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

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Optimist or Pessimist? A Futurological Ramble, With Occasional Ranting

Here is a 10-minute overview of the California High-Speed Rail project, a 700-mile bullet train system from San Diego to Sacramento. It's pretty exciting stuff, especially once you manage set aside the sometimes slightly vomit-inducing high-camp juxtapositions of the spaced-out breathy sex-me-up "Futurological" voiceover and then the various wonky, smug, bloated windbags who clearly represent the Present (including actually likely Presents-To-Come, aka "The Future"), once you set aside the whole used car salesman spiel, once you set aside the nervous realization that the number of white middle-aged men doing so much of the talking here would scarcely be appropriate to 1950s Ohio let alone 2020 California, and so on and so forth, and just pluck out for yourselves the occasional sweet substantial fruits here and there.



I said this is pretty exciting stuff, but actually the truth is that it's just vitally urgently obviously necessary stuff we can actually do and which we would be insane not to do. And I guess it is exciting that this seems to be closer to underway than handwaving at this point. It is quite clear listening between the lines that this whole project consists of things any minimally functional society as rich as we are would have already done ages ago, and it is in light of that obvious reality that we should hear the constant disgusting genuflections and blowjobs to "innovation" and "leadership" and so on sprinkled throughout the piece. Obviously there is neither a whole lot of leadership nor real innovation happening, else this high-speed rail project would already be a reality at least a decade old. And it remains precisely the lack of that sort of leadership and innovation that constitutes the principal hurdle to the realization of this necessary and completely practical project to this day.

People talk about what happens when the politics of fear trump the politics of hope, but nothing could be clearer than that when the politics of incumbent elites and profit taking trump the politics of collaborative problem-solving and worldmaking there is no progress to speak of, nothing to hope for.

And here is another lovely presentation, showing the new Transbay Terminal (which includes the San Francisco hub for the California high-speed rail system), surrounded by new residential skyscrapers, and such. The renderings and models are beautiful.



Of course it would only be in "San Francisco Values" San Francisco, in the "dirty fucking hippyland" of the Bay Area derided by The Villagers and Bomb-Builders and the Market Fundamentalists and the Jeebusfreaks and so on that one can find anything like open futurity actually happening in Amurrica (of course, these projects are happening all over secular socialist sclerotic Europe and other places the reactionaries also love to hate). Meanwhile, back in the Village, under the anesthetic gas of the Washington Consensus, the white racist patriarchal capitalism of the smooth talking neoliberal incumbent interests (carrot) and their brutal gun-toting neoconservative back-up police force (stick) can't manage to keep the lights on or the houses heated anymore when it rains or snows too much, can't keep the bridges from falling into gorges or the roads from crumbling to rubble, can't even keep their own military intact to play their disgusting wargames with.

I do happen to think that global people powered peer-to-peer networked education, agitation, and organizing will build an ever more secular sustainable consensual progressive social democratic planetary multiculture that will make the world a better place for all. I do think we will solve the problems of climate change and energy descent and unsustainable agriculture globally, peer-to-peer, within my lifetime. I do think we will provide a universal basic income guarantee, universal basic healthcare, universal lifelong education, therapy, and training globally, peer-to-peer, within my lifetime. I do think people powered politics will democratize the world, shift our investments from bomb-building and control to collaborative problem-solving and expressivity, globally, peer-to-peer, within my lifetime. I do think humanity will embark on a civilization wide project of informed, consensual diversifying non-normalizing genetic, prosthetic, and cognitive self-creation, globally, peer-to-peer, within my lifetime. I even think we might build a space elevator and inaugurate another age of frontiers and diaspora, maybe in time for me to see the beginnings of it.

I think all this makes me plenty handwavily futurological, plenty Mouseketeer optimistic, plenty technocentric enough for anybody you should care to meet, and in fact surely too much of all of the above for many indispensable sensible skeptical realists who know a thing or two about technofixes and hype and unintended consequences and devices that bite back. Flabbergastingly enough, for many of the actual readers of my blog of a more Superlative bent, my technoprogressive convictions will seem instead to constitute a foolishly conservative failure of imagination and nerve, of all things.

This will be because they themselves are preoccupied with the imminent arrival of post-biological superintelligence -- aka: The Robot God of the Singularitarians -- that will End History; with the imminent arrival of post-human Superlongevity -- whether via genetic supertweaks, shiny robot bodies, or "uploading" into "the digital realm" -- that will End Mortality; and with the imminent arrival of post-scarcity Superabundance -- whether via ubiquitous automation, ubiquitous computation, or cheap Nearly Anything Machines manufacturing stuff at the nanoscale -- that will End Stakeholder Politics, once and for all.

Since robots figure so centrally in all these silly Superlative scenarios (in one, a superintelligent Robot God solves all our problems or else eats us for food in the "Singularity," in another, icky frail ageing bodies are replaced by immortal superheroic robot bodies, in yet another busy robots in assembly lines or nanobots in assembly lines too small to see provide for all our needs and wants too cheap to meter and everybody is too sated to fight anymore over anything), I like to think we can fairly summarize all the discourse and devotion to these ideas quite simply as Robot Cultism.

It's hard to believe that people can actually think such superlative outcomes are inevitable and imminent even as their computers constantly crash, as the lights keep going out because it snowed in winter, after the Concorde got cancelled, while once-"conquered" diseases are reappearing in cities in the so-called "developed world," despite the fact that the awesome 9/11 Monument is still an empty wet hole in the ground, as warlords maraud IMF-restructured landscapes, as climate change refugees huddle in septic tent-villages, as Oil executives circulate "Great Game" endgame strategies in secret memos premised on the Peak Oil they deny in public, as hawkish "realists" arm would-be authoritarians to fight actual authoritarians we armed in the past, and so on.

Back in junior high school, I wrote a speech for the Optimist International Oratorical Competition on the topic of optimism, and I talked about how difficult it can be to determine whether one is an optimist or pessimist the more one strives to assess things closely and carefully. I still wonder what it finally means to be regarded as more optimistic or more pessimistic, more positive or more negative, and what it means when such assessments matter to people when what is really wanted, in my view, is to be more critical, more skeptical, more careful, more open, more collaborative.

Was this post more optimistic or more pessimistic? Was it more positive than negative? What does that even mean? What impact does it have, one way or another? Does it matter to you? Why?

PS: I won that oratorical competition, by the way. I was 1980 Indiana State Champion, mostly because of cheap razzle-dazzle oratorical effects and little pandering bits to the vanity of the judges, stuff I am not above teaching to students to this day in the Rhetoric Department. It probably didn't hurt that in 1980 I looked like an unthreatening pudgy freshly-scrubbed radioactively white orphaned Osmond Brother.

49 comments:

giulio said...

I will never ride this high speed train, an outrageous example of the close-minded preoccupation with mundane details that constitute a foolishly conservative failure of imagination and nerve.

Such things represent a dangerous distraction from the rapturous vision of the imminent arrival of post-biological superintelligence, and also an offense to The True Robot God in whom we trust from the depth of our sinful souls.

Dale Carrico said...

Nice try, Giulio. It's not like there isn't an actually-existing public record of your many Superlative Robot Cult pronouncements that anybody can find their way to who's the least bit curious about it.

giulio said...

Sure this public record exists and it is quite easy to find, otherwise I will be happy to provide links.

Yet...


I think the high speed train is very cool and look forward to riding it next time I come to California. We have many high speed trains in Europe, and they are very good for our economy and our quality of life. I support, with my vote and other more direct means, the development and deployment of technologies that can improve the quality of life of people.

What is more...

I do happen to think that global people powered peer-to-peer networked education, agitation, and organizing will build an ever more secular sustainable consensual progressive social democratic planetary multiculture that will make the world a better place for all. I do think we will solve the problems of climate change and energy descent and unsustainable agriculture globally, peer-to-peer, within my lifetime. I do think we will provide a universal basic income guarantee, universal basic healthcare, universal lifelong education, therapy, and training globally, peer-to-peer, within my lifetime. I do think people powered politics will democratize the world, shift our investments from bomb-building and control to collaborative problem-solving and expressivity, globally, peer-to-peer, within my lifetime. I do think humanity will embark on a civilization wide project of informed, consensual diversifying non-normalizing genetic, prosthetic, and cognitive self-creation, globally, peer-to-peer, within my lifetime. I even think we might build a space elevator and inaugurate another age of frontiers and diaspora, maybe in time for me to see the beginnings of it;-)

And yet...

I am a proud Robot God cultist.

Strange, isn't it.

Dale Carrico said...

What's your point? That the batshit crazy things you believe are less batshit crazy because you also believe some things that aren't batshit crazy? I happen to think most people are mostly right about most things -- this seems to me to be an entailment of being legible as a language-user and reasonably functional subject. The Robot Cult crapola is still batshit crazy and pernicious, in my opinion, and I am still interested in exposing it as such.

peco said...

I think some of the Evil Authoritarians are being less evil than the people arming them.

giulio said...

Re: "What's your point? That the batshit crazy things you believe are less batshit crazy because you also believe some things that aren't batshit crazy? I happen to think most people are mostly right about most things -- this seems to me to be an entailment of being legible as a language-user and reasonably functional subject. The Robot Cult crapola is still batshit crazy and pernicious, in my opinion, and I am still interested in exposing it as such."

Dale, I think with this batshit thing you just provided not only a very good explanation of my point, but also a proof of its validity.

Dale Carrico said...

you just provided not only a very good explanation of my point, but also a proof of its validity

If wishes and buts were clusters of nuts we'd all have a box of granola, Giulio.

Would you care to (indeed, can you) specify or elaborate anything at all that you are coyly insinuating here?

I have, of course, indicated at great length and many times over why I think claims to warranted beliefs in disembodied or indifferently embodied consciousness, immortal narrative and organismic selfhood, or technoconstituted post-scarcity circumventions of stakeholder politics (summarized as superintelligence, superlongevity, superabundance in my Superlative Schema, for example) are conceptually incoherent, sociopolitically pernicious, and -- when offered up as technodevelopmentally imminent -- amount either to ugly frauds or exhibitions of mild to utter lunacy.

Your recent efforts to deflect these criticisms by essentially saying "I know you are but what am I" is less shattering as argumentative gambits go than you seem to imagine.

But, if that's the route you and other Robot Cultists want to take in respect to my Superlativity Critique, by all means go for it. It's a fairly traditional move for cultists to make, after all, and never works very well for anybody but a shrinking coterie of True Believers. Enjoy the roasting.

Anonymous said...

It's a fairly traditional move for cultists to make, after all, and never works very well for anybody but a shrinking coterie of True Believers. Enjoy the roasting.

Would you care to (indeed, can you) specify or elaborate anything at all that you are coyly insinuating here?

Dale Carrico said...

That was a question for Giulio and remains an open one. As for you, Peco, stop being a troll.

AnneC said...

Well, hopefully this high-speed metro transit stuff will eventually translate to improvements in suburban transit.

It's really amazing how much better the transit is in San Francisco (and downtown San Jose, for that matter) than in the outlying areas. I've got an appointment this Thursday that involves an 8 mile trip between work and a doctor's office, and the transit planner estimates 3 hours for the trip! Utterly ridiculous.

Dale Carrico said...

Anne -- ain't that the truth!

peco said...

I was confused when you said that cultists often do that. I never heard that anywhere, so I wanted you to elaborate. I wasn't trying to be a troll (I might have been one accidentally, though).

jfehlinger said...

Dale wrote:

> [E]ssentially saying "I know you are but what am I" is . . .
> a fairly traditional move for cultists to make.

Peco wrote:

> I was confused when you said that cultists often do that.
> I never heard that anywhere, so I wanted you to elaborate.

See Card #2 below:

"[C]ultic groups defended the indefensible. . . by play[ing] three
very simple cards, which can not, NO MATTER WHAT, be trumped. . .
which are:

(1) The Higher Level Card (i.e. Sorry, it’s just over your head).
Sorry, but you’re just not smart enough to realize I am smarter
than you, because you’re on a lower (less divine) level.

(2) The Projection Card (i.e., I know you are, but what am I?).
By criticizing me, you are really just criticizing yourself,
because any problem you see in me is just a projection of a
problem in yourself.

(3) The Skillful Means Card (i.e., it’s all your own fault, dickhead).
The most potent card of all! It’s not abuse; it’s not pathetic or
ridiculous or wrong; it’s a crazy-wise teaching. You know, like Zen stuff.
So when I call you a dickhead, it’s not because I’m a dickhead, it’s
because you have a dickhead-complex that you need to evolve past,
and I’m here to help you see that.

Note that these cards are not designed in any way, shape or form to
prompt a discussion or dialogue. What can one possibly say to any of
these cards? Nothing…and that is exactly the point. They are designed
to end all discussion, and they are used only when folks know the
actual substance of their beliefs has run, or is running, dry."

http://www.matthewdallman.com/2006/06/comment-of-day.html

Peco wrote:

> I wasn't trying to be a troll (I might have been one accidentally, though).

Hm. . . A friend wrote me yesterday:

"NYRev has a review of Félix Fénéon, a French columnist who, in the
belle époque (one can no longer say the turn of the century!),
specialized in news stories confined to three lines of newsprint.
Here [is one]:

A dishwasher from Nancy, Vital Frérotte, who had just come back
from Lourdes cured forever of tuberculosis, died Sunday by
mistake."

Anonymous said...

Giulio is saying that technoprogressivism is just as "batshit crazy" as Robot Cultism, right? That doesn't make Robot Cultism any more valid (it does make technoprogressivism less valid if his (possible) arguments are correct).

jfehlinger:

I think all of those cards can be trumped.

(1) Stupid people are often (not just sometimes) correct where smart people are wrong, even if their arguments don't sound as good

(2) You (the cultist's opponent) are criticizing yourself, but you are still criticizing the cult successfully.

(3) You can respond with the same card, and they will have to elaborate (they won't be able to).

Dale:

I don't see how showing that there are Robot Cultists makes Robot Cultism any less valid or good.

Even if some Singulatarians are cultists, it doesn't make Singulatarianism a cult. Even if all Singulatarians are cultists, Singulatarianism may be a good thing.

Cults ("non-nasty" ones) aren't harmful just because they are cults. Cults may cause people to behave irrationally, but (generally) nothing important happens unless most people are part of the cult. If most of society is a cult, the cult could be beneficial by making people fight with each other less.

Singulatarianism could certainly be very harmful for other reasons, but I don't think cultishness (in this case) is harmful. Cultishness makes the cultists irrational (cultish), but it only makes them cultish in one way. Cultishness could be harmful by making cultists more active than normal, but the effect wouldn't be that big.

jfehlinger said...

Peco wrote:

> Cults may cause people to behave irrationally, but (generally)
> nothing important happens unless most people are part of the cult.

Ya think?


"To its members it is the only path to true happiness, but Soka Gakkai’s
efforts over the years to portray itself as a benign and benevolent
institution have failed dismally: it is widely reviled for what many
outsiders regard as its malevolent responses to its critics and deserters.
Those who try to leave, especially the more senior members, are
frequently harassed, and there are stories that opponents have been
murdered."
"Japan's Rush Hour of the Gods"
http://www.rickross.com/reference/gakkai/gakkai28.html


"The atmosphere is reminiscent of turmoil stirred up here
[in Antelope, Oregon] by a different group of strangers in
the 1980s -- 4,000 followers of cult leader Bhagwan Shree
Rajneesh. . .

Rajneesh, a self-styled 'rich man's guru,' and thousands of
his followers moved into a former ranch on Antelope's
outskirts in the early 1980s.

They took over the city council in a 1984 election and set
up their own Rajneesh Peace Force to patrol Antelope.

Cult members once sickened 700 residents of The Dalles
after lacing restaurant salad bars with salmonella. Cult
members were also accused of plotting to kill a U.S.
attorney.

The cult moved out of Antelope in 1985 and fell apart."
http://www.rickross.com/reference/supremacists/supremacists23.html


"After Synanon leader Chuck Dederich sat musing
over his microphone about how greedy lawyers were and
how he wanted some of their ears in a glass of alcohol,
two young male followers, members of his Imperial
Marines, took a rattlesnake and put it in a lawyer's
mailbox. In a media interview, Synanon's resident
PR man said, 'No one is ordered or forced to do anything
against their will. . . . Dederich may advocate
it -- yes, he's a great advocate. But he is very
careful not to order it.'"
-- Margaret Thaler Singer
_Cults in Our Midst_
http://www.ex-premie.org/singer/


"'Robert Berger' . . . [, a] Ph.D. working as a research scientist
at a prestigious university. . . was one of my more accomplished
friends. We saw each other often, usually when he commuted
into New York from out of town for his sessions with Dr. Leonard.
He loved me as a friend, and told me so often. I felt no fear
in approaching Robert with this information. Not only did I
believe a man of his ability would have no problem with this
issue, but he had told me once how a former therapist of his
live-in girlfriend had tried to seduce her. He had been appalled
that therapists did such things. . . Further, his professed
care for me told me that I could expect his support and
warmth in my time of need.

I was mistaken.

I called Robert and told him of the recent events. He heard what
I had to say, responded with stunned sympathy, and then, after
having time to think about it, answered my long-distance
phone communication by mail [Permission to reproduce this letter
verbatim was requested from its writer, the person herein
called Robert Berger. Through a letter from his lawyer,
permission was denied.]

He began his letter by saying that he was writing because of what
our friendship **used to** mean to him. I prepared myself for
what was to follow.

He could not disprove what I had told him, he said, nor would
he even try. Instead, he would reach his conclusion that
Dr. Leonard was guiltless of any improper conduct with me
by relying on the information he already had. That information
was everything he knew about Dr. Leonard first hand, and
Robert's understanding that 'contradictions do not exist.'
The latter was meant to refer to that part of Objectivism which
teaches that contradictions do not exist in reality -- in
**metaphysical** reality. In other words, a grain of sand or
a bead of water has a particular nature unto itself, and cannot,
therefore, take on attributes that are contrary to its nature.
It cannot be what it is and be what it is not, all at the same
time. Ergo, 'contradictions do not exist.'

Robert had taken this axiom and extended its meaning into the
realm of human psychology, a realm it does not legitimately claim.
He explained his leap from the metaphysical to the psychological
as he continued his letter. He said that Dr. Leonard was
the finest man he had ever known, as well as the best psychiatrist
in the world, and that what I had said about Dr. Leonard
contradicted these facts. Since contradictions don't exist,
Robert explained, Dr. Leonard could not possibly be guilty of
any impropriety. Robert said that he not only knew Dr. Leonard
was innocent of amy misconduct, he also claimed that he knew
Dr. Leonard's actions with me were ethical and honorable, and
essential for productive therapy. He hoped that I would see
the error of my ways, but told me, regardless, to 'go to hell.'
He signed it simply: Robert Berger.

The letter not only braced me for the responses I would continue to
receive from other friends, it told me that blind devotion to
Dr. Leonard had not been a unique phenomenon for me. I was discovering
that I had no monopoly on having been duped by this therapist
for so many years. What was so hard to understand was **how**
it happened, **why** it happened, that so many people gave so
much allegiance for so many years to one man such as him. Was its
root in Objectivism? Was there something in between the lines of
the philosophy that both taught independent thinking and proper
reasoning, and dictated a result resembling the cults of religious
leaders? Or ws it something in the black and white print that
went undetected by so many intelligent readers? Perhaps it was
not in the philosophy, at all. Perhaps it was a coincidence, a
fluke, that Dr. Leonard and all of his loyal patients were students
of Objectivism. Was it, then, a charisma about the man that led
to such blind worship of him? Was there some special skill that
he had that made so many people either twist or ignore all
that they professed to have learned from their philosophy?

I received only one other letter similar to Robert's. It came
from Robert's girlfriend. But I received innumerable phone calls,
from men and women alike, who **condemned** me for terminating
my own therapy and for the reason they had learned was behind
my doing so. In one call, I was accused of 'destroying the
closest thing Man has ever had to a god.' In another, I was
threatened with retaliation for causing the closing of Dr. Leonard's
practice. The connection between Dr. Leonard's sabbatical and
the termination of my therapy had been made, and I was being
blamed for the downfall of a hero.

-- Ellen Plasil, _Therapist_,
Chapter 12, "Taking Sides"


There are many additional examples.

Dale Carrico said...

Giulio is saying that technoprogressivism is just as "batshit crazy" as Robot Cultism, right?

There isn't a "thing" that is technoprogressivism to compare with Robot Cultism. "Technoprogressive" is just a shorthand way of describing dem-left attitudes and proposals that focus on technoscience questions. This subsumes too diverse a constellation of issues, ideas, concerns to cohere into a singular program, tribal, movement, doctrine (much to the disappointment of many online futurists who seem to love nothing more than starting "movements" and signing on to "manifestos" one after the other).

I don't see how showing that there are [sic] Robot Cultists makes Robot Cultism any less valid or good.

I've written endlessly about why the views I deride as Robot Cultism are invalid and bad. That is a different question than why they are not just wrong and dangerous (which they are) but also actively ridiculous. The cultism, the delusiveness, the out-of-touch-ness, the batshit craziness are what make them ridiculous and earn them the ridicule of the derisive Robot Cultist label. Is that clearer to you now? Read the pieces in the Superlative Summary (there's a link near the top of the blog to the left that takes you to the whole collection of texts on the topic) for a considerably more systematic case, if you are truly interested in understanding it.

Even if some Singulatarians are cultists, it doesn't make Singulatarianism a cult.

The default culture of Singularitianism is sufficiently cult-like to make it usefully analyzable in terms that have emerged for the study of cults. And yes many actual members of so-called Singularitarian organizations are straight-up culty. They can deny it all they want, the hysteria is all you need to see to know what's going on.

Even if all Singulatarians are cultists, Singulatarianism may be a good thing.

Zat so?

Cults ("non-nasty" ones) aren't harmful just because they are cults. Cults may cause people to behave irrationally, but (generally) nothing important happens unless most people are part of the cult.

wtf?

If most of society is a cult, the cult could be beneficial by making people fight with each other less.

Dude, think before you hit the enter key. This isn't ready for prime time.

Singulatarianism could certainly be very harmful for other reasons, but I don't think cultishness (in this case) is harmful.

Hey, whatever gets you through the night. I, for one, do think cults are harmful. Hey, but that's me.

Cultishness makes the cultists irrational (cultish), but it only makes them cultish in one way. Cultishness could be harmful by making cultists more active than normal, but the effect wouldn't be that big.

Waiter, I'll have what he's having.

Anonymous said...

I'll just respond on one point for now.

Cults ("non-nasty" ones) aren't harmful just because they are cults. Cults may cause people to behave irrationally, but (generally) nothing important happens unless most people are part of the cult.

wtf?


Cultishness (not cults like Heaven's Gate) itself isn't harmful to anybody. It is obviously undesirable, but "non-nasty" cultists don't significantly affect people who aren't cultists themselves (unless they gain power, which Robot Cultists aren't).

I'm assuming that something isn't bad if it doesn't harm anyone (directly or indirectly). Singulatarianism may harm people indirectly, but its cultishness definitely does not.

giulio said...

Re: "Giulio is saying that technoprogressivism is just as "batshit crazy" as Robot Cultism, right?"

Not at all. I am a technoprogressive myself - in the sense of shorthand way of describing dem-left attitudes and proposals that focus on technoscience questions and before Dale steps in with a request to cease and desist using the label.

I am saying that both technoprogressivism and transhumanism are valid attitudes, not mutually exclusive.

A previous comment of mine was probably misinterpreted, or not formulated well. My point is that dismissing transhumanism as robot cult and batshit is not a constructive attitude, and does not show much intellectual or emotional maturity.

Dale Carrico said...

My point is that dismissing transhumanism as robot cult and batshit is not a constructive attitude, and does not show much intellectual or emotional maturity.

I reserve my respect for the respectable. Transhumanism, Singularitarianism, and Technological Immortalism don't qualify. Don't expect me to pimp your weird Robot Cult.

AnneC said...

I don't think "technoprogressivism" exists as an "ism" at all; this isn't about conflicting widget-sets.

There's a difference between a convenient shorthand (like "technoprogressive", as when it is applied to such things as expanding Internet access to poorer neighborhoods), and a widget-thingy that one is expected to adopt and even defend as a cherished ideology.

Dale Carrico said...

Anne said:

I don't think "technoprogressivism" exists as an "ism" at all... There's a difference between a convenient shorthand... and... a cherished ideology.

I could not agree more wholeheartedly. That's exactly how I see it as well on such questions.

Jackie said...

What a train! This gives me hope that I will die before civilization collapses....

Er, what I mean by this is that it seems like there are enough technoprogressive forces around to save the environment before we make it uninhabitable by pollution.

These robo-cultists need to get a reality check! Have none of them read Heidegger before? I cheer you on, Dale. Yet I do see the appeal of their beliefs.... I don't like the idea that the human species will one day become extinct forever....

What courses are you teaching next semester?

- Jackie

jfehlinger said...

Jackie wrote:

> These robo-cultists need to get a reality check! . . .
> Yet I do see the appeal of their beliefs.... I don't like
> the idea that the human species will one day become
> extinct forever....

There are at least some folks who are (or were) drawn to
>Hism and Singularitarianism precisely **because** they
like the idea (in some sense) that the human species will
one day become extinct forever (and sooner rather than
later)!

However, many >Hists and Singularitarians are confused on
this point. They look forward to creating, or even
**becoming**, entities "trillions of times more intelligent"
than contemporary human beings (in Hugo de Garis' words,
and whatever that might mean, exactly), but some of them
still imagine that after undergoing such a transformation
they would still be in some significant sense the "same
people" they are now.

To me, this is tantamount to having an emotional identification with
the fertilized zygote at the beginning of one's biological
life. Yeah, one of those was causally necessary for my existence,
and it was a complex and sophisticated bit of biology,
but was it **me** in any ordinary sense of the word?

This is all bound up with the denial of death exhibited by
so many >Hists, and there are fault lines and contradictions
at the very core of their belief system. Partly this is
for historical reasons, I suppose. The immortalists and
cryonicists are a distinct "branch" from the Singularitarians
(who go back beyond Vernor Vinge at least to Marvin Minsky and the
MIT Artificial Intelligence lab) and the nanotech enthusiasts.
The immortalists have latched onto and co-opted the latest
superlative SFnal or fringe-science dream (or nightmare)
"technologies" as the roadmap for how their hopes for eternal
life are going to pan out. "Official" >Hism is a
somewhat unstable aggregate that has accreted from these
various independent sources, to form an imperfect alloy.

Jackie said...

Thank you for your very intelligent clarification of issues, but I must ask you to explain what ">Hism" is! I am a novice to techno-sexual discourse... in fact, Dale and Robert Reich are the only two blogs that I read =P But that also means that I am unjustified in criticizing the cult of robotrics.....

Anonymous said...

jfehlinger:

Have Robot Cultists actually harassed/murdered opponents? If they haven't I don't think their cultishness is harmful.

jfehlinger said...

Peco wrote:

> Have Robot Cultists actually harassed. . . opponents?

They've shown some signs of the kind of litigiousness characteristic
of cults toward their public critics.

Dale has some experience of that.

jfehlinger said...

Jackie wrote:

> I must ask you to explain what ">Hism" is!

">Hism" is shorthand for "transhumanism".

As far as what **that** is, well, you could take a look
at the Wikipedia entry:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transhumanism

peco said...

As long as they don't actually do those things, their cultishness is harmless.

giulio said...

Re: "I reserve my respect for the respectable. Transhumanism, Singularitarianism, and Technological Immortalism don't qualify. Don't expect me to pimp your weird Robot Cult."

Q.E.D.

Dale Carrico said...

"Q.E.D."

What is it exactly you think you have "demonstrated"? Words have meanings, you know. If you want to indulge in the trappings of logic, have a care. What conclusion do you think you have come to by way of what premises? These oracular pronouncements lately may be marginally less embarrassing for you in the long run than legible propositions given the idiotic things you tend to say when actually explaining yourself at length, but I doubt this new strategy of issuing vacuities is going to get you any closer to your desired outcomes than did your older strategy of issuing imbecility. Although, who knows, resonant insinuations go a long way if one wants to be a guru at the head of a cult, just ask Eliezer.

Dale Carrico said...

Peco: I do think that cults are harmful, but that doesn't mean I think that they should always be regarded as criminal or actionable.

Where/when they engage in fraud, de facto kidnapping, duressed reprogramming, and so on, I consider them criminal organizations.

But where/when they exploit vulnerable people's needs for belonging and reassurance or where/when they undermine people's capacity for critical thinking through the inculcation of True Belief, or where/when they engage in public discourse that introduces confusions into deliberation and skews priorities I try to expose them and warn people against what they are up to.

Not all harms are equal, nor do all harms demand the same response. But it is wrong to say that not all cults are harmful just because not all cults are criminal. It is possibly logically valid as arguments go, but not sensible.

Dale Carrico said...

Jackie: For my take on the transhumanists, extropians, Singularitarians, Techno-Immortalists, dynamists, and other techno-utopians you might like to explore the essays collected at the link The Superlative Summary. If you don't know about these folks it isn't exactly something you're missing -- they symptomize in an extreme way certain tendencies exhibited by many technology enthusiasts more mainstream than they are. You might also benefit from reading Purdy's God of the Digirati, Newitz's Extropian Trash, Barbrook and Cameron's Californian Ideology, Borsook's Cyberselfish, Lanier's One Half a Manifesto, Hayles Wiener and Cybernetic Anxiety. I'm assuming you've already read Donna Haraway. If not, read everything you can by her online as well.

jfehlinger said...

Dale wrote:

> You might also benefit from reading Purdy's "God of the Digirati". . .

Hadn't seen this one. The author says,

"Temperament is a theme too little appreciated in reflecting about
culture and politics."

Or even philosophy. More than a century ago, William James noted:

"The history of philosophy is to a great extent
that of a certain clash of human temperaments.
Undignified as such a treatment may seem to some
of my colleagues, I shall have to take account
of this clash and explain a good many of the
divergencies of philosophers by it. Of whatever
temperament a professional philosopher is, he
tries, when philosophizing, to sink the fact
of his temperament. Temperament is no conventionally
recognized reason, so he urges impersonal
reasons only for his conclusions. Yet his temperament
really gives him a stronger bias than any of his
more strictly objective premises. It loads the
evidence for him one way or the other, making for
a more sentimental or a more hard-hearted view
of the universe, just as this fact or that
principle would. He trusts his temperament. Wanting
a universe that suits it, he believes in any
representation of the universe that does suit it.
He feels men of opposite temper to be out of key
with the world's character, and in his heart
considers them incompetent and 'not in it,' in
the philosophic business, even though they may
far excel him in dialectical ability."

-- William James, _Pragmatism_ (1907)
Lecture 1, "The Present Dilemma in Philosophy"
http://www.4literature.net/William_James/Pragmatism/2.html

jfehlinger said...

Giulio Prisco quoted Dale:

> Re: "I reserve my respect for the respectable. . .
> Don't expect me to pimp your weird [ideas]."
>
> Q.E.D.

And Dale replied:

> What is it exactly you think you have "demonstrated"?

Oh, let's cut him a break here for his malapropism.
He must've meant something like "my point exactly" or
"you took the words right out of my mouth."

In other words, "back atcha".


"[Jules] Pfeiffer captured this too in his play _Grown Ups_.
Ignoring what she means, Jake pounces on Louise for getting
expressions slightly wrong: 'She lies like a glove' for
'lies like a rug'; 'snitched' to mean 'stole,' which he
thinks should be 'snatched'; 'put your ten cents in'
instead of 'two cents'; 'flip to attention,' which he says
'is simply not English.' The net result is that Louise
feels that Jake thinks (she suspects correctly) that
she's not smart enough for him. It may be true that he
thinks so; many people regard the use of what they consider
correct English usage as a sign of intelligence -- an attitude
with no basis in fact. What is a fact is that slightly
altering common expressions is as common as the expressions
themselves and presents no barrier to comprehension."

-- Deborah Tannen, _That's Not What I Meant! How Conversational
Style Makes or Breaks Relationships_,
Chapter 9, "The Intimate Critic", p. 152

Note to Jake: "Snap to attention" is certainly good English.

Oh well, it's a doggy-dog world! ;->

Dale Carrico said...

Oh, let's cut him a break here for his malapropism. He must've meant something like "my point exactly" or "you took the words right out of my mouth."

I'm disinclined to give him a break, since I don't think your generous translations make any sense either.

I think somebody's given him "slick" spinmeistery advice to essentially say "I know you are but what am I" in response to any strong criticisms of his transhumanism or techno-immortalism he is unequal to.

I daresay it was one of the Thighmaster Futurists of extropianism who love to claim to be down with the greens and anarhicsts these days since the dot bomb exposed their fraud, or perhaps it was one of the many urbane libertopian retro-futurists who are waiting it out among the Dynamists and Tech Central Stoopid readership while Bush bleeds all over their beloved market fundy piecharts, occasionally quietly recommending the impressionable kids read Von Mises in the hopes of living long enough for another golden age of free market paradise like the three decade Reagan-through-Bush II nightmare we're starting to dig ourselves out from now, but overall just laying low hoping to be mistaken for civil libertarians rather than the crypto-fascists they really are, or possibly it was a few suave singularitarians (notice how they're taking over the WTA Board right now -- hard to believe given the hardnoised realism of WTA's stewardship by big-tent moderateness, HA hah) who have learned the hard way to keep the crazy talk confined to initiates in the inner circle and to talk existential risks and r&d synergies like the grownups at the Rand Corporation when they're angling for billionair cash...

(For those who didn't get that last paragraph -- it's inside baseball for techno-utopian robot cult watchers, there's nothing there worth worrying about if this stuff doesn't already fascinate you.)

Anyhoozle, whoever gave him the advice to mirror criticisms rather than respond to them, it is evident
over and over in his moves lately, not just in this recent example you are generously letting slide.

[1] in his recent sad uprising in the cyberspatial strip mall of second life he is "proudly" taking up the mantle of "Robot God" (rather than responding to the substance of the critique of superlativity),

[2] in his initial response to this post he hyperbolically and sarcastically fluttered (I think he might have imagined this move was parodic, indicating the usual incomprehension of the point) about how he wouldn't ride the high-speed rail because it wasn't transcendental enough (rather than responding to the actual substance of the minor point in the post to which he was reacting; namely, that serious technodevelopmental policy discourse is different from robot cultism -- an altogether different point from a claim that robot cultism skews every single belief a robot cultist asserts, I daresay, for example, a robot cultist is quite as capable of wiping his ass effectively as a non robot cultist is),

[3] in the subsequent exchanges he non-responded -- yet again -- to my argument that the fact the some of one's beliefs are non-crazy doesn't justify the conclusion that they all are with the claim that this "provided not only a very good explanation of my point, but also a proof of its validity" when it palpably provided none of these things,

[4] and then he quoted me and then stamped out his little "Q.E.D." at the end.

Words like proof, validity, demonstration mean something to me (I teach rhetoric, you know). I'll be damned if I'm not going to call bullshit when somebody wants to cite the very formal conventions they are playing fast and loose with. My own argumentation is hardly confined to strict logic, but I don't claim otherwise when engaging otherwise. Sorry, it's a pet peeve.

I am quite sure Giulio cannot specify the premises that presumably undergird his "demonstration" nor show why my propositions illustrate whatever it is he thinks he has demonstrated. He shouldn't write checks his ass can't cash.

Oh, and if, by chance, he means only to suggest that my potty mouth demonstrates how unserious I am:

a) fuck that shit

and

b) get your smelling salts, Miss Pittypat, any futures worth having are likely to be naughty.

giulio said...

Re: "I think somebody's given him "slick" spinmeistery advice to essentially say "I know you are but what am I" in response to any strong criticisms of his transhumanism or techno-immortalism he is unequal to... I am quite sure Giulio cannot specify the premises that presumably undergird his "demonstration" nor show why my propositions illustrate whatever it is he thinks he has demonstrated. He shouldn't write checks his ass can't cash."

L.O.L.

Dale Carrico said...

Yet another content-free non-response from Giulio Prisco, ladies and gentlemen.

jfehlinger said...

Dale wrote:

> I think somebody's given him "slick" spinmeistery advice. . .
> [P]ossibly it was a few suave singularitarians (notice how they're
> taking over the WTA Board right now. . .) who have learned
> the hard way to keep the crazy talk confined to initiates
> in the inner circle. . .

I notice one of them says (on
http://www.transhumanism.org/index.php/WTA/more/vote2008/ ):

"I love transhumanists - one of the most rational and caring groups
of people living on this fragile blue planet. . ."

Pardon me while I dab a tear from my eye.

jfehlinger said...

I wrote, above:

> The immortalists have latched onto and co-opted the latest
> superlative SFnal or fringe-science dream (or nightmare)
> "technologies" as the roadmap for how their hopes for eternal
> life are going to pan out.

It would seem that at least some immortalists have begun to
detach from some of the (now somewhat long in the tooth)
superlative SFisms, at least according to one (rather jaded)
observer:
http://transsurvivalist.blogspot.com/2008/01/cryonics-meets-future-fatigue.html

Warp drive, anyone? ESP?

Ah, well. Hocus pocus boner-ocus.

jfehlinger said...

> The immortalists have latched onto and co-opted the latest
> superlative SFnal or fringe-science dream (or nightmare)
> "technologies" as the roadmap for how their hopes for eternal
> life are going to pan out.

Another observation from the same (jaded) observer mentioned
above:

"In the real 21st Century, Drexler has become nearly an unperson within
the mainstream nanotechnological community.

I find that unfortunate, because cryonics organizations (Alcor more than CI,
or so I get the impression) starting in the mid 1980's latched onto Drexler's
ideas as the Big Fix for our survival problems. Alcor's Web footprint shows
how much Drexler has influenced the way cryonics has presented itself since
he started to publicize his ideas around a quarter century ago. Lately some
alpha cryonicists seem to realize they've made a mistake by investing too
much in Drexlerian nanotech, and they have quietly started to frame cryonics
more in terms of what we have to do now with current and foreseeable technologies
(like vitrification) instead of invoking recycled, still-unsubstantiated
nanotech speculations from the 1980's and 1990's. Cryonicists' temptation
to try to associate cryonics with the latest geek trends
(current example: the singularity) still persists, however."

http://transsurvivalist.blogspot.com/2007/09/nanoconvergence-as-strategy-to-overcome.html

jfehlinger said...

And another:

"The nanotech stuff I've read or heard about in cryonics venues
for the past 20 years has gotten old, with little or no tangible
progress to show for all the nano-fantasists' "work,"
[link to an unflattering article by John Bruce about Ralph Merkle,
http://mthollywood.blogspot.com/2006/04/who-is-ralph-merkle-ii-although-merkle.html ]
. . .

The de-emphasis on nanotech in favor of demonstrable science and
engineering seems to fit into a pattern I've noticed lately, where
cryonics leaders also want to downplay cryonics' long associations
with transhumanism and the I-word [he means "immortality"].
It almost looks as if something happened behind the scenes
to spook cryonics organizations' leaders into making them reframe
the whole cryonics idea."
http://transsurvivalist.blogspot.com/2006/11/cryonics-organizations-distancing.html


What might that have been, I wonder?

Michael Anissimov said...

San Francisco is the best! Bwuahaha!

PS. I'm going to live forever, and I hope you all join me.

Dale Carrico said...

If you are in the US, San Francisco is definitely one of the best places to live in.

PS: You are absolutely and most certainly going to die, as will everybody else reading these words. Genetic/ prosthetic technique will likely increase human longevity for some lucky humans, possibly in quite unprecedented ways, but that is another story (and I doubt very much even the luckiest beneficiaries of such technique will acquire sufficient superlongevity to feel less keenly the existential dilemma of mortality as such). It is a good idea to come to terms with mortality sooner rather than later, else one become one of those unfortunate people who are not only mortal as we all are, but manage to become less alive in life than they otherwise could be either for the obsessive concern with mortality (a concern that distorts priorities outward from there) or hysterical denial of the facts of mortality (a denial that spreads ignorance outward from there) that are the usual unfortunate and altogether unnecessary alternatives to coming to terms with it.

Jackie said...

Only somewhat relevant, but I just ran across this and it is too good of a quote not to be made known:

"Religion restricts this play of choice and adaptation, since it imposes equally on everyone its own path to the acquisition of happiness and protection from suffering. Its technique consists in depressing the value of life and distorting the picture of the real world in a delusional manner---which presupposes an intimidation of the intelligence. At this price, by forcibly fixing them in a state of psychical infantilism and by drawing them into a mass-delusion, religion succeeds in sparing many people an individual neurosis. But hardly anything more. There are, as we have said, many paths which may lead to such happiness as is attainable by men, but there is none which does so for certain. Even religion cannot keep its promise. If the believer finally sees himself obliged to speak of God's 'inscrutable decrees', he is admitting that all that is left to him as a last possible consolation and source of pleasure in his suffering is an unconditional submission."

From "Civilization and Its Discontents" by Freud

Could 'religion' here be replaced with 'superlative robo-cults'?

Michael Anissimov said...

The answer to your paragraph: cryonics.

And who says Eliezer is a guru cult leader? Where are all his followers?

*looks at shirt and sees "Eliezer is #1!" button on it*

Oh crap, nm.

Jackie said...

I don't know where this lust to exist comes from - just read some good literature and/or philosophy and make peace with death already!

There's that good Montaigne essay: "To do philosophy is to learn how to die".

Better yet: do something innovative or intelligent so that your work will live on after you, rather than your crippled and frozen bodily form!

Michael Anissimov said...

Jackie, because if it were the 18th century, you'd be saying the same thing about smallpox. Either you take an attitude that accepts shitty things, or you don't. I prefer the latter.

Btw Dale, what's your take on factory farming?

Dale Carrico said...

Wish-fulfillment fantasizing about techno-immortalization is far from the same thing as advocating for global access to basic healthcare, clean water, real-world medical r & d, and so on. This opportunistic parasitism on legitimate science, this ednless sensationalization undermining scientific literacy and then peddling yourselves as "champions of science" and Enlightenment -- from nanoscale science, automation transformed techno-utopian superabundance via ubiquitous slavebots and sexbots and personal robot bodies and desktop nanotech everything-for-nothing machines and nanofog magicks; from network security and user-friendly software issues transformed into dead-ender GOFAI and post-biological superintelligence, the Robot God Singularity; to harm reduction and healthcare access and medical r & d advocacy transformed into techno-immortalization and superlongevity -- is the quintessential and indispensable gesture of the superlative sub(cult)ural futurology of the Robot Cult. Shame on you Michael, and all you robot cultists for your peddling of ignorance and appeals to hyperbolic fears and greed and derangement of sensible technodevelopmental deliberation at the most urgent historical moment possible.

Dale Carrico said...

Factory farming is an abomination -- one more mis-application of the disastrous high-energy-input intensive hierarchical-authoritarian-capital intensive brute-force-monocultural industrial paradigm to agriculture. You might recall, also, that I am an ethical vegetarian, and touch on some of the complex identity politics of this position here.