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

Friday, December 23, 2005

Happy Festivus, For All the Rest of Us

With each passing year of the Bush Administration the relevance of the "Airing of Grievances" grows more conspicuous. Perhaps next year we can file Impeachment under "Feats of Strength"? Or would that just be another Festivus Miracle? More Festivus here and here.

PS. I had a brainstorm last night after about three mugs of Safeway instant coffee spiked with Cointreau (one does what one can with what one has on hand)... Festivus as High Holiday and/or Bacchanal in the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Anyone? Anyone?

Monday, December 19, 2005

Tidying Up

You will have noticed a flurry of Pancryptics posts this morning. I have finally finished the blasted dissertation and am now scrambling to get the signatures of my committee members from the four corners of the earth so that the administrivial Eye of Power will finally confer the "PhD." that has felt a foregone but nonetheless endlessly delayed conclusion for months and months by now. Anyway, as of now the whole dissertation is more or less available on the blog. The truth is that the blog version differs from the official dissertation at this point because in quite a lot of places I've responded to substantial and editorial suggestions from so many readers that it has gotten too difficult to track everything and update the electronic version. When and if bits and pieces of the argument get published elsewhere, or possibly the whole thing as a book, I'm sure the writing will mutate further still. I have gone back into the blog and updated the chapter on David Brin, Markets With Eyes, since the comments I received produced some really substantial changes and I think the writing that remains is the best and most useful in the whole diss. As always, comments, questions, and especially criticisms are very welcome.

Chapter Three: Markets With Eyes

I’ve never looked through a keyhole without finding someone was looking back. –- Judy Garland

I don't think there's much distinction between surveillance and media in general. -– Bruce Sterling

One: Two Cheers for the Surveillance Society

I. Either/Or

II. Eye Infinitum

Two: Too Many Truths

III. Truths to Power

IV. Neither/Nor

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Pancryptics: Acknowledgements

For their patience, provocations, and general unflappability I am indebted to the members of my Committee, Mark Poster, Pamela Samuelson, and especially Linda Williams. To the Chair of my Committee, Judith Butler, I register a deeper debt, not just for her comments on the text and support for this writing, but for her ongoing support throughout my time at Berkeley, through all my many perplexing, histrionic twists and turns.

My friend, colleague, and comrade James Hughes has been a constant intellectual, moral, and emotional touchstone, helping me connect up my philosophical preoccupations with the demands of technoprogressive advocacy. My friends Gillian Harkins, Colleen Pearl, James Salazar, and Catherine Zimmer have suffered bravely through my endless ranting about the psychic devastations of the dissertating process as well as my endless raving about weird technological topics. Who knows what I would have done without them!

I cannot begin to register all the marvelous conversations and arguments in which I have unfairly managed to give myself the last word in this text, but I can name at least some of the conversational partners to whom I am variously indebted: Russell Blackford, Nick Bostrom, Richard Glen Boire, Damien Broderick, Jamais Cascio, George Dvorsky, James Fehlinger, Tom Fitzgerald, Felipe Gutterriez, Eric Hughes, Paul Hughes, Gee Gee Lang, Annalee Newitz, Litia Perta, Masha Raskolnikov, Wrye Sententia, Erik Schneider, Simon Smith, Martin Striz, Charis Thompson, Kathleen Toma, Mike Treder, Matthew Turner, Jules Tuyes, Linda Wallace, Robin Ward, and Robin Zebrowksi, among many others.

I also want to thank David Bates, Michael Mascuch, Marcus Norman, Jane Taylorson, and Elizabeth Wadell for countless acts of help, support, generosity, and elbow grease. As for Maxine Fredericksen, she is nothing short of a divine personage walking upon this debased earth, and I will say no more.

I thank all those who have commented either in e-mails or on my blog, pseudonymously and otherwise, to my ramifying online writings, as well as to my wonderful students in the Department of Rhetoric at Berkeley and at the San Francisco Art Institute, especially in the courses “Deliberation about Technological Change” from the Summer of 2004, “Network Politics and ‘New’ Media” in the Spring of 2005, and “Varieties of Technoethical Discourse” later that Summer.

Finally, I thank my partner Eric Kingsley, to whom I also dedicate this dissertation, who inspired me to pursue a radical change of subject when it didn’t seem possible, who supported the writing through countless times it didn’t seem possible, and who has stuck around to see the thing through, which scarcely seems possible.

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Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Cackles from the Balcony: Heckuva Job Edition

[via Think Progress] In response to a question from Fox News anchor Brit Hume concerning how he feels about the performance of his Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, President Bush frankly flabbergastingly offered up the assessment that Rumsfeld is "Doing a Heckuva Good Job."

Yes, that's right.

Just as he said of FEMA Director Michael Brown in the midst of that laughably unqualified crony's catastrophically incompetent and immoral non-response to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, incompetence that assured the destruction -- which is ongoing, mind you -- of one of America's greatest cities (and no, by the way, the theme park for fat midwestern evangelical whites with which Republicans mean to replace New Orleans doesn't actually count as "reconstruction"), Bush has now said the very same thing of the smug word-salad-spewing Rumsfeld while corpses and debts and anti-American hostility all balloon across the globe under the direction of his manic baton.

Eric and I must admit to being dumbfounded.

Unprecedented devastation all around, domestic and foreign. Really, truly, it's impossible to parody. You try, and then yet again they blithely surpass you. A Heckuva Job, that.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Conclusion: Markets Without Materiality

The Machinery of Freedom: [A] Guide to Radical Capitalism, a book first published in 1973 and reprinted many times since, has a unique status among the advocates of the “anarcho-capitalist” viewpoint championed by a number of American technology enthusiasts. Its author is the economist and professor of law David Friedman. With chapters like “Sell the Schools,” “Sell the Streets,” and “Police, Courts, and Laws -– on the Market,” The Machinery of Freedom manages somewhat extraordinarily to make Milton Friedman -– the enormously influential Nobel Prize winning economist, Reagan Administration economic policy advisor, quintessential exemplar of the Chicago School, and the author’s father –- appear to be merely moderate in his own advocacy of “free market” ideology. A number of key figures for my dissertation, like Vernor Vinge, Tim May, and Max More (founder of the “Extropian” movement of market libertarian technophiles discussed by Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron in their essay “California Ideology,” as well as by Paulina Borsook in her book Cyberselfish) all have repeatedly named Friedman’s book as a key inspiration for their own work. In a more recent work of his published online, a book entitled Future Imperfect, Friedman has responded in kind, dedicating the volume to Tim May and Vernor Vinge.

Among other things, David Friedman stages a confrontation in Future Imperfect rather like the one that has preoccupied so much of my own dissertation, between advocates of “Strong Privacy” like the Cypherpunks I discuss in Chapter Two and advocates of “transparency” like David Brin, who I discuss in Chapter Three. In terms that strongly evoke those of the “Cypherpunk’s Manifesto” by Eric Hughes, Friedman writes: “If I communicate online… using encryption, I can be betrayed only by the person I am communicating with. If I do it using an online persona… with no link to my realspace identity, not even the people I communicate with can betray me.” Therefore, he concludes that the “strong privacy” made possible by ubiquitous unbreakable digital encryption “creates a world which is, in important ways, safer than the one we now live in.” He characterizes what he means by “safety” here more specifically as “a world where you can say things other people disapprove of without the risk of punishment, legal or otherwise.”

But Friedman begins to fret in a rather Brinian vein that “[i]t does no good to use strong encryption for my email if a video mosquito is sitting on the wall watching me type and recording every keystroke.” Contemplating this scenario yields the perplexing prediction for Friedman that “cyberspace” might emerge as a realm “with more privacy than we have today,” as distinguished from a “realspace with less,” or, as he goes on to put the point, the arrival of “a world where physical actions are entirely public, [and] information transactions entirely private.” Later, he frames this starkly as “[t]he conflict between realspace transparency and cyberspace privacy.”

Friedman then proceeds from assumptions that will have become all too familiar to us by now: Freedom is identified with private voluntary transactions, voluntary transactions are identified with explicit contracts and radically privatized market relations, and the primary threats to the free play of this edifying market order are identified as the public depredations of Big Brotherly governments. Or, as Friedman puts these points: “Although private parties occasionally engage in involuntary transactions such as burglary, most of our interactions with each other are voluntary ones.” On the other hand, “[g]overnments engage in involuntary transactions on an enormously larger scale.” If “government is merely a particularly large and well organized criminal gang, stealing as much as it can from the rest of us” then “individual privacy against government is an unambiguously good thing.” He then assures us that, “[M]ost Americans appear, judging by expressed views on privacy… to consider privacy against government as on the whole desirable, with an exception for cases where they believe that privacy might be used to conceal crimes substantially more serious than tax evasion.” That tax evasion is an unserious crime clearly goes without saying...

And so, the dilemma for the market libertarian is that “strong privacy in a transparent society requires some way of guarding the interface between my realspace body and cyberspace. This is no problem… where the walls of my house are still opaque. It is a serious problem [where] every place is, in fact if not in law, public.” Since Friedman has connected the traditional distinction of the public from the private so insistently to a further distinction of the materiality of what he calls “realspace” from an apparently dematerialized, informational “cyberspace” it is perhaps not so surprising as it might initially seem to find that he conjures up the cyberspatial here through an image of domesticity in particular.

It is intriguing to observe the lengths to which Friedman then goes to defend against the imagined penetration of this private domestic space by transparency. He writes: “If we are sufficiently worried” -– what, me worry? -– “about other people hearing what we say, one solution is to encrypt face to face conversation.” He continues on, and with considerable detail:
With suitable wireless gadgets, I talk into a throat mike or type on a virtual keyboard (keeping my hands in my pockets). My pocket computer encrypts my message with your public key and transmits it to your pocket computer, which decrypts the message and displays it through your V[irtual] R[eality] glasses. To make sure nothing is reading the glasses over your shoulder, the goggles get the image to you not by displaying it on a screen but by using a tiny laser to write it on your retina. With any luck, the inside of your eyeball is still private space.

Here the private realm has retreated into the body’s inner precincts, come to rest in that most delicate and vulnerable of organs (apart, of course, from the privates themselves), presumed proscenium to the inner theater of the mind, presumed window on the soul -– the human eye. And with this retreat into the eerily immaterial eye, Friedman retraces the disembodiment and dematerialization through which he would otherwise formulate the privacy he valorizes.

“[S]ince most of us live most of our lives in realspace,” the material world, the world menaced by the prospect of Brin’s technoconstituted transparency, we live in what threatens to be “a very public world.” But cyberspace, conceived by Friedman as a dematerialized “virtual reality,” promises the preservation and, better, the radical augmentation through strong encryption techniques of a private (and privatized) world. As Friedman rather breathtakingly goes on to put the point: “[I]f deep V[irtual]R[ealty]… giv[es] us a world where all the interesting stuff happens in cyberspace and realspace activity consist[s] of little more than keeping our bodies alive, it will be a very private world.”

To grasp the extent to which Friedman’s privatized virtuality relies for its force on a denigration of bodily life and of materiality as such, notice that he disdains even the “realspace” paraphernalia of goggles, gloves, earphones, and the like that typically accompany futurist representations of virtual reality technologies. “[I]f we can… figure out how our nervous system encodes the data that reaches our minds as sensory perceptions, goggles and headphones will no longer be necessary.” Note the dematerialization performed by the formulation in which “sense” (“sensory perceptions”) is treated merely as the form in which “data” is “encode[d]” by a “system.” We have in fact already arrived at the virtual reality conjured up explicitly in the next sentence, in which one could, Friedman proposes, simply “[p]lug a cable into a socket at the back of [the] neck for full sense perception of a reality observed by mechanical sensors, generated by a computer, or recorded from another brain.” In such a world, writes Friedman, “most of the important stuff” –- again that curious phrase –- “consists of signals moving from one brain to another over a network, with physical acts by physical bodies playing only a minor role. To visit a friend in England there is no need to move either his body or mine -– being there is as easy as dialing the phone.”

Strictly speaking, of course, dialing a telephone is scarcely a disembodied experience, England geographically exists whether or not we happen to be there, a socket at the back of the neck might be expected at the very least to tickle occasionally, the computers and electrons on which cyberspaces are variously instantiated are in fact material, information is, indeed, always and indispensably instantiated on a material carrier of some kind, and the electrochemical dispositions of the physical organ we call the brain are likewise physical.

Even if we sensibly defer discussion of the poetical and spiritual places some readers might be inclined to go on to from here, the curiosity of the spectacle Friedman’s argument is making of itself here is surely available to us all. Robert Heilbroner has famously described economists as “the worldly philosophers,” as collaborators in the most relentlessly materialist humanist tradition on offer. And here, to preserve the norms and assumptions of political economy an heir to that tradition, one who has described as his chief contribution to it simply that he takes some of that tradition’s commonplace assertions to “their natural conclusions,” finds that he must denigrate the very material and bodily foundations on the basis of which that tradition has always defined itself and distinguished itself from all others. To retain what he takes to be a political economist’s conception of worldliness, a political economist finds he must disdain the world.

For Katherine Hayles, information theory from its inauguration in the early twentieth century has rested definitively on the forceful distinction of information from materiality, and on the subsequent denigration of the material term of that distinction. Hayles proposes that we characterize as “virtuality” the condition that prevails in a culture such as our own, in which the assumptions of classical information theory have penetrated into conceptual domains, public practices, and forms of knowledge far more generally. Hayles has noted any number of expressions of what she takes to be the foundational gesture of information science.

First, she notes the distinction posited as early as 1948 by Claude Shannon, between message and signal. “A message has an information content specified by a probability function that has no dimensions, no materiality, and no necessary connection with meaning. It is a pattern, not a presence. Only when the message is encoded in a signal for transmission through a medium,” she goes on, “does it assume material form. The very definition of information, then, encodes the distinction between materiality and information.”

In the altogether different register of molecular biology, Hayles points to the contemporary view that “the body is said to ‘express’ information encoded in the genes. The content is provided by the genetic pattern; the body’s materiality articulates a preexisting semantic structure. Control resides in the pattern, which is regarded as bringing the material object into being.” Again, pattern is valorized while materiality, which Hayles repeatedly figures as “presence,” is denigrated.

On Hayles’ compelling account, the cultural condition of virtuality continually reiterates the gesture of an erasure of the body, continually makes recourse to reductive accounts of communication as information flows or a play of patterns which disavow the definitive embodiment of these experiences. It will probably be clear by now that I share Hayles’ concern about these denials of materiality in so much information theory. It is no accident that in choosing privacy as the site for my own intervention I have foregrounded a discursive site no less freighted with the urgencies and troubles of bodily life. Nevertheless, I think it is important to emphasize that there are more ways to be material than just the ways in which biological bodies are, and so that we should be careful not to treat such embodiment as synonymous with materiality as such. Nor, more crucially, should we describe dematerialization always through the language of disembodiment –- as sometimes Hayles seems to do. I worry for example that a comment such as that “[b]ecause they both have bodies, books and humans have something to lose if they are regarded solely as informational patterns” in fact re-enacts in its parallelism some of the very evacuation of embodied subjectivity that elsewhere Hayles takes such pains to resist.

I am also troubled by what seems to me an occasional drift into a curious conservatism that likely inheres in her singular focus on the materiality of bodies as always a presencing and hence, possibly, less an open futurity. This “conservatism” can be a matter as simple as the occasional argumentatively key reference to “the body,” as though there were only one kind of body to be had (all the more conspicuous since elsewhere Hayles is careful in her effort to trouble such a reduction). But it can play out in even quite central programmatic formulations as well. As witness: “Central to the construction of the cyborg are informational pathways connecting the organic body to its prosthetic extensions. This presumes,” Hayles presumes, “a conception of information as a (disembodied) entity that can flow between carbon-based organic components to make protein and silicon operate as a single system.”

From this, Hayles draws the moral that “[w]hen information loses its body, equating humans and computers is especially easy, for the materiality in which the thinking mind is instantiated appears incidental to its essential nature.” It is not clear to me why it is better to describe as a kind of disembodiment what might look instead like a prosthetic proliferation of the ways in which material bodies can be in the world. Just why would the prosthetic troubling of “the” normative body be analogized to information’s loss of its “body”? Again, I share Hayles’ concern that it is too commonplace for information theory to deny that information is always instantiated in a material carrier, or at any rate to insist naively that its material “form” is immaterial to information’s “content,” but I wonder about appeals to emphatically nostalgic intuitions of normative bodily materiality in particular in fortifying this claim. It seems to me especially perplexing to suggest that something about the recognition of a variety of viable material bodies (including cyborg bodies) would contribute to what seems to me the different and deeper confusion of a human with a computer.

While the socially intelligible body registers the force of normative constraints, it seems to me to be crucially open to variation and subversion. Further, I insist that along with a concern about the materialities of various embodied subjectivities, we should be likewise compelled to register the material realities of the public worlds in which these material bodies find themselves. If Hayles rightly calls attention to the dematerialization of subjectivity in information theory, I will insist that there is a complementary and no less momentous dematerialization and dismissal of political realities (like heterogeneity and unpredictability) in information theory as well. And this is a tendency that looks to me to facilitate often disastrously reductive analyses of political phenomena in an informational mode – from economism to game theory to “memetics” to evolutionary sociology.

In The Human Condition, Hannah Arendt describes the “living together of people” as the “indispensable material factor in the generation of [political] power” [emphasis added]. I read this in light of Judith Butler’s reading of Marx’s first Thesis on Feuerbach, in which she suggests: “If materialism were to take account of praxis as that which constitutes the very matter of objects, and praxis is understood as socially transformative activity, then such activity is understood as constitutive of materiality itself…. [T]he object materializes to the extent that it is a site of temporal transformation. The materiality of objects, then, is in no sense static, spatial, or given, but is constituted in and as transformative activity.” Here I find a helpfully nonspatializing conjuration of what Arendt would describe as the “public realm” and of the action it incubates and consists of (Arendt’s phrase, remember, is a significant one for a dissertation about the politics of agency in an era of digital networks: “the web of relations”). It is, then, to this double evacuation of the materiality both of subjectivity and of “publicity” that I recur in my own view of the ways in which information theory likely frustrates or confuses our efforts to accommodate, say, democratic values and intuitions about public goods to the transformed circumstances of a newly emerging “information age” of digital networked media.

For Katherine Hayles the essential gesture of virtuality is the privileging of information over a materiality from which it has already first been decisively but profoundly problematically distinguished. And the quintessential figure through which she illustrates what she takes be “wildly implausible… wrongheaded and dangerous” in this gesture tends to be the roboticist Hans Moravec who, in his book Mind Children, proposes a certain “fantastic scenario.” According to Moravec, writes Hayles, “human beings are essentially informational patterns rather than bodily presences. If a technology can replicate the pattern, it has captured all that really matters in a human being.” For Moravec, replicating this pattern while at once destroying the brain of a human being so “replicated” constitutes a kind of “transfer” of that human being from one material instantiation to another. As Hayles rather vividly summarizes the proposal, “[a]s ‘you’ are transferred into a computer, the trashed body is left behind, an empty husk. Once ‘you’ are comfortably inside your shiny new body, ‘you’ effectively become immortal. For when that body wears out or becomes obsolete, ‘you’ can simply transfer your consciousness to a new model.”

I agree with Hayles that such a proposal appears to rely on a number of questionable and disturbing assumptions. Among these: that science has a clear sense of what consciousness is in the first place, that what amounts to a sloppy wet gland can be treated as indistinguishable from what passes for a computer in our contemporary understanding of these things, that technologies can in fact be counted upon to function smoothly, that metaphors of reproduction map seamlessly onto metaphors of travel, and so on. I even agree to a point that for some, including possibly Hans Moravec himself, “the information/matter dichotomy maps onto the older and more traditional dichotomy of spirit/matter” with the consequence that “the contemporary privileging of information is reinforced by [certain] religious yearnings and beliefs that have been around for a long time and that are resonant with meaning for many people.”

But it seems to me no less significant that in Moravec’s scenario the “replication” of a pattern is to be treated as the “transfer” of a person from one kind of a body to another rather than her destruction and then replacement by some sort of copy only because there presumably exists some “objective” perspective from which the original and the copy are taken to be in some significant sense indistinguishable from one another. Presumably, the testimony from this “objective” perspective might fail to confer the status of “transfer” rather than “destruction and replacement” should the copy herself testify to a subjective discontinuity in her own experience of the process or sense of identification in its aftermath. But whether or not a host of separate “subjective” and “objective” perspectives testified to the sufficient similarity of the patterns discerned before and after the procedure to interpret its outcome as a “transfer” of identity from one bodily substrate to some other body or medium, it is rarely discussed and incomparably more difficult to imagine that the public or intersubjective negotiation of all these many different perspectives and their testaments would likewise issue out in the compelling sense of a continuous identity over the course of its worldly travels.

For me, Moravec’s informational construal of the self paradoxically privileges as material an objectivity over both a subjectivity and intersubjectivity that are then dematerialized and denigrated. I offer up this proposal simply as a complement to Hayles’ thesis, rather than an objection to it. And, likewise, as a complement to her characteristic figure of Hans Moravec’s fantastic scenario of a surgeon uploading a somehow disembodied consciousness into an imperishable digital form, I offer up by way of conclusion the tableau of David Friedman’s no less fantastic uploading of homo economicus into a somehow depoliticized privacy to shore up the market order as my own curious and characteristic figure.

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Monday, December 05, 2005

Of Course You Know, This Means War!

The Official Declaration of the War on Christmas.

Let me add, by the way, that as a cheerful atheist I find the relentless monologic drumbeat of "Happy Holidays" -- an obvious variation, after all, on the phrase Happy Holy Days -- scarcely less objectionable and pernicious from the perspective of sensible secular democracy than other judeochrislamic genuflections fashionable among the rubes, loons, and thugs in this joylessly joyous season.

Pancryptics: Introduction

"Pancryptics" is a word that evokes all at once for me the sense of an all-encompassing concealment, of an endless provocation to decipherment, and of a universe susceptible in its totality to coding.

Consider Alan Turing, a British mathematician, logician, and cryptographer whose life spanned the first half of the twentieth century. Turing is invariably credited today as one of the founders of both computer science and modern information science. In 1948 he published a paper entitled “Intelligent Machinery” in which he proposed that “[t]here is a remarkably close parallel between the problems of the physicist and those of the cryptographer.” He went on to “flesh out” this analogy considerably, suggesting that “[t]he system on which a message is enciphered corresponds to the laws of the universe,” and “intercepted messages to the evidence available,” and so on. At the time he published this paper Turing had devoted nearly a decade of his life, the years of World War II, to devising techniques for breaking enemy codes for the Allies, and so it is likely that this curious analogy reflected the preoccupations of this moment in his life as much as anything else. But I propose that whatever its origins in the biographical specificity of his circumstances Turing’s analogy reveals and complements assumptions that have come to freight information science more generally throughout its history as well as any number of other technocentric discourses into the present day.

On Turing’s analogy the universe is invested with a kind of personality that is assumed to have preferences in the matter of the way it is described. Arriving at scientifically warranted descriptions of the world is, for us, a matter of managing to discern these preferences. But because the universe is imagined as a secretive and even rather hostile antagonist to the humans who would strive to understand and cope with it these preferences are not conveyed to us outright so much as mysteriously intimated in the disposition of the furniture of the world itself.

With whom did Turing imagine the universe to be conversing in the first place in this analogy, one wonders, with its secret messages, laying out its scarcely scrutable evidences? Is the scientist as metacryptographer listening in on the voice of the world as it talks endlessly and forlornly to itself? Or did Turing imagine the coder as a kind of pilgrim, penitent, or, possibly, priest, becoming the proper recipient of the message of the cosmos simply by virtue of learning finally the language in which it speaks itself?

Whatever entailments rendered the analogy a compelling one for Turing, it intrigues me that his is a vision of scientific knowledge that threatens to deprive it of any avowable political life. Against an understanding of scientific inquiry and conviction as public practices, as the collaborative interrogation of a shared environment arising out of shared interests by means of shared protocols and eventuating in a shared, if imperfect and contingent, consensus of belief, Turing’s analogy locates the meaningfulness and significance of warranted scientific conviction squarely on the side of the universe itself. Turing stages in his analogy what amounts to an essentially private confrontation between the universe and anyone who would know it.

In 1985, in her “Manifesto for Cyborgs,” Donna Haraway pointed out that “communications sciences and modern biologies are constructed by a common move –- the translation of the world into a problem of coding.” But for Haraway this move registers not so much the search for the true language in which to describe at last the world as the world would prefer to be described itself, the essentially theological vision at the heart of Turing’s analogy. She describes the projects of contemporary informational construals of biological and communications sciences as searches, instead, “for a common language in which all resistance to instrumental control disappears and all heterogeneity can be submitted to disassembly, reassembly, investment, and exchange.” The ambition to discern or to craft the “common language” that would translate the world into a “problem of coding” is for Haraway the ambition to rewrite the dynamic heterogeneity of our environment in the image of a constellation of interchangeable terms without remainders, a world without intractable plurality or history, an open terrain in which an efficacious will can play out without inevitable friction or frustration.

Such a search should not be confused with the modest proposal of pragmatic philosophy that humans describe as “true” simply those convictions which seem best to facilitate their ends for now, whatever these may be. Pragmatism offers no reassurances that particular human ends will be achievable at last, nor even the diversity of human ends reconciled. But in its insistent depoliticization of scientific practice and knowledge, the faith that underlies the informational construal of biology and communication Haraway is talking about is curiously continuous with the vision of science animating Turing’s analogy as well.

While Turing’s analogy invests the universe with a kind of superlative subjecthood, the informational construals Haraway describes reduce the universe instead to an utter objecthood awaiting mastery and use. But both of these understandings impoverish or altogether refuse the intersubjectivity that is surely the condition of whatever confidence we might actually have in our scientifically warranted convictions such as they are, as well as the condition of the interminable contingency of such warrants for any practice of knowledge answerable to a changeable plurality of human ends.

I have used the term pancryptics in the title of this dissertation to conjure up and then to criticize three animating and interdependent images at the heart of such an informational construal of the human world: First, there is an image of social order construed as an object which can be described exhaustively in terms of transactions susceptible to encryption techniques, the model of sociality as a congeries of contracts. Second, there is an image of the material universe construed as an object which can be described exhaustively in numerical terms, the model of the cosmos of classic information science. And third, there is the curiously vacuous and apolitical image of the individual subject complementarily implied by each of these models.

Technological development is an ongoing provocation on our many private and public lives. Indeed, continual developmental interventions into "given" norms, laws, trading conventions, and the customary limits of public architectures and personal morphologies constitute a definitive and abiding crisis of cultural life in this historical moment. And the same is true no less of the fraught technocultural practices through which we struggle individually and collectively to re-weave these disruptions into unprecedented, provisionally meaningful relations with our histories and our hopes.

And as contemporary societies variously confront the bewildering ongoing and upcoming technological transformations of human capacities, assumptions, and legible limits it is interesting to notice just how often legal, theoretical, and popular contests over the meaning and force of human agency caught up in this developmental storm-surge turn specifically again and again to the subject of privacy as the lens through which to articulate many of the most urgent hopes and fears in play.

I focus my attention in what follows on these technocultural discourses of privacy and on the publicity that these discourses of privacy inevitably evoke and in which they are implicated. There are of course any number of vocabularies through which we make various and separate recourse in our efforts to negotiate a workable sense of individual dignity and agency amid the vicissitudes of the world. Subjecthood, citizenship, continence, authorship, property, and rationality are all examples of such vocabularies. But I argue in what follows that the language of privacy in particular stands in a unique relationship to technological development as an ongoing source of threats to and hopes for augmentations of such agency.

Practices of publication and collaboration facilitated by new digital networked information and communication technologies and social software, the practices on which I focus most of my attention here, are palpably reconstituting the lived demarcation of public from private life in this historical moment, and so are reconstituting much of our lived experience of the political as such. The same could be said of medical practices facilitated by new and emerging genetic, prosthetic, and cognitive therapies, like assisted reproductive technologies and neuroceutical medicines that radically intervene in mood and memory: As experimental subjects we have come to inhabit and even incarnate nodes in bioremedial networks of genetic information, intellectual property, administrative scrutiny, and informed consent. And so, I discuss ways in which prosthetic practices not only reflect and respond to but constitute and produce our sense of private life, and how they inspire the various claims we make in the name of privacy. I am keen to think through some of the ways in which the constellation of interrelated discourses and customary intuitions that have long been woven tightly together through the figure of privacy –- concerning bodily integrity, personal security, legitimate possessiveness, legible consent, and, perhaps most profoundly of all, secrecy -– might now be unraveling somewhat under pressure of contemporary technological change, thereby changing what we mean by privacy and what we demand of it in significant ways.

But as I have proceeded to sketch out some of the technological transformations of the subject of privacy, I find that I collide again and again against a related but importantly different discourse of privacy, freighted with its own assumptions about and quandaries for agency.

Contemporary American technocultural, technofuturist, technophiliac rhetorics sometimes seem fantastically fixated with what are described as “markets.” In the final section of the Epilogue to the dissertation I provide an extended critique of an anarcho-capitalist libertarian viewpoint for which many technophiles, especially American ones, seem to have a nearly unshakable ardor. I encourage readers who are unfamiliar with the contours of this viewpoint to skip ahead to that general discussion before delving into the proper subject of the dissertation, my account of the fraught relations between contemporary discourses of technology and privacy. In a nutshell, according to the libertarian viewpoint contemporary market relations are uniquely expressive of human nature, the sum of these relations is taken to constitute a space of freedom figured as a spontaneous order, and the principal emancipatory demand is for the elimination of state regulations that are imagined to restrain this order from its otherwise inevitable crystallization. This deregulatory demand is figured precisely as a radical privatization of the institutions of civic life hitherto associated with the public sphere.

The key contribution of specifically technophiliac free-marketeers to American market libertarian discourse would appear to be the regularly reiterated proposal that some particularly disruptive emerging technology or other is about to arrive on the scene. This technology might be digital networks, or encryption technologies, or surveillance devices, or virtual reality systems, or nanotechnologies, or some vague, shifting combination of these. The sudden ubiquity of this disruptive technology will, or so say these technophiliac free-marketeers, introduce a profound and creative destabilization that will break the crust of convention, bypass the intractable knot of pluralist stakeholder politics, overcome the regulatory impasse and thereby facilitate the emergence of a “stateless” and spontaneous market order in due course. So suggestive, insistent, and incessant are these extraordinary claims that three of my chapters have come to bear the imprint of my confrontations with variations on this argument: Chapter Two, “Markets From Math,” which discusses encryption and the “crypto-anarchy” of a coterie of technophiliac privacy activists called the Cypherpunks; Chapter Three, “Markets With Eyes,” which discusses video and biometric surveillance and author David Brin's vision of a “transparent society”; and the Conclusion, “Markets Without Matter,” which briefly discusses the frustrated hopes that animate the discourse of virtual reality.

In 1958, the philosopher Hannah Arendt wrote in the “Prologue” to her book The Human Condition of what she called “the highly non-respectable literature of science fiction,” that “nobody yet has paid [it] the attention it deserves as a vehicle of mass sentiments and mass desires.” Over the nearly half century that has elapsed since the publication of Arendt’s book, of course, a whole cottage industry of scholarship has emerged devoted to the redress of this deficiency, studying science fiction in popular film, in literature, in the imagery of television commercials, in passionate subcultures of fandom, and elsewhere. But despite all that it still seems to me that it is just as true as ever that few have paid anything like enough attention to the vital topical and tropological life of “science fiction” beyond fiction, in the presumably nonfictional discourses of corporate futurology, management literature, legal analysis, and policy language.

Futurity is an openness so radical we seem to demand its domestication from the start, and so we speak of “the future” instead. As if there were a road we’re on, as if there were a destination we’re on our way to. Policy-makers, bioethicists, technocritical theorists all take their own measures of distance from the whirlwind, and talk about contemporary quandaries through recourse to narratives from centuries past, Icarus, Eden, Babel, Faust, Frankenstein, 1984, Brave New World, while all around them, right now, today, unexpected unprecedented uncannily powerful devices vanish before our eyes into the nanoscale, digital networks proliferate and girdle the globe, biomedical interventions derange the customary limits, capacities, morphology, and span of bodily lives, and the very climate of the planet itself complains of the recklessness of crudely extractive industrial civilization in a tantrum of Greenhouse storms.

In the readings that follow I found that I too was drawn again and again to the writings of contemporary science fiction authors to delineate my account –- from pieces by David Brin, Cory Doctorow, Bruce Sterling, to Vernor Vinge, among others. But the works on which I have concentrated my attention here are not at all the fictions to which these writers have devoted the better part of their own attention, but certain curious and curiously influential forays they have made into technology polemics and public policy discourse. These writings of theirs (as well as those of technology critics and enthusiasts that reverberate conspicuously with the influence of these writings) have yet to attract as much as you would expect in the way of scholarly attention, especially readings attentive to what seems to me their unexpectedly shared recourse to certain basic assumptions, characteristic images, idiosyncratic cultural frames, and habitual rhetorical gestures; that is to say, precisely those aspects of their writing that would almost certainly be the ones foregrounded in serious readings of their various fictions. And so, part of what I am documenting here is an episode in an ongoing conversation about technology and privacy within a particular milieu, by means of which I mean to evoke a characteristic strain of technology discourse more generally, and even, I hope, to contribute something to (and somewhat against the grain of) that conversation myself. But first, I will want to survey the historical and conceptual terms of this conversation about technology and privacy in a more general way and so clarify its stakes, both for them and for me.

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Sunday, November 27, 2005

Judith Butler, On Futurity

I realize that it's been a month since I last posted here. Chalk it up to the demands of teaching, writing commitments elsewhere, a frustrating cold that Eric and I have been trading back and forth for weeks, and an unusually stubborn and abiding wrestle with autumnal melancholy that is not yet over. In the spirit of setting the discursive machineries in motion once more, though, I thought I'd offer up this lovely quote from Judith Butler's recent book Undoing Gender, which I stumbled upon while preparing notes for teaching this week. In this passage, Butler tentatively conjures up the possibility of "a modernity without foundationism" and the "politics of hope and anxiety" that would attend it. It is a vision of futurity I find very congenial and which connects up nicely with my last post to the blog, weeks ago:
The desire to foreclose an open future can be a strong one, threatening one with loss, loss of a sense of certainty about how things are (and must be). It is important, however, not to underestimate the force of the desire to foreclose futurity and the political potential of anxiety. This is one reason that asking certain questions is considered dangerous. Imagine the situation of reading a book and thinking, I cannot ask the questions that are posed here because to ask them is to introduce doubt into my political convictions, and to introduce doubt into my political convictions could lead to the dissolution of those convictions. At such a moment, the fear of thinking, indeed, the fear of the question, becomes moralized as a defense of politics. And politics becomes that which requires a certain anti-intellectualism. To remain unwilling to rethink one's politics on the basis of questions posed is to opt for a dogmatic stand at the cost of both life and thought.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

"The Future" Is a Racket

There is no such thing as the future at which any particular political or cultural movement can be said to be aiming more than any other. "The future" is a mystification, usually a distraction, through which disavowed contemporary political commitments express themselves in the guise of tomorrow's dawn.

Progressives fight for freedom, not for "the future." "The future" is little more than a funhouse mirror-image of some parochial present. For progressives it is not "the future" but futurity that must remain in our sight. Futurity is novelty, it is an openness to differences, it is endless contestation, it is a welcoming in of many contrasting voices and demands, it is an embrace of contingency, it is an acceptance of uncertain outcomes as a price for inclusion. Futurity is just as ineradicable a dimension of any properly human freedom as democracy is, as social justice is, as development is, as rights and the rule of law are.

There is no tribe, no program, no teleological end, no organization, no chosen people, no official membership, no church, no avant-gard, no monolithic movement, no favored nation that holds futurity whole and entire in its hand or in its gaze. And whenever futurity is eclipsed in the progressive vision, the politics it advocates will settle soon enough into one among many other conservatisms hungry to prevail over difference.

This is not to say that particular progressives do not aim after discernible, concrete ends like a global basic income guarantee, universal health care, a global people's parliament, a global fair trade organization, universal suffrage, transparent governance and social administration, a robust human rights culture, morphological freedom, strengthening the institutions and protocols that yield scientific knowledge, lifelong education, training and therapy for all, sustainable prosperity and democratic technological development. Of course we do.

But the point for progressives will always be to enlist ever more collaborators in these good works in their difference, not to mobilize some monolithic zombie army to enact anyone's particular perfect plan to achieve some of these goals. That is not politics. At best it is administration. At worst, I fear, it is futurity wrapped in the straightjacket of some shabby version of "the future" somebody came up with somewhere.

"The future" is a racket, it has something to sell you: stock tips in what amounts to some sad get-rich scheme, or perhaps the promise of membership in some ideological movement that offers you belonging and a few commanding pieties to fill the hole where your freedom should be.

Technological development is overabundantly too complex to be accommodated within any singular framework, however marvellous or well-meaning. There are indefinitely many particular developmental outcomes that can be described as progressive, and they do not align into a seamless, coherent, consistent program. Progressives know that just as our present is a future from out of the past in which there are indefinitely many good things being done and remaining left to do, so too will the futures from out of our present be rich and contradictory in their promises and demands. Progressives must have more than vision and conviction and foresight, but the humility that arises from a recognition of the partiality of even the most reasonable perspective and an embrace of the democratic clash of opinions and desires in all its unpredictability, frustration, and awful glory. Futurity is incomparably more than "the future."

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Today's Random Wilde

Despotism is unjust to everybody, including the despot, who was probably made for better things.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Technoprogressive ARTs

"ART" is an acronym that stands for assisted reproductive technology, a designation that refers to various artificial methods that are sometimes used to achieve wanted pregnancies. ARTs can include medications that induce ovulation, intrauterine insemination, in vitro fertilization, eventually, very probably, reproductive cloning, among a proliferating number of other techniques.

In more everyday parlance I have sometimes heard that "A" in ARTs fleshed out into the phrase artificial or alternative reproductive technologies instead, and I do think it is interesting to contemplate the force of such terminological substitutions on the ARTificial imaginary.

I personally prefer to think of ARTs as alternate reproductive technologies, because the term alternative better bespeaks for me the connection of ARTs to the progressive politics of choice as well as to what seems to me most radical and appealling in the politics of choice: its palpable emancipatory queerness.

I have written elsewhere about how the politics of choice should be construed in a broad way that encompasses more than the right of women to end unwanted pregnancies taking place in their own bodies, but to facilitate wanted pregnancies, to make informed medical decisions more generally -- from consensual drug use to end-of-life issues -- to embrace the diversity of loving "families we choose," and onward toward a technoprogressive politics of morphological freedom.

Bioconservative efforts to convince the general public to repudiate or lawmakers to ban ARTs have so far altogether failed to gain traction in the American political imagination.

I would argue in fact that these bioconservative efforts have represented a spectacular failure. As far as I can tell, they have had as their most conspicuous effect their contribution to a compensatory contemporary reconnection of the politics of the mainstream American left to a vigorous renewed championing of technological development regulated in the service of the common good.

As a technoprogressive this development is welcome to me indeed after many long decades of frustration with a left largely paralyzed in technophobic despair over the dehumanizing and environmentally catastrophic prevailing corporate-militarist models of development together with a cynically apolitical pastoral luddite romanticism in an anti-science left-wing New Age.

Today, instead, I see promising connections emerging in the widespread mainstream support across the left for stem-cell research, medical research more generally, support for the development of renewable energy (as with the technoprogressive Apollo Alliance), a reconnection to the venerable left ideal of a "reality-based" rather than "faith-based" address of shared problems, a renewed respect and hunger for higher education, and a defense of the fragile protocols on which consensus science depends for its good works (the excellent technoprogressive Chris Mooney has come to represent for the moment the most visible iceberg tip of this dimension of a more technoprogressive mainstream left political culture).

Bioconservative panic over ARTs and shrill bioconservative paeans to the special "dignity" and "meaning" to be found in avoidable illness and suffering seem surreally out of step with a society devoted to the collaborative redress of human suffering and the personal pursuit of human happiness in its incomparable diversity of forms.

Bioconservative and more conventional social conservative resistance to ARTs are conspicuously driven by the fear that these ARTs will be more than assistive and open up instead disruptive, emancipatory possibilities for alternative forms of social and personal reproduction that threaten the assumptions and customs with which these conservatives parochially identify and on which they imagine they depend to maintain their hold on power. Nowhere is this more clear than in the recent effort of some Republican lawmakers who have drafted new legislation that would make marriage a requirement for any kind of motherhood in the state of Indiana. This legislation included specific criminal penalties for unmarried women who do become pregnant by means other than "sexual intercourse."

Part of what is most interesting about this mean, obscene, and breathtakingly repressive conservative effort is that it functions not only to criminalize the prostheticization of reproduction for single mothers, lesbians, and other "inappropriate mothers" and "inappropriable others," but it simultaneously functions to re-naturalize and re-normalize the prostheticization of reproduction whenever reprotechs allign within certain valorized normative heterosexual frames. What is assisted in "assisted" as opposed to "alternative" reproductive technologies is precisely always only normal and naturalized heterosexual reproduction yoked inextricably to the delusively "normative" nuclear family.

Notice that "sexual intercourse" in the proposed Indiana legislation is actually rearticulated through prostheticization but still framed by normative assumptions. If ARTs are deployed always only to facilitate legible heterosexual reproduction and the social reproduction of the nuclear familial norm, then it is a buttress to "natural" reproduction even when this "natural" reproduction is in fact radically and ineradicably prosthetic.

This underlines what seems to me the crucial but usually overlooked insight that "technology" is never essentially and rarely even interestingly a matter of whichever toys happen to preoccupy the attention of technophiles and technophobes from moment to moment. It is significantly, rather, a matter of the technocentric discourses and practices through which various subjects, objects, and abjects are rendered more or less "familiar" or "unfamiliar," more or less "natural" or "contestable" through the lens of technologization. The more superficial question of whichever real or anticipated tools enrapture the attention of the technophiles and technophobes in their glossy mags and airbrushed tv-spots and breathless conference talks will typically be little more than symptoms of the working of these deeper discursive machineries.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Today's Random Wilde

It is only the superficial qualities that last. Man's deeper nature is soon found out.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Pancryptics Abstract

We are witness and accomplice in this moment to a breathtaking technological transformation of human capacities, assumptions, and limits. New media, biomedicine, and other disruptive technological developments confront millions of human beings with unprecedented quandaries and promises. Urgent legal, theoretical, and popular contests over the meaning and force of individual agency caught up in these developmental transformations repeatedly make crucial recourse to the subject of privacy. Consider, for example, the importance of privacy in court decisions and popular discussions concerning reproductive technologies and electronic surveillance.

I argue that the sense and significance of privacy is produced and reproduced through technologically mediated practices in ongoing transformation. The same is true no less of “publicity,” although I will show that in both the hyperbolic and yet commonplace technophobic and technophilic responses to disruptive technological change there is typically a foregrounding of the private that enacts a pernicious evacuation of the public altogether.

Digital networked publication and collaboration practices and the social software and media technologies that facilitate them are palpably reconstituting the lived demarcation of public from private life in this historical moment, and so reconstitute much of the lived experience of the political as such. Certainly, conventional champions of privacy who would treat it as an unproblematic "capacity" imperiled or empowered by particular technological developments discover soon enough that the values they imagine to arise spontaneously from and abide undisturbed within "nature" are in fact stable neither in their attributes, conditions, nor their implications. These developments expose the problems and even incoherence of privacy in general parlance, but also reveal that privacy is open to promising contestations. They italicize the need for renewed deliberation to influence developmental outcomes to better reflect a democratic conception of privacy and support public goods like due process, fair use, transparency, ongoing innovation, and free association.

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Tuesday, September 27, 2005

But Then Who Will Save Us?

In my last few entries to the blog I have defended what are sometimes derided as abstruse and "postmodernist" views. That I persist in defending these effete and frivolous theoretical concerns, this menacing relativism, all the while cheerfully defending democracy, science, and progress right here on the same blog is apparently infuriating to some portion of my scant readership.

From both the left and the right I have received exasperated e-mails pronouncing that I simply don't understand what democracy, science, and progress consist of and depend on in some deep sort of way. For these critics democracy, science, and progress appear to rely for their intelligibility and force on the stalwart defense of certain "realist" intuitions that look to me more or less indistinguishable from the claims of religious fundamentalists.

I want to illustrate my point by disagreeing with the spirit of a passage from which many generations of good progressives have drawn inspiration in their struggles for democracy and social justice. My inspiration for this argument comes from Richard Rorty's similar use of the same passage in a chapter of his book, Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity. The passage is from George Orwell's incomparably bleak and influential depiction of the workings of a modern mediated police state, 1984:
His heart sank as he thought of the enormous power arrayed against him... And yet he was right! ... Truisms are true, hold on to that! The solid world exists, its laws do not change. Stones are hard, water is wet, objects unsupported fall towards the earth's centre. With the feeling that he was speaking to O'Brien [the novel's unflappable and accomplished intellectual villain, a representative of the Inner Party of the police state], and also that he was setting forth an important axiom, [the novel's protagonist Winston] wrote: "Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows."

For Winston it is the solidity of the world itself (which he mistakenly treats as one and the same thing as the certainty he maintains in scientifically warranted beliefs) that buttresses his poor personal strength in the fight against overwhelming social injustice and organized violence. It is in the truth of our truisms that we are equal to the overbearing forces arrayed against us.

Needless to say, I myself draw no strength at all from such romantic fancies, and in fact I consider such faithful commonplaces to be deranging distractions from the actual work on which humans must depend to preserve some measure of peace and justice in the world. It is only fair to point out that even in the novel itself Winston's faith is exposed as heartbreakingly naive. If he thinks that his knowledge that 2 + 2 = 4 will somehow protect him from the suave O'Brien's taste for torture he discovers soon enough just how wrong he is.

All of this reminds me of the way I sometimes feel myself to differ in my own passionate and longstanding advocacy of nonviolence from the faith that lies at the heart of the commitment to nonviolence of many of my own heroes. While I am moved by the example and by the vision of Tolstoy, Gandhi, King, Day, and so many others, I have to admit that as a cheerful nonjudgmental atheist of more than two decades' conviction my own nonviolence lacks the "secure" foundation they confidently claim for their own. I cannot share in that moment which seems to recur so often in their writings and in the story of their lives when, confronted by the unfathomably monstrous scale of oppression and aggression, they testify to the faith that they ride an irresistible tide of history, that injustice and tyranny will be impelled to a devastation they can somehow discern in the very grain of the world.

Of course, Dostoievsky once famously worried that if god does not exist then all is permitted. Winston Smith maintains a faith in a sort of regulatory power inhering in scientifically warranted descriptions, just as many spiritual champions of nonviolence maintain the faith that their vision is not only righteous but freighted with inevitability. It is as if these faithful ones are untouched by Dostoievsky's quandary altogether. Truth exists and is captured in full by our scientific truisms, God's love will prevail and is implemented in full by our nonviolent struggles against injustice: and because truth exists, because God's love exists then evil is not permitted to prevail in the world.

But I do not believe the Universe has preferences in the matter of how humans describe it. I do not believe the Universe has preferences in the matter of how humans arrange their social affairs.

Because I do not believe in God I find that I pin my hopes instead on the people with whom I share the world.

I think that the norms, protocols, and institutions of consensus science provide us with the most reliable candidates for belief when what we want from a belief is more power to control our environment and anticipate experience. I think that the norms, protocols, and institutions of democratic governance, universal rights and general welfare provide us with the fairest, most prosperous, least corrupt, least violent social order.

I think that the warranted descriptions of consensus science are every one of them defeasible, and every one of them freighted with the values of the political practices and social worlds in which they arise, just as I think that democratic attainments are unspeakably fragile and susceptible to corruption. The views that seem to be derided and denigrated under the banner of "postmodernism" seem to me to diagnose exactly the difficulties of sensible clear-headed advocates of consensus science and democratization in a world for which technological developments have confounded traditional comfortable pieties on which people normally rely in times of threatening change and confront them instead with an overabundant inassimilable plurality of differences, demands, dangers, and problems.

Those who think I do not grasp what science, democracy, and progress depend on for their continued existence could not be more wrong. With no God to depend on to show us the Way, with no manifest Truths to invest our convictions with certainty, it is we who are called upon to make a world in the midst of our distress. Democracy, like science, needs no priests... only collaborators.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Today's Random Wilde

As for modern journalism, it is not my business to defend it. It justifies its own existence by the great Darwinian principle of the survival of the vulgarest.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

"Postmodern": A Word About A Word

[Promoted from the Comments] In an important sense I don't think there is any such thing as "postmodernism itself." Who are we actually talking about when we are talking about "postmodernism" anyway? Judith Butler, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Roland Barthes, Jean-Francois Lyotard, Gayatri Spivak, Bruno Latour, Paul Virilio, Luce Irigaray, Donna Haraway, Richard Rorty, Slavoj Zizek? It's not like these folks don't disagree on more things that matter to them deeply than they agree on.

Too often "postmodern" is a word that functions exactly as "politically correct" too often does -- as a smokescreen behind which rather sensible positions disappear to be replaced by clownish caricatures mouthing facile self-referential incoherencies for their conservative foes to skewer to the snake-hiss of oblivious applause.

Now, the thing that most of the theorists who get called "postmodern" seem to have in common is antiessentialism, an emphasis on historicizing putatively universal claims. I think there are many versions of this attitude that are just as sensible as may be.

Some want to say that "postmodernists" -- whoever they may happen to be -- perniciously undermine the distinction between objective facts and opinions. There are some versions of such a thesis that make perfect sense to me, but others that do not. When critics of "postmodernism" distinguish facts from opinions do they simply mean to distinguish warranted beliefs from unwarranted ones? I think there are plenty of figures who are pilloried as "postmodern relativists" who are quite happy to affirm that there are some beliefs that are more warranted than others scientifically and that these are good in the way of belief when what is wanted is more prediction and control.

There is indeed a sense in which I think the verdicts of consensus science are opinions. I think they are opinions that eventuate from a scientific practice that inspires considerably more confidence than others on offer that their adherents will be empowered to manipulate the world and anticipate experience.

There are also moral opinions/beliefs, esthetic opinions/beliefs, political opinions/beliefs, ethical opinions/beliefs each of which eventuate from different locations in culture and accomplish rather different sorts of ends. I fail to see how this threatens consensus science, particularly, inasmuch as I am hardly tempted to identify the protocols or uses of one mode of warranted belief with any of these others.

Certainly there are some philosophers who want to say that facts are somehow more than warranted beliefs, that they say or come closer to saying the way the world is, whatever that is supposed to mean. I consider this an essentially theological attitude, and one which does nothing to secure or explain scientific practice as an enterprise that empowers prediction and control.

I think it's probably fair to say that quite a lot of philosophy generates more heat than light, especially if you ask folks door to door (even down the corridors of a Philosophy Department). I don't see that the unfortunate thinkers who have been corralled together under the banner of "postmodernism," primarily by their detractors, are more particularly vulnerable to this criticism than other philosophers are.

I cannot agree with the supremely confident claims of some critics of "science studies" or "postmodernism" that the sorts of impacts of social norms on scientific practice which preoccupy the attention of quite a bit of this sort of scholarship are always politically inconsequential -- especially in the social sciences. But I see little reason why such an observation would invalidate scientific practice as such.

It is rather surreal to be dredging up these old chestnuts, I know, fully two decades past the "postmodern" term's currency. But let me remind readers that I have returned to this well-worn path in consequence of the resurgence of the term in some liberal discourse that misnames what is afoot when Republicans disastrously undermine consensus science in the service of their market fundamentalist and religious fundamentalist agendas.

And by way of conclusion let me make the melancholy observation that students in the humanities are much smarter than students in the sciences sometimes give them credit for. And very likely the converse is just as true.

Today's Random Wilde

Children begin by loving their parents; as they grow older they judge them; sometimes they forgive them.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Cackles from the Balcony

Stay the Libertopian Course, pleads and wheedles Tom DeLay in the face of the dual devastations of a war of choice based on lies turned bloody quagmire in Iraq and an unprecedented ongoing failure of disaster response that managed to wipe a great American city off the map. His argument is rather stunning, but it is exactly what Eric predicted it would be the moment he heard that the criminally Fed-neglected levees had failed: Republicans must fuck up the government more because look how fucked up the government Republicans fucked up is. Here's the quote:
"The so-called Katrina tax hikes are not about Katrina; they're about tax hikes and will only serve to balloon the oversized, under-responsive emergency-management system that broke down three weeks ago in the wake of the hurricane," DeLay said in a House floor speech, according to prepared remarks provided by his office.

Democracy Among the Experts

A demand for more deliberative development is exactly as central to my own version of technoprogressive politics as is the demand for sustainable development.

That phrase, "deliberative development," may conjure up the facile and fussy image of "progress" by plan or by committee meeting, a vision of a domesticated development smoothed, controlled, and constrained by experts. But the fact is that technodevelopmental social struggle releases inherently unpredictable forces into the world. It is ineradicably dynamic, interminably contentious, ideally open... So just what do I mean by deliberative development after all?

For one thing, deliberative development would indeed involve highly transparent, generously funded processes of consensus science coupled with a scientifically literate professional policy apparatus to assess risks, costs, and benefits and advise our elected representatives as they struggle to do their job to regulate, study, and fund research and development to promote general welfare. In practice, this would inevitably amount to proliferating committee meetings and inspection tours and licensing standards and granting bodies and blue-ribbon panels and published conference proceedings and impact studies and public hearings and all the rest. I happen to like nice social workers and dedicated public servants and credentialized do-gooders as a type, and I pine for a civilization in which their indispensable work is generally more appreciated than demeaned, and so this is not a vision that inspires in me the dread and disgust that will have overcome many a (self-described) "rugged" "no-nonsense" critic at this point in my account.

But I do want to insist that, even for me, the real force of any such ramifying procedural elaboration must be the deeper democratization rather than any quixotic domestication of technodevelopmental social struggle. The object will be to anticipate and document technodevelopmental outcomes in their variety on the multiple, contending stakeholders to that development, and hence to give those stakeholders a voice in articulating the form developments take from moment to moment, to better ensure that the costs, risks, and benefits of technoscience are as fairly shared as may be by all of those stakeholders on their own terms.

Given the devastating debasement of consensus science and the corrupt substitution of lobbying for deliberation under the present Bush Administration, I hope that my focus on deliberative development as a commitment to transparent processes and sound standards makes a certain kind of sense. But it is crucial to point out that the ideal of deliberative development is also a commitment to enrich and democratize the terrain of policy analysis as much as possible across its many social, institutional, and cultural layers. It is in highlighting this second dimension that I hope it becomes clearer that deliberative development is not a matter of constraining but democratically expressing technodevelopmental social struggle, not a matter of domesticating but democratizing the forces of collaborative and individual creativity.

The ongoing, experimental implementation of this dimension of deliberative development might well involve the use of digital networked media to engage citizens more directly in the assessment of alternate science and technology initiatives, perhaps to use social software to re-invigorate the concept of citizen juries on developmental questions, to create extensive occasions for citizens to testify to their own sense of technodevelopmental costs, risks, benfits, and problems, and, perhaps most promising of all, to implement peer-to-peer models of research over customary corporate-militarist models wherever possible.

Such a commitment also demands, in my view,
[1] the promotion of scientific literacy and critical thinking skills for all citizens through a stakeholder grant in lifelong education and training,
[2] universal access to networked information and communication technologies,
[3] a liberalization of "fair use" entitlements and other measures to protect and widen access to the common archive of human knowledge, as well as
[4] ensuring the availability of clear and dependable sources of information from consensus science and the most representative possible diversity of stakeholder positions on policy questions at issue.
This commitment to dependable information might also very well require more stringent regulation of advertising claims to limit fraud as well as explicit legal standards to define just what can go by the name of "news." Eventually, the commitment might also provide a rationale for the public subsidization of some consensual genetic, prosthetic, neuroceutical modifications of memory, concentration, or temper.

In general, I think that what are sometimes broadly conceived as "top-down" and "bottom-up" approaches to good governance are in fact both indispensable to the facilitation of progressive and technoprogressive developmental outcomes. I have noticed that this kind of bifocal perspective on developmental politics comes up again and again in my own technoprogressive formulations. And so, for example, I advocate democratic world federalism and peer-to-peer collaborative democratization at once and as part of a single technoprogressive vision of global governance. I realize that each lens of such a bifocal approach has its own palpable dangers and terrors to display. Some progressives are wary of threats to social justice and democracy from especially one direction, others from another.

But I think we should be careful not to fetishize only one mode of governance as the more properly or more essentially democratic one over the other. A fetishization of "top-down" implementations of progressive visions facilitated their perversion in state-capitalist models all through the twentieth century, for example, while the current overcompensatory fetishization of "bottom-up" implementations renders the contemporary left imaginary -- and especially any technology-focused left in an era like our own, when corporate profit-making almost exhaustively defines the global technodevelopmental terrain -- deeply vulnerable in my view to appropriation by libertarian ideology and its always ultimately conservative, facile self-congratulatory fables of "spontaneous order."

And so, yes, I really do think that deference to the advice of credentialed experts is indispensable to good governance and certainly to technoprogressive governance. The problem these days isn't the administrative recourse to scientific and professional expertise; it is the substitution of public relations and partisan calculus for the recommendations of consensus scientists and other professionals.

Certainly, I keenly grasp the vulnerability to anti-democratic elitism in any "rule of experts." But many things count as democratic within their proper bounds that are vulnerable nonetheless to misuses that render them anti-democratic at their extremes (what passes for "free markets" provides an obvious example). I was recently reminded that Bakunin made a useful distinction between being an authority and being in authority that seems relevant here.

I think it is important for progressive and technoprogressive people to embrace a wide-ranging experimentalism and pluralism when it comes to the practical implementation of the rather broad value of democracy. So long as experts are beholden to elected representatives and elected representatives held accountable for their conduct (including the uses to which they put expert advice) I don't think we should think of their role as anti-democratic, nor should we necessarily be too quick to write them off as just regrettable but instrumentally necessary for the proper function of governance. I worry about the politics that gets stealthed under cover of presumably pre-political "instrumental calculation" in political discourse. I say, rather, that there are more-democratic and less-democratic implementations of a representative policy apparatus beholden to the verdicts of consensus science and that democratic technoprogressives want more democratic rather than less democratic implementations is all. I was going to say, "it isn't rocket science," but then at least sometimes, of course, it will be.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Republican War on Science Is Premodern Not Postmodern

I regularly hear the claim that Republican misuses of science amount to a kind of Republican "postmodernism." Although I appreciate the special pleasure that comes from identifying particularly hateful people with an attitude they themselves particularly hate, I cannot get any pleasure at all from the rhetorical gambit in this instance.

Frankly, I think the claim that modern Republicans are somehow "postmodernist" just because they are willing to lie to get what they want reflects an outrageous misreading (and I am being very generous in implying that any reading is involved) of most of the views that are conventionally labeled "postmodernist." Worse, this attribution of "postmodernism" to Republicans restages the very terms of the most conservative imaginable critiques of the kinds of work that get corralled together -- usually without much sense at all -- under the heading of "postmodernism." This whole line of criticism just refuels an awful kind of anti-intellectualism about the confrontation with difficult and new scholarly work in general, an anti-intellectualism to which America is already terribly prone to its cost and which is of course the cultural landscape in which conservativism always thrives best in the first place.

Postmodernism was defined by Lyotard as a distrust of metanarratives. And so, to the extent that the contemporary neocon/theocon ascendancy in America is driven by equal measures of market fundamentalism and religious fundamentalism it is difficult to imagine a less "postmodernist" sensibility at all than conservatism of all things.

I do not personally identify as a "postmodernist" because it isn't clear to me why I should treat Foucault and Derrida and Butler and Rorty as more importantly similar to one another than they are different from one another. But I do have an investment in some of the claims that seem to get smeared in many of the "anti-postmodernist" and "anti-science-studies" jeremiads of conservatives and, now, I suppose, by some liberals who want to identify conservatism with "postmodernism."

To be blunt, there is simply an enormous difference between the sensible so-called "postmodern" claim that scientifically warranted beliefs are contingent and defeasible and the claim into which this is typically translated, that all such beliefs are a species of lies or that somehow every statement is as good as any other. There is, again, an enormous difference between the sensible so-called "postmodern" claim that scientific beliefs resonate with social values and scientific practices resonate with political conflicts and the claim into which this is typically translated that science is worthless, or indistinguishable from faith, or nothing but politics. In both cases the latter claim amounts to an unfathomably clownish caricature of the "postmodernist" or "science-studies" claims that preceded it. It is hard for me to understand the use of such caricatures unless it is that they enable people to feel good about themselves even when they don't actually read or understand the texts they claim to deplore most vociferously.

If anything, the current Republican misuses of science underscore a point many thinkers vilified as "postmodernists" have long known already: that the accomplishments of consensus science are profoundly vulnerable. Precisely because they are not "underwritten" by the essentially theological fantasy of a world that has preferences in the matter of how it is described, we must be all the more vigilant in protecting the protocols that we have developed over many generations of experiment that have yielded a consensus scientific practice on which we may depend for good candidates for belief about our shared environment.

I think the practices of consensus science constitute a particular culture that yields candidates for belief that are incomparably better at yielding powers of prediction and control than others on offer. Now, I think those practices are no less political than contingent cultural practices and protocols always are -- specifically, I have argued elsewhere that at their best they are pretty democratic, actually -- and so I think it is important not simply to decry the distortions and misuses of science and pseudoscience by some Republican politicians as a "politicization" of science. Rather, I think champions of consensus science need to be very specific about pernicious politicization as against virtuous politicization.

After all, the maintenance of transparency in funding and research practice, the implementation of shared standards of falsification and substantiation and good practice, the maintenance of traditions of wide publication all count as politicization of the culture of science. It is a virtuous politicization that helps science do what it does well -- provide candidate descriptions for warranted belief that empower greater prediction and control over the environment.

By "politicization," what many champions of consensus science seem to mean is very specifically "partisan politicization," as against the idea of a consensus science and professional expertise to which all parties make shared recourse in staking out their different legislative and policy agendas. What Chris Mooney decries in his excellent book The Republican War on Science as "politicization," for example, is precisely the way this "shared" recourse has been dumped by partisan Republicans who offer up as scientific claims that are scientifically unsubstantiated or even falsified whenever they serve the interests of their religious and moneyed base, with the consequence that there is no longer any shared context for a reasonable adjudication between these conflicting claims. I think his point has quite a lot of merit.

Mooney points out that conservatives often exploit the sensible tentativeness with which scientists assert their beliefs in even very powerfully substantiated theories as a way to introduce unwarranted doubts about using these warranted beliefs to guide regulations in the service of the public good. I personally wish Mooney wouldn't frame this tentativeness as a matter of recogizing that even the best science might come to be proved "wrong." Rather, I think of this tentativeness as the recognition that it isn't really the business of scientific description to "get it right" in the naive realist sense of saying the way the world is. Instead, consensus science warrants better beliefs than others on offer when what we want (and this isn't always what we want, after all) is more power to manipulate the world and to anticipate experience. Any one such scientifically warranted belief as this might eventually be defeated by better beliefs later, of course, whether in consequence of our simply learning more stuff or of our coming to value different ends. But this scarcely diminishes its warrantedness, nor should it diminish our enthusiastic embrace of beliefs so warranted.

Those "champions of science" who would decry this sort of sensible instrumentalism and historicism as "postmodernist relativism" (and I definitely do not number Chris Mooney among them) seem to me to want to re-write scientific belief in the image of religious faith, to find in our warranted confidence in the verdicts of consensus science an inappropriate source of deeper certainty and metaphysical reassurance, and, at worst, sometimes seem to want to assume the mantle of a priestly elite testifying on behalf of Science construed as an Idol. All this is to say, those who cannot distinguish lying from pragmatism and who think science must be defended from any recongition of its limits as a human enterprise seem to me to represent a nascent scientistic fundamentalism as much as anything else, and hence to have far more in common with conservatism as it plays out in the world than the "postmodern" viewpoints with which they mean to identify the Republican misuses of science they rightly decry.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Today's Random Wilde

To get back my youth I would do anything in the world, except take exercise, get up early, or be respectable.

Liberty Is Less Than Freedom

If left-anarchists wanted to democratize the state rather than smashing it I'd likely be one myself. Definitely most of my favorite artists seem to be left-anarchists or to lean in that direction, I've noticed. And it sometimes seems that only left-anarchists can be depended on to consistently identify all the pernicious ways authority and privilege play out in the world.

But I think that such voluntary associations as humans are capable of usually are facilitated by a relatively legitimate democratic state and robust rights culture and are never going to arise as any kind of "spontaneous order," whether conceived as "perfectly unfettered markets" or "perfectly direct democracy."

I think that it is to an important extent the ineradicable kernel of difference, unpredictability, and agonism at the heart of the political, properly conceived, that constitutes the presumed "fetteredness" of markets for right libertarians or the presumed "indirectness" of democracy for left libertarians. If so, this accounts for the way in which libertarianisms from both directions seem so often to end up advocating as utopian politics what amount to anti-political visions.

For me, markets are as much produced as constrained by the regulations that articulate their flows, and there can be no direct expression of willfulness for democratic citizens with finite knowledge and subconsciouses to contend with.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Today's Random Wilde

There are many things that we would throw away if we were not afraid that others might pick them up.

Cackles from the Balcony

[via SFGate]
The youngest son of Florida Gov. Jeb Bush was arrested early Friday and charged with public intoxication and resisting arrest, law enforcement officials said.

As Eric commented upon hearing the news, Hail to the Chief! Drunk and disorderly conduct? Why, he's right on the Bush Crime Family career path to the White House in thirty years' time.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Mars Raver

It's been another low-posting time, I know. Teaching, writing, and preparations for the job market are consuming huge amounts of my energies right now. Not that I'm complaining -- I'm teaching Plato's Symposium in one class tomorrow and Marx and Engels' The German Ideology in another... what's not to like?

Whenever I'm not grading or prepping or writing I'm usually pretty spent... not good for much but watching "So You Think You Can Dance?" or counting down the hours to the next "Battlestar Galactica" ep... But on the long train ride from Oakland over to the City where I'm teaching this term, I do have some time to myself and I've been using it to re-read yet again Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy, a hard-scientific utopian technoprogressive masterpiece that represents for me, along with Bruce Sterling's Holy Fire, the great accomplishment of 1990s sf (I mean that on a personal level, so no bellyachin' about novels I've overlooked in saying this -- I know there are many, many, many other great ones to choose from!). Anyway, here's a quote from early on in Volume One, Red Mars, that reminds me quite a lot of the market naturalist technophiles and weirdly socially complacent and "anti-political" technology enthusiasts (who in "disdaining" politics overwhelmingly often essentially endorse conservative politics):
"We have come to Mars for good. We are going to make not only our homes and our food, but also our water and the very air we breathe -- all on a planet that has none of these things. We can do this because we have technology to manipulate matter right down to the molecular level. This is an extraordinary ability, think of it! And yet some of us here can accept transforming the entire physical reality of this planet, without doing a single thing to change ourselves, or the way we live. To be twenty-first century scientists on Mars, in fact, but at the same time living within nineteenth-century social systems, based on seventeenth-century ideologies. It's absurd, it's crazy, it's -- it's --" he seized his head in his hands, tugged at his hair, roared "It's unscientific! And so I say that among all the many things we transform on Mars, ourselves and our social reality should be among them. We must terraform not only Mars, but ourselves."

A small vulnerable band of colonists on their way to make a life on a world they are not as easily fit for as they are the world they leave behind and for which they have evolved to thrive... As often happens in science fiction, the situation of the protagonists strikes a curiously contemporary chord, suggests analogies that resonate into our present circumstances.

One way to distinguish the ancient from the modern (a quarrel with many dimensions in metaphysics, politics, esthetics, ethics, social forms, etc.) is to note how often ancient moral orders seem to be illuminated by recourse to tales of mythical pasts while modern moral orders locate their justifications in mythical futures: on the one hand elites fighting long slow noble defeats by means of which they testify to their excellence, against the mobilization, on the other hand, of majorities with promises of an amelioration of hardship for the many and of a better world to come for all.

Anyway, it is easy to have an imaginative investment in the circumstances of Robinson's Martian colonists not only because we can readily project a time within the lives of many now living in which such colonists may well find themselves in the situation of his protagonists. But in a more compelling and provocative sense we are all of us already there.

The earth as it is is not the earth for which our ancestors evolved. Humanity has already prostheticized itself beyond reclamation or recognition. The earth is likewise already prostheticized beyond reclamation or recognition. None of us has seen a preindustrial dawn or sunset. None of us has known a wilderness that was not a themepark. None of us inhabits a body shaped less by the legacies of culture than by genetics. There is no wilderness for us to retreat to, there is no Eden for us to shelter in.

Earthly survival requires that we terraform the earth for the benefit of all humanity. The seventeenth century ideologies, the nineteenth century social systems, the twentieth century internationalisms (among them ghastly totalitarianisms) were all ladders we've climbed to get us where we are, and we can kick them aside now that we have found ourselves here. The programmatic concerns of technoprogressives with sustainable and deliberative global development, democratic global governance, global basic income and basic healthcare, global peer-to-peer civic and scientific collaboration and social administration, and funding of emancipatory technologies for the good of all are not romantic fantasies but constitute the palpable terrain of this unearthly earth we are making or unmaking together, come what may.

The problems we have are global problems: we bear the imprint of a global climate we have changed, we exchange goods and words and hopes via conspicuously contingent global protocols (including the ones that get called "free markets" by the ones who benefit from the present arrangements), we differentially benefit and suffer from the disposition of global laws, we are all immersed in the flow of terrible and promising disruptive technological change. In such a world it isn't sentimentality to agree with Dr. King that injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere. We can make a home in the world, but it won't a natural place for we are not natural people. We are not ancients, even if we sometimes seem too nostalgic and too lazy and too scared to be moderns.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Today's Random Wilde

Where there is sorrow there is holy ground.

Technoprogressivism Is a Tide, Not a Tribe

Technological development is a political force to be reckoned with, indeed there are vantages from which it has come to seem a world-historical force with which politics is reckoning (and of which more and more politics is coming straightforwardly to consist in an unprecedented kind of way) more acutely than any other in play.

But since technological development impacts everybody in the world it doesn't make much sense in my view to think of the politics of technodevelopment in terms of the needs of just one kind of person among the many who will share the world eventuating along the ongoing, ramifying, perilous, and promising course of that development.

For me technodevelopment is much like democratization, secularization, industrialization, globalization... there cannot be the question of "mainstream politics" resisting the politics of technodevelopment, because technodevelopment will articulate every aspect of mainstream politics -- in fact it already is. Even the most bioconservative politics are utterly defined by technodevelopmental issues.

Certainly, I want progressives, champions of democracy, defenders of social justice and universal rights to shape the direction of that technodevelopment more than bioconservatives will, or market fundamentalists will, or corporate-militarists will. And certainly I am dismayed to see the extent to which these anti-democratic movements sometimes seem to have comandeered not only the means through which technological development is implemented but the very language through which our hopes for that development are expressed. But just who are the technoprogressives who push back against those who would seize developmental forces in the service of an endlessly prolonged domination of the few over the many? How should technoprogressive citizens and advocates think of themselves when they engage in the social struggles of which a more democratizing development consists?

I have said before that progress is not a natural force but a great work. It is a social struggle, a long collective and collaborative effort.

It is also important to insist that progress is a rich wide tide and not a missile's trajectory. It is a tendency, not the stainless steel implementation of an engineer's blueprint.

I think that there are a host of technoprogressive intitiatives and campaigns and affinities and identities, from post-naturalist Greens struggling for sustainable development to fair trade globalizers and world federalists struggling to implement the UN Millenium Goals and to facilitate the emergence of democratic institutions for global governance, from anti-militarists to advocates for global basic income guarantees and global basic healthcare provision, from feminists and queers embracing assisted reproductive technologies and transsexual surgeries to morphological freedom fighters embracing emerging consensual genetic, prosthetic, and cognitive practices of self-creation, from non-anthropocentric personhood theorists fighting for the standing of human and nonhuman animals, whatever their different enablements and morphologies, from copyfighters and defenders of the creative and genomic commons to champions of free software, from enthusiasts of peer-to-peer models of democratic participation, policy deliberation, scientific research, institutional accountability, and social administration to advocates for socially responsible nanotechnology, rejuvination medicine, and solar diaspora.

I have written elsewhere, in a more specific context but a similar vein, that it seems to me an arrant absurdity to expect or demand that the participants in these many struggles and adherents of these many perspectives would literally cohere in anything but the broadest sort of way...

It is easily possible and often useful to ascend to a theoretical perspective from which one can discern these many projects as contributing each their own little tiles to a technoprogressive mosaic of stunning beauty and joy on its own terms. But it is crucial not to mistake the pattern discernible from this rather arid perspective with an explicit particular program some little unified band of self-identified extropians, futurists, post-humanists, Raelians, singularitarians, upwingers, transhumanists, technocrats, technorealists, or, yes, any unattractively tribal construal of my own pet term, technoprogressives, happen to hope or believe will somehow "sweep the world."

That is always just an embarrassing and messianic fantasy. It is a dreadfully twentieth-century way of understanding civic life, personal identification, and political organization. I think we have amply learned the lessons of movements that try to sweep the world. I think we know now that they do more harm than good.

Tribal technophiles will sometimes try to convey the sense of their ambitions by proposing an analogy with gay politics. The analogy is considerably more apt than they may realize. Consider the way in which assimilationist gay politics modeled on an imperfect analogy with a conventional mid-twentieth century American civil rights struggle was displaced by a lesbian and gay political model when feminist critiques pointed to the sexist limitations of that construal of gay politics. Lesbian and gay politics was then displaced by lesbian, gay, and bisexual politics, which in turn was displaced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender politics. These displacements may seem merely matters of addition, but they each produced deep, denaturalizing, antiassimilationist, antiessentialist effects on the queer political imaginary they reinvigorated. Think of the transformation of that politics by AIDS, then by the necessary subsequent (not yet complete) re-direction of AIDS politics into the frame of a global pandemic, the complementary taking up of other biomedical politics and cultures, breast cancer, other STDs, etc. Think of the investment of queer politics with the politics of sex radicalism, of metrosexuality, of secular urbanity, of Punk, of body-modification...

Identity politics are breaking down, and their last spectacularly proliferative efflorescence in queer politics attests conspicuously to their dissolution. All of this arises in large part as a conseqence of the confrontation of "identity" as a model of meaningful narrative selfhood and citizenship with exactly the kinds of destabilizing denaturalizing forces of technodevelopment that interest technoprogressive temperaments in the first place.

Why on earth would technoprogressives want to take up a tired old identity model at the precise moment when identity politics are failing elsewhere? Especially when technoprogressives are among the people who presumably are more focused than almost anybody else on the very technodevelopmental forces articulating this failure and the emergence of newer forms of personhood and political life...

Bioconservatives and technoprogressives are not two pressure groups among others, like the vile Gun Lobby or Big Pharma, eager to wine and dine various paritsan hacks for better pork in the next spending bill. To think in these terms is to mistake a chessboard for the earth itself. Bioconservatism and technoprogressivism are two sprawling sensibilities encompassing shifting complex coalitions of groups and campaigns in a vast culture war consisting of countless social struggles and proximate campaigns to articulate the shape and direction of technodevelopment in the service of either conservative or progressive ends over the long term.

I think technoprogressives should strive to influence the rhetoric and programs of as many elements within the progressive coalition as possible in general, rather than trying to form a group sufficiently substantial to assume a place among others within that coalition. "We" aren't making the world safe for a tribal band of self-identified "technoprogressives" -- we are saving the world from and through technology by rewriting progressivism as far as is possible in the image of technoprogressivism.

Never underestimate the power of ideas and words and images to shape the world. Sure enough, we cannot perfectly control or direct technodevelopment. Every intention has unintended consequences, every promise will eventually eventuate in the need for forgiveness. But we can and must unleash the creative forces and hopes that will nudge technodevelopment in emancipatory directions. Otherwise it is not a few technophiliacs but the whole world that will be lost.

I like the "Agenda" (apart from his point one) James Hughes proposes at the conclusion of his extraordinary "Democratic Transhumanism" essay, just as I like lots of things I read about on WorldChanging, or from the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology, or from Creative Commons, or from folks like Annalee Newitz, Chris Mooney, or Bruce Sterling, just as I like the many related sorts of proposals I make myself here and there. I agree we should elaborate on them. I agree we should organize campaigns. And I am very excited about the prospects.

But... I just hope people don't think of these discussions as a "Continental Congress" to culminate in yet another Declaration of Principles for yet another tribe of insular technophiliacs to "sign on" to.

I want a technoprogressive tide, not a tribe -- a clamor of different contending voices moving in broadly the same democratizing and emancipatory direction, but providing constant novel insights, constant checks on abuses, constant reinterpretations of our values, constant reinvigorations of our hopes, constant responsiveness to dangers.