Yes, [the ferals in Robinson's Blue Mars] are good examples. Techno-tribals. Also the neo-Victorians in Diamond Age.
Of course, the Martian ferals were no more "technologized" really than their ancient forebears, strictly speaking. Technique is technique. This is what I was trying to get at with my worry that we shouldn't get distracted by spandex catsuits into thinking that what matters about what you call tribalist affiliation and what I call moral practices of identification (/dis-identification) are flavor-of-the-month fetishized techs.
What matters to me is the normative work tribalism/moralism is doing for its practitioners -- if it is misapplied to ethics it becomes genocidal, if it is misapplied to politics it becomes imperializing.
I worry a bit about the example of the neo-Victorians in The Diamond Age, inasmuch as they yoked their subcultural identity with a project of global hegemony that seemed less about an open future for planetary multiculture (hence their preference for the Feed over the Seed, for example) than about a global order among a handful of peers organized to ensure that permitted progress always benefited incumbents first.
James Hughes wrote:
Yes, the modern fractured self should be re-integrated with an embrace of complexity and ambiguity, not fundamentalist closure. But part of that complex re-integration involves the re-creation of intentional, complex, overlapping collectivities with their own rituals, labels and segemented purposes. One can be a father, worker, Buddhist, Unitarian, transhumanist, technoprogressive, etc. all at the same time, but with far more fluidity than the pre-moderns held their identities.
I actually think we probably mostly agree here, but that we are tripping over one another's vocabularies a bit.
I worry about describing the contingency and multiplicity of contemporary practices of narrative selfhood as a kind of fragmentation, because that seems to me to contain the implication of a violent disruption of a possibility for wholeness that for me never existed in the first place, and also to set in motion a kind of pining after the "reclamation" of such a false wholeness that makes people especially vulnerable to fundamentalism and authoritarianism (which amount to the renunciation of the costs and risks of adulthood through the search for new parents in either the priests or the police). Of course it is fundamentalist closure itself that constitutes the actual violence to the self.
As for projects of intentional selfhood: I distinguish aesthetic ones -- which are deeply personal, privatized apart from their adequacy to the scene of legible consent, and hence not very good material for political organizing -- from moral (or subcultural) ones which seem to me, properly speaking, too complex to respond predictably to intentional designing, rather for the same reasons that living languages are, and hence, again, not so good for the work of practical political problem solving.
James Hughes wrote:
I have articulated some of that [i.e., concerns about "tendencies to tribalist excess inhering in the politics of outreach and PR that might drive marginal and defensive membership organizations that fancied themselves the iceberg tip of a burgeoning sub(cult)ural identity movement that wanted a particular vision of the future to prevail over an open future"] in my cautions about Singularitarianism as a form of millennialism with its own attendant risks of cognitive biases, messianic cultishness, and even rationales for violence.
As you know, I agree with you about Singularitarianism. There is no need to go into the Superlativity Critique to say why I think the problem is not confined to them.
The same dynamic is possible in any group that attempts to provide answers to the big questions about life, that is, its more likely in religious and political groups than in flower clubs and soccer leagues.
Yes, this is very true. I think that for me the key thing is that there are many Big Questions that demand responses in our lives, but that these questions take radically different forms that are warranted as reasonable or not according to radically different criteria. I think that there are, for example
Big Scientific Questions: How can I most reliably predict and control my environment in the service of my ends?
Big Moral Questions: How can I find belonging and support and legibility in a world that both precedes and exceeds me?
Big Aesthetic Questions: How can I be true to myself, affirm the meaningfulness of the vicissitudes of my life, without enslaving myself to my predecessors or risking madness?
Big Ethical Questions: What are my responsibilities to others with whom I share the world, including those to whom I do not personally belong? How do I resolve the competing demands of my multiple, incomplete, open belongings?
And Big Political Questions: How do we collectively reconcile the finite resources available in the world with the ineradicable diversity of aspirations of the peers with whom we share that world, both generally speaking and when confronted with urgent problems?.
The problem for me is when bright wonks or bowling leagues or aesthetic movements or religious faiths or what have you lose track of the righteous work they are doing in their proper sphere and redirect their energies to the solution of problems in other spheres.
The problem is not organizing to confront big questions -- this is inevitable and desirable -- but reduction and overreach from one mode of organizing into others to which it is unsuited.
James Hughes continued:
Our difference in emphasis seems to lie in my underlining the desirability and inescapability of the impulses to collective identity and millennial imagination. Although both have their downsides that need persistent vigilance, I don't think social life and social change are possible without them.
I get what you are saying, and it is hard to try to keep hammering at the little nuance that preoccupies me without seeming to misunderstand your point, when of course I really do.
Maybe this is a better way to put my point:
I believe that the planet has replaced the millennium.
I think that planetary networked practices in an actually multicultural world underscore the radical impossibility of any one moral vocabulary achieving hegemony, just as I think environmental and developmental inter-implication reframes political aspirations, both the utopian and the "realistic" ones. I think social life and social change can be fueled by a planetary perspective that differs from the millennial, that is more about open futurity in planetary multiculture than about some collective implementation of "the future."
I worry that the millennial imaginary is always going to be de facto reactionary from here on out, now that we have arrived at awareness of planetary multiculture. Worse, now that collective (and sometimes, as with "the unitary executive" in wartime, sovereign "individualized") political agency is planetized by digital networks, by weapons of mass destruction, by environmental problems like resource depletion, pollution, and global warming and by the disastrous maldistributions of neoliberal global "developmental," and so on, we simply cannot afford the millennial imaginary any more. We need the resilience of openness more than the reassurance of familiarity once individual and collective agency achieves through prostheticization a planetary field.
To the point, I think it's a good thing for people to raise "transhumanist" and "technoprogressive" banners, and recruit people to march under them, so long as we simultaneously remain vigilant of and caution against the excesses of groupthink, while you seem to feel such endeavors are problematic from the start.
Yeah, it's true. Look, I think that it is perfectly unobjectionable and even wholesome to a point for enthusiasts to create salon cultures that facilitate moral and aesthetic projects of theirs (including futurological blue-skying). But when salons incubate banner raising I find that a little hair raising.
Subcultures cannot sweep the world without unleashing Terror.
I get the impulse to political organizing, I even get the "branding" discourse for political campaigns, but vigilance can't mean proceeding with caution when one wants to mobilize moral energies in the service of political projects -- it must mean nipping that sort of thing in the bud before it starts to do mischief.
[You're talking about] fascists, Marxist-Leninists and religious fundamentalists in my mind, and not movements [like "transhumanism"] constituted around a strong defense of individual liberty and social diversity, such as social democracy, libertarianism, transhumanism and technoprogressivism.
Would be fascists can talk a good line about liberties when they need to, and probably many of them believe what they are saying. One must judge these things not only by good intentions but through the analysis of structural and discursive entailments, as well as sound principles and historical precedents. I don't mean to denigrate all transhumanists as crypto-fascists or any such nonsense, obviously, but I have offered up some extensive correlations between Superlative technocentrisms and anti-democratic tendencies. And that is not even to mention the pesky fact that the "defense of liberty and social diversity" around which "transhumanism" is presumably "constituted" on your account hasn't kept a sizable number of transhumanist-identified folks from championing all sorts of anti-democratic political movements from market fundamentalism to technocratic elitism to attitudes that sometimes drift uncomfortably close to eugenics in my view.