014 now implies is second nature to him, and also that he has been affiliating with transhumanism more insistently (and with a clearly fine-grained awareness of strands and positions and figures in that discourse and movement, and this already years and years ago) than his cavalier dismissals now would imply.

In his more recent response to Charles Stross' critique of reactionary transhumanism he wrote:
I have lately tried to stay away from calling myself a transhumanist largely because I’m intimate with the unpredictable and indescribable iconoclasm that often shakes my brain and therefore resist labels. But I also like to steer clear because people who don’t self-identify with the label have a lot of misconceptions about who “the transhumanists” are. And every now and then, a fairly predictable group of thinkers… some of them friends of mine… beat the straw out of their conception of transhumanism. They give it a damn good thrashing. Now, if these folks were criticizing some tendencies within some prominent self-identified transhumanist circles, they’d often be on target. But what we get from them is something akin to some people attacking atheism in the 1960s based on the prominence of Madeline O’Hair and Ayn Rand.
When he writes that some have beaten the straw out of transhumanism he links to Stross' critique directly. The phrase suggests that Stross' piece is indulging in the torching of straw men. This is hard to reconcile with his admission in the next sentence that there are in fact plenty of transhumanists, even "prominent" transhumanists, even whole transhumanist "circles" for whom the critique is in point. That's a lot of substance for straw.

What makes R.U. Sirius squeamish here is that he identifies transhumanism with an "unpredictable and indescribable iconoclasm that… resist[s] labels." But is it really true that transhumanism is so unpredictable and indescribable? For whatever it is worth, by far the most widely read piece I've ever written is The Unbearable Stasis of Accelerating Change in which I bemoan precisely the robotic predictability and painful obviousness (yeah, it's describable) of transhumanist discourse. It also just happens that it was an affirmation of this piece of mine which occasioned the Stross critique which provoked R.U. Sirius' response. That piece of mine was also mentioned and linked by the Mindful Cyborgs show and was part of the conversation I am talking about now.

It is very hard to make sense of R.U. Sirius' assertion that transhumanism in the sense that interests him "resists labels." Transhumanism is an -ism, after all, and inter-sectarian squabbles among the futurological faithful inevitably take the form of a ramification of labels with which the partisans identify with an energy hard to square with the marginal stakes of the whole business given the number of folks directly involved (but this sort of thing is of course quite familiar in cultic ideological formations and defensive fandoms), singularitarian-ISM, immortal-ISM, cosm-ISM, liberal eugenic-ISM, neoreaction-ISM, and on and on and on.

In the very paragraph in which he declares transhumanists label-averse he also refers to the labeling practices of "self-identified" transhumanists, going so far as to say that "people who don't self-identify with the label have a lot of misconceptions about who 'the transhumanists' are," which implies that the transhumanists are indeed enough of something that people can have misconceptions about them but also that the only people who might be qualified to criticize transhumanism self-identify as transhumanist and hence are little likely to do so -- now isn't THAT convenient? Look, is transhumanism a discourse or isn't it? Is it an ideology or isn't it? Is it a movement or isn't it? There are people who are calling themselves transhumanists who seem to mean something by that and who expect others to know what they mean when they do so. There are transhumanist membership organizations with actual members, actual subscribers, actual participants. To say that all the different instances subsumed under a concept exhibit differences is to state a truism, but if you choose a label the very legibility conferred by the choice also exposes you to scrutiny. One can delineate the logical, citational, and figurative associations playing out in an ideology, in a discourse, in a constellation of cultural practices without claiming that only those associations are at hand, or that they are always on exhibition, or that all of them are even intended by those who are caught up in them. If there are people who are represented by transhumanism this implies that transhumanism has a representativeness the legibility of which is available to everybody and with which everybody can come to terms as they see fit -- including those who would see all this critically.

If transhumanists can identify as such and describe canons of texts and stand in organizational relations to one another then non-transhumanists can identify others as such and analyze these texts and delineate these relations in ways the transhumanists can like or not like. If transhumanists want to dismiss criticism as hate speech (something I am accused of quite a bit, and I think R.U. Sirius is leveling a mild form of the same accusation at Stross) then transhumanism cannot be a space of argumentation or publicity or change but is simply a sterile separatist subculture. That's fine, as far as it goes -- I am the last one to deny anybody their private perfections so long as they aren't harming anybody else -- but transhumanism and its cousin futurological sects are endlessly offering themselves up to public scrutiny, pretending to be engaging in scientific practice and serious policy deliberation. They cannot have it both ways. And, I'm afraid that goes for R.U. Sirius as well.

Again, as I said, I have always wanted to like R.U. Sirius. He makes me laugh, and not at him but with him as often as not. It isn't easy trying to be a counter-culture documentarian, especially one who, like Barthes, "claims to live to the full the contradiction of my times, which may well make sarcasm the condition of truth." The Academy's authorities don't easily attach their credentials or their life-sustaining funding to this kind of work. Taste and tastelessness collide in it in ways that make academics nervous for their job titles. V. Vale is someone who has done indispensable work in this area, which is not to deny the occupational hazard of the occasional catastrophic critical misfire in that body of work. R.U. Sirius is a lot like that, too: vacuuming up all that gorgeous lifeway variation and marginal creative expressivity in that free associational way of his can yield deeply problematic undercriticalities and vacuities amid the buried treasure chests. Since R.U. Sirius is not just an archivist but also a kind of impresario of "cybercultures" -- given to pranks and performances -- there is a real seat-of-the-pants improvisational hustling going on in many of his enterprises. Like the head of an itinerate theater troupe in the nineteenth century bringing beauty and laughs to the yokels always on the brink of starvation or riot, R.U. Sirius doesn't always have the time or patience for what passes for legitimacy in official public culture. That critical intervention with a beat you can dance to, Mondo Vanilli, a joyous javelin straight to the heart and hardon of bad-faith authenticity performance in the entertainment industry, is a marvelous case in point. In this, he has my sympathies even when I cannot help but criticize his efforts here and there. I'm a fat fifty year old faggot socialist-feminist adjunct teaching critical theory and technoscience studies at a San Francisco art school, I know all about intellectual hustling.

The special danger of R.U. Sirius' position is that he is hustling in a sea of hustlers. There is an ominously tight connection of futurology with fraud. Even in its blandest and most prevalent forms, futurological imagery suffuses the marketing and promotional promises of consumer advertising (full of models in lab coats and sci-fi CGI peddling boner pills and anti-aging kremes) seducing us into unsustainable conformist individualism and official neoliberal think-tanks offering up "globalizing" "developmental" rationalizations for elite-incumbent corporate-militarist exploitation and violence. And at its gaudy extremes in the various robocultic sects of techno-transcendentalist futurological movements, the indulgence in outright pseudo-science and death-denialism and existential fear-mongering takes the con-artistry and fraud to evangelical heights (about these movements, you can read what everybody reads of mine if they read anything, the Superlative Futurology pieces in The Condensed Critique of Transhumanism).

The Future of futurology was born in the cradle of market futures, and there is a kinship between think-tank scenario spinners for the Pentagon and writers of best-sellers promising to provide the magic formula for Wall Street success. But true success in such spaces always finally depends on the fraud and corruption of insider knowledge and always comes at the expense of majorities of outsiders. Plutocracy and militarism are built into The Future at the ground level. The Future is always ultimately about the amplification of the status quo re-packaged for the masses as progress, disruption, and accelerating change. In this, The Future is crucially to be distinguished from the open futurity inhering in the present emerging into the next-present in consequence of the ineradicable diversity of its stakeholders (I make this argument most clearly in the Existenz piece, Futurological Discourses and Posthuman Terrains).

There is always a bit of credential-fluffing and con-artistry in counter-culture. And righteously so! since all culture is multiculture and since culture is a living thing, not a dead specimen preserved under glass, countercultural opportunisms and debaucheries are indispensably invigorating in their totality (if not always in their specificity), and also since turnabout is fair play. There is nonetheless a real danger that a focus on the countercultural forces futurism promises distracts from the reactionary forces futurology endorses, and the countercultural hustler enables the reactionary hustle of pseudo-science and uncritical True Belief and corporate-militarist policymaking. While I do not think this is R.U. Sirius' serious intention, I do think this is too often the result of his undercritical embrace of transhumanist discourses and sub(cult)ures. And whether or not he has thought this through enough for it to represent a fully-fledged intention his apologia for transhumanists and against critiques of their reactionary entailments don't look innocent to me whatever his intentions.


jimf said...

> [Oh] dashing cyberkardashian[,] R.U. Sirius[?]

No, my name is Odd John. Sirius is my doggy.
(But he's a soopergenius, too.)

> . . .some of them are well-funded and organized enough to
> do real damage in the world. . .

But not well-funded **enough**, dammit!

The Future of Humanity Institute could make use of your money[!]

Send us money so we can think up existential risks for you.
So you don't have to. And because you're not smart enough to
think about these things, anyway. You see,
"A problem with the human mind — your human mind — is that it's a
horrific kludge that will fail when you most need it not to."
( )

(Both links via )

> > I mean, we’re talking TRANS here, right?

Or both in one volume:
> Still amused by the irrationality of rationalists though. The stated purpose
> of that blog [Less Wrong] is analyzing how we believe ridiculous stuff and justify
> it with faulty arguments (or something like that). I guess he [Yudkowsky]
> thinks being aware of these phenomen[a] makes them not apply to him though,
> cuz the blog is a whole mess of faulty arguments supporting his somewhat
> abhorrent beliefs.

Probably, because literally everyone seems to. They've [psychologists have] done tests
where they explain cogn[i]tive biases to people and how they affect everyone all the
time and how no one thinks they're being affected by them but everyone is, then ask
those people if they think those biases affect them and they still say no, while
totally accepting that they definitely affect everyone else though.

Not me, Kemosabe. Because SOOPERGENIUS!


jimf said...

> I think it is a profound misreading of Haraway's "Manifesto for Cyborgs,"
> to describe its "spirit" as the least bit allied to faith-based futurology
> and hyper-consumerist gizmo-fetishism. . . In a later interview. . .
> she says. . .[:]
> > . . .Those readers completely failed to see the critique. They
> > would read things that for me are highly ironic and angry. . .
> > they would read these things. . . as if I was embracing and
> > affirming what I am describing with barely restrained fury. . .
In James Geary's new book _I IS AN OTHER: The Secret Life of Metaphor
and How it Shapes the Way We see the World_, he talks about about
a woman. . . who has Aspergers syndrome. He speaks about how. . .
[i]n essence, people with Aspergers can't decipher metaphors. They can't decode
figurative speech, such as irony, sarcasm and humor. He goes on to
say, basically these people are a[l]most completely literal and concrete.
If they are presented a metaphor such as "you're the apple of my eye,"
they take it literally: "WTF, I'm not an apple and I'm not in your eye."

jimf said...

> [I]n essence, people with Aspergers can't decipher metaphors. . .

On the other hand. . .
. . .I do not feel like a victim at all. Indeed, I am now prepared
to argue that Asperger's Syndrome should not be regarded as a
handicap or as a debilitating condition; rather, it is a tremendous asset,
a set of beneficial traits that may someday be recognized as the
characteristics of a new, and superior, form of humanity.

In mounting this argument, as I am uncomfortably aware, I am recalling
the views of the infamous Claude Degler, who announced to the
science fiction community of the 1940s that "fans are slans":
readers of science fiction, as evidenced by their high intelligence
and keen interest in science fiction, are the early representatives
of an emerging new species, homo superior, destined to overcome
and supplant those merely human persons who do not like science fiction.
(For some contemporary readers, I suppose I must explain that
"slans," as depicted in A. E. van Vogt's 1940 novel Slan, are a
race of hyperintelligent mutants with psychic powers who live
among, and are persecuted by, "normal" human beings.) Much about
Degler's life remains mysterious, but it seems that whenever he
was not traveling across the country expressing these opinions to
any fans he encountered, he was confined at a mental institution,
and many who listened to him would probably agree it was exactly
where he belonged. However, people with Asperger's Syndrome do
not think the way the rest of the world thinks, and they do not
care what the rest of the world thinks, and hence they may
discern hidden truths in the ravings of a lunatic, and they
may have no qualms about expressing such views. . .

And cf:
A sizeable wing of the 'new young improved' transhumanists are
self diagnosed "Asperger" "autistics" who rail at "neuro-typicals"
and claim specifically that their lack of empathy, lack of ability
to read social cues and specifically their sociopathy (they do indeed
claim that specific word) makes them human+ and closer to the
Great Robot. They make a lot of allusions to a "new evolution"
of "mutant xmen" autistics as "homo superior." Brain damage makes
a better (trans)human! whoda thunkit?

As always, YMMV.

Dale Carrico said...

What's the RU Sirius connection -- is he a self-diagnosed Aspergers spectrum person or something? As you know, I think there is too much loose talk around "autism" both on the part of folks who pathologize "it" and those who affirm "it" as an identity position.

I don't scare quote the aspergerial "it" because I don't believe there is any diagnosable condition afoot at all, but because popular discussions seem to me so very loose and freighted with stealthy moralizing ("they" are creepy, inscrutable, alien, incapable of empathy, blah blah blah).

As for the specific claim about metaphor, that's interesting to me as a rhetorician -- this seems pretty tricky for viewpoints like mine in which all language, indeed all signification, is indispensably figural (for the post-Nietzscheans among us) or analogical (for the post-Wienerians). A really, truly literal-minded person, a radical nominalist, it seems to me, would be like a Zen master too fixated on this dust moat or that petunia petal in its unrepeatable specificity to get around to words and sentences, however prosaic or poetic.

jimf said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
jimf said...

> What's the RU Sirius connection -- is he a self-diagnosed
> Aspergers spectrum person or something?

I have no idea, but the connection was your comment about
R.U. Sirius (and other >Hist-identified folks) apparently
completely misreading Donna Haraway's intentions in
_The Cyborg Manifesto_.

> As you know, I think there is too much loose talk around
> "autism" both on the part of folks who pathologize "it"
> and those who affirm "it" as an identity position. . .
> [P]opular discussions seem to me so very loose and
> freighted with stealthy moralizing ("they" are creepy,
> inscrutable, alien, incapable of empathy, blah blah blah). . .

I'm not aware of any popular discussions that imply that
folks on the Autistic Spectrum are "immoral". Quite the
contrary -- a lot of the discourse surrounding AS or
Asperger's seems to have the intention of **freeing** people
who might otherwise be dismissed as "badly behaved" or
"difficult" or "ill-mannered" from conventional moral
judgment. In scenarios like this one, for example:
Imagine this scene: A classroom of eight-year-olds.

The teacher is trying to make sure they finish their work
before the bell goes. Most of the children are concentrating
on the task, discussing the topic with their classmates,
and completing their worksheets. One boy, whose worksheet
is almost empty, isn’t writing or joining in.

The teacher walks over to him:

‘Simon,’ she says sharply, ‘you’ve hardly started. You’d
better pull your socks up if you’re going to finish in time!’

Simon looks shocked and flustered. He quickly bends down,
and pulls his socks up.

‘Simon!’ the teacher shouts, ‘Enough of your cheek! I will
have no insolence in my class.’

Simon burst into tears. He is more confused than ever.

Imagine this kind of thing happening between an adult and a
police officer, and the stakes are even higher.

So a good deal of the "popular discussion" surrounding the
Autistic Spectrum has been specifically directed at teachers
and police officers and other authority figures (the pilot
of a commercial plane on which a "spectrum" child is having a
"meltdown", say) to modify the "standard" interpretation of
such a scenario as "a 'neurotypical' person giving the authority
figure 'a hard time', or being rebellious or uncooperative or
even criminal", with an attitude of forbearance toward a person
who might not be processing sensory experiences or
thoughts in a standard way.

jimf said...

Also -- and this is the >Hist connection -- **dialog** between
neurotypical folks and people on the "Spectrum" (and a **lot**
of STEM folks -- computer programmers, mathematicians, engineers,
and so forth -- whether professionally diagnosed or not,
and however such a "diagnosis" might be refined or elaborated
in the future, have **something** going on, whether you want
to call it Asperger's or Autistic Spectrum or whatever)
can be like ships passing in the night.

My guess is that the kind of writing exemplified by this blog
(both by the original posts and often even by the comments --
whether my own or others') is extremely difficult for a lot of
AS folks to parse. You may recall that I've even been accused
of outright "gaslighting" (which is the farthest thing imaginable
from my intentions).

One of Chris Mooney's "Inquiring Minds" interviewees, in one of
the podcast segments about the psychological bases of political
attitudes, said something along the lines of "It's a
standard liberal assumption that if reasonable people can
just sit down in the same room and discuss their differences
calmly, they can reach a reasonable compromise. But
the truth seems to be looking more and more
like maybe they **can't**, and that maybe even putting them in
the same room together will make things **worse** -- polarize
them even more."

I'm very taken, these days, with this notion that psychological
differences -- differences of personality and temperament,
mostly unexamined and unspoken -- have a much greater impact on
political discourse and ideological and philosophical differences
than is commonly credited. I have no idea what, if anything,
can or should be done about it though.

jimf said...

> I'm not aware of any popular discussions that imply that
> folks on the Autistic Spectrum are "immoral".

OK, I take that back. Though "immoral" wouldn't be
the right word here -- just "extremely difficult" (for a
neurotypical person to deal with) or even "unpleasant".

Dale Carrico said...

the connection was your comment about R.U. Sirius (and other >Hist identified folks) apparently completely misreading Donna Haraway's intentions in _The Cyborg Manifesto_

As someone who teaches the stuff, I know dense theory like Haraway's gets read in facile and erroneous ways all the time, it's difficulty derives in part from its effort to write the world differently and this isn't easy to read, definitely it's not like reading People magazine.

I think the thing that confuses Haraway and me too is that these are misreadings by people who insist they love the essay and identify with it and quote from it and claim to pay close attention to it... and still misread it.

It always seemed to me an assimilation of a critical theory on "tech" to the more promotional language people are used to talking about "tech" in. It's just that the essay seeks to intervene in all that. Haraway herself regards this as a failure of the rhetoric of the piece, especially its use of humor and expectation that readers will be literate in a lot of critical and activist work as well as science and science fiction (never a safe bet).

Dale Carrico said...

I'm sure that territorializing and hierarchical stuff is built into the cake we are baking out of ideology and dis/identifications. But I tend to think all that is too underdeterminative to cash out in useful political proposals, beyond maybe some terse suggestions about how to frame policy proposals or the atmospherics of media ads here and there.

I'll admit the rather shameful basis of my reluctance to follow Mooney down this road. When I was in high school I was very conservative and even fell for Ayn Randian/market fundamentalist nonsense. None of those beliefs survived my exposure to better arguments and the complexities of the wider world.

The transformation was really extraordinary -- I think I probably seemed like a pretty closed off defensive inattentive belligerent guy as a senior in high school. But I was really just a parochial ignoramus and that made me a right-wing tool. I became a lefty when I learned more about the world, and more of a lefty the more I learned.

Again, I do not deny hierarchical mammals do politics within loose but probably discernible bounds, especially in the short term, but I think focusing there tends to foster learned hopelessness and helplessness politically in ways that benefit the right more than the left even when it is lefties presumably making the arguments.

jimf said...

> When I was in high school I was very conservative and
> even fell for Ayn Randian/market fundamentalist nonsense.

Oh my gosh, I never knew that! I never would have guessed
it either.

Well, then, OK -- **somehow** your mental configuration
radically changed state, and I also imagine it did so in its
own good time, and without any explicit effort on your part.
Stuff you were exposed to seeped in gradually, and then there was
a seismic shift that occurred deep under the surface
of things. It seems less likely to me that you could
have been deliberately **harangued** into changing your
attitudes -- by any one conversation, or by any one
person, or by one book.

It's like that guy John Larsen I mentioned to you a while
ago, who does an ex-Mormon podcast (
It's hard to picture, listening to him now, that less
than 10 years ago he was a true believer.

(Unfortunately, sometimes people go in the other direction, too.
Maybe that has something to do with the social matrix that
somebody is, or wants or "needs" to be, embedded in.)

So no -- I certainly don't think it's impossible for people
to change their political beliefs. I just don't
think it happens in the straightforward ways people
might imagine it does.

And I certainly do think that being exposed to ideas outside one's
customary social milieu is a good thing, and can
sometimes lead to such seismic shifts. (As religious fundamentalists
know perfectly well -- that's why they home-school their
kids and don't want them to hear about the theory of
evolution. ;-> ).

Dale Carrico said...

I took an intro to feminism course in the philosophy department -- bell hooks, Audrey Lorde, Marilyn Frye blew my mind. I became an atheist, a feminist, an anti-racist (to my parents, a race traitor in fact), came out as queer, became a vegetarian... by the time I was in Georgia in Queer Nation activists connected me to nonviolence (at the King Center in Atlanta), needle exchange, clinic defense, socialism, intersectionality, and then we were off to the races!

jimf said...

> . . .RU Sirius. . . -- is he a self-diagnosed
> Aspergers spectrum person or something?

Hm. Presumably not:
January 6, 2010

. . .[O]ur geekmobile banked a hard left. . .into the parking lot
of the. . . building where the H+ Summit was already underway last
month. . .

Want to amuse yourself? Talk trash with someone with Asperger’s
Syndrome. . .

The key to hilarity is not the jokester, but the straight man. An
Asperger’s convention is a community of straight men. I was in smartass

Case in point:

R.U. Sirius, wasn’t. Dressed like a court jester, he offered a
scholarly perspective on the history of the human urge for subversion
that was itself a demonstration of the urge. Nobody got it.
When lesser jesters fail to amuse an audience, they bomb.
But RU was trained as a yippie. This seminal group of pranksters
specialized in performing drive-by street theatre for the benefit
of squares who were not in on the joke. When the Sirius jests
failed to deploy, Sirius got that glint in his eye that said,
"Here’s my chance to seriously fuck with these people." Beards
were stroked like teddy bears while Sirius bombarded them with
brain bombs that required delight in irony and spontaneous joy
when connotations contradict denotations. Confused audience members
kept spinning around to stare at me and fellow Syntientist
Michael Gusek, because we were the only people in the room
cackling like hyenas. The first talk I was able to understand,
and I was one of the only people present who understood it.
This was a community with the highest per capita I.Q. and the
lowest per capita clue. . .

[T]here are two kinds of people with Asperger’s: sweet ones
and dicks. Sweet ones acknowledge they don’t understand sarcasm or
discretion and are paranoid about hurting people’s feelings and
develop rule-based techniques to cope. Dicks are the ones who use
it as a get-out-of-jail-free card, who introduce themselves by saying,
"I have Asperger’s" which, translated, means: "I am about to be
rude to you, and I expect not to be held responsible. What you just
said is stupid, and here’s why. . ."

These are the best straight men of all. . .

My co-conversationalist [mentioned] that an efficient means to aid
concentration is: "Divorce your wife." No smile, no wince of embarrassment,
no defensive posture against my clenched fist, just unblinking eye
contact as he expounded upon the reverse correlation between productivity
and love. The guy played it so straight, I finally burst out laughing,
at which point he tried to figure out when he’d managed one of
those mysterious joke things he’d heard about.

This, by the way, was a Sweet Aspie who had developed baroque algorithms
for guessing what other people are experiencing when everyday social
intuition failed to kick in. The most jaw-dropping talk I heard at the
conference was his off-the-cuff conversation, yet I imagine it would
be frustrating to be his girlfriend. . .