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

Sunday, December 31, 2006

Transhumanist Trainwreck

I have argued that technodevelopmental social struggle has become the primary location for political struggle and class struggle in our own historical moment. By the term “technodevelopmental social struggle” I mean to describe the struggles of multiple contending stakeholders to shape the distribution of the costs, risks, and benefits of concrete technoscientific changes taking place in the world we all share and, just as crucially, to describe the struggles of these stakeholders to better comprehend and control the terms on the basis of which technoscientific research, development, application, education, and promotion proceed.

Because of my own progressive political commitments (I would say that I am located on the political landscape somewhere between what most people would call a social democrat and a democratic socialist, with a hefty sprinkling of Green, queer, secular, anti-racist, anti-militarist, feminist politics thrown into the mix) and also because of my own special interest in technoscientific issues in particular, I have often described my political orientation by the shorthand term: technoprogressive.

It’s a term that has “caught on” in some places, for good or ill.

I just want to reiterate that for me, this is just a term that means what it sounds like it means: technoprogressive = technoscience-focused + progressive. For me, “technoprogressive” doesn’t denote some newfangled identity, or community, or tribe, or movement, or ideology, or party, or anything of the sort. I personally think the last thing the world needs are a few privileged socially alienated white guys who have decided to start a club of like-minded people with a manifesto and a 501(c)(3) and pretensions to the effect that they hold the Keys of History.

Technoprogressive sensibilities focus on the threats and promises of particular technoscientific developments. Some technoprogressive types are most concerned about the ways in which certain media formations promise to encourage democracy and accountability while others shore up the power of elites. Some are most concerned about the ways in which certain forms of medical research promise to cure diseases and provide widespread social dividends but only so long as research is transparent, participation is informed and nonduressed, and benefits are universal. Some are more concerned about the ways in which renewable energy technologies might ameliorate the catastrophic impact of extractive petrochemical industry, if only these renewable technologies manage at last to be properly subsidized, and only so long as the siren calls for “clean coal” or a resumption of the failed experiment of Big Nuclear that are struggling to preempt the rhetoric of renewable technology are decisively repudiated. Some are more concerned about the ways in which the ongoing intellectual-propertization of digital and genetic code threatens to enclose the commons and consolidate a global feudal aristocracy of incumbent-owners. There are many more technoprogressive strains I could name, but those will do off the cuff.

There are two things I would call attention to from this laundry list right off the bat.

First: These concerns do not cohere seamlessly or monolithically into a single “profile” or “movement.” People concerned with technoscientific questions of this kind may be better informed than people are on average about technoscience, and their concern with questions of democracy and social justice may distinguish them from their more conservative or complacent peers, but it is not as if technoprogressive folks are deeply different than other people. That is to say, they don’t constitute a new or unique “subculture” under threat or whose “way of life” needs to be defended through an identity-movement of some kind.

Second: To the extent that technoprogressive activists and voices do cohere in a way that weaves together their disparate issues and perspective, this coherence really lives at the general level of commonplace already-existing struggles like “social justice movements,” “pro-democracy movements,” “progressive movements,” and so on. Technoprogressive sensibilities are simply nothing new, except to the extent that they may contribute technoscientifically literate and focused arguments, tactics and analyses to already vital global social movements. That is to say, technoprogressive politics are really quite mainstream in my view.

Against this sort of technoprogressive perspective, attitude, and scene I want to contrast as strongly as I possibly can another set of viewpoints with which I think it is all too often compared (or even identified): transhumanism.

The "transhumanist movement" as far as I can honestly make out consists of a fairly small group of science fiction and popular futurist enthusiasts. Although "transhumanist"-identified people seem quite keen to think of themselves as some sort of ethnicity it is difficult to see how they differ as people from other people who have unconventional preoccupations. This curiosity is compounded by the fact that many people who do share some of their preoccupations (reading of speculative literature, enthusiasm about space elevators, enjoyment of anime) do not also call themselves “transhumanists” or will even actively disdain the label. The poor "transhumanists" do seem to have to spend a lot of their time explaining why they aren’t a cult, which has to get tiring, and also explaining how respectable people they like who have never heard of a thing called "transhumanism" or who have heard of it and find it all a little odd are really closeted "transhumanists" in spite of themselves, and so on.

All of this would be relatively harmless, except that I think it has an enormously pernicious impact on what I have come to think of as the really important work that needs to be done by democrats, social justice activists, peace workers and other progressives who are sensitive to the growing significance of technoscientific developments in particular to this moment in our broader democratic-left struggles.

Guilio Prisco is the executive director of the World Transhumanist Association and also a member of the Board of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies (where I am a Fellow myself). He recently published a piece from a “transhuman identity-politics” perspective that really brings to the fore many of my abiding perplexities and concerns about this sort of viewpoint. Given my ongoing affiliation with IEET I think I have all the more reason to register these concerns here on Amor Mundi.

Prisco writes, for better or for worse, like a True Believer: “I want our [‘transhumanist’] ideas to reach as many people as possible, in a clear and understandable way. Why? Because our worldview can give a sense of meaning of life, a vision of our place in the universe, peace and happiness. This has been the historic function of the world’s great religions and monolithic ideologies[.]” (It really is hard to believe that transhumanists sometimes get compared to cultists, isn’t it?)

Now, I understand how the stresses of global technoscientific churn provoke a strong impulse to retreat to the security of feeling one belongs to some more stable, supportive, meaning-inhering “we,” and to a certain extent I think we find in “transhumanist” identifications one marginal and quite interesting expression of the same development that has also incubated strident fundamentalist and nationalist formations in the face of neoliberal globalization, mass-mediated secularization, proliferating WMD, pandemics, climate-change refugees, and so on. My point isn't to compare "transhumanism" with fundamentalism conceptually (so please don't lose sight of the ball here, people), but to compare the social work done by practices of identification and disidentification in the midst of the stresses of technocultural turmoil. What makes the "transhumanist" identification interesting on this perspective is that it lodges its identificatory energies directly at the unsettling site of the technoscientific engines of transformation themselves.

Be that as it may, quite apart from the fact that it is hard for me to understand exactly how an interest in nanoscale manufacturing or genetic medicine “can give [one] a sense of meaning of life, a vision of our place in the universe, peace and happiness,” any more than, say, an interest in plumbing could (I think probably, on its own, it couldn’t and shouldn’t), I worry more particularly that the politics of identity functioning here under the sign of “pro-technology” (from the perspectives of both bioconservative and “transhumanist” positions) are truly undermining progressive technodevelopmental politics in the sense that matters to me.

Prisco writes “The T word is slowly but steadily penetrating the collective consciousness.” This optimistic opening is somewhat at odds with his expression of frustration later on in the piece “that there are still few committed and declared transhumanists (The WTA has slightly more than hundred paying members), and... we do not have sufficient resources (the current WTA’s yearly budget is less than 20,000 dollars).” Despite this lack of members or resources Prisco offers up as evidence to support his view that “transhumanism” is -- all appearances to the contrary notwithstanding -- poised nonetheless to “sweep the world,” two pieces by very influential bioconservative figures, Francis Fukuyama and Wesley J. Smith.

Both of these figures have recently taken to using the term “transhumanist” to sensationalize, caricature, and oversimplify technoethical dilemmas about which reasonable scientifically literate people happen to disagree -– but in ways that would scarcely offer comfort to the censorious and socially conservative views they themselves happen to espouse.

Prisco writes “I think transhumanism is still in a phase where ‘there is no such a thing as bad press’ (well, almost), so I welcome almost any attack, even some delirious hate pieces, with some pleasure.” While it is no doubt true that if one’s primary political investment is to secure some measure of public recognition as a prelude to achieving public credibility to the curious clatch of fellow-travelers who happen to share one’s own “transhumanist”-identification, then Prisco’s attitude makes a certain sense. Ask any Scientologist, Randroid Objectivist, or Raelian, and they’ll tell you the same. (Before you grumble about the unfairness of any Raelian comparison, I do encourage you to read Prisco's piece, including the wistful discussion of the ranks and resources of the Raelians.)

But let’s say one’s technoprogressive political investment focused elsewhere instead. Let’s say that one was more chiefly concerned with respecting the end-of-life wishes of a now-vegetative person, or with securing more funding for stem-cell research, or with ensuring access to contraception and abortion for women who do not desire pregnancy and access to ARTs for women who do, or with respecting the wishes of differently enabled people to live on their own terms, whether or not these yield “normal” lifeways, or with educating people about safer sex practices or needle exchange or smoking cigarettes or saturated fats in their diets or evolution or climate change. Believe me, if these sorts of actual technoscientific issues constitute the more proximate focus of one’s technoprogressive politics you are participating in highly developed struggles that have everything on earth to lose from gratuitous bad press of the kind Prisco is delighted to encourage.

If one’s political commitments run in more technoprogressive directions then it is undeniably catastrophic to find oneself corralled together with a small coterie of mostly North Atlantic white male technophiliacs, many of whom appear to be market fundamentalist ideologues, or folks pining after a curiously transcendentalized “singularity” involving the near-term arrival of a friendly superintelligent computer, or folks disdaining in a cyberpunkish temper their “meat bodies” and so on, and all this just because one has made an argument that people should have access to unprecedented medical techniques so long as they are informed, their consent is nonduressed, and access to these techniques are widely (I would say universally) available. The reason bioconservatives seek to tar more nuanced technoprogressive positions with the kooky paraphernalia of “transhumanist” identity-politics is that it is one of the few avenues that remain at their disposal in an era of mainstreaming technoprogressivity to seek to discredit the technoscientific transformations that disturb their socially conservative sensibilities and might threaten to dislodge their economically conservative masters from their comfortable perches.

Now, let me be clear. Many “transhumanist”-identified folks seem to think (or want to think) that all I am expressing in arguments like this is a kind of precious squeamishness around the use of a term that has marginal associations, and that the truth is that I am a sell-out or “transhuman” closetcase because I am seeking to establish a toe-hold in more respectable circles despite my own interest radical technology politics. Considering my public championing of queerness, drug legalization, basic income guarantees, democratic world federalism, file-sharing, animal rights, anti-militarism, anti-corporatism and so on, I think this notion that I hesitate to take up marginal stances is a bit curious, but even if there were a kernel of truth to the notion that I don’t want to be misidentified as a right-wing reductionist just because I'm interested in technodevelopmental politics (ok, I’ll admit to some of that), I still think this is a way of getting distracted from the deeper difficulties I have with the very idea that one would seek to engage in technodevelopmental politics through, of all things, an identity-politics lens.

Many people have many concerns with many specific technoscientific developments. Presumably, some of these same people will have no concerns about some other specific technoscientific developments. Surely, this goes without saying?

"Transhumanists" sometimes have an odd way of seeming to take these sorts of inevitable and (from a democratic perspective) altogether desirable conflicts personally. One hears “transhumanist”-identified folks responding sometimes as if people are attacking them personally when critics make arguments about the ways in which emerging NBIC technologies might very well be appropriated by military interests, multinational corporations, or deployed to exploitative or environmentally insensitive ends. It is as if these stakeholder-positions (which may indeed be wrong or misguided or cynical in some cases) constitute personal attacks on these “transhumanist”-identified people, just because these arguments testify to interests or attitudes on particular technodevelopmental changes that differ from the ones these “transhumanist”-identified people see as part of the landscape of the (The) future they are uniquely on the road to, uniquely a part of, uniquely witnesses for, uniquely beholden to.

But, the thing is, there is no single future we are aiming at.

The future isn’t a destination, it’s just more technodevelopmental social struggle. Futurity is a register of the openness of societies that are free, just as ongoing struggle is a register of that same freedom. This is why technoprogressive types, whatever their differences, all still should insist on the priority of political progress in any sensible project to achieve technoscientific progress. This vision of political progress relies for its force and intelligibility on a support of democratic stakeholder politics that is simply straightforwardly incompatible with any identitarian fantasy in which “technology” or “progress” or “the future” uniquely belongs to the perspective delineated by some one “we,” as against other proper stakeholders who are figured as “they.”

It is this basic incomprehension of the terrain of technodevelopmental social struggle that yields the particular embarrassments against which I rail interminably in my many critiques of “transhumanist” discourses. I would argue that the ongoing market libertarian associations, the sad sociopathic hangers-on, the alienation and cultish paraphernalia that haunts its margins, the ongoing attractions to reductionism and technocratic triumphalism that characterize no small amount of “transhumanist”-identified formulations are all themselves symptomatic expressions of this deeper misunderstanding of the priority of political progress to any technodevelopmental progress.


n8o said...

Distilling the broad variety of transhumanist definitions, identities, and sub-communities and how they spar with bioconservatives has lead me to some clear core principles.

Prisco here points at Fukuyama's assessment as accurate:
As “transhumanists” see it, humans must wrest their biological destiny from evolution’s blind process of random variation and adaptation and move to the next stage as a species.

As a progressive, the trouble I see with this definition is the lack of focus on individual consent in the process of "wresting" destiny and moving "as a species".

Any number of transhumanists we know might say that consent is a given, but just as many may also assume such based on the assumption that no well-informed rational person would pass on the opportunities for transformation we anticipate becoming available.

The first and most obvious reaction progressives have, I think, to technological developments is to attempt to insure that their benefits are available to more than just those who can afford them. The proper distribution of benefits, costs, and risks, as you put it well, is the first task.

But I think it's just as important now that those who are intent to opt out - temporarily or even permanently - from any technological development - deserve that choice. I have too many friends and family who are not going to be ready for many technologies as they arrive, and I am not so naive as to think that this is because of some temporary "future shock" that they'll "get over" and get with the transhumanist program in every case. Some, yes, but certainly not all. I personally know plenty of people I respect that have even primitivist tendencies, but I don't know any (personally) that are so brazen as to want to deny me the opportunities for self-modification or experimentation, so long as it doesn't adversely affect them (and this agrees with your assessment of a technoprogressive mainstream). I don't think that's too much to ask of Transhumanism either. I'm not sure I hear them taking this position strongly enough, however. Perhaps that is part of the big problem with the identification.

The term Progressive evokes an easy connection with technological development - a progression. But the subtler undercurrent is that progressivism implies not only that we should not only encourage progress and development in order to distribute its benefits, but that we also protect people from the risks of progress and development. A part of that is in securing consent in every reasonable way based on the cost/risk/benefit analysis, and holding short where those costs and risks to those opting out of particular changes are too great to bear.

It is critical that the rights that Transhumanists advocate remain rights, and that they do not balloon into the duties of non-transhumanists. The bioconservative position denies these rights based on the position that such overstepping is unavoidable. The Transhumanist position is still foggy on this - some may actually agree that its unavoidable, differing instead on it's desirability. Others disagree on its inevitability, and assert that consent is, thus, critical. This is the clear technoprogressive position (and, apparently, a moderate middle ground as a result), but Transhumanism could benefit from some clarity on this point that it currently lacks.

Giu1i0 Pri5c0 said...

Hi Dale, love you too.

I was sort of expecting your outburst. It happens every time someone dares mentioning transhumanism in one of the lists and blogs you read.

I never had any problem (and we had many discussions on this as you may care to remember) with your chosen labels, or identities: "technoprogressive... a social democrat and a democratic socialist, with a hefty sprinkling of Green, queer, secular, anti-racist, anti-militarist, feminist politics thrown into the mix". I also choose many labels, including many of yours, but also (horror) including the T label. I am not alone, and always find it difficult to understand why you so predictably display such animosity against this particular label that many people have freely chosen. Don't you think you may seem a bit too self-righteous and intolerant on occasions?

I have no problems with you freely choosing your labels. Please, let me and others freely choose ours.

However, I still consider you as one of the good guys. And I have always admired your writing style and skills, including your amazing ability to quote out of context. I almost don't recognize my own thoughts.

Best, and happy new year,

Dale Carrico said...

I make a series of claims and support them with reasons. I make these claims because they seem to me to be important ones and I support my sense of their importance with reasons too.

I realize that my rhetoric can be blunt, but you aren't reading carefully if you think this is an argument about "labels," if you think I'm expressing hostility to you personally (I feel none of that at all), or if you think this argument supports intolerance of any kind.

More seriously, you suggest I have quoted you out of context here, presumably in ways that may have created false impressions about your piece? Please tell me where I have done this because it remains unclear to me that I have done this, and that is not a practice I approve of. I have linked to your piece (which is much less long-winded than my own was) so hopefully readers will read your writing and take it on its merits rather than contenting themselves with my own reactions.

I still maintain that the politics of progressive technodevelopmental social struggle are incredibly ill-served (in many ways, on many levels) by an identity-politics model. Persisting in trivializing this case I'm making as a matter of a "horror of labels" rather than addressing it on its own terms -- even if only to critique its limitations as James Hughes has done on occasion in ways that have helped me sharpen my critique, to my own benefit and, I hope, his -- looks a bit like willful ignorance to me at this point.

A happy new year to you, too. May it be full of clarifying and provocative conversation. d

Dale Carrico said...


I agree with much that you say here. Definitely I strongly sympathize with your own emphasis on consent as the key value to support as individuals get caught up in deranging real-world technodevelopmental transformations, for good and ill. Democratic societies value both diversity and equity, but the institutional support of these values can lead to difficult tradeoffs. Consent is a site that permits an ongoing negotiation of that tension -- we will tolerate even differences we disdain so long as they are legible as differences that are consented to in an informed, nonduressed way (diversity), while at the same time we will not tolerate differences that render the scene of consent illegible, through coercion or unintellgibility or so on (equity).

It is easy to see how foregrounding consent yields powerfully compelling apparent middle-ground positions on technoethical issues:

[1] An opposition to mandated ritalin prescriptions for children whose parent's disapprove of such pharmacological intervention conjoined to an equal opposition to efforts to ban access to such interventions even for informed parents who want to make recourse to them.

[2] Championing the dignity and lifeways of differently enabled people on their own terms, whether they refuse normalizing prostheticization or if they embrace prostheticization in ways that yield normal or different-from-normal capacities.

[3] Ensuring that women have access to safe abortion to end unwanted pregnancies as well as to ARTs to facilitate wanted ones, but always only so long as these decisions are informed and nonduressed.

[4] Celebrating the right of parents to raise children in voluntary simplicity or in subcultural or even separatist enclaves, so long as children are informed about the wider options available to them and prepared to encounter them and never duressed to remain where or as they are.

[5] Very much the same way, celebrating the right of parents to use pgd or the like to screen for a child who exhibits homosexuality or deafness or any other desired but marginal trait, so long as no chosen trait (however abnormal or suboptimal it may be judged to be from the perspective of those who do not value it) undermines the capacity of the child to perform as a sane adult citizen in a scene of informed, nonduressed consent.

In each case consent supports the emergence and maintenance of diversity while at once establishing the conditions to preserve the equity of citizens, peer to peer.

The other thing to say, more briefly, is that I'm glad you like my insistence on the ongoing distribution of developmental risks, costs, and benefits as the primary content of technodevelopmental social struggle. The complementary point is that this is not a "neutral" assessment of risks, costs, and benefits by elites and experts -- but must be a matter of democratic testament, demand, and deliberation on these risks, costs, and benefits from the perspective of the contending stakeholders of technodevelopment themselves.

That's a huge topic, and I'll concede that sometimes deliberative development will look like direct democracy and other times it will look a bit like technocrats assessing things and making recommendations to elected representatives who are accountable to voters. My point is not to insist in advance on the one and only true form of proper democracy, but to insist that stakeholders must have a say in the public decisions that affect them, whatever form that say may practically take.

But once we've enshrined consent and universal recourse to the law, once we've implemented democratic developmental deliberation, and once we provide a basic income, universal healthcare, lifelong education/training/therapy my suspicion is that "future shock" will be ameliorated as a problem considerably and for good.

AnneC said...

Dale: Good observations, and I am definitely very much aligned with your statements with regard to consent. There's a sort of grandiose aspect of some self-identified transhumanist discourses that I find quite disturbing -- an aspect fraught with oversimplifications and false dichotomies and terms like "moral obligation". However, I have chosen to take a potential personal risk and refer to myself using the word "transhumanist" -- the way I see it, the term is still new enough such that its nature can be shaped in part by those who choose to use it. Perhaps transhumanism started out as the near-exclusive province of white male market libertarian sci-fi enthusiasts, but it isn't that way anymore -- when you note that:

The poor "transhumanists" do seem to have to spend a lot of their time explaining why they aren’t a cult, which has to get tiring, and also explaining how respectable people they like who have never heard of a thing called "transhumanism" or who have heard of it and find it all a little odd are really closeted "transhumanists" in spite of themselves, and so on.

what I think you're seeing is evidence of the fact that "transhumanism" as a concept is by no means set in stone, and that perhaps rather than being some kind of sweeping ideology, transhumanism is something more amorphous, more dynamic, and less amenable to being pigeonholed as a bastion of technophiliac daydreaming than previously thought. The question then becomes: why keep the word at all if it doesn't actually tell you very much (or if it simply invokes outmoded stereotypes in the minds of most)? Well, at this point I find it to be a useful means of identifying people likely to at least be willing to discuss emerging technologies and their implications.

I've probably found quite a few people you'd probably classify as more "technoprogressive" than stereotypically "transhumanist", by looking up information about transhumanism. It (the "T-word") is a useful information-mining tool, as far as I'm concerned, and it's also (though admittedly nascent) a term that does seem to provoke the curiosity of some who may have come across it but not across someone yet who actively adopts it.

Also, bear in mind that there's a difference between stating that a word applies to you and using it as the sole (or primary) basis for your identity -- I can comfortably call myself female, for instance, without claiming that being female is a large part of what gives meaning to my life and that association with other females gives me a rich sense of shared history. I don't play identity politics -- not with femaleness or transhumanism or neurodiversity, even though I freely use descriptors associated with all these things when appropriate. But I realize some people do.

Dale Carrico said...

Hi, Anne. Your perspective reminds me very much of that of my favorite transhumanist-identified person: James Hughes. I find nothing particularly objectionable in your position at all.

As a rhetorician, I pay close attention to the ways in which positions get framed. I try to trace the careers and map the associations that terms get freighted with, with what consequences, and so on.

Pay close attention to the uses that your opponents make of the terms you use yourself, and try to figure out what those uses tell you about the entailments of your own terms and formulations that might not be the ones you yourself would focus on. It's an instructive exercise.

My central claim here is that identity-politics is a deranging lens through which to analyze and intervene in technodevelopmental social struggle from a progressive viewpoint.

I could end up being wrong, but I don't think so. By the way, I think one of the reasons James and others put up with the annoyance of my critiques (apart from the fact that we are friends on a personal level), is because this sort of skepticism keeps us all honest and clear-eyed -- even if, dash it all, I have failed so far to convince them I'm right.

Giu1i0 Pri5c0 said...

I also have no personal hostility to you and look forward to clarifying and provocative conversation.

I am not passing any value judgment on the fact that most people feel a need to "belong" to something that can give them an "identity". I am just stating it as a fact, a fact that everyone who works in advertising or politics knows.

And I am sure you realize that the most successful political and opinion movements have been those that have managed to tap into this need.

By "successful" I mean "able to have an impact, an influence, and *getting things done* through popular support". Which is what really matters. Otherwise it is just talking to the mirror and being in love with the sound of one's own voice.

The fact that you and I have outgrown the "need to belong" does not mean that others do not feel it. Not acknowledging it is, in my opinion, not only politically naive but intellectually elitist.

It is like ridiculing the "masses" who read popular novels and watch popular movies and soaps while we, the intellectuals who know better, are the only ones who can appreciate the beauty of "real" literature and cinema. But our wishful thinking does not change the fact that Michael Crichton and Steven Spielberg have more influence on what people think and do than all ivory tower intellectuals combined.


Dale Carrico said...

I regularly point out here and elsewhere that human beings have multidimensional normative lives (eg, instrumental, moral, ethical, esthetic, political), and that moral normativity yields a sense of belonging based on identification/disidentification.

I am far from denying this or passing judgment on it -- I regularly point out that a sense of belonging is one indispensable dimension to normative life, as it happens. I am simply saying that morals are different from politics and the rest.

I simply do not agree with you that an identity movement will yield anything like the "successes" you claim to desire (to the extent that what you want is safer, fairer, consensual, emancipatory technodevelopment).

I don't deny that identity movements can make a lot of noise and whomp up all sorts of enthusiasm some folks can opportunistically exploit to their ends (to deny this would be to deny the conspicuous -- and blood-soaked, mind you -- historical force of nationalism or religious fundamentalism), but that sort of thing sounds like used car sales and preachers passing the money plate to me.

The political force that interests me is democracy and social justice movements, and my politics focus on the ways in which concrete technoscientific developments promise to democratize the world or threaten to diminish democracy and fairness.

Maybe one day if you're lucky "transhumanist" identity politics will succeed in ensuring that some people who call themselves "transhumanists" will be able to get on talk shows to talk about "transhumanism" and sell more books than they otherwise would -- but I can't say that this sort of thing is my own priority.

No doubt such impulses can and do also sometimes contribute their own measure to the democratic politics that interest me -- politics is strange and unpredictable -- but this seems to me incidental rather than crucial.

The business at the end of your comment about my narcissism and elitism and ivory tower tendencies might score you points with the mouthbreathers, but most of what you are saying looks like straightforward misreading of my arguments, and, frankly, even at its best I find anti-intellectualism unpleasant and counterproductive.

Possibly it's not the worst attitude in the world to cultivate, however, if what you are really trying to do is swell the paying membership numbers of a kooky marginal church.

Giu1i0 Pri5c0 said...

OK Dale, you get this round;-)

You hit the mark with "the conspicuous -- and blood-soaked, mind you -- historical force of nationalism or religious fundamentalism".

I admit that too strong a sense of identity and of belonging to an exclusive group can, and does, make people forget rationality and decency and fall into extreme behaviours.

However I hope you admit that *some* sense of identity and of belonging to a more loosely defined group can provide that bit of extra motivation that many people need to *do* something.

Perhaps Anne's formulation is a good compromise between too much identity and none at all.


Dale Carrico said...

No need to give me the round, Guilio, let's say we both benefited from the exchange and leave it there. Take it easy, d

pdf23ds said...

Dale, first, while I've not read tons of transhumanist literature, (so I probably don't have a good idea of what the public face of transhumanism is,) I haven't gotten the impression from the sources I *have* read that many transhumanists have any particular proclivity to fail to respect consent. If anything, I'd associate this more with technoconservatism (i.e. Fukayama or the presidential council on bioethics) than transhumanism.

And the issue of consent isn't as simple as you make it out. You only list issues that have to do with protecting the right of people to (1) accept or refuse treatment for medical conditions for them or (sometimes) their children, and (2) to maintain their rights to reproductive autonomy. But the issue goes the other way too. Do people have a right to choose to use performance-enhancing drugs and prosthetics? Should we require employers not to discriminate against people who opt out of these enhancements, and if so, how?

I don't understand why you think that identity politics are such a bad idea. Was the civil rights movement not an identity movement? Is Christian fundamentalism not an identity movement? What about feminism? All of those groups were/are politically powerful and effective.

Dale Carrico said...

I definitely do think people should be able to make informed nonduressed consensual choices to use performance-enhancing drugs and prosthetics. I provide examples of this attitude in the discussion of consent available by scrolling up through the comments above.

Needless to say, "performance-enhancing" should be something said of a product only when testable standards are met and penalties for fraudulent claims are actually policed, else "enhancement" will just end up meaning little more than questionable boner pills and baldness cures as happens today to the cost of sense and health for everybody.

As for identity politics being a bad idea...

Yes, Christian fundamentalism seems to be an identity politics and I would say that is precisely the evidence why it is a bad idea you may be looking for.

I don't agree that civil rights and feminist movements are identity politics movements, inasmuch as the radical ideas that all citizens should be treated equally under the law and that women are human beings can be held and championed by people who otherwise have nothing in common at all on the basis of which to construct a substantial personal identity.

Democracy is the idea that people should have a say in the public decisions that affect them. Moral identification is more parochial, and depends for its intelligibility on what deconstruction calls "a constitutive outside" (which is a way of describing the way what one means by "we" tends to have a lot to do with who that "we" excludes as "they").

Democracies are appealing to partisans of identity politics because they provide a context in which many different forms of identity can thrive and voice the demands that arise uniquely from the perspective of that identification.

But whenever an identity movements comes to desire to sweep the world, prevail over differences, impose its perspective, and so on (and this is a special vulnerability inhering in all moral normativity) then it finds that democracy is no longer its friend at all.