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

Monday, December 11, 2006

Catching the Drift: Quick Election Postgame from the Perspective of the Emerging Technoprogressive Mainstream

Although I haven't really blogged about it this last month (from my vantage deep in the weeds of teaching four new classes simultaneously at Cal and at SFAI, a madness I will never attempt again) I do want to say that the latest US election was so encouraging for me and in so many ways! This is not to say the results were perfect, obviously, they were just... encouraging, and at a time when I personally had come to be starving for any encouragement along those lines.

I am so pleased about the victories of Sherrod Brown and Bernie Sanders, so pleased at the prospect of good folks in the Progressive Caucus finding their way into Leadership and oversight positions, and from a technoprogressive angle of view especially so pleased at what nearly everybody is coming to see as the indispensable role of peer-to-peer formations (blogs, online small contribution aggregation, rapid-fire online negative campaigning pushback, citizen oversight, and so on) in this election. This is an impact that is growing stronger by the hour, and all to the good for those of us who prefer people-powered democratic over elite partisan Machine politics, whatever party label gets slapped onto the result.

Again, from a specifically technoprogressive standpoint, it was interesting to see a host of candidates who foregrounded issues of technology and science in their campaigns, or who got caught up in technodevelopmental issues, and whose progressive positions on these questions was key to their victories or good showings -- in ways that suggest next time around they will be foregrounded again and still more.

I have already argued that technoprogressive topics and positions assumed a real force in mainstream political life this election cycle, with targeted initiatives on stem-cell research funding, increasing access to reproductive technologies (or rolling back abortion bans), support for renewable energy being used to mobilize democratic voters -- straightforward progressive populist minimum-wage increase initiatives were also key this time around, of course. This trend will only increase as single-payer returns to the table in the next couple years, as labor finds its legs and demands medical and renewables r&d reinvigorate the American middle class, and so on.

Meanwhile the Schiavo circus, Creationist follies, climate-change denial, anti-medical research zealotry, and other bioconservative shenanigae got a thrashing for the most part and imposed real costs on the conservatives who accommodated them.

The crucial danger in this undeniably promising moment is, of course, the consolidation of the alliance of moneyed corporatist Dems and the corporatist wing of the Republican party. The Rubinite neoliberals, DLCers, Clintonistas, and so on have a lot of fight left in them, and the Repug corporatists will often be able to sell themselves as the reasonable non-wingnutified faction of post-Bush Republicanism. Together they can do incredible harm, whitewashing accountability efforts, domesticating corruption and campaign finance reform, introducing poison pills into democratizing measures, producing marketized versions of needed welfare programs that will line the pockets of crony-"capitalists" and then be blamed erroneously when they fail (as they will) on Big Bad Government, and so on.

Techno-progressive types (so-called) should keep their eyes on the ball as many bioconservatives continue to try to re-invent themselves as populist anti-corporatists while stealthing their neocon/theocon/luddite stances, all the while too many so-called "technoprogressives" enthusiastically will continue to be or inertially drift into what amount to hypenotized corporate boosters -- or at any rate fail to consistently and insistently foreground anti-corporate critique in their positions and hence abet corporate-military developmental models.

(Too quick and too dirty, the argument to earn the "hence" in that last claim is: because these corporate-militarist models almost exhaustively constitute the technodevelopmental status quo -- that is to say, since dollars and bullets so overabundantly overdetermine contemporary global technoscientific developments as they actually play out in the world -- we must be wary that any presumably "neutral" advocacy of "tech" that does not include corporate-military critique will take up the terms and assumptions and ends of that status quo, to the well-nigh inevitable disproportionate benefit of its incumbent interests and formations first of all, in all their violence and horror and pointless waste.)

Many corporate-militarists will be mistaken by inadequately critical or "apolitical" technology enthusiasts as "Pro Technology," "Pro Progress," "Pro Future," or (worst of all, though none of these labels seems particular coherent to me) "H+ Friendly," or comparable foolishnesses. None of these facile "Pro/Con" "Us/Them" ways of conceptualizing the terrain of global technodevelopment policy is worth its brutally oversimplifying costs to one's critical faculties and almost every time such formulations are deployed it will be to the benefit of incumbency over democracy.

In all but the most extreme cases of bioconservate zealotry on the one hand or flawless technoscientifically-literate anti-corporate-militarist populism on the other (both of which certainly occur, but neither of which really define the terrain in any sense), this kind of broad-brush thinking will lead the usual suspects of "the futurological congress" to repeatedly mis-identify the relevant costs, benefits, risks, opportunities, stakeholders, and possible strategic alliances associated with actual concrete moment to moment technoscientific developments.

For any "transhumanists," so self-identified, who remain among my cherished readership, let me be especially clear.

By the term "technoprogressive" above I personally mean, quite simply:

I. "progressive perspectives on technoscience and development issues"


II. "the latest Randroid, Scientologist, Raelian, Extropian Robot Cult a few white guys have decided is really truly going to Prevail over History because 'We' [TM] have found the Way of Ways."

This is because, in my own humble opinion...

There will never be a Robot Cult that acquires "members" enough to constitute a majority or even a monolithic minority sufficiently consolidated to find a place at the stakeholder table. Neither will there ever be a "Techno" political party that is anything but a joke.

For technoprogressive minded folks it seems to me that one's first impulse upon hearing an argument on a technodevelopmental issue should be something on the order of: "How will this skew the institutional and informational ecology to the cost, risk, and benefit of which concrete ends?" or, more straightforwardly, "How will this or how could this be made to contribute to the project of democracy and social justice rather than to established elites and elite control?"

If one's first impulse upon hearing an argument on a technodevelopmental issue instead is something on the order of "How is this formulation 'friendly' or 'unfriendly' or even 'defamatory' to the moral tribe of tech-enthusiasts with whom I have come to personally identify even while almost nobody else on earth has ever heard of us"... well, how should I put it? Any person whose first reaction takes that sort of form is simply not particularly serious in my view, and, frankly, seems to me not very helpful even when they happen to value comparable concrete outcomes I do.

Think about that. Actually think about it. What does it actually mean if you have come to read arguments with which you agree or disagree on questions of possible technodevelopmental outcomes (which are, after all, complex in their histories and distributions, uncertain in their consequences, general in their impacts, and global in their play) through the primary lens of personal identification with some parochial moral community? Can you not see the outright folly (in many more ways than one) of such a perspective?

The results of the election bespeak an emerging technoprogressive mainstream, defined as progress and democracy also already are, by many different and dynamic stakeholders and debates. Why on earth would one foreswear full participation in such a rearticulation of mainstream progressive politics to embrace the tired identity politics of some minoritized clique clamoring for legitimacy and recognition? It looks to me like a waste of energy, a squandering of opportunity, and an invitation to (at best) fuzzy and (at worst) authoritarian thinking.


Anonymous said...

Hey Dale,

When I first argued with you a couple of years back I thought you spoke a load of shite on the wta-talk list but gradually over time I came to agree with much of you say (although I do still think your way of speaking is rather too ideological and rhetorical).

You may be aware that I started out sympathetic to the Libertarians (passing throuh a brief rabid Libertarian phase) before ending up a Liberal-Centralist (Liberal on social matters, centralist on economic matters). I was also sympathetic to the Singularitarians but eventually came to view them as a few self-righteous nutters on ego-trips.

Regardings both the Extropians/Libertarians and the Singularitarians I have to say (with something a heavy heart) that it appears to me now that you had them both correctly pegged from the start.

I no longer identity myself a 'Transhumanist' either and have learned a real hard lesson. I guess I will stay away from all 'isms' for the rest of my life.

And you're right. Absolutely no-one will ever care about a few up-themselves well-off nerds pushing extremist ideologies (like Libertarianism or Singularitarianism) on Internet mailing lists.

Dale Carrico said...

I await with eager anticipation your upcoming recantation, in about three years' time, that my way of speaking is too ideological and rhetorical.