amor mundi

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

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Should Be A Rule

Never describe as ACCELERATION what are really social and political changes resulting in precarization for majorities and wealth concentration for the few.

If George W. Bush Was the Monolith in the Real 2001...

...does that make Trump's election in 2016 the real singularity, the collapse of the present into unintelligibility, right on schedule with the more rash predictions of the transhumanist futurologists?

Monday, May 22, 2017

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Final Thoughts From My Class This Term: For Futurity

1 NO MONOLITH

There is no such thing as technology in general. There are a plurality of artifacts, techniques, performances, research programs, events both real and imagined, things used and reused and misused, efforts supported and criticized, knowledges discovered, funded, regulated, made, maintained, marketed, appropriated, everything changing. Technological impacts are always specific and so, they should be specified. As CS Lewis insisted, when we say technology gives people power over nature what this really always means is technology gives some people some power over some other people.

2 PLURALIZE, POLITICIZE, HISTORICIZE!

There is no such thing as progress-in-general, either. Progress is always progress toward ends, and ends are as plural as the people who have them. The facilitation of one end will typically frustrate others, "optimization" always constrains as much as it enables. What technologies are capable of is not determined so much by their engineering specs but by the ways they are taken up by the diversity of their stakeholders. The costs, risks, and benefits of technoscientific change will all differ according to the positions of its stakeholders. And so, whenever anyone makes a claim in the name of "technology-in-general" or "progress for all" or "human enhancement as such" (as if we all agree already what life is about and what count as enhancements) you should always start translating that into a claim about a moment or conjuncture in an ongoing social struggle over the costs, risks, and benefits of technoscientific change to the diversity of its stakeholders.

3 NATURE AS ARTIFACT AND THE POLITICS OF APOLITICISM.

Not all artifacts and techniques are recognized as technology at all, indeed most are not, and many are treated instead as "nature." When the political work of the natural is to treat that which is open to contestation as if it were instead inevitable or necessary or assumed to be optimal, it tends to defend the status quo and anti-democracy. But when technology discourse treats extreme and even transcendent outcomes as technologically determined, autonomous, or the result of sheer momentum, then that which is least natural of all, that which is the result of the most fraught fragile painstaking effort of all -- political progress itself -- can be "naturalized" into reactionary (Manifest) Destiny, the space of Barthes's alienated Jet Man. Even techno-transcendental declarations which seem to repudiate natural finitude and insist there are "No Limits!" ultimately translate to the customary conviction of the privileged that there will always be other folks on hand to clean up their messes for them. Again, after all, what would seem more natural to the powerful than the smooth ongoing function of power?

4 INSTRUMENTALITY AND POLITICS.

In this course we have often called on an Arendtian distinction between political power understood as the experience of possibility or potential (power from the L potens) as opposed to instrumental power understood as an amplification of given strengths and capacities. One understanding of power invokes a political or rhetorical rationality which takes plurality and therefore the possibility of resistance for granted, another understanding of power invokes an instrumental rationality translating causes into effects, means into ends. One sees history as a radically contingent, interminable, interpersonal struggle, the other sees history as playing out causal material forces, often superhuman ones. One is prone to social constructions and intersectional analyses grounded in plural histories, the other is prone to technological determinisms and natural progressivisms that recast differences as atavisms. Both understandings or inhabitations of power yield insights and uses on their own terms, but for Arendt it was crucial we grasp the essentially political character of concepts like freedom and progress, and understand the risk of re-casting these values in merely instrumental terms. What Arendt failed to elaborate was the extent to which the theoretical understanding of the political she championed itself depends on deeper instrumentalizations still, most crucially the infra-humanizing work of white supremacy.

5 FOR FUTURITY:

For our purposes together, we have understood "The Future" as a site of imaginative investment, framed metaphorically as a Destiny/Destination, but one at which no one ever arrives.The Futurisms we have observed clashing are discourses, movements, subcultures that have formed around particular narratives and visions of "The Future." Futurology is one such discourse -- with its own archive, figures, frames, canon, and conceits -- and it is becoming one of the prevalent vocabularies through which global elites rationalize the costs and risks of their policies today (even as we raised substantial questions about its logical and empirical standards and historical assumptions: every extrapolation eventually fails, trends are more retroactive than predictive, making bets isn't the same thing as making arguments, etc.). In the last weeks of this course I have emphasized the role of futurology in corporate-military think tanks and commercial imagery and sfnal narratives in contemporary technology discourse that has been marketing deregulatory disruption, privatization of common goods and public services as if these are democratizing and emancipatory developments. Finally, I have used the term "Futurity" to describe the quality of openness inhering in and arising out of the diversity of stakeholders to the present. It is to recognize, preserve, and enlarge this critical and creative space of pleasure, problem-solving, and resistance that I have dedicate this class. The subtitle of our course may have been "A Clash of Futurisms," but the title is: "For Futurity." Remember this: The work of building sustainable, equitable, consensual, convivial futures happens in the present world, in the contests and collaborations of people figuring out ways of living together and reconciling their ends, here and now, not through retreats into transcendent futures, essentialist parochialisms, separatist enclaves, or segregated spaces.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Wordy

I love how wordy English is about being wordy: chatty effusive expansive garrulous gossipy gushing loquacious talkative verbose voluble...

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

A is A?

I suspect that finding it simultaneously equally impossible to believe Trump will and also will not be impeached day after day is driving nearly every intelligent person quite mad right now.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

I Don't Know What Is Going To Happen

I was among the ones who knew Trump could win the nomination of his party and then the presidency in principle, but for whom I never did really believe this would happen. I didn't believe it, even knowing just how racist this country really is. I didn't believe it, even after living through Nixon and Reagan and W.

Anyway, I don't know what is going to happen next. There are people who seem to feel sure with each week's handful of unprecedented Trumpian violations the next revelation or the one after that will change some sort of calculation on the part of enough GOP representatives to open the door to accountability in some form. There are other people who seem to feel sure instead that in two years' time widespread dissatisfaction and fear of Trump may create a mid-term wave empowering Democrats to provide such accountability.

I hope these people are right. Obviously, in a world where elected officials and political staffers were accountable for the consequences of their decisions on the diversity of folks those decisions affect then these people would be right as certainly they should be right. But the simple truth is that nobody knows how low the GOP will go to get their tax cuts for the rich and profitably harmful deregulation, just as nobody knows if disenfranchisement and voter intimidation and divisive negativity and widespread cynicism can be overcome to check the nationwide electoral disappointments for Democrats and the trajectory of the nation back into the inequities of the nineteenth century.

As someone in the business of helping students into knowing more, opening them to new knowledge, polishing the forms in which they articulate knowledge to others -- all this knowing how much I am not knowing right now feels especially painful and awkward. I find I am really going back to basics these days -- emphasizing basic critical thinking and expression skills, making sure whatever the topic basic distinctions between commodities and public goods or basic connections between partisan reform and radical movements are always clear and available for students to use in the service of actually democratizing work.

Millions and millions and millions of people disapprove of Trump -- millions and millions and millions more did not vote for him or for anyone else despite their eligibility and perhaps enough of these people may be mobilized to change things. Change will be built in part out of those realities. But who is to say how soon and how much that change will reflect the values of sustainability, equity, plurality, and consent that define my own perspective? We can only do our best and help others to their best. One of the knowledges conferred by critical theory is that nobody, not even those credited with knowing most, know everything that matters about what is happening in the moment they are living, so that none of us may be fully justified to despair.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Funny

The appearance of spontaneous libertarian order is always enabled through the delivery of simultaneous authoritarian orders.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Last Class Today

...of a long and unexpectedly difficult term. Turns out teaching a class called "For Futurity" is really hard to do when many of your students fear their future has been stolen from them. The end of term final projects reveal my students at their best, tho, full of ideas and creativity and care, which is fortunately ending a fraught term on a high note. 

Monday, May 08, 2017

Just Between Us

No need to infer conspiracy when incumbency's opportunities are so very endlessly many.

Sunday, May 07, 2017