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

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Why Do Libertopians Love Science Fiction So Much?

At the heart of the "market" libertarian worldview is a deep incomprehension of and acid hostility to the basic ineradicable fact of human social interdependence.

Peak everything eco-catastrophe scenarios notwithstanding, facile pastoral fantasies of pre-democratic orders in which elites are sufficiently insulated by a vast ritual and institutional artifice from the sprawling majorities of "expendable" "infrahuman" fellow-humans on whom they depend for their prosperity no longer seem quite so viable in an era of global media immersion coupled with relentless, likewise global, niche-marketing and exploitation (yes, "everything solid melts into air"). Therefore, nowadays the antidemocratic mindset often turns instead to a pining for a prosthetic encrustation and empowerment of select individuals with which to circumvent this social interdependence -- since disavowing it usually isn't adequately sustainable for long.

More often than not, though, libertopians can be counted upon to drift ineluctably back into straightforward feudalist fantasias in any case, even in their more stridently technofuturist modes. They can't seem to help themselves (contemplate, if you dare, Ayn Rand's whole crappy corpus, Robert Heinlein's famous middle-works, the early Vernor Vinge, and so on), and it rarely takes a particularly careful or sophisticated reader to discern the bloody vestigial trace of antidemocratic self-appointed aristocratic self-congratulation in between the stiff efficacious men, the robot sex-slaves, and the scary alien invaders.

And in case you hadn't noticed, techno-immortalist fantasies about medical progress are used by Republicans to justify decreasing benefits and delaying the retirement age of people who work for a living and for whom life expectancy at retirement age is not factually increasing in ways that justify these anti-equitable anti-governmental fantasies, just as the NRA and ALEC fantasy of ruggedly hyper-individualized white racist cyborg gun warriors "standing their ground" in Thunderdome anarcho-scapes are a real-world implementation of still more market libertopian assumptions and aspirations that belong in the science fiction aisle but are finding their way instead into laws with which our lives are menaced for real.


Pace Arko said...

Dale, long time no comment!

For me, as kid who read him, it's always been simple: Heinlein and his ilk always seemed so smug. Even as a kid I spotted this.

As an adult, it's still pretty simple: I still can't bring myself to trust the market like Libertarians do.

I count myself as a techno-progressive and in the left leaning wing of transhumanism. I do take pains to explain this clearly when writing about transhumanism on various sites devoted to the subject. But at the same time, I realize that the majority of the US electorate is not paying attention to issues like this. These ideological fine points, while mattering very much to me, don't matter much to them.

I sometimes wonder if I'm worrying about something that doesn't really matter in this world of incompetent administrations, invasions of civil rights and blatant oil grabs. I'd like to believe it all ties together somehow.

Dale Carrico said...

Hey, good to hear from you! Hope all is well. I guess part of my difficulty is that I think a phrase like "the market" is pretty much unintelligible, and so I cannot even make it to the point of saying whether my view is more trusting of or less trusting of "the market" than libertopians seem to be.

I think markets are like languages -- plural, historically and socially contingent forms that facilitate and shape certain interpersonal exchanges... and which get consolidated, invigorated, and transformed through the very interpersonal acts themselves that they faciliate over time.

As far as I can see, the libertopians are claiming to "champion" something (the typical recourse to the rhetoric of "natural law" or "spontaneous order" is a big tip-off in this regard) that they don't even begin to fathom when all is said and done.

Libertarians are just the conservatives who want to smoke pot, just leave it at that. If they didn't do so much mischief they would be altogether too absurd to devote a second's thought to.

As for "transhumanism," I'll accept that that is a term that means something once somebody points out to me a single progressive (that is to say: democratizing, sustainable, consensual, expressive, fair) technodevelopmental outcome that is facilitated through recourse to that term that I can't find my way to much better without it. It's harder than you think!

A commitment to democratizing, sustainable, consensual, expressive, fair technodevelopmental social struggle just won't gel into a sensible identity movement or unique "tribal" perspective. What is wanted, as far as I can tell is just more democracy in a technoscientific era. All the "transhumanism" stuff ends up amounting to is silly sociopathy and dreary conservative politics looking to hitch its wagon to technoscience. Don't fall for that crap. (James Hughes and his peers are the exception on this score, of course, but substitute "socialist-feminist" every time you encounter the term "transhumanist" in his work and you'll see very quickly what I mean about what a useless and pointlessly alienating unclarifying term "transhumanist" is.)

Finally, I know exactly what you mean when you wonder if a focus of technoscience may not be misplaced in the Bush era. But, you know, the Killer Clown College will not prevail (unless they manage to kill us all), and the politics of technodevelopmental social struggle will reassume their proper place soon enough. Even in this stupid bloodstained era of neoliberal/neoconservative dickheads technoprogressive concerns over science education, medical research, climate change, renewable energy, and p2p people-powered politics (copyfight, net neutrality, netroots, etc.) have been in the foreground often enough. Once the Bushoid dumbasses return in disgrace to the remote swamp churches and bruised child-brides of their fecal feudal worldview you can be sure technodevelopmental politics will assume an even more conspicuous priority once again.

Pace Arko said...

"Libertarians are just the conservatives who want to smoke pot..."

Yes, that's a priceless quote! I've used it a few times in a few other places on the Web to reply to a few self-identified Libertarians. I did attribute it to you, I hope you don't mind.