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

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.

Go to Pancryptics Table of Contents

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.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Today's Random Wilde

My own business always bores me to death; I prefer other people's.

Another Comet on the Way

[via SciFilm] There are few things worth remembering about the 80s, but I’m thrilled to report they’re making a sequel of one of them. A personal fave film of the 80s, Night of the Comet (1984) -- and with the original cast, writer, and director -- is making a second slow pass of the planet Earth.
Leading lady Kelli Maroney (the scream-queen star of CHOPPING MALL, SLAYGROUND, etc.) and writer-director Thom Eberhardt are producing the update and hoping to recruit Maroney's original castmates Catherine Mary Stewart (THE LAST STARFIGHTER) and Robert Beltran (STAR TREK VOYAGER) to join her in reprising their roles.

It surpasseth understanding entirely that the widely cherished original film has never been released as a DVD, but I can only assume that this appalling omission will be corrected as the sequel generates some interest of its own and sparks some memories.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

MundiMuster! Tell the FDA To Stop Stalling -- Women Need Over-the-Counter Emergency Contraception with NO Restrictions

[via NOW]
What happened to the medical knowledge that emergency contraception (EC) could safely and effectively help women avoid unwanted pregnancies and abortions? Where is the concern for women's health and women's autonomy to make childbearing decisions?

NOW activists and others who support the health, safety and decision-making authority of women in their childbearing years must DEMAND that the FDA follow the medical and scientific advice of its committees and permit the sale of EC without a prescription, without age restrictions, and OVER the counter (not "behind the counter" where we must beg a reluctant clerk or pharmacist to give it to us).

We must remind them one more time that their job is to promote and protect our health and safety, not the political whims of religious bigots or their patrons, be they the pharmaceutical industry or the politicians controlling the White House and Congress.

Action Needed:

Demand that the FDA release EC to the women of this country!


Emergency contraception (EC) - a strong dose of safe and legal birth control pills - can protect women from coerced or unintended pregnancies. Studies have proven EC's effectiveness in safely preventing unwanted pregnancies (and therefore abortions) and have discounted the allegations that EC somehow leads to promiscuity. According to a study published in January, 2005 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, giving women packets of Plan B, a form of emergency contraception also known as the 'morning after pill,' did not lead to an increase in unprotected sex, an increase in pregnancy rates or cause women to forgo regular contraception.

Yet opponents of EC, unable to stop its use altogether, have succeeded, for the moment, in demanding limitations for young women under 17 -- the very age where violent, coerced or unprotected sexual encounters most often occur and can have the greatest lifelong consequences.

The FDA has knuckled under to this pressure, stalling once again on their promise to make a decision on EC's availability. Limiting access to birth control and family planning is part of the anti-women agenda of the right-wing officials and groups who oppose women's full access to health, safety and family formation options. Limiting the availability of EC for young women, and protecting pharmacists who refuse to sell contraceptives, are overt steps toward outlawing personal autonomy and privacy - and indeed outlawing contraception altogether.

"Plan B is safe, effective, easy to use, and could prevent thousands of unwanted pregnancies," NOW President Kim Gandy said at an FDA hearing on emergency contraception. "The women who will benefit most from the availability of emergency contraception are rape victims, young women, low-income women, women without health insurance and rural, isolated women -- and any woman who is unable to quickly reach a sympathetic physician to obtain a prescription. We urge the FDA to remember these often overlooked women and decide quickly to make EC widely available."

Model comments will be available in the near future for activists to register their own official comments about EC, but for now, please call the Office of the Commissioner Lester Crawford at 301-827-2410 or send an email to register your objections.

Further Resources:

* Washington Post Editorial: Politicizing the FDA
* FDA Official Quits
* Study: Access to Plan B Does Not Increase Risky Sex
* EC for rape survivors

Today's Random Wilde

Our ambition should be to rule ourselves, the true kingdom for each one of us; and true progress is to know more, and be more, and to do more.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Bush's Crimes Against Humanity

The International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty set up by the Canadian government in 2000, in which experts and career diplomats from around the world participated, sought to define the notion of "Crimes Against Humanity" with a greater specificity than its formulations had exhibited hitherto. The first of the two criteria the Commission proposed is the one that interests me here:
A. large-scale loss of life, actual or apprehended, with genocidal intent or not, which is the product either of deliberate state action, or state neglect or inability to act, or a failed state situation[.]

There is absolutely no question that the Bush Administration has failed catastrophically to respond to the Katrina disaster, and that it failed to respond to a situation that was very widely understood to threaten unprecedented catastrophe. It now appears that Bush himself was specifically present when the scope and contours of this threat were made clear quite early on, despite the fact that Bush subsequently denied that anyone could have known what everybody including he himself knew all too well -- namely, that Katrina palpably portended catastrophe. These failures were, of course, exacerbated by a longstanding neglect bordering on dismantlement of FEMA including an outrageous series of partisan and cronyist appointments of flabbergastingly unqualified individuals to FEMA's leadership. And all of this culminating (assuming that there is not yet worse to come) in a public relations campaign criminally diverting vital resources away from the already inadequate and disorganized rescue and support efforts to provide photogenic fictional backdrops of rescue personnel and helicopters for glamourous Presidential photo-ops while American citizens were still needlessly dying under his watch.

It is scarcely likely that our debased debauched Executive would lose much sleep upon discovering that a few diplomats and experts in Canada devoted to the notion of a realizable global polity ruled by law and universal rights would define "Crimes Against Humanity" in a way that would designate him as a perpetrator of this most evil category of human conduct. I say it is unlikely since as one of the 49 original signers of the United Nations Charter, the United States committed itself to the ideals and practices of the norms of international law, and we all know in what high regard he holds that commitment. Article 2(4) of that Charter, of course, specifically prohibits "the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state." Needless to say, the illegal planning, preparation, and initiation of the war on Iraq through a deliberate and well-documented manipulation of intelligence violates that Charter.

Come what may, it now seems likely that George W. Bush and his Administration will be seen by history from the perspective of the better, more humane, more cosmopolitan, more democratic, more fair, more legitimate days to come as guilty not only of War Crimes perpetrated around the world, but of Crimes Against Humanity perpetrated against its own citizens. May the day be not long delayed when these criminals are brought to justice.

Today's Random Wilde

On an occasion of this kind it becomes more than a moral duty to speak one's mind. It becomes a pleasure.

Monday, September 05, 2005

The Debate Is Over: Katrina Changes Everything

As knowledgeable people struggled to convey to our callous uncomprehending Administration the epic scale of the disaster unfolding in New Orleans and the wider region tormented in Katrina's Greenhouse Tantrum, I remember that time and time again the horrified people who saw the writing on the wall, even well before Katrina's catastrophic landfall from across the superheated Gulf, were urging that this was "a perfect storm," a "once in a life time event." I understood the urgency that compelled the phrase, but in my heart of hearts I knew the reality was incomparably worse: Katrina was very likely the shape of things to come. We have entered the era of heavy weather, indeed, we have inhabited it now through years of devastating denial, and it is an era that confronts a pampered saucer-eyed society with a heavy, well, whither?

Alex Steffen over at my favorite blog WorldChanging has posted a great piece that puts a number of the puzzle pieces together. I quote the opening to seduce you into clicking the link and reading the whole thing:
Now that the tragic chaos in New Orleans is finally being brought under control, the time has come for us to step back and take a good hard look at the situation in which we find ourselves.

This tragedy was no "Act of God" -- some utterly unforeseen tragedy about which nothing could be done. This was a completely predictable (indeed, predicted) unnatural disaster. For years, scientists and engineers have been warning of the danger New Orleans was in. For years, nothing was done.

We also know that Katrina was just a foretaste of what we should expect in the coming years. We are changing the weather with the pollution we spew from tailpipes and smokestacks, and the bill for that irresponsibility is starting to come due.

Katrina was a watershed moment. From here on out, the debate is over. Everything has changed, at least as dramatically as in wake of 9-11. From this moment forward, there is simply no ethical way to debate the need for a new, holistic, worldchanging approach to tackling the planet's biggest problems. As we begin thinking about how to rebuild New Orleans, we need also to recommit ourselves to a new vision for the future of the planet as whole.

We now live in a post-Katrina world. It's time for our thinking to catch up.

Cackles from the Balcony

Bush's decision to elevate his already appalling nomination of undistinguished Bush-crime-family loyalist and theocon stealth candidate John Roberts into a nomination for Chief Justice of the Supreme Court continues the unspeakably surreal spectacle of this Administration's criminal incompetence and ghastly contempt for the Republic. I was casting about for some analogy to get a modest handle on the latest insanity and then Eric reminded me of Caligula making a horse a Senator of Rome. Perfect. Things are going so well.

And, by the way, Democrats? Anyone? Anyone?

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Hope from Despair?

Republican lies and crimes are by now so monumental it seems impossible to find our way home. When I heard of Bush's stage-managed alternative-reality photo-op at the scene of Katrina's devastation it was simply so flabbergasting, so impossible to believe and yet so typical as to seem inevitable once you've heard about it, it's honestly a bit deranging. When Eric read about that he almost punched his fist through a door. We just, you know, stumble through the house rubbing our faces with our hands as the news reports preventable horror after preventable horror.

And to think that the obscene Republican chorus cheerleading Bush at a time like this were all pretending a few years ago in an era of rising prosperity, rising hopes, rising expectations, rising standards to be incensed over a lie about a blowjob... It really is getting difficult to understand how to even find some minimally shared language with which to reason at all with these people. (Not that I'm even a fan of Clintonian neoliberalism -- I haven't much liked any president since Carter -- but, come on, the differences here are just stark and undeniable.)

We have handed over the power of our democratic civilization to precisely the people and forces democracy was implemented to protect us against.

Where can all this lead? The Republicans will certainly never impeach Bush and they control everything. Will the '06 Election even happen for true? If the Democrats gain much in the House and Senate the President is likely to face at any rate the prospect of impeachment. Can anyone really imagine this crew of Republican thugs would let that happen? They stole 2000, and they unspeakaby slimed 2004 (I'm being generous) -- so, what makes anybody think they'll stop now? How could they at this point? Prison sentences likely await some of these killer clowns if standards are reimplemented, don't they?

I fear what this savaging of standards and institutions is doing to the Republicans almost as much as I fear what their crimes and misconduct will cost us all. The Republicans are unleashing their own worst natures into the world. Criminals, zealots, catastrophe opportunists, gangsters, war-profiteers, warlords are abroad in the land. I'm terrified, frankly, enraged, nearly despairing.

The North Atlantic and South American democracies need to sanction and sequester the United States. We have to lose the capacity to insulate the powerful from the devastating consequences of their actions and policies. Even now Americans are pampered into complacency -- even as the institutional and normative forms on which they depend utterly for their survival let alone progress are looted and devastated before their eyes.

The world cannot tolerate a unipolar power that is not democratically beholden to all over whom it exercises its influence. A united world needs to discipline America, and we need to be nudged in our humiliated recognition of our limits into partnership with the rest of the world in establishing a global federal system (national sovereignty can remain intact but should be limited by pragmatic subsidiarity).

We need to democratize the UN General Assembly and Secretariat (there are many decent proposals for doing this), democratize the WTO and possibly conjoin it to the ILO (to establish and implement global fair trade standards and eventually implement a global basic income to encourage civic participation, encourage collaboration in sousveillance, medical and scientific research, policy deliberation and criticism, and ameliorate the impacts of automation and digitally enabled global labor market liquidity), recognize the ICC (and empower it to implement sustainable environmental standards), empower IAEA, CTBTO, OPCW and other global inspection regimes (expanded to accommodate bioengineered pathogens, weaponized nanoscale devices, and pathological software), expedite the Millenium Goals through a spectrum of support and intervention from a Marshall Plan-like implementation of Jeffrey Sachs' proposals through to culturally/socially sensitive flexible microfinance initiatives and leapfrogging.

Every person in the world suffers the technoconstituted forces unleashed by every other. Development needs to shore up every life in the global web so that citizens have resources to back up their demands and give flesh and spirit to the paper-promises universal declarations of rights cannot materialize on their own.

Every nation has a Bush regime either in power or waiting in the wings, just as every person has within them the hurt fearful mammalian child who might either participate in the crimes of such a regime or otherwise enable them.

We are losing our democracy. If we recognize our peril and our ineradicable need for each other perhaps we can step back from this cliff and build something stronger and better. Only by deepening democracy can we survive the technological forces released into the world by our ingenuity. Only democracy can save us from ourselves.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

MundiMuster! Code Pink Katrina

[via Code Pink]
In the wake of the horrific devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, further compounded by the Bush Administration's disastrous response, the women and men of CODEPINK are fully mobilized to be of service in every way possible. It is heart-wrenching to see the disconsolate faces of our brothers and sisters begging their nation for help. Most tragic are the anguished images of unsheltered mothers, clutching hungry babies while searching for food. All this, while our critically needed National Guard, the homeland's primary protectors, are deployed to battle an illegal, unjustifiable war. Tragically, the misdeeds of the Federal Government have shredded America's ability to take care of its own. Nearly 40% of our National Guard and Army reservists are currently fighting in Iraq. And while the National Guard of each state serves under authority of the Governor, the Bush Administration has commandeered their critical services, forced them overseas, and depleted America's own strength at home.

These atrocious policies, which have severely weakened our nation, increase the urgent need for the women and men of CODEPINK, and the rest of America, to RISE UP TO HELP. Please do whatever you can. CODEPINK has compiled the following ways you can contribute to help alleviate this unprecedented tragedy.

1. Donate Blood, Blood for Life and Not for Oil. Contact or call 1-800—GIVELIFE. You can make your own individual appointment or go as a group. San Diego CODEPINK is organizing a group donation on Sunday.

2. Support our CODEPINK Austin and Houston efforts to aid victims flooding into their cities. This includes support for housing, clothing and food needs, and special needs of women and infant children.

3. Send much needed supplies to CAMP CASEY III, in Covington LA. Veterans and other Camp Casey Alumni have set up a relief station at Reverend Peter Atkins Park on the corner of 28th and Tyler in Covington, Louisiana. Today we sent 2 huge boxes of medical supplies.

4. Create a visible presence at your Federal Building to demand full funding for Katrina relief efforts and to demand the National Guard return home from Iraq to support the relief efforts. Bay Area CODEPINK will be in front of the San Francisco and Oakland Federal Buildings from 4:30pm-6pm on Tuesday. You can pick Tuesday or any day of your choosing for your local action. Let us know what you have planned. (Contact: and put Katrina in the subject.)

Friday, September 02, 2005

Today's Random Wilde

America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without civilization in between.

The Technoprogressive Opening

Promoted and edited from MundiMoot.

I think of the technoprogressive term as a conceptual clearing in which discursive democracy is encouraged so as to faciliate the deliberation and organization of which practical democracy consists. But the technoprogressive opening is open not empty. It is key to recognize that a shared commitment to democracy and social justice is the precondition for that gathering, it is not dispensable.

Come what may, technoprogressives are drawn to think about ways we can use technology to deepen democracy and use democracy to ensure technology benefits us all. The term itself draws the people who share these commitments together, and then, just as significantly, strives to keep the conversation arising out of that shared commitment an ongoing one. There is an important sense in which freedom does not only emerge from that conversation but also consists in the conversation itself.

I personally clearly have an absurd number of opinions and recommendations and programmatic formulations to babble about endlessly most of which are considerably more specific than this general sort of commitment to technocentric progressivism. But I value the way technoprogressive discourse and practice will support a multiplicity of these more specific programs, campaigns, perspectives, and arguments -- among them my own. I like it as much as anybody does when cases I make in favor of positions I hold for good reasons prevail in argumentative encounters -- but I am glad there are other views being argued for by others for other reasons. Progress doesn't involve the implementation of a single vision, it takes a (global) village.

I especially want to refuse any identification of my own more specific or programmatic views with the "technoprogressive" term as such, however tightly associated I personally become with the term. "Technoprogressive" names and incubates a diversity of programs, campaigns, and positions, none of them definitive but all of them contributing to the conversation that builds and demands deliberative, democratizing, sustainable, emancipatory technological development. I want to insist on the urgent usefulness of a general discursive and practical location that does not harden into an orthodoxy around any specific program or platform or doctrine beyond a commitment to a left construal of democracy and social justice conjoined to technocentrism.

Face it, technophilia is a strange attractor for reductive scientisms, puritanical rages for order, transcendentalizing enthusiasms, fantasies of making everything new that devolve into genocidal prescriptions. It's for historians, ethnographers, and their therapists to say definitively just why that is. But technocentrics need ongoing deliberative recourse to an open space that breaks the crust of their conventions, softens their hardening orthodoxies, interminably mulches in new perspectives and sensitivities, renews their hopes and recalibrates their awareness.

For myself, I just want to find a way for the designation "technoprogressive" to remain general in the way the designation "progressive" already is. In this way, I hope it can function as a desperately needed cultural location that is broadly unifying for technocentric advocates of democracy and social justice but then remains open to diversity and ongoing contestation among the good people drawn to gather there.

The Libertopians Are in Charge

There is absolutely no question that the unfathomable dishonesty, incompetence, and mean-spiritedness of the Bush Administration has exacerbated both the Katrina disaster and the Iraq debacle into unprecedented catastrophes that now imperil the United States as a going concern at a profoundly, frighteningly fundamental level. And there will be no true accounting for lives lost, suffering endured, commonwealth squandered, no secure foundation from which sane, reasonable, responsible, decent, diverse citizens can build anew until the Bush Administration squints in the spotlight of an honest assessment of its crimes, foreign and domestic, along with its craven and callous supporters and enablers across the corporatist/market fundamentalist spectrum from the neoconservative thinktanks, the fundamentalist megachurches, the corporate media, to the neoliberal DLC, and all are made to pay for what they have done in right measure in the courts of law, international law, informed public opinion, and the severe judgment of history.

Despite its flabbergasting incompetence and conspicuous sociopaths, it is crucial to recognize the extent to which these disastrous consequences have eventuated directly from stated assumptions and explicit values trumpeted by the representatives of this monstrous Administration and eagerly affirmed by its supporters. To focus on the incompetence and the celebrity sociopaths of the Administration alone will be to personalize and so misdiagnose the underlying causes of ballooning deficits at home, ballooning bodies in Greenhouse floods and on foreign fields, and the slow motion crisis of deliberate collective immiseration and disempowerment authored by the Bush Administration by direct explicit doctrine and policy across America and a planet beholden to its hideous military might.

Paul Krugman is absolutely right in his recent essay Our Can’t Do Government when he says of Katrina and Iraq, “I don't think this is a simple tale of incompetence.” Krugman continues:
The reason the military wasn't rushed in to help along the Gulf Coast is, I believe, the same reason nothing was done to stop looting after the fall of Baghdad. Flood control was neglected for the same reason our troops in Iraq didn't get adequate armor.

At a fundamental level, I'd argue, our current leaders just aren't serious about some of the essential functions of government. They like waging war, but they don't like providing security, rescuing those in need or spending on preventive measures. And they never, ever ask for shared sacrifice.

Several weeks ago I posted A Few Iron Laws about libertarians and other market fundamentalists in public life. Let me repeat one of them here:
6. Any figure seeking public office, whether libertarian or conservative, who tells you that government is nothing more than a vast organized gang of corrupt incompetent lying criminal thugs is announcing in advance how they are likely to behave once they have obtained power in government.

We will not learn the lessons of this era of Republican corruption, dishonesty, cynicism, exploitation, and criminal conduct until we recognize that these devastations have emerged by direct design, as perfectly predictable consequences of market fundamentalist policies. If you dismantle law you get lawlessness. If you treat the institutions of legitimate government as dispensable you dispense soon enough with legitimacy and governance. If you cannot see in governance anything but coercion you will rule with a bloody fist. Democratic civilization emerged to protect reason and reasonableness from these people. The libertopians are the vile and violent voice of the jungle, predators surveying the field for prey. And, just look, the libertopians are now in charge.