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

Thursday, January 31, 2008

From Edwards to.... Obama

Everybody here knows already how proudly and resolutely I supported the Presidential candidacy of John Edwards right up to the end. Eric and I were looking forward to voting in the California Primary for a candidate we could actually feel a real enthusiasm for.

I ambivalently support Obama now, only because of the joyful progressive energy of so many of his supporters. They, I feel, are far more reliably progressive than he is. Eric is ambivalently supporting Clinton now, mostly because he believes she has more real fight in her than Obama has (he also happens to have met and liked her personally). Neither of us are exactly thrilled about where find ourselves (although we are of course thrilled at the history making prospect of a woman or a person of color in the White House), and both of us were very cheerful in our support of Edwards in a way that seems now as remote as Mars.

In a democracy, we the people must matter more than our "leaders" do, we must be the change we want to see in the world.

There is no denying that "Obama" is a name to conjure with, that he mobilizes a creative and constructive public spirit, one which is unique and which, I hope, will be uniquely capable of world-changing, world-opening, and world-building in the devastated demoralized aftermath of the Bush torturers, killers, lawbreakers, and thieves.

I hope Obama will be more a conduit through which the work and will of the progressive people inspired by him is expressed, rather than assuming upon victory the station of a facile "unifying" version of the Unitary Executive, breaking bread with executives and breaking our hopeful hungry hearts yet again.

I can only hope that Obama's America will induce Obama to grow to be better than Obama is on his own -- all too eager as he seems to be now to extend his open hand rather than the halting hand we need and demand to the homophobes, social security privatizers, Israeli warhawks, libertopian "idea" men, and other fraudsters and marauders among us. The strength of Obama's supporters must teach and compel Obama to be stronger in his righteous defense of our rights than he seems to be now.

I hope Edwards' strength will be on hand to help in this... Frankly, I hope there was a deal in the background of Edwards' premature relinquishment of his candidacy that would make him quite near at hand in an Obama Presidency indeed.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Blah Blah Torture Blah

Lovely to be an American now. Excuse me while I vomit. Again.

I honestly don't know why everybody's so hung up on waterboarding specifically at this point. If this is their legal understanding, then they can use the rack, they can break arms and legs and they can pull teeth out with a pair of pliers. There is no logical difference between any of that and waterboarding if the only moral and legal guideline is that "it might be used to save lives."

I'd like to once again thank all those who voted to confirm Michael Mukasey and those who didn't bother to vote. It was an excellent demonstration of leadership. (My recollection is that many of the Democrats felt they had already "won" by forcing out Alberto Gonzales.) But maybe next time, we could just have a little baseline that the Attorney General of the United States can't believe that torture can legally be used if it might save lives. I think that might be considered a basic qualification going forward.

Feingold: FISA in a Flash

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Today's Random Wilde

[T]he past is what man should not have been. The present is what man ought not to be. The future is what artists are.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Short Answers to Short Questions?

Kos wonders "Where are the Libertarians on FISA?"

A Klan rally perhaps? An AMWAY convention? A celebration of the literary stylings of Ayn Rand?

Kos scolds:
For all the talk of "freedom" that the Paulbots claim to believe in, they sure as heck have been silent on the horrible FISA bill we're fighting to fix in the Senate right now. Same for Ron Paul. Why the silence? And the CATO people and the libertarian publications like Reason, where are they?

Here we are engaged in a huge civil liberties issue, and progressives are being forced to fight this thing alone. It's easy to talk about "liberty". It's much more impressive to actually do something about it.

Indeed. I hope this means an end to his whole "Libertarian Democrat" schtick. Unless we're talking about the membership of the indispensable ACLU, all you can count on in the way of "philosophy" from a self-described American libertarian is gimme! gimme! gimme!

Losing Their Religion?

One swallow does not make a summer, but an article by Phil Long, Tere Figueras Negrete, and Marc Caputo in the Miami Herald offers some interesting observations about some of the signals being sent by GOP candidates in Florida this Primary season.
Only one candidate, Baptist minister Mike Huckabee, went to church on the Sunday before Election Day. And candidate Rudy Giuliani, who is Catholic, went to a synagogue and donned a yarmulke.

The lack of so many Republican candidates campaigning on social issues or sitting in church is a sign, strategists say, of the importance of the economy -- and the fractured and potentially weakening influence of evangelical voters, who have comprised anywhere from 20 percent to 40 percent of the GOP primary electorate.

"The evangelical vote is not what it used to be," Atlanta-based pollster Matt Towery of Insider/Advantage said. He pointed out that since 2006, Christian conservative candidates and campaigns have lost when faced with moderate opponents…

"I don't remember seeing anything like this," said David "DJ" Johnson, a former state Republican Party chief. "It's intriguing. In a Republican primary, the candidates stop at a large church. That's what you usually do. But they didn't, so they must have good reasons for that."

It is very difficult to imagine that the market ideology of the corporatist wing of the Republican party can continue endlessly to loot and steal to the benefit of only a privileged few as they have done more and more since the Reagan Administration if their generational coalition with millions of duped evangelicals and other social conservatives fractures, especially now that shifting demographic realities and greater enlightenment among younger voters are starting to deprive Republicans of the "benefits" of stubborn institutional racism in the South.


[via The Campaign for America's Future]

What can we expect this year from the lame fuck? Let's look back one year for clues....

Today's Random Wilde

Patriotism is the virtue of the vicious.

The State of Delusion Address: Building a Liar's Lying Legacy

[via Washington Post]

Bush's State of the Union tonight promises to be an opening chapter in his effort to manufacture a legacy as anything but the worst President in the history of this nation that he so clearly has been to the near ruin of us all.
For years, President Bush and his advisers expressed frustration that the White House received little credit for the nation's strong economic performance because of public discontent about the Iraq war. Today, the president is getting little credit for improved security in Iraq, as the public increasingly focuses on a struggling U.S. economy.

Of course, the truth is that "the White House received little credit for the nation's strong economic performance" because that strong economic performance didn't benefit everybody. The rich few who did benefit did indeed shower Bush with support and praise.

Of course, "the president is getting little credit for improved security in Iraq" because we weren't lied into war in Iraq with the promise that marginally fewer Iraqi civilians and American soldiers would be slaughtered in January 2008 than were a few months before in an illegal immoral war that has killed and maimed and tortured numberless innocents, bankrupted the Treasury, decimated America's standing in the world, and exacerbated global instability beyond measure and for no reason at all. The Iraq war by every measure has made Americans and the world less safe and secure. The people who did benefit from the war and looting-spree, er, "occupation," the bomb-builders and mercenary contractors and war-profiteers and insect-eyed corporate-militarist think-tank statisticians did indeed shower Bush with support and praise (and given how many of these death merchants also own our mass media outlets that support and praise has megaphoned across the nation and the world in defiance of decency or sense for bloody year after bloody year).

The lying house of cards that has propped up the murderous war-machine, privatization-machine, torture-machine, spying-machine, partisan scheme-machine of the Bush Administration begins tonight to shift into the engineering of the house of cards of a Lying Legacy.

Bush made his bed, and now he wants to lie about it.

Don't let him.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Eugenics and the Denigration of Consent

I have argued that both the "transhumanist" and "bioconservative" stances (roughly, the undercritical technophilic imagination as against the undercritical technophobic imagination) on questions of so-called "enhancement" medicine can rightly be described as eugenicist. In my view, there is a significant parallel to be discerned between
[one] on the one hand: the "transhumanist" who feels a moral obligation to "enhance" human capacities, morphologies, and lifeways by means of emerging genetic, prosthetic, and cognitive techniques to better facilitate the project of engineering the homo superior of the "posthumanity" with which they identify, and

[two] on the other hand: the "bioconservative" who feels a moral obligation to ban such "enhancements" and such techniques to better facilitate the project of preserving the homo naturalis of the parochial and static vision of "humanity" with which they identify.
These projects to facilitate particular parochial conceptions of humanity with which they identify through emphatic recourse to or repudiation of medical technique, seem to me in both cases profoundly eugenic (it pays to remember that in foreswearing emerging forms of medical technique, "bioconservatives" are enshrining as "natural" the norms and practices that currently contingently guide kinship and reproduction in the service of patriarchy and other traditional hierarchical social forms, a selective breeding program no less technical and artificial for having lasted in most places for many thousands of years).

"Transhumanist"-identified readers often object to my characterization of their viewpoint as eugenicist. It is a sore spot with them: after all, they get a lot of that... but if the shoe hurts, you may be wearing it. It is true that few of them openly advocate coercive or involuntary programs of medical intervention to facilitate their engineering of an "optimal" "enhanced" posthumanity (although even self-declared "democratic" transhumanists like James Hughes advocate the suppression of, say, non-hearing prospective parents who would "screen" for an atypical but certainly both valuable and nonlethal while scarcely demonstrably disadvantageous non-hearing child as an expression of gratitude for and solidarity with their own non-hearing lifeway, for example). Indeed, some transhumanists declare in exasperation that their viewpoint amounts to more or less my own (when it palpably does not).

I believe that to value human lifeway diversity and human stakeholder equity as people of the secular progressive democratic left in an era of prosthetic/therapeutic polyculture demands neither [1] pretensions to knowing what ideal human optimality properly consists of and pressuring human plurality into reflecting it nor [2] pretensions to knowing what ideal human normality consists of and pressuring human dynamism into conformity with it, but instead [3] always only the struggle for more informed, nonduressed consent, peer to peer. What is wanted in my view is a politics that will shore up the scene of informed, nonduressed consent in therapeutic contexts, and celebrate the proliferation of wanted human capacities, morphologies, and lifeways that will be sure to eventuate from such a consensual scene. Against the eugenicism of the elitist "transhumanist" optimizers and the eugenicism of the elitist "bioconservative" preservationists, I have proposed the better alternative of a more informed, nonduressed consensual secular democratic prosthetic polyculture.

I disagree that "transhumanists" are in accord with my view here, but before I elaborate why let me first address the question of coercion that some "transhumanists" believe gets them off the eugenicist hook despite their overconfident belief that they know what optimal human health, abilities, and ways of life will look like and their advocacy of that optimality as an "objective standard" that should function as a norm in public discourse, in administrative policy, and shaping professional and institutional formations.

It is not only those who go so far as to actively advocate involuntary modification who are typically described as eugenicist in my understanding. There are disciplinary pressures beneath the threshold of conspicuous coercion that will yield eugenic effects just as surely, and often more efficaciously, than blatant threats and attacks of violence will do. Certainly programs of involuntary medical intervention constitute the most hideous and heartbreaking end of the eugenicist spectrum, but one can easily observe comparable homogenizing and restrictive effects arising from popular misinformation, from social stigma, from mass mediated promulgation of norms, from uncritical and inertial workings of orthodox institutional healthcare mechanisms. And the workings of these unexamined orthodoxies do no small amount of the work enabling more conspicuously coercive interventions, by marginalizing and befuddling objections to them and sanctifying their "best intentions" as only natural.

Not everybody needs, as some "transhumanists" apparently seem to do, literally to see a Nazi brandishing a firearm or cracking a whip in the service of genocide before they will grant that even now society is conspiring unnecessarily and at great human cost to cast certain perfectly liveable and flourishing and legible and wanted human capacities, morphologies, and lifeways as less-than-human, as offenses to humanity demanding "remedy" whatever those who incarnate them might have to say in the matter.

As far as I can tell, "transhumanists" who hide behind their restraint from conspicuous coercion to protect themselves from the "eugenicist" charge for all their glib talk about what objectively counts as a life worth living and a capacity worth "enhancing," have simply arbitrarily accepted a far too-restrictive conception of what can count as eugenics and then pretend everybody else agrees with that conception when almost nobody actually does. In my view the very idea of a discourse of morphological or lifeway "improvement" in the abstract -- rather than and apart from discourses and practices of actually diverse, actually wanted, actually expressed, informed nonduressed consensual prosthetic/therapeutic interventions -- is dangerously eugenic in its implications.

To treat as "settled" or as "neutral" value questions that are and should remain under contestation about what human ends are worth optimizing for and what human lifeways are actually wanted is to circumscribe the terms of what is humanly possible and important in a profound violence that tends to precede and indeed function as the precondition for certain techno-fixated and techno-transcendental eugenic discourses on "enhancement" that like to promote themselves as celebrations of choice. Theirs is a choice impoverished from the outset, offering always only choices to enhance competitive performance or to enhance the consumption of available entertainments, always in the paradoxical service of incumbency figured as "the future." Freedom reduced to the "freedom to enhance" risks the foreclosure of freedoms in the name of freedom and, worse, looks so to misconstrue freedom as an engineering matter rather than a political experience that it threatens to undermine freedom altogether

Apart from all this, I want to add that while many "transhumanists" pay lip service to consent, few actually demonstrate a substantive commitment to that value by actually talking about it apart from occasions when they are being accused by critics of indifference to it. Few seem interested in celebrating actually wanted actually existing lifeway diversity in the world they share as against their personally-preferred visions of an engineered diversity they project onto "The Future" world that never seems to arrive. Few actually devote their time and energy otherwise to discussions of the way consent might be practically, politically, institutionally facilitated in reality -- via equitable access to the franchise, lifelong education, universal healthcare, basic income, social security, rights culture -- and so on. It's hard to escape the sense that this is because they don't really care much about these topics. In the absence of such substantial exhibitions of concern, they will please spare me the manufactured outrage at being "misrepresented" on this score, just because they can fling out pious vacuities when challenged and mumble about how, at best, they are loosely pro-choice or, at worst, we should "let the market decide," and can we now talk about Shiny Robots some more, please? They are hereby invited to put their money where their mouths are.

I'll believe "transhumanists" who claim to advocate consensual therapeutic multiculture as I do when more of them show anything like real concern about the ways in which savagely unequal distributions of authority, resources, reliable information, and legal redress stratify our grasp of the diversity of viable and flourishing lifeways in the world as well as duress the actually existing scene of consent in the present day.

I'll believe "transhumanists" who claim to advocate consensual therapeutic multiculture as I do when they demonstrate equal zeal championing those who would undertake a non-"normalizing" procedure they recognize as non-lethal and compatible with ongoing consent but not "enhancing" of desirable capacities by their own lights, or who would refrain from choosing a non-risky and "normalizing" procedure -- or even an "enhancing" procedure by their lights -- as they do in championing procedures that are either normalizing or enhancing on their personally preferred terms.

I'll believe "transhumanists" who claim to advocate consensual therapeutic multiculture as I do when more of them propose as part of their presumed championing of consent to address these deficiencies with a strong defense of general welfare, public education, access to reliable information, a truly living wage, single-payer health care, and democratically accountable govrnment, a respect for democratic outcomes even when these frustrate the pace of development by their lights, and a celebration of actually lived diversity rather than idealized outcomes in their rhetoric.

I'll believe "transhumanists" really believe as I do in people making their own actually informed, actually non-duressed choices about what they themselves take to be prosthetic "enhancement" (whether the prostheses in question are medical, educational, or otherwise cultural) when fewer of them advocate free market feudalism, when fewer of those who know better stop choosing such feudalists as their political allies, and when fewer of them deploy bioreductionist formulations to rationalize feudal attitudes toward women, workers, diversity, and humanistic values.

It is no surprise that advocates of "optimality" that declare themselves committed to the usual libertarian conceptions of impoverished voluntarism and vacuous consent will nonetheless propose policies in which the individual choice to maintain or craft a "suboptimal" morphology or capacity (on competitive productivist and consumerist terms that are neither settled nor neutral) is to be treated as generating an externality imposing social costs that must be re-internalized: This amounts to the proposal of a punitive legal and incentivizing regulatory framework naturalizing a permanent arms race of force-amplification in the service of eternal accumulation as an unexamined end-in-itself.

The democratic value of equity-in-diversity (and the interminable democratic contestation over its terms and forms) is neither equality-as-homogeneity nor aspiration-toward-optimization. To be indifferent to issues of consent or, just as bad, to advocate vacuous forms of consent, while at once advocating strong norms pretending to the status of scientific objectivity concerning human capacities, morphologies, and lifeways that aspire toward an "optimality" that earns them the designation "enhancement" -- in the abstract and apart from actually expressed preferences and exhibited stakes of actual people incarnating or wanting these capacities, morphologies, and lifeways -- is indeed a eugenic outlook, dangerously vulnerable to authorizing institutional eugenic practices that diminish the human equity and diversity on which democratic freedom depend in fact. They should be understood and opposed by people of the democratic left on just those terms.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Two Variations of Contemporary Eugenicist Politics

The discourse of Medical Enhancement, to the extent that it contains the presumption that incumbent interests or certain self-appointed technocratic or biomoralist elites are authorized to designate what constitutes an "enhanced" human capacity, morphology, or lifeway, whatever the expressed wants of informed, nonduressed consenting persons might say to the contrary, constitutes in my view either an actual or aspirational Eugenic Outlook. So-called "transhumanists," who would engineer an optimal idealized postulated homo superior with which they presently identify at the cost of a dis-identification with the free and diverse homo sapiens with whom they actually share the world are advocating a de facto eugenicist politics.

The discourse of Medical Preservationism, to the extent that it contains the presumption that incumbent interests or certain self-appointed biomoralist elites are authorized to designate what constitutes a "normal" or "natural" human capacity, morphology, or lifeway that must be protected and insulated from change, whatever the expressed wants of informed, nonduressed consenting persons might say to the contrary, constitutes in my view either an actual or aspirational Eugenic Outlook as well. So-called "bioconservatives," who would ban safe, wanted, but non-normalizing therapies in an effort to "preserve" a static idealized postulated homo naturalis with which they presently identify at the cost of a dis-identification with the free and dynamic homo sapiens with whom they actually share the world are likewise advocating a de facto eugenicist politics.

What is wanted in my view is a politics that will shore up the scene of informed, nonduressed consent in therapeutic contexts, and celebrate the proliferation of wanted human capacities, morphologies, and lifeways that will be sure to eventuate from such a consensual scene. Against the eugenicism of the elitist "optimizers" and the eugenicism of the elitist "preservationists," I propose the alternative of a more informed, nonduressed consensual secular democratic multiculture.

Friday, January 25, 2008

The Data So Far

[via xkcd, via Robin]

The R-Word Is a Magic Spell

[via CNBC]
"We're over-reacting to the recession word," Dow Chemical Chairman and CEO Andrew Liveris told CNBC. "Lots of people get together and talk to each other and people believe the psychology."
Adds Liveris: "I noticed there’s a few CEOS who feel the way I do."

I don't doubt it.

Next up, America's elite CEOs propose theory that refusing to talk about death will make them all immortal.

Transhumanists: Torchbearers for Vaccination (Or: Robots? Who Said Anything About Robots?)

Stephen Cobb hosts a podcast called The Future and You, offering up what he describes as "[i]deas and opinion about the future based on verifiable facts of today."

A summary of the topics covered in his recent interview with Canadian "transhumanist" George Dvorsky includes this statement:
[T]he mainstream medical community is working hard to achieve the goals of transhumanism (without realizing it) and will continue to work toward them with or without our encouragement. The vaccination of children is a perfect example of the transhumanist ideal[.]

I'm not entirely sure if this is Cobb's own formulation or a view being attributed to Dvorsky, but one does hear this sort of sanewashing rhetoric from "transhumanists" all the time these days.

I suspect it would be an instructive exercise indeed to compare the amount of discussion among "transhumanist"-identified folks devoted to the topic of vaccination as compared with the amount of discussion devoted to the topic of the imminent arrival of postbiological superintelligent Robot Gods who may or may not be Friendly, to the topic of how some people might somehow achieve eternal life by uploading their "selves" into computers, or to the topic of how programmable self-replicating nanoscale robots will make them richer than the dreams of avarice can fathom. It would also be instructive to ponder the role of "transhumanists" in the actual research, development, regulation, and distribution of actual vaccines to actual people in the actual world.

No, it simply is not the case that people engaged in mainstream medical care nor the countless millions of everyday secular progressive people who champion more medical research and development to end unnecessary suffering, treat neglected conditions, and improve people's lives are really truly "closeted" members of the "transhumanist" Robot Cult in their secret heart of hearts ("without realizing it").

You just don't need to join a Robot Cult to see the good sense of vaccinations or basic health care, nor does sensible healthcare really need the support of a few hundred Robot Cultists to get by.

Nice effort. Try again, guys.

Today's Random Wilde

To speak frankly, I am not in favour of long engagements. They give people the opportunity of finding out each other’s character before marriage, which I think is never advisable.

Drop by Drop, the Tide Is Turning

[via Ezra Klein in the American Prospect]
[F]or the first time in 25 years, union density actually increased over the previous year…

Overcoming America's Corporate-Militarist Party Duopoly

Upgraded and adapted from Comments in the Moot: "Jackie" writes:
"I am actually somewhat surprised with how much you (Dale) tolerate the superficiality of the campaigns. I can't really stand to watch any of the candidates unless they are talking about genuine issues… I would expect you (Dale) to be completely away from the two-party political system and support a 3rd or even 4th party. Perhaps you could give some insight into this."

Well, needless to say I sympathize with your righteous frustration, Jackie. My view is that the two party system exists, and that my strong distaste for it provides no means "to be completely away from" it.

If you are appalled at the anti-democratizing effects of the US party duopoly (which functions too often as a corporate-militarist monopoly), the thing to do is to become an advocate for Instant Runoff Voting, the National Popular Vote, and Public Financing of Presidential campaigns.

Instant Runoff systems eliminate the "spoiler" effect and empower people to vote first for whomever they truly prefer without "electability" concerns entering their calculations, very much to the benefit of third party, issue oriented, and more radical candidates -- and hence to the benefit of our domesticated political discourse. We advocated for IRV in Oakland, then we voted for it, then we got it. Let that be a lesson to us all. The IRV movement is seeking to implement this feature at the local level across the country in the hopes that local use will educate and familiarize people about using a marginally more complicated system, the better to demand it nationally next. The movement for this reform is picking up steam.

National Popular Vote is a reform of the conservative Electoral College that does not require a Constitutional Amendment, in which States agree on their own to guarantee a majority of their electoral votes will reflect the actual popular vote nationally, once enough states agree to do this to ensure that this shift marginalizes none of them nationally. Many states have already agreed to this and the number is rising. This is a real, serious, highly organized movement for electoral reform.

Public financing of Presidential campaigns is of course a long battle -- many mainstream candidates now advocate it and its prospects were never better, though the forces arrayed against it are formidable. Read more at Democracy Matters, the League of Women Voters site, and at

Common Cause is also a good place to look for basic information about such proposals in general. I strongly recommend that people who are concerned enough about incumbent interests making a mockery of our democratic aspirations to contemplate support for third party candidacies become involved instead in substantial education, activism and organizing efforts to improve and enrich American democracy through campagns such as these.

In my view, supporting third party candidacies in an institutional environment that perfectly marginalizes them is an arrant absurdity. It seems to me that it is incomparably more democratizing (however frustrating, believe me, I know) for a person of the left to join with the progressive feminist, anti-racist, pro-democracy, pro-labor, environmentalist, populist forces existing in vast numbers at every level in the Democratic party already (however disorganized and demoralized they may sometimes be) and together force our party leftward to its base than to try and create a more progressive third party ab initio -- one that will have fewer actual progressives in it numerically speaking than the Democratic party already does for years to come -- and which faces institutional barriers to effectiveness that no amount of doctrinal purity can overcome.

It has always seemed to me that Ralph Nader should have engaged in a national campaign (of the kind for which he is rightly celebrated as an icon of the good fight) for IRV, national popular vote, and public financing of elections (another good campaign would be for same day registration -- we need to expose the ugly anti-democratic reality that drives the relentless Republican ingenuity devoted to disenfranchisement, and we need to turn that tide) rather than running as a third party candidate to the cost of his own concrete goals in a hideously rigged system.

Nonviable third party campaigns damage actually existing third parties and will continue to do so wherever institutional barriers so utterly marginalize them. The progressive fight is to create the institutional space in which third parties and issue campaigns are viable, and then -- and only then -- to engage in such campaigns. Inverting this order just contributes to the noise, the superficiality, the interminable demoralizing ineffectuality of alternative voices that dem-left third party candidates and their supporters rightly decry. To say all this is not to express resignation to the prevailing order but to demand more actually engaged, more practical, and less superficial pro forma interventions to build a pathway to a more democratic order rather than pouting and stamping at the lack of one.

Update: Friend of Blog Greg adds in the Moot: Get rid of all the fucking voting machines!

But of course.

This is a good example, by the way, of the reactionary politics of techno-utopianism and corporate-militarist futurology: a fetishized "high-tech" solution suffused with cybernetic totalist handwaving is proposed to a non-problem and manages to make some rich people richer while disenfranchising millions and contributing to the catastrophic right-wing reactionary theft of two Presidential elections in a row, and who knows how many other more local contests. Classic retro-futurism.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Today's Random Wilde

Life imitates art far more than art imitates Life.

Edwards South Carolina Closer

The general narrative here is very solid, even mildly inspirational, but all the citations of movie trailer conventions, including the Trailer Guy (or his clone) voice over feels a bit more obtrusively manipulative even than usual and almost nudges the piece into parody territory somehow. But perhaps that's just me. I wonder... do you all think this is an effective ad?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Today's Random Wilde

If, with the literate, I am
Impelled to try an epigram,
I never seek to take the credit;
We all assume that Oscar said it.

-- Dorothy Parker, in A Pig's-Eye View of Literature, 1937.

Let's Call It "Even" and Then Put the Polluters in Jail

[Democracy Now!]
According to researchers at the University of California–Berkeley, the environmental damage wreaked on poorer countries amounts to more than the entire third world debt of $1.8 trillion dollars. The study used data from the World Bank and UN to estimate the unpaid costs of greenhouse gas emissions, ozone layer depletion, agriculture, deforestation, overfishing and shrimp farming.

Monday, January 21, 2008

One More Year to Go

You know what I'm talking about.

"Technoprogressive": What's In A Name?

In the past I have often used the term "technoprogressive" as a handy short-hand to describe dem-left progressive politics that emphasize technoscience issues. See how that works? Techno + progressive = technoscience-focused progressive politics, in their various forms.

A lot of so-called "transhumanist"-identified people are now using the term to describe themselves, apparently. As near as I can tell, these "transhumanists" are more or less just using the term whenever they think the term "transhumanist" will seem, you know, too culty to somebody they're trying to convince of their reasonableness or, far worse in my view, when they want to come off as dedicated to progressive politics in some broad-strokes kind of way even though they aren't particularly progressive in their actual political attitudes.

In either case, "technoprogressive" seems to me to have been appropriated by "transhumanists" to do misleading PR work on behalf of a few marginal membership organizations and is sufficiently tainted by the association that I don't think its convenience as shorthand or jazzy punch as a net neologism are remotely enough to justify continuing to use it myself.

Even though one still finds dead-ender market fundamentalist and libertopian "intellectuals" in droves wherever "transhumanists" gather, even though one finds complacent discussion of apocalyptic Singularitarian world-transformation without much in the way of interest or sympathy for the billions who would be affected but not consulted about this loss of their world, even though one finds smug policy discussions premised on technocratic authority rather than democratic deliberation, even though one finds too-eugenicist-for-comfort discussions of duressed therapy in the name of "health" and of "non-optimal" human lifeways as a kind of diseased and criminal personhood demanding "cure" even when these lifways are wanted and consensual, even though one finds people talking glibly of "progress" and "development" in terms perfectly continuous with the demands of corporate-military competitiveness for incumbent interests as though this were the most unproblematic thing in the world, even though one finds structural, psychological, and cultural indications of reactionary right wing politics everywhere in the "transhumanist"-identified organizations, discussions, sub(cult)ural spaces of the Robot Cult archipelago I have noticed that some "transhumanists" are touting the rise in "technoprogressive" self-description as a sign that "transhumanism" is becoming more democratic-left in its general ethos.

I don't buy it for a second and neither should you. The techno-transcendentalizing wish-fullfulment fantasists and the Free Marketeer contingents and the even more kooky but characteristic Ayn Raelian contingents who combine the Robot Cultism with social Darwinian, evolutionary psychological, cybernetic totalist, and corporate-militarist market orientations are simply far too prominent to be discounted just because some of them are sanewashing their views in public by calling them "technoprogressive."

This isn't to deny that there are some, let us say, notionally or temperamentally democratic-left folks to be found in "transhumanist" organizations and sub(cult)ures. There are some to be found there who, for whatever reasons, either fail to grasp or are opportunistically rationalizing away all the reactionary politics and deranging True Belief they are enabling.

But it certainly seems to me that even the most sensible of the shaky left-esque minority among the "transhumanists" has mistakenly committed first of all to what they imagine to be a prior politics of the affirmative "pro-" as against the prohibitionist "anti-" of technology at a level of generality that has no real content.

This is so, since obviously it will be the application of technoscientific developments to particular ends according to conventional political values that will always determine the actual political significance of any artifact, technique, technodevelopmental vicissitude in any given instance.

Such a politics functionally displaces the political substance of technodevelopmental change as it actually, historically, differently impacts and is shaped by the diversity of its stakeholders in worldly technodevelopmental social struggles instead onto the de-politicized abstraction of a generalized "technology" one can only either monolithically affirm or deny. This anti-politicizing politics amounts to the assumption or assignment to substantial technodevelopmental struggles of the always hysterical, always a-historical, always undercritical vantages of either technophilia or technophobia, typically monikered "transhumanism" or "bioconservativism," proper, in the discourses under discussion.

The assumption or assignment of these vantages or orientations or sub(cult)ural identity-positions, on the one hand, facilitates misguided alliances with actively reactionary politics ("transhumanist" affinities with corporate-militarist global developmentalisms, "bioconservative" affinities with anti-choice and anti-abortion activisms). In addition, and on the other hand, this gesture always supports facile thinking about technoscience questions and in ways that typically benefit the status quo, come what may: retro-futuristically casting or extrapolating "The Future" in terms that amplify the parochial terms of current daydreams and nightmares of technical agency, substituting for the open threatening promising futurity inhering in the plurality of peers who are present in presence, peer to peer, to the foreclosed force amplification and monologic extrapolation from "the parochial present" of "The Future."

Needless to say, all of this results in making even those few actually progressive "transhumanists" more than usually vulnerable to right-wing appropriation, to rationalizations for anti-democratizing neoliberal/neoconservative developmentalisms, to indifference to and even ridicule of the demands of equity-in-diversity and planetary precarity.

I suppose it would be unfair to deny that "transhumanism" has nudged at least a little leftward in its window displays and favored buzzwords from the truly crazy right wing irrational exuberance of the 1990s Extropian days of high-fiving and handwaving away both death and taxes through faith in cryonics and uploading and crypto-anarchy. Of course, it is hard to imagine a movement like that could make it through the dot.bomb and the Bush Administration's deployment of market ideology to bring America to the brink of utter catastrophe without at least some minimal alteration, and that alteration would simply have to be leftward. Given the far-right extremity of the starting point there was nowhere but notionally leftward for "transhumanists" to go.

But, for my part, it is actually a bit flabbergasting just how many "transhumanists" have kept the libertopian faith in the face of reality's hard lessons, just as it is rather flabbergasting just how many "transhumanists" still genuflect to an utterly static vision of a single "posthuman" future (superintelligent artificial Robot God ends history, robot bodies end mortality, nano-scale robot genies provide superabundance and end pesky stakeholder politics and sentimental pining after true democracy), a future, "The Future," with which they identify at the cost of a dis-identification with the human present and the actually open human futures that are emerging from that human present.

And to be perfectly fair, after all, one should pay attention to the ongoing presence in the World Transhumanist Association (now hilariously rebranded "humanity-plus," which supposedly sounds less culty to mere "humanity-minus" masses) and the IEET of luminaries from the Extropian movement -- like its would-be sooper-cyborgic booster-couple Max More and Natasha Vita-More -- who still loom enormously largely in the organizations and discursive spaces where assertively "technoprogressive" futurologists whine and cajole about their refurbished seriousness, liberality, sensibleness, and progressive credentials.

As for my own politics, I remain committed as always to
One: p2p democratization and a2k/copyfight politics of a kind inspired by the work of Benkler, Lessig, and Bauwens (and enriched by the criticism of Lanier, Lovinc, and Jodi Dean), and implemented by the people-powered politics of Netroots education, agitation, and organizing here and now and to come.

Two: green politics of a kind inspired by pretty mainstream visions like Gore's and McKibben's, as well as the more radical permaculture/polyculture work of Holmgren, Kovel, environmental justice scholarship, Vandana Shiva -- with little patience for Greenback Greens and corporate-militarist greenwashers like Stewart Brand and his futurological band.

Three: the politics of prosthetic self-determination and consensual multiculture which begins from an advocacy of universal health care and more public research and development into and universal access to genetic, prosthetic, and cognitive therapies to treat neglected diseases and hitherto intractable but unwanted conditions, and then goes on to apply Pro-Choice intuitions toward abortion rights more generally to the defense of differently enabled people and other wanted non-normal lifeways, and ending the racist war on drugs.

There is a p2p ethos that weaves all three of these general political orientations together in my own version of them, and my advocacy of basic income guarantees and institutions for democratic world federalist governance are connected to my desire to preserve and facilitate these three orientations. Given those inter-implications I have often been read as or pressured to propose a unified and even programmatic technoscience-focused democratic-left perspective on that basis, and in the past I have indeed described that perspective as technoprogressive.

I now think it was probably a bad idea to propose anything that looked remotely like such a program, given the number of people online who seem to like nothing more than to glom onto such programs in the search for a movement to "belong to," to order them around, to help them forget their vulnerability and finitude in a world as dangerous as it is promising, and so on. It seems to me that many of the people who have taken up the "technoprogressive" moniker are less interesting and sympathetic to the democratic-left spirit of my own ends than people who simply call themselves "progressive," especially those who are inspired, as I am, by the Netroots and technoscientifically-literate versions of Green politics.

So, I am quite content to let the Robot Cultists, the transhumanists, the Singularitarians, the techno-immortalists, the nano-cornucopiasts, the cybernetic-totalists, the greenwashing geo-engineers, the would-be technocratic elites and futurological gurus, the corporate futurists, the uncritical technophiles, the techno-utopians make what use they will of the "technoprogressive" term in the service of their public relations efforts on behalf of their various marginal membership organizations.

What's in a name, anyway? For my part, I'm just going to keep thinking about and defending p2p formations, access to knowledge, permaculture and polyculture practices, universal healthcare and the scene of informed nonduressed consent, basic income, and providing nonviolent alternatives for the democratic resolution of disputes in a diverse world of peers. Call me what you will.

But those who do take up my formulations (sometimes word for word) without taking up my questions as well, those of you who appropriate my terms, scoop up slogans from my critiques, all the while ignoring my caveats, contextualizations, warnings, you should expect to be exposed for what you are as well. At least by me.

"The Martin Luther King You Don't See on TV"

[via FAIR]

[N]ational news media have never come to terms with what Martin Luther King Jr. stood for during his final years.
From Vietnam to South Africa to Latin America, King said, the U.S. was "on the wrong side of a world revolution." King questioned "our alliance with the landed gentry of Latin America," and asked why the U.S. was suppressing revolutions "of the shirtless and barefoot people" in the Third World, instead of supporting them.

In foreign policy, King also offered an economic critique, complaining about "capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries…."

In his last months, King was organizing the most militant project of his life: the Poor People's Campaign. He crisscrossed the country to assemble "a multiracial army of the poor" that would descend on Washington — engaging in nonviolent civil disobedience at the Capitol, if need be — until Congress enacted a poor people's bill of rights.

Spring Arrives

And a man's thoughts turn to… another term of teaching that is beginning today, and with it a return to something like the franticness that overtook me in the last weeks of the last term as I scramble now to get my readers and syllabi together, overcome the insomnia and stagefright that always afflict me when new courses get underway, get comfortable with over a hundred brand new students, and so on. Fortunately, beginning of term demands are rarely as intense for me as end of term demands tend to be with all the grading deadlines and panicky students begging for passing grades for classes they rarely attended and so on, and I get back into the swing of things pretty quickly. This term I'm teaching slightly refurbished versions of courses I've taught before, a lecture at Berkeley on postmarxist aesthetics and politics and a quick survey of contemporary critical theory at the San Francisco Art Institute. I'm also shepherding a cohort of grad students through the final months of their master's theses, as well as a handful of undergrads through their honor's theses, which will probably be the most labor intensive work I end up doing this term. If posting frequency is down a bit for a little while you'll know the reason why.

MLK Reminds Us What We Must Do

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Today's Random Wilde

Football is all very well a good game for rough girls, but not for delicate boys.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Jenna Bush v. Chelsea Clinton, 2016…

It's looking like Edwards won't even break 10% in Nevada. Are you kidding me?

Today's Random Wilde

I hope you're not leading a double life, pretending to be wicked while being really good all the time. That would be hypocrisy.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Free Marketeers Flip Flop From Agin'-Gu'ment Looting Sprees to Big Gu'ment Bailouts in No Time Flat

"You Never Give Me Your Money," by the Beatles. Abbey Road, of course. The marvelously silly vid's a tribute by britishpeople.

Dorothy Parker once notoriously snarked of a film actress's disappointing performance that it had "run the gamut of emotion, from A to B."

One finds a comparable range of insight in our free-marketeers.

Randian paragons, daring innovators, rugged individualists all, they oscillate like a pendulum between highly profitable (to some) Anti-government looting sprees and then to highly profitable (to some) Big Government bailouts to clean up their messes for them in the aftermath of the looting sprees. These strategies are then repeated in an endless cycle of looting and bailouts, like a nightmarish market fundamentalist eternal recurrence for the rest of us.

These two complementary strategies also constitute the full gamut (from A to B) of "Ideas" coming out of the Right that the corporate media and the neoliberal thinktanks have been cheerleading for thirty years as "exciting" and "new" (come aboard, we're expecting you!) as against the tired sad-sacks of the Left with their dour and frumpy demands for fairness and safety and accountability and so on. Bo-ring!

It's easy to see why Obama would want to recycle the tired old line about all the Big Ideas coming from the libertarian and Movement Conservative Right for decades as he frames his own "Change" agenda… NOT! (Okay, okay, I promise to beat up less on Obama in future, I'm sure he would make a fine President, certainly compared to the killer clowns the Republicans are offering up, but honestly, why take up this dreadful lying narrative even obliquely?)

Over in the Moot earlier this afternoon, Eric (yeah, that Eric: my partner) draws my attention to a growing chorus of pleas for public bailouts for the crooks and liars responsible for the growing subprime mortgage crisis:
[O]nce again we see the calls beginning to come out from the Great Free Market Capitalists for the government (read: non-rich taxpayers) to bail them out. What is that I hear in the distance? RTC! RTC!

Defend that shit you pro-crony capitalist whores.

If you want a bailout, use your much vaunted economic genius to bail yourselves out...or, even better, to not get into these messes in the first place. It isn't as though this crisis was unforeseeable.

To which he later added:
[T]hey claim to be deserving of their wealth because they are great risk takers all the while riding golden parachutes for failure and securing welfare from the state for themselves. Some risk.


I'll add this myself, briefly: There should be no more bailouts of industries without nationalizing the industries we bail out. Honestly. Bailouts should have teeth. We can always sell the industries back to the vampires, er, I mean to those fountainheads of all progress, our Beloved Innovative Incumbent Overlords, but only after these industries have returned through public shepherding to solvency and sense, and sold at a profit that benefits us all for a change. I'll add this, too. The well-nigh inevitability of this sort of asshole dumbass behavior among our profit-taking classes is why we need a basic income guarantee and universal healthcare to protect everyday law-abiding people from the worst excesses of our glorious greedy soopergenius "Investor Class," since we were kind enough to take violent Revolution off the table for now, admittedly to the good of us all.

Sinophobia in the Village

"[A] recent Zogby poll revealed that a majority of Americans have a positive view of China, only 35% of congressional staffers do. And 86% of those staffers think, wrongly, that Americans have a negative view of China."

No Democratically-minded person is pleased at authoritarianism in China (any more than they are about authoritarianism anywhere else), just as no Green-minded person is pleased at unsustainable industrialization in China (any more than they are about unsustainable industrialization anywhere else), but all that aside, the disconnect highlighted in the quotation here is striking… and terribly dangerous.

America needs to partner with other nations of the world to solve our shared planetary problems. An old-fashioned concern with parochial corporate-military competitiveness -- rather than a progressive concern to facilitate global cooperation -- amounts to an existential threat to the survival of the human species in a world of climate change, bioweapons, and p2p networks.

Villagers in the Union Movement

Edwards ferociously supports Unions but they haven't supported him back in equal measure, opting by and large instead to support candidates who are fair to ambivalent on Union issues. Union support and the organizational resources it brings with it could easily have changed the story of this primary season so far, as Ian Welsh explains today over at The Agonist. Their support has been driven instead by what appear to be vacuous calculations about "electability" and cynical (and, if history is any judge, doomed) efforts to jockey for position within a more corporate-friendly Democratic Administration to come. Unions have been fighting a long slow bloody defeat against America's Economic Royalists since the death of FDR, but one should not forget to apportion some blame for these endlessly repeated losses to the Villagers within the Union leadership themselves.

Today's Random Wilde

The old believe everything; the middle-aged suspect everything; the young know everything.

Faces at the Bottom of the Shell Game

[via Democracy Now!]

According to a Report just issued by United for a Fair Economy, the ongoing subprime mortgage crisis will cause people of color in particular to lose more than a hundred billion dollars. This would constitute the greatest loss of wealth for African Americans in modern U.S. history. People of color in general stand to lose twice as much wealth over the course of the crisis as compared to whites.

One of the authors of the Report, Dedrick Muhammad, Senior Organizer and Research Associate at the Institute for Policy Studies, was interviewed yesterday on Democracy Now! to talk about the crisis and its devastating and disproportionate impact on people of color. I want to highlight a few points Muhammad made, and encourage everybody to read the whole transcript or listen to the whole segment available at the other side of the link to Democracy Now!

Muhammad begins his case by framing the subprime mortgage crisis in connection with the ongoing catastrophic failure of neoliberal governance and crony capitalist "reconstruction" that we summarize now with the single word: "Katrina."

This way of framing his case seems to me pretty devastating:
[J]ust as Katrina a few years ago revealed the great wealth divide and how racialized this wealth divide is in this country, we’re going to see the subprime crisis do similar things.

As African Americans, Latino Americans, in particular, we’re trying to become homeowners, which is the number one source of wealth for most Americans. We see private companies taking advantage of African Americans and Latinos, putting them into loans that they could not afford, which will, in fact, actually take away the little wealth that African Americans and Latinos have been able to develop over these last thirty, forty years.

There are structural and historical reasons that account for the disproportionate abuse of people of color by these reckless lending practices, and so this isn't a claim attributing the abuse to explicit racist attitudes on the part of lenders (although such attitudes are no doubt often a part of the story, given that this is the interminably racist US of A).
[W]hat’s clear is that subprime industry was focusing on the weak in our society and was trying to take advantage of people who -- most people do not have the opportunity to read through the long complicated forms that happen when you refinance or when you’re taking out a home loan. And so, because of historic racism in this country, African Americans have only about a tenth of the wealth of white Americans. And again, homeownership is a primary means of wealth development. And so, African Americans are trying to, for the first time, really become majority homeowners, and the subprime industry took advantage of that situation. So whether they had in their minds they’re going to take advantage of African Americans or not, the problem is that they were taking advantage of American citizens, and this disproportionately is impacting African Americans and Latinos, but it’s also going to impact millions of working-class and middle-class white Americans, as well.

Muhammad then goes on to point out, that it is not only the direct and disproportionate loss of wealth that will target people of color in particular in this crisis. As the consequences of the crisis reverberate into our social institutions more generally, it will be the most vulnerable members of our society who are sure to bear the brunt of the costs to come as well.
[C]ities -- and we’re going to see that states -- around the country are going to realize what a dramatic effect it’s going to have on their areas, as well, because with the decrease in home value that is part of this subprime crisis, the subprime crisis is going to lead to mass foreclosures in many areas -- Baltimore, D.C., in Michigan, as well, Nevada…. Las Vegas is one of the highest foreclosure rates. It’s bringing down the prices of homes substantially. And what that means is that property taxes are going down, so now cities and states are going to have less revenue to provide services to the people of those areas….

How did we get into this mess? How does it actually play out on the ground?

Muhammad sketches out a story that reminds me eerily of the now familiar stories of the vast loans the World Bank notoriously peddled to friendly incumbent interests in the governments of so many so-called "underdeveloped" (for this term, one should always substitute the term: "overexploited") nations for techno-hyped infrastructure projects, overurbanization, unsustainable industrial agriculture projects, and so on. These ill-conceived enterprises always ended up making a few mostly already rich people incomparably richer, while at one and the same time disrupting and dismantling traditional (and often sustainable) local lifeways and social support systems. As we all know by now, when the glorious future benefits of these idiotically overambitious projects failed to materialize, the inevitable aftermath of debt, corruption, scandal and so on would justify hideous "restructurings" of the debt, demanding "market discipline" and "austerity regimes" imposed on the vulnerable victims of these policies, dismantlement and "privatization" (put more plainly: looting) of infrastructure and social support, and so on.
[M]ortgage lenders [will] take out loans from a, let’s say, a Latino American family who made a good income but had very little wealth, and would steer them into a high-cost loan and for a property that they really could not afford. And now, oftentimes in the past, mortgage lenders wouldn’t sign on to something like this, because they would be concerned about getting their money back.

But the deal they worked out with Wall Street is that they could sell this debt to Wall Street, and then Wall Street could sell it again and again and again, and you have a whole bunch of different people at different layers making money off of bad loans. So it really became to a point where mortgage lenders didn’t even care if they were going to actually get the money back from the individual they lent it to, because they knew they were making their money off of the loans being sold over and over again in Wall Street, which is why now you’re seeing major financial institutions across the country shaking from this subprime crisis, because debt had to be paid back at some point. And even though many wealthy people have made much money off of this, at some point this debt had to be collected. And so, now we’re seeing major financial institutions suffering the consequences. But who’s going to suffer the worst consequences are those who are going to have their homes foreclosed, who are going to have their credit destroyed, and have already weakened financial communities in a much worse situation.

And so, "free enterprise" conjures up the usual fraudulent pyramid scheme, organized by the usual gang of cronies, preying, as usual, on the most vulnerable people in society, utterly failing to live up to their promises, as usual, but not before many of the authors of the failure (disdainfully ignoring all the while, as usual, the usual voices of sanity and reasonableness and caution and oversight) become obscenely rich -- some of them only for a time, but, oh, what a time they have! -- while the vulnerable victims of the failure are left to pay and pay and pay for what amounts to "legitimized" fraud.

We've got to end the rule of incumbency -- of what FDR called in an era not unlike our own, the Economic Royalists -- the incumbent interests of the corporate-militarist neoliberal/neoconservative world order. All this will take is a basic income guarantee, universal healthcare and life-long education paid for by a progressive taxation of income (including investment income) and real estate.

I dread the comments to come from smug champions of "capitalism." They've got their walls of irrefutable pie-charts and arid abstractions to hide from the world with. As usual, they will decry the "socialism" of this recitation of plain facts.

Look at the newspapers, people, the financial headlines amount to a pile of skulls at this point! We need to demolish the institutions of fraud and build the institutions of fairness. I don't give a damn if you want to call that urgent effort socialism, social democracy, welfare statism, participatory economy, localism, mutual aid, natural capitalism, whatever.

Facilitate more democracy, more equity, more diversity and free people will collaborate peer-to-peer to solve shared problems and provide one another the support, pleasure, and provocation we need. Until we democratize the world, peer-to-peer, incumbent interests will continue to play their Great Games of theft, deceit, and control. Until then, never forget and never stop fighting for the faces at the bottom of the shell game.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Obama's Reagan

In my Audacity of Hype post earlier this week I castigated uncritical Obamaniacs that Hope Without Fight Is Hype and tried to illustrate this point with what I imagined at the time to be something of a stretch as analogies go: Reagan talked about hope. Reagan talked about "Morning in America" as he set out to destroy the achievements of the New Deal and the Summer of Love. That's when our long national nightmare of corporatism and theocratic pandering began.

Who knew that within hours Obama would embrace this connection to Reaganite "hope" explicitly and insistently on his own?

As Matt Stoller pointed out at Open Left at the time:
Obama admires Reagan because he agrees with Reagan's basic frame that the 1960s and 1970s were full of 'excesses' and that government had grown large and unaccountable.

Those excesses, of course, were feminism, the consumer rights movement, the civil rights movement, the environmental movement, and the antiwar movement. The libertarian anti-government ideology of an unaccountable large liberal government was designed by ideological conservatives to take advantage of the backlash against these 'excesses'.

It is extremely disturbing to hear, not that Obama admires Reagan, but why he does so. Reagan was not a sunny optimist pushing dynamic entrepreneurship, but a savvy politician using a civil rights backlash to catapult conservatives to power.

Given the fact that Obama has criticized the gulf between Reagan's tone and his actual policies, and given the fact that Obama was organizing on the streets of Chicago to ameliorate the impact of Reagan's policies on the most vulnerable people, I think it is wrong to suggest that Obama agrees with Reagan's rhetoric, but it is profoundly disturbing that he would opportunistically appropriate that rhetoric despite his experience and disagreement.

As usual, it is John Edwards who responds as a person of democratic left actually should:
“When you think about what Ronald Reagan did to the American people, to the middle class to the working people,” said Edwards.

“He was openly -– openly -– intolerant of unions and the right to organize. He openly fought against the union and the organized labor movement in this country. He openly did extraordinary damage to the middle class and working people, created a tax structure that favored the very wealthiest Americans and caused the middle class and working people to struggle every single day. The destruction of the environment, you know, eliminating regulation of companies that were polluting and doing extraordinary damage to the environment.”

“I can promise you this: this president will never use Ronald Reagan as an example for change.”

Some of us also remember the early devastating AIDS epidemic sweeping through the gay community without a word of support, comfort, or recognition from Ronald Reagan.

Some of us remember the lies about "Welfare Queens" he used to justify horrible callous, usually racist rhetoric about vulnerable fellow citizens.

Some of us remember illegal drugs sold on the streets of our cities to pay for illegal arms to the Contras and torturers and death-squads, while Nancy piously suggested we "Just Say No" as the racist War on Drugs ramped up here.

Some of us remember that an extreme minority of anti-democratic fundamentalist zealots started calling themselves "The Moral Majority" in the Reagan years.

Some of us remember Reagan telling us "government is the problem" and then seeing to it that whenever Republicans are in charge they would damn well prove it.

Some of us remember how Reagan sold the lie that giving to the rich and taking from the poor would create prosperity that would "trickle down" to the poor anyway.

Some of us remember Reagan tearing down Carter's solar panels from the White House and his choice of James Watt as environment secretary.

Some of us remember "Ronbo" belligerently making war noises, throwing his weight around, and joking about nuclear strikes.

Some of us remember PATCO, and Reagan's war on the unions that created a democratizing middle class (even if it never managed to extend to people of color as it so urgently needed to do).

Ronald Reagan was an evil bastard and he set the stage for the even worse Killer Clowns of the present Administration.

Feel good bullshit about the affable Gipper is dishonest and dangerous and damaging and we will not stand for it.

The Villagers don't get to cough up their lying hairball of common wisdom for the rest of us to swallow down anymore. The Netroots are a self-critical public defined by linking practices that encourage fact-checking, collective scrutiny, and a registration of multiple perspectives, rather than consumers of elite incumbent mass-mediation: that's why we are called the "reality-based community."

If you are audacious enough to hope in the midst of our present distress, I suggest you look to the dem-left people-powered peer-to-peer politics of the emerging technoprogressive mainstream, rather than the evil architects of Movement Conservatism for the substance of your inspiration.

Today's Random Wilde

Nothing makes one so vain as being told that one is a sinner.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Keeping the Rabble in Line

How are the people going to kick up a fuss when they're exhausted and demoralized from working two or three jobs and in constant fear of losing those?

Endlessly reward elite failure, endlessly impose discipline on the vulnerable victims of that failure. The old games are the best games.

From ThinkProgress:
Today, Rep. Eric Cantor (VA), the chief deputy Republican whip in the House, unveiled his proposal to stimulate the economy. His legislation — the so-called Middle Class Job Protection Act — does nothing for the middle class. Instead, it reduces the corporate tax rate by 25 percent.

At a press conference today unveiling the stimulus proposal, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) justified the conservative plan to give tax breaks to corporations — instead of working Americans — by arguing that people actually like working long hours: I am so proud to be from the state of Minnesota. We’re the workingest state in the country, and the reason why we are, we have more people that are working longer hours, we have people that are working two jobs.

Bachmann’s version of the American Dream is apparently working two full-time jobs and struggling to get by…. Bachmann may be taking her cues from her bosom buddy President Bush, who on Feb. 4, 2005, told a divorced mother of three: “You work three jobs? … Uniquely American, isn’t it? I mean, that is fantastic that you’re doing that.”

Almost the whole secret of peer-to-peer Netroots democratization in my view has been that it has lowered the personal costs (in terms of time, effort, money) of education, agitation, and organizing enough to facilitate citizen participation even by a deeply precarious, harassed, exhausted, distracted, terrorized citizenry.

The generosity, competence, commonsense, creativity, intelligence, sense of justice, and progressive sentiment have always been there in the American people as in great majorities of people all over the world, all just waiting to be tapped in the service of shared solutions to problems and proliferating lifeway diversity, planetary progress to peace and justice... but always beaten down by the lies, the bad faith, the guns, the money of fearful greedy parochial reactionary incumbent interests.

Against the politics of incumbency that would control the abundant diversity of human enterprise through socially engineered precarity and discipline, progressives must advocate for a basic income guarantee that secures basic needs, ends our fear for our lives and so opens our energies to the project of freedom, and, quite literally, subsidizes the practices of peer-to-peer democratization, problem solving, and creative expressivity which represent as much as anything else for our generation the very substance of freedom itself.


Today's Random Wilde

Why was I born with such contemporaries?

Technoscientific Progress in a Diverse Shared World

Keith Elis is very angry with me (scroll down a bit to find his comments at the end of this link) for talking the way I do about science, technology, and progress, and he wants to warn my readers that I am up to no good here at Amor Mundi.

Among other things, he charges that I am playing fast and loose with my definitions, especially when it comes to the word "progress," and seems to think that I am trying to confuse people deliberately the better to seduce them into service to who knows what sinister ends. Something to do, he suspects, with championing a "progressive social order" by which I mean, apparently, well, fascism of all things.

It is hard to understand what Elis finds so nefarious in my philosophical practice, and I may be missing his point here to be honest. But to the extent that philosophy responds to problems at the level of public discourse, it is fairly commonplace in analytic traditions to try to relieve intractable argumentative tensions by introducing distinctions or coining phrases that circumvent the impasse (if only by seducing everybody into changing the subject), just as, to the contrary, sometimes one introduces new definitions, images, frames precisely to introduce tension, to shake up stale orthodoxies that no longer respond well to changed circumstances or new opportunities.

Why this is so eeeevil I can't for the life of me figure out. Elis very rightly says, "Dale believes that science and technology should be democratized in the interest of a progressive social order." Indeed, I definitely do. I propose that we can only properly speak of technoscientific "progress" -- or progress more generally -- when the costs, risks, and benefits of change are fairly distributed to all the stakeholders to that change by their lights. Elis finds this an outrageous thing to say.

He says my insistence on this distributive dimension of progress, properly so-called, in matters of technoscientific change is a violation of any "kindergartner's" understanding of progress. This may be true, since Elis's objections may indeed simply be a matter of youthful ignorance. He also claims I am violating everyday usage. He describes this everyday usage with the term "a prole's understanding" as if to suggest I fancy myself some kind of aristocrat dictating to "men of the people" represented by himself.

Anybody who reads my blog with any regularity will know how appalling I would find such a characterization, given my advocacy of democratizing peer-to-peer formations and endlessly reiterated jeremiads against the politics of incumbent interest and self-appointed elites and so on. So I'll return to the charge of my anti-democratic motives and practices in a moment. For now, suffice it to say it doesn't seem to me Elis has earned his conclusions, to say the least.

First, though, I think it is well worth noting just how perplexing it is that Elis would put so much argumentative weight on his premise that everybody actually thinks of progress as he seems to do, as a kind of socially indifferent accumulation of stuff produced by politically neutral scientists and engineers.

He writes: "Most of us proles would see the phrase 'technoscientific progress' and understand it to mean development or advancement in scientific or technological capability. We proles can grasp this, and since we basically agree on what the words mean, we are able to communicate with each other about these concepts."

Now, to this I would say "advancement" is always advancement toward an end, and that there is more than one end toward which one can advance, and that what will look like "advancement" to some is very likely not to so look to others. Again, what we have here is far from a politically neutral blandly or universally "forward" movement. What Elis simply accepts unproblematically as "development" in his prole kindergartner's definition I prefer to describe as "developmental social struggle." I'll admit my phrase is gawky and awkward, but as I mentioned before it sometimes seems to me a good thing to introduce a tension into customary pieties that obscure urgent facts that matter (such as the description of change that preferentially benefits some people to the cost of others as only "beneficial" when it palpably isn't).

What Elis seems to accept as a matter of "natural" advance or development looks to me like an ongoing collective process with diverse stakeholders, always with relative beneficiaries and losers, a process fraught with struggle, costs, risks, alternatives, missed opportunities, and so on. And given this, it seems to me this is a process that should be democratized the better to respond to that actually existing diversity of situations and aspirations since, after all, we share the world with our diverse peers and it is usually best to be peacefully reconciled with them as much as one can manage, far better even than to optimize one's particular parochial desired end to the cost of such reconciliation.

I don't agree with Elis that this is exactly a stunning original or subversive set of concerns to raise on my part, since it seems to me to represent a fairly conventional progressive critique applied to questions of the complex impact of technoscientific change.

And note that I said "progressive" just now.

I wonder did Elis find that usage incomprehensible in reading it? The truth is, he likely already is fully aware that "progress" is a word that is used to describe the struggle to achieve deeper democracy, more fairness, greater justice, wider diversity, secure consent, and so on.

Few people really think of "progress" exclusively or even primarily as the robotic crunching along of Moore's Law or some such socially indifferent technical trajectory. What he would present in his critique as some flabbergasting effort to subvert commonsense understandings of progress is in fact little more than an effort to remind dumb privileged technophiles that our social and political understanding of progress applies to technoscientific change quite as much as it does to our other collective progressive human practices.

It is, of course, the technophiles who would drain technoscientific change of this social and political content, the better to ensure that change always best reflects the parochial interests with which privileged technocrats tend to be poised or imagine themselves to be so poised to preferentially benefit from themselves. (Rather puts the "Keith Elis, Man of the People" gambit in a different light, doesn't it?)

By way of conclusion, let me return to the concerns Elis raises about the anti-democratizing "elitism" of my rhetorical practice more generally (a charge I would obviously take very seriously, even if I finally disagree with it). For me, in Elis's disdainful estimation, "the common meanings of words and phrases are there to manipulate any way he chooses without consulting the rest of us." This seems to me an especially curious response to ideas posted on a blog. Am I not consulting you by publishing my words? To offer up a phrase to the hearing of the world is to release it into the world's care. It remains for the world (well, to those few folks in the world who read my obscure little blog) to care for it or not, to do with it what they will.

Elis is in rather a full froth at this point in his critique, imagining he has hit upon something fairly damning and so he amplifies his point: "Why a progressive would want to de-democratize language, the most democratic force in the world is a mystery that can only be resolved by Dale." Not to put too fine a point on it, I worry that Elis may have read too much Ayn Rand. I admit I am indeed a bit mystified as to what is so "anti-democratizing" in my practice of rhetoric. It seems to me I am just trying to figure things out, to hold up countervailing and inter-implicated contemporary discourses together in thought, finding ways of getting language to address our own urgent circumstances. I doubt Elis will believe me when I say this, or perhaps he'll just dismiss it as gobbledegook, having decided for some reason that I represent some amalgam of Ellsworth Toohey and Lord Voldemort (Elis intones at one particularly delicious point in his critique of my fun and games with definitions that "To avoid psychosis, Dale accepts neurosis." Things are looking rather bleak for poor Dale, are they not?). But I have to wonder is every poet anti-democratic for proposing a novel metaphor to expand the expressive resources available in language? Is anybody who coins a phrase or a new term to accommodate some new discovery or possibility thereby anti-democratic? Of what does language's "democracy" consist for Elis, exactly, if not its openness to change through the practices of those who invigorate it in using it, both literally and figuratively?

There is quite a lot in Elis's diatribe about how I'm a "big shot" and an "elite" and so on, which, quite apart from squaring rather poorly with the reality of my life as a not particularly well-paid itinerate lecturer teaching at a couple of institutions from term to term, seems to suggest that Elis is dealing with issues that have more to do with his own circumstances and insecurities than they do with his apparent target. Be that as it may, since Elis wonders in closing how I might go about defining democracy (he is quite sure that whatever I say it will be perverse), I will oblige him by repeating the definition that recurs in many of my writing here in Amor Mundi. Probably perversely to Elis's eyes, I happen to think democracy is more an open process than a utopian eidos implemented in a linear fashion, and so I will speak of "democratization" rather than "democracy" to italicize this point.

I define democratization as an ongoing and interminable collective process of institutional experimentation, education, agitation, organizing, and social struggle to ensure ever more people have ever more of a say in the public decisions that affect them. I don't know if that definition passes muster for Elis or not, but that is what I mean when I talk about democracy. I don't claim to speak for Elis or anybody else in proposing this definition. My goal is not to dictate the terms of reality terminologically (a fool's errand if ever there was one), but to get a practical handle on real problems and open myself to real emancipatory possibilities. It seems to me a commitment to progress demands nothing less.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Dead Like Me: Sam Seder on the GOP's Undying Dead Reagan Love in Michigan

PS: Sam Seder is so cute.

Update: Greg comments in the Moot, "Zombie Reagan's craving for fresh brains is at least understandable given what happened to his. Hopefully he feeds mainly on these young fools who clearly don't need theirs."

Just Saying

Poll after poll after poll bears this out. More progressive and more "electable"? Well, no wonder the corporate media are blacking him out and the Villagers counting him out, then. Hope without Fight is Hype, Obama. Trickle Down Change Isn't Enough, Clinton. Edwards all the way to the Convention!

Update: Here are the recent Rasmussen Numbers on this issue:

Clinton (44%) Giuliani (45%)
Clinton (42%) Huckabee (45%)
Clinton (38%) McCain (49%)
Clinton (49%) Paul (37%)
Clinton (43%) Romney (44%)
Clinton (46%) Thompson (44%)

Edwards (44%) Giuliani (44%)
Edwards (49%)Huckabee (37%)
Edwards (46%) McCain (39%)
Edwards (50%) Romney (34%)
Edwards (48%) Thompson (39%)

Obama (47%) Giuliani (37%)
Obama (45%) Huckabee (43%)
Obama (43%) McCain (46%)
Obama (50%) Paul (31%)
Obama (45%) Romney (39%)
Obama (47%) Thompson (40%)

Today's Random Wilde

To be good, according to the vulgar standard of goodness, is obviously quite easy. It merely requires a certain amount of sordid terror, a certain lack of imaginative thought, and a certain low passion for middle-class respectability.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Too Many Mean Gay Nazi Facts

[via Media Matters]

On January 11, on his nationally syndicated program, Bipartisan Love Talk Radio Personality Michael Savage described Media Matters for America as "a homosexual, fascist website… run by a bunch of fascist homosexuals. They're the brownshirts of our time."

According to Media Matters Savage has attacked them on many occasions, calling the organization a "hate group"; a "group of gay Mafioso"; "the homosexual Mafia"; and "a gay smear sheet."

Did he mention he thinks they're totally gay?

Follow the link above for full documentation and analysis of Savage's insane reactionary homophobic claims. Or, you know, just donate to Media Matters for America here.

The Audacity of Hype

Can somebody explain to me what is supposed to be so fresh and new about the politics of hope?

How is the politics of hope really that different from what we have been suffering from for the last seven years?

Invade Iraq and hope for the best? Hope the economy will balance itself out? Hope Movement Conservative appointees to the Court won't dismantle Roe and our other Civil Liberties? Hope our infrastructure will hold up without tax money to maintain it? Hope deregulated companies will act in the public interest even when the opposite is more profitable? Hope those levees won't break?

There were plenty who knew Iraq looked like shaping up to be a disaster -- quite apart from being illegal and immoral. There were plenty who knew the housing bubble would burst, that tax cuts for the rich during wartime was madness, and so on. There were plenty who knew the danger New Orleans was in.

Reagan talked about hope. Reagan talked about "Morning in America" as he set out to destroy the achievements of the New Deal and the Summer of Love. That's when our long national nightmare of corporatism and theocratic pandering began.

Hope is frankly unwarranted in my opinion given our recent history, our debased present, and our palpable future. Indeed, to focus on hope right about now may be delusive and outright dangerous.

The alternative I propose is not Hopelessness.

Right about now Hope Without Fight is Hype.

We need to fight our way to a place of hope that makes sense. I'm hopeful enough to think we can fight our way to hope. But I'm not ready to make nice.

Make sense first. Fight second. Hope third.

I've said it before, I'll say it again. I'll cheerfully vote for Obama (or for Clinton), I'll fight to get Obama in the White House. I think any of the three front runners would be a better President than any of the Republican alternatives, would possibly be even a better President than any in my recent memory.

But Obama needs to make more sense (for example, neither his health nor his energy policies are as good as Edwards's or Clinton's already imperfect plans) and he needs to signal more awareness of the need to fight and more willingness to do so. I'll even settle for a few dog-whistle signals of commitments to his progressive base here and there rather than this constant refrain from dreamy-eyed supporters that I can "trust him" to have real progressive commitments despite all the feel-good vacuities and corporate/centrist policy papers.

As for Edwards, I'm still a committed Edwards guy. Edwards's delegate counts are fine, thank you all very much. Edwards is polling plenty well in upcoming primary contests. Obama and Clinton are both objectively to the right of Edwards on domestic policy, and I'm on the democratic left. Edwards is the best candidate for progressives and I think it's lunacy (wishful thinking, more like) to pretend he's out of the race this early on, and given his impact in driving all the candidates toward progressive stances more in line with what the country needs and already believes it would be lunacy to push him out of the race even if his prospects for a win begin to dim (as they have not yet objectively done).

Okay, a Belated Resolution

This year, I think I need to post more material addressing itself to ideas and ventures I personally find appealing and want to understand and facilitate because they're appealing to me, in the hopes, among other things, of attracting the conversation of more people I find appealing.

The years during which I've been blogging here have been years of anger and sadness for me in many ways. I mean, not so much in my private life as in my life as a kind of "public intellectual," to use a rather self-aggrandizing term. But I know that this anger and frustration and sometimes desolation really comes through in a lot of my writing here.

I guess I'm one of the "angry bloggers," blogging angry, trying to get a handle on some of what it is that makes me angry, trying to express it and release it and sometimes exorcise it, else it pin me to the wall like a bug on a board.

The crimes of the Bush Administration here in my country, the global catastrophe of racist patriarchal capitalism in its neoliberal and neoconservative faces… all this palpable avoidable catastrophe, all this marauding arrogance, all this stupid waste of lives and knowledges, all this murder and thievery and recklessless and mayhem all so that a few scared scarred people can accumulate more of whatever it is that never seems to make them feel they have a life worth living but which they cling to even at the cost of extinguishing life after life after life in the world… giving voice to all this is what drove me to blogging in a way.

Of course, my special idiosyncrasy is that I am fascinated by technodevelopmental social struggle, and that is what I write about here more than anything else. But in this area, too, I have found myself directing lots of attention onto forces that are damaging and dangerous and dumb. And oh so desolating, sometimes.

For me, technodevelopment should be democratized and democratizing, but "technology" has become a word to conjure with, a fetish of would-be priestly technocratic elites in labcoats, a transcendentalizing abstraction eliciting faith rather than collaboration, a promise of technofixes to distract us from the avoidable damage we do in the name of "development," an alibi for environmental crimes and social injustice imposed on the most vulnerable.

I do think that what I have been calling a Superlative attitude toward technology drives a techno-utopian arrogance in especially the privileged countries of the North Atlantic, deranging the sense of too many intelligent people whose intelligence is needed in a damaged and imperiled world, functioning as an alibi for crimes and mischief and distraction as the clock is running out.

I also do think that bioconservatives who claim to want to "preserve humanity" and then decry the emerging scene of consensual self-creative therapeutic multiculture (what I think of as the promise of "Pro-Choice" politics applied to emerging genetic, prosthetic, and cognitive techniques and lifeway diversity more generally) are engaging in a deeply reactionary and eugenic project, easily as arrogant and anti-democratic as the eugenics they themselves also rightly discern and forcefully critique in many of the enthusiasts for "enhancement" who seek to engineer whatever they parochially fancy to be an "optimal posthumanity."

What disturbs me in all this anti-democratizing technological discourse -- all the scientistic reductionism, all the techno-transcendentalism, all the competing eugenicisms -- is just how rarely questions of consent, democracy, diversity, and social/environmental justice seem to be foregrounded in the discussions of the people focused, as I am, on technoscience and technodevelopmental issues.

Apart from occasional genuflections to the ethical that people make in the face of especially stinging criticisms that break through the handwaving into public scrutiny from time to time, little truly stalls or interrupts the torrent of deranged and deranging ecstatic or apocalyptic techno-hyperbole. I mean, it's a commonplace at this point to say that there really does seem to be a perverse and almost irresistible tendency toward either uncritical technophobia or technophilia in people's assumptions and conclusions about technodevelopmental change, of either conspiratorial paranoia or utopian enthusiasm in popular technology discourse. But this oft-repeated chestnut seems to do little to dislodge the tendency itself.

Exposing these anti-democratizing dimensions of technodevelopmental discourse wherever I find them does seem important to me -- mostly because I really do believe that technoscience can be both democratized and democratizing, and hence, emancipatory -- but again I find all this leads me into very angry and melancholy terrain, and fills my e-mail with dumb and demoralizing conversation from offended enthusiasts in various camps.

Although I certainly am not foolish enough to pretend I won't be writing diatribes against Movement Conservatism in America (in an Election year? Get real!), or global neoliberalism, or the destructive persistence of the industrial model of extractive, petrochemical, media, and agricultural production, or the apologias of corporate futurism, or the anti-choice eugenicism of bioconservativism, or the body-loathing or techno-utopian eugenicism of "enhancement" discourse, or the various flavors of loony Robot Cultism I keep encountering in my travels.

But I do hope to focus as well on technodevelopmental ideas, campaigns, and forces afoot in the world that seem to me more appealing, more promising, more pluripotent, more emancipatory, more technoprogressive, in the hopes that this focus will help me connect to more people who can feed my hunger to celebrate the worldsharing, worldmaking, worldopening I know is out there, happening right now.

The topics I mean to explore this year here on Amor Mundi and in my work more generally:

[1] The politics of p2p/a2k democratization;
[2] Techniques of permaculture/polyculture;
[3] Emerging consensual self-creative therapeutic multiculture;
[4] Secularism and nonviolence;
[5] Basic Income Guarantee;

And what interests me especially is what I see as the inter-implications of these five topics, especially how p2p forms a kind of connective tissue between them all that wants more exploration. Whatever else I do this year, I hope to contribute to this exploration of p2p democratization and the way it connects up to to the politics of permaculture, pro-choice, and nonviolence.

By way of conclusion, I especially want to thank Anne, Eric, Jamais, Jim, Greg, Nato, Robin, and Vladimir (and I'm sure I've missed a few others) for their great and sympathetic comments and contributions in the Moot. I hope the community of conversation that sometimes emerges there abides and grows this year. Here's hoping a focus this year on promising technoprogressive material will attract more promising and provocative technoprogressive collaborators.