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

Monday, February 25, 2008

Consumerism Forever!

Transhumanist James Hughes linked to an interesting graph designed by Nicholas Felton showing the adoption of new technologies since 1900. To subscribe to the technodevelopmental News Headlines service which provided the link check out the IEET website.

What interested me most about the item was Hughes' summary of the data via this subject line: "Optimistic Kurzweilian Data on Adoption of Consumer Products." Felton's own summary of the data is much more objective, if you ask me: "Consumption Spreads Faster Today."

What would it be about the relentless acceleration of consumer practices that would make techno-utopian transhumanists feel "optimism" exactly?

The graph charts the adoption of many technologies, including clothes dryers and air conditioning that provide negligible real benefits for at least some of their adoptees compared to still-available practices that preceded them, but the adoption of which did produce incredible waste and pollution. Other technologies charted by the graph include autos, vcrs, microwave ovens, and cellphones.

Perhaps we should simply measure how high how quickly landfills rise and calculate "progress" that way? I certainly feel the optimism!

And how on earth would this data seem to echo with Kurzweilian implications for transhumanists? Raymond Kurzweil thinks technological development is accelerating toward a history-ending transformational event, The Singularity, resonating with millennial overtones.

I happen to think that techno-utopians are to an important extent confusing the instability of neoliberal financialization of the economy with "acceleration" (or my personal favorite, "acceleration of acceleration," when the futurological congress goes for the really hard sell) largely because that's what financialization looks like to its beneficiaries and to those who identify with those beneficiaries -- that is to say, right up to the moment when the whole Ponzi scheme crashes and burns. I also happen to think that those who believe Moore's "Law" will spit out a Robot God one day are drinking the same Moonshine that has inspired cybernetic totalist types wrongly to predict every year on the year the imminent arrival of artificial intelligence with the absolute behavioral regularity of the robots they so pine for.

Why does anybody think a data point suggesting that color television was adopted more rapidly than black and white television before it, or cellphones were adopted more rapidly than telephones before them is cause for optimism, exactly? My partner Eric quipped that this is like imagining we're closer to techno-rapture because car manufacturers have adopted anti-lock brakes.

An Observation

Cutting and pasting content is not the same thing as forming an opinion and articulating it.

Today's Random Wilde

There are many things that we would throw away if we were not afraid that others might pick them up.

Sunday, February 24, 2008


Leapfrogging is a term I learned from Jamais Cascio, which posits that at least sometimes the lack of industrial infrastructure in the overexploited regions of the so-called "developing world" might represent more of an advantage than a disadvantage as new post-industrial forms of media, information, communications, and decentralized energy provision come to define the technodevelopmental state of the art. Inertial lock-in to top-heavy, elite, capital-investment intensive, expensively-maintained, energy-input-intensive, inflexible, hierarchical, industrial models that once represented the prestige and conspicuous advantage of colonizing and postcolonial powers could well come to represent the anchors stymieing such powers in the storm churn of twenty-first century technoscientific change.

Before I say another word I want very quickly to interrupt the flow of this argument to say that there are two things that make me rather nervous talking in these terms in the first place: First, to talk this way seems to me to nudge the conversation about technodevelopmental struggle almost entirely into the frame that prioritizes "innovation" and "competition" unduly and in ways that usually privilege certain kinds of values and institutions over others -- and usually not at all the values and institutions that are the most progressive ones or the most relevant ones to anybody but incumbent corporate-militarist interests. Second, since it certainly is not always the case that the lack of conventional infrastructure and support provides benefits to societies unencumbered by industrial formations in a post-industrializing world (and, frankly, the jury is very much out as to whether any of the assumptions driving these intuitions will bear out in fact in any case), the idea that sometimes such lack might provide a developmental leg up should not solace the beneficiaries of centuries of brutal imperialism, colonialism, and neoliberalism, nor provide us a rationale to justify our offering up remediation and restitution on the cheap now to terribly vulnerable people of the world incumbent interests have continued to treat as anything but peers in a world that will soon be peer-to-peer through and through.

Be all that as it may, I had the idle thought this afternoon that Leapfrogging in this sense might have an intriguing complement if writers like David Holmgren and Howard Kunstler are right about what is likely to happen to complex industrial societies that have grown to rely on the easy energy of a petro-bubble mistaken for manifest destiny if energy descent (or "Peak Oil") ever comes to re-arrange their assumptions.

Just as Leapfrogging proposes that the USA (among others) might be encumbered compared to many of the regions and societies we have long exploited by the very industrial formations that empowered us to so exploit them, so too Peakfrogging proposes that the USA might be encumbered compared to many of the regions and societies of Europe (among others) that rose to power and prominence before the arrival of the petro-bubble and hence retain the infrastructural legacies and intelligence of that epoch as the USA -- continental sprawl of malls and freeways and petro fertilized and irrigated deserts blooming briefly into lawns and wheat fields -- almost entirely the prodigious child of the petro-bubble, does not. The United States of North America is not a nation ready to privilege walking distances, permacultural and localist practices that will best suit any bursting of the petro-bubble (and one need not indulge in the more hyperbolic variations of "Peak Oil" discourses for the impacts of energy descent to register deep impacts), in the ways that even major European cities will often manage to do.

Whether leapfrogged by post-industrial p2p democratization or peakfrogged by post-petrochemical permaculture (quite apart from the usual idiotic imperial overreaching of military adventurers and social conservatives squandering the treasury and looting the creative and infrastructural commons for parochial ends and quick profits) it is not difficult to see the writing on the wall for the world's last remaining petro-industrial "superpower." Fortunately, our fortunes are written in books and in collaboration quite as much as it is written on walls, and there are plenty of ways for a post hegemonic USA to flourish and contribute to the greater flourishing of a planet that needs all the help it can get.

The Gayest Network on Television Isn't LOGO

It's HGTV. That's the conclusion Eric and I came to after watching an episode and a half of "Designed on a Dime," including the ads for the other shows on the network, while we were eating lunch this afternoon and flicking through channels for light diversion. It's like hours and hours of the gayest gays who ever gayed gay-brunching the afternoon away and piped directly into middle America. Truly amazing when you think back as little as a decade ago and contemplate how different things were then. Or so it seems to me at least.

Beam Me Up, Rupert!

[via ThinkProgress]

Thinking About Voting Techs: e-Luddite or e-Propriate?

[via Contra Costa Times]
Predictions of widespread delays in posting results of the Feb. 5 presidential primary due to a shift to paper ballots in nearly two dozen counties failed to materialize, said California Secretary of State Debra Bowen. "In 57 of 58 counties, the election results came in roughly at the same time as they had in previous elections," Bowen [said].

Would digital-utopians incline to call Bowen a luddite for preferring appropriate tech that actually works over hype-tech, er, "high-tech" that works only to make some incumbent interests richer and more influential?

Surely not. The plain fact is that a paper ballot is actually no less "technological" than a touchscreen is. The question at hand is which technology is the appropriate one, which is the better system given the circumstances and constraints and capacities at hand?

Digital systems were introduced to solve some problems, to facilitate access for differently enabled people, for one thing (although it has never been explained why paper trails are incompatible with providing such access).

But the truth is that their sudden, sweeping, costly adoption across the country also rode a wave of digital fetishism and handwaving public relations that had little connection to real problem solving.

And just as true now, the blanket demonization of touchscreen voting systems (whether they are proprietary or not, whether they provide paper trails or not) now functions sometimes as a comparable distraction from problems in our election system, as fairly traditional forms of voter fraud, intimidation, and disenfranchisement, especially by Republicans, do far more damage in key election contests than the tinkering around the edges they may have exploited through vulnerabilities in digital voting systems in others.

What is lost in so much of this is an awareness of how abstract and undercritical ideas of the "technological" in some more vacuous but emotionally charged construal seem so often to attach to these systems, sometimes freighted with unrealistic hopes (especially by lobbyists and marketing departments eager to sell their often questionable wares), sometimes invested with overwrought dread (especially by people who have been burned by incumbent elites too many times already), and that these unruly passionate abstractions derange sensible deliberation about voting technologies -- as they derange sensible deliberation about so much technodevelopmental change more generally, medical, media, military, industrial, agricultural, and so on.

Personally, I think anonymous paper ballots coupled with exhaustive mediated transparency of the handling and counting of these ballots, together with the generous provision of assistive technologies to facilitate voting for the variously differently enabled is the way to go. Advocating paper and curtained booths and comparable old-school techs that work well enough around the world already over costly untried vulnerable newfangled systems (for the most part) should surely be regarded as a sensible rather than a luddite perspective…

But, then, so should advocating permaculture practices over industrial petrochemical agriculture, solar roofs over nuclear plants, net neutrality over copyright extension, universal access to clean water over investments in narcissicistic lifestyle meds for elites, and yet techno-utopians bloviate about the luddism in all these sensible technodevelopmental priorities while offering up hype-tech promises to justify diversions of money and attention always in the service of incumbent interests.

(And let me add quickly, by way of a conclusion, that those who want our elections to be more reliable, relevant, and fair should probably be focusing their energies more on public financing of elections, instant runoff voting, felon re-enfranchisement, uniform voting standards across the country, and making Election Day a national holiday.)

Friday, February 22, 2008

Bananadance Helps Make Amor Mundi More Positive


Son of Today's Random Wilde

Any preoccupation with ideas of what is right or wrong in conduct shows an arrested intellectual development.

Bride of Today's Random Wilde

Morality is simply the attitude we adopt towards people whom we personally dislike.

Today's Random Wilde Returns

There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.

Today's Random Wilde

All art is immoral.

US Secret Service Halts Weapons Screening at Obama Rally in Dallas? Is This Story for Real?

[via Pam's House Blend]
Security details at Barack Obama's rally Wednesday stopped screening people for weapons at the front gates more than an hour before the Democratic presidential candidate took the stage at Reunion Arena.

The order to put down the metal detectors and stop checking purses and laptop bags came as a surprise to several Dallas police officers who said they believed it was a lapse in security.

Dallas Deputy Police Chief T.W. Lawrence, head of the Police Department's homeland security and special operations divisions, said the order -- apparently made by the U.S. Secret Service -- was meant to speed up the long lines outside and fill the arena's vacant seats before Obama came on.

"Sure," said Lawrence, when asked if he was concerned by the great number of people who had gotten into the building without being checked. But, he added, the turnout of more than 17,000 people seemed to be a "friendly crowd."

The Secret Service did not return a call from the Star-Telegram seeking comment.

Dallas? Are you kidding me? Dallas? Given the reports of endless ugly threats and hate messages vomited at the Obama campaign from the maw of the right wing "culture of life" this is literally unbelievable. The 17,000 people seemed friendly, did they? I want clarification on this, immediately -- and complete National outrage if it is as bad as it sounds to ensure that nothing like this happens again.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Mundi Muster: Clemency for Saudi Woman to be Executed for "Witchcraft"

Fawza Falih has been sentenced to death by a Saudi Court for the charge of "witchcraft". The sentence was reversed on an appeal and than reinstated by the highest court in Saudi Arabia, now only the King of Saudi Arabia can grant clemency. Last year the US approved a multi-billion dollar aid package to the Saudi Kingdom.

A few phone calls to the Saudi Embassy or to US Congress people could apply enough pressure on the King to grant clemency and save this woman's life. Here are a few suggestions. (You can always call after hours and leave a message or several messages.) There is a BBC article about the case and a link to the Human Rights Watch page below. Please forward this email:

Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia
601 New Hampshire Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20037
(202) 342-3800
Information Office:
(202) 337-4076
(202) 337-4134

U.S. Senate
Committee on Foreign Relations
Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510-6225
Majority Phone: (202)224-4651
Minority Phone: (202) 224-6797

Senator Joe Biden (Chairman)
201 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
Phone: 202-224-5042
Fax: 202-224-0139

Barbra Boxer (member SFRC)
112 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
(202) 224-3553New York:

HRH King Abdullah bin Abd al-Aziz Al Saud
Royal Court
Riyadh 11111
Saudi Arabia

BBC Story

Letter from Human Rights Watch


It is not difficult to imagine a specifically neuroethical analogue to the eugenics movement. Let's call it, say, "euneurics."

Strictly speaking, it seems to me it would be better to call such an impulse neuromoralizing rather than neuroethics -- just as I have to admit that a lot of what passes these days for "bioethical" discourse looks to me more like biomoralizing. But that is a separate discussion for another time.

Anyway, euneurics would likely claim to be a movement to "optimize" consciousness.

In one variation it might involve pathologizing the perfectly reasonable responses (including anxiety, mild depression, shyness, and so on) of people to the undue and unprecedented stresses of an ever more demanding and precarious privatized and neoliberal social order and then prescribing medicines rather than social reforms to cope with these stresses -- that is to say, using medicine and technique to assimilate people more seamlessly into an irrational and unjust order that demands subservience from most to increase profits for a few. In another variation it might involve a fearful and intolerant project to constrain the breadth of exhibited human neurodiversity (including functional bipolarity, and many of the forms of cognitive atypicality that get lumped together nowadays as "autism," and so on) in the service of bolstering a neurotypicality with which majorities identify personally -- using medicine and technique to police conformity in the service of a parochial reductionism at best and outright genocidal eliminationism at worst.

In yet another variation it might involve the desire and eventually the use of medicine and technique to enhance mood, memory, perception, and capacities the better to compete for profit and success as these things are conventionally reckoned -- indifferent, one fears, to questions of whether obviously profitable ends indeed deserve facilitated accomplishment, without examining the norms that underlie the pursuit of those ends among others that might be less profitable but more valuable on deeper consideration but frustrated or disabled by "enhancement" or "optimization" for profit-making. And of course these variations aren't strictly separable, but would likely inter-implicate and co-construct one another, pivot and play off of one another, and so on.

One can easily imagine a variation in which the euneuric project would direct medicine and technique to the task of rewriting (or "rewiring," as some of our bold cybernetic totalist friends would have it) the actually existing diversity of flourishing minds in the image of some parochial vision of "right-mindedness" mistaken for Enlightenment itself -- one must admit, a fairly obscene proposal to constrain imagination and duress autonomy in fact and all in the name of "Reason" and "Individualism."

Both because it denigrates the equity of actually nonduressed consent and the diversity of actually flourishing human lifeways in the world, we already understand the eugenic project as a profoundly anti-democratic one. Whether through direct compulsion or through the seduction and duress of extensive and intensive regulative norms, the eugenic imagination would seek to "engineer" the human species into a more "optimal" morphology or lifeway (or would seek to ban and police interventions wanted by informed nonduressed people, in the name of "preserving" some lifeway mistaken for an already-existing optimality) according to the standards of some parochial perspective with which its partisans happen to identify personally, standards indifferent to or prior to any questions of consent or desire testified to among the people to be so engineered.

What is especially troubling about euneuric analogues to the eugenic project is that while one can always set the parochial demands of the would be optimizers (which may square, whether they deserve to or not, with the expressed values of majorities, after all) against the demands of consent (which are likely to be affirmed, even at the cost of perceived suboptimality, by sizable portions of the same majorities), but the euneuric project would likely intervene into the scene of and capacity for consenting itself, to intervene in ways that could duress the terms of now-legible consent while claiming to "enhance" and so "defend" the very capacity for consent it is actually violating.

The issues are more fraught than they may appear at first blush. Do our intuitions about conventional pedagogy assume the contours of euneuric chauvinism when assessed retroactively through the lens of emerging or imagined techniques for cognitive modification? At what point does tolerance for and facilitation of variation amount to alienation, indifference, or abuse? Fatality seems too loose a standard to facilitate neurodiversity while ensuring neuroequity (respecting any nonfatal morphological or lifeway variation seems more reasonable, possibly, as a standard to facilitate biodiversity, however), but a standard that would "optimize" cognition for consent clearly seems more likely to encourage than discourage the enthusiasts of the euneuric imaginary in the first place.

My own sense of the solution is to insist on respect for any neurovariation, however atypical or nonoptimal it may appear from any one parochial perspective (including my own), so long as it accords with a legible -- not "optimal," but as generous a conception of legibility as is compatible with equity -- scene of informed, nonduressed consent, a scene the substantial content of which will involve social support (public services and accommodation of the differently enabled, access to reliable information, and lifelong education, basic healthcare, and basic income to ensure one is at liberty to participate in the scene of consent in the first place) rather than any hyperbolic "individual responsibility" impelling conformity to an ideal.

Joni Helps Make Amor Mundi More Positive

Laughing it all away, laughing it all away, laughing it all away.

This has always been, by the way, my favorite Joni Mitchell song. I don't even mind the static album cover visual so much.

Today's Random Wilde

God knows; I won't be an Oxford don anyhow. I'll be a poet, a writer, a dramatist. Somehow or other I'll be famous, and if not famous, I'll be notorious. Or perhaps I'll lead the life of pleasure for a time and then -- who knows? -- rest and do nothing. What does Plato say is the highest end that man can attain here below? To sit down and contemplate the good. Perhaps that will be the end of me too. -- Wilde's reply to his friend David Hunter-Blair, who had asked him what his real ambition was, in about 1878, when he was twenty-four years old.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Ah, The Thrown-Ups Are Back

Over on SadlyNo! we are treated to a scarifyingly pithy photo album reminding us of what has happened since the Republican "Grown Ups" took over from "Inexperienced and Immature" Democrats.

The last time we were treated to this flabbergasting self-congratulatory line of delusion from the Theocrats and Oligarchs who both hilariously imagine themselves Destiny's Chosen Instruments and together predominate the Killer Clown Punditocracy of Movement Conservatism was when the Bushites were trying to peddle the would-be Boy King as a kindly moderate surrounded by the world's greatest ever Brain Trust of advisers compared to an alienating technocratic Gore tainted somehow by the corporate mediated serial scandals of the Clinton era. (It pays to remember that this actually didn't work, so he had to steal the election, of course, but here we are anyway and the point is that things didn't quite end up as we were told to expect.)

It honestly beggars belief that this is a line supporters of a "Grown Up" (one might almost say superannuated) McCain would try to drag out against a presumably "Inexperienced" Obama, but I suppose even Republicans tire of directing their energies always only to coming up with new ways to send dog-whistles to the now dwindling generation of hard core racists who make up the remaining bulk of the Republican base, apart from a few thousand sociopathically greedy multi-millionaires and psychopathically faithful theocrats.

Devo Helps Make Amor Mundi More Positive

When I'm watchin' my teevee and that man comes on to tell me how white my shirts can be but he can't be a man 'cause he doesn't smoke the same cigarettes as me I can't get no…

Time to End the Free Lunch at Last

The free market mantras of Movement Conservatism have really hit rock bottom in the libertopian paradises of catastrophic pre-emptive war, occupation, and post-Katrina "reconstruction."

It's hard to imagine the dead-eyed greedheads have not fatally overreached at last.

Yachts for billionaires or public schools for all? This simply isn't an argument they can win.

It's over. It has to be over.

This is the turning of the tide of the revolting "tax revolt" that looted government to the brink of collapse and then blamed the resulting ruins for failing to continue to provide shelter as they used to do.

There ain't no such thing as a free lunch, as the libertopians used to say (as they picked our pockets for lunch money).

Taxes are a price we pay for civilization.

Fail to pay?

Crumbling institutions, crumbling infrastructure, crumbling standard of living, crumbling standards in general, crumbling alternatives for the nonviolent resolution of disputes, crumbling hopes.

Had enough? Then stop stealing from the vulnerable, stop stealing from the future, stop stealing your lunch money. There ain't no such thing as a free lunch.

But Who Will Think of the Yacht Owners? Won't Somebody Think of the Yacht Owners?

Last Friday, California State Programs lost two billions dollars. School programs, social services, and healthcare services for the poor were the hardest hit.

And yet, in this time of devastating nonselective across the board funding cuts indifferent to the actual pressing needs of citizens of this State, Republicans managed to protect, once again, a tax loophole that insulates rich people from having to pay sales tax on certain conspicuously lavish luxury items, like yachts and private planes.

For more, see Calitics.

Monday, February 18, 2008

And Now It's Time for Another Episode of Rhetorical Questions Treated As Real Questions

Howie Klein of Down With Tyranny asks:
Why Do Republicans Always Steal Music to Push Their Hateful Ideology?


Because if they actually had to draw on the music of the culture of their hateful ideology they'd be forced to confine themselves to this:

Just in case you are unaware of the context of this, Mike Huckabee has recently been asked by Tom Scholz of the band "Boston" not to use his song "More Than A Feeling" in his campaign since Scholz disapproves of Huckabee's reactionary agenda (he supports Obama), just as John McCain was asked by John Mellencamp not to use his song "Our Country" in his campaign since Mellencamp disapproves of McCain's reactionary agenda (he supported Edwards), just as de facto Republican Joe Lieberman used Ned Lamont supporter John Hall's song "Still the One" (I don't know whether or not Hall complained about this, though), just as, back when I was practically a kid myself I remember Ronald Reagan was asked by Bruce Springstein not to use his song "Born in the U.S.A." since Springstein disapproved of Reagan's reactionary agenda.

Peggy Lee Helps Make Amor Mundi More Positive

And I thought I'd die. But I didn't. And when I didn't, I thought...

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Still Twenty Years to AI

BBC News highlights a prediction by Raymond Kurzweil that we will achieve human-level artificial intelligence in twenty years.

You know, for all we know, maybe he's right.

As for myself, I'll make the far more secure prediction that in each of the twenty years between now and then technoboosters for artificial intelligence will continue to predict that we will achieve human level artificial intelligence "in twenty years."

I say that this prediction is secure, because it matches perfectly the predictions that we will achieve human-level artificial intelligence in twenty years that have been made in each of the twenty years prior to this one, and in each of the twenty years prior to that as well.

Again, maybe this time Kurzweil is the lucky AI technobooster who managed to get it right. Eventually, I suspect somebody who makes this prediction will be. But it is hard for me to see why this prediction is newsworthy, particularly, though it is quite obviously the sort of stuff that sells.

Is It Time for a p2p De-Professionalization of Ethics?

In the Moot earlier this afternoon, Friend of Blog Anne Corwin wrote:
I am no longer willing to waste my time in endless back-and-forth debates in which nothing I say is given any weight unless it fits tidily into someone's favorite "ism" or widget. While philosophical and ethical "systems" can indeed be useful and interesting at times, and while they probably do each account for some situations fairly handily, no such system can possibly encompass all of messy, complex, contextually-diverse Real Life. And disregarding that messiness might be fine and appropriate if one is writing a paper for a class or engaging in a debating contest, but I think some people go way too far in thinking that because you can eliminate certain variables "on paper", you can also ignore them in real life.

I'm not arguing for an anti-intellectual approach to ethics here, of course -- I'm just saying that by failing to recognize the contextual, limited nature of all formal philosophical systems and "widgets", people can very easily end up advocating things that are actually really nasty and awful.

What is extraordinary to me is that things get so topsy turvy when one is arguing with would-be "professional ethicians" (let's leave to the side for the moment the very questionable status of the credentials of many of these so-called professionals) that one can actually come to worry that expressing an actually critical, actually engaged, actually sensitive attitude toward values will be attacked as "anti-intellectual."

Formulaic undercritical rationalizing approaches to these issues of the kind familiar in so much professional ethical discourse look to me far more anti-intellectual than your approach -- with which I sympathize personally, I should say, in the interests of full disclosure. Indeed, in comparison, the pieties of professional ethicians scarcely seem to me like thinking at all in too many instances.

And let me add, I think there is something a little worrisome in the very idea of a "professionalization" of ethics in the first place in a world where every person capable of consent is likewise capable of critical thinking.

I don't deny that philosophers who have devoted their lives to thinking through complex normative quandaries might often have useful advice that deserves a hearing for those who would make informed decisions, and I don't deny that meta-ethical frameworks organized by Kantian (autonomy) or Benthamite (utility) or Tolstoyan (reconciliation) or Leopoldian (ecological) intuitions, or their many subsequent variations, can indeed sometimes help clarify such quandaries -- as they are also surely known to distort them too sometimes when relied upon too robotically.

But I don't think professional ethicians on the whole seem to me a more reliable group of folks as guides for my own thinking in moments of normative perplexity than are common or garden variety thoughtful, practical, or kind people of my acquaintance who would never dream of calling themselves "professional ethicians."

Indeed, if I had to throw generalizations around I'd likely have to admit the reverse is true, and it is rarely the professionals who seem to have the most useful insights to help guide me in the midst of moral and ethical distress.

I suspect that with ethicians as with so-called professional intellectuals more generally what will matter most is whether or not one devotes ones intellectual energies as a professional to speaking truths to powers that be, or to providing rationalizations for incumbent interests.

Let me stress: This question of accommodation as against resistance to constituted authorities comes to the fore for me only wherever intellectual engagement manages to become professional. I don't think this circumscribes all intellectual life in the same way. There is far more to thinking as such than just accommodation of and resistence to incumbency and authority.

But where professional bioethical and technocratic discourses in conversation with public policymaking and corporate investment strategies are concerned, it seems to me worth noticing that incumbency has an enormous lot to gain from the promulgation of a ubiquitous normalizing regulatory medical apparatus promising optimality and providing predictability, docility, and conformism.

This alone should recommend caution, even if one didn't know about the eugenic and puritanical and authoritarian histories of priestly, courtly, and official ethicians of so many past social orders. Perhaps there is something to be said for a p2p de-professionalization of the ethical and technodevelopmental deliberation to which constituted authorities feel themselves most beholden?

Numberwang Helps Make Amor Mundi More Positive

The high culture of broadcast-mediated consumer capitalism under the scalpel...

From Enlightenment to Eliminationism in a Single Bound

In light of yesterday's argument about marginal membership organizations that take up the absurdly self-aggrandizing self-image that they constitute key Defenders of "Reason" and "The Enlightenment" squaring off against demonic forces of "Irrationality" and "Endarkenment" -- and all of this in fairly hilariously overgeneralized and overwrought terms that fail to be equal either to historical or emerging dynamics of social struggle as they actually play out among richly diverse stakeholders…

It is interesting to note that, quite true to form, one of the chief "transhumanist" techno-utopian advocates of this new Master Defenders of the Enlightenment schtick is indulging these days in frankly eliminationist rhetoric, all in the name of "secularism" of all things, proposing fantasies in which Baptist churches are closed down and their leaders jailed.

As an atheistical faggot who devoted a decade of life and activism to mitigating homophobia, sexism, and racism in the American South I quite appreciate the dangers of fundamentalist Christians who pine for theocracy. But I am well aware, nonetheless, that the key innovation of political secularism is actually the Separation of Church and State to facilitate the peaceful coexistence of the variously faithful (and not) with one another, which is the furthest imaginable thing from the essentially authoritarian or genocidal fantasy of an obliteration of all faiths or lifeways other than one's own, however consensual they may be. I am interested neither in the American Talibanism of the authoritarian Christianists nor in the imposition of a stainless steel technocratic atheism of authoritarian stuffed shirts just as idiotically convinced that they are the smartest guys in the room as the fundies are convinced they are God's own righteous death squad.

Given the predilection of even the most mainstream and moderate "transhumanists" to endorse a troublingly compulsory program of medical "enhancement" that disdains -- sometimes as a form of child abuse! -- the apparently outrageous notion that some so-called "disabled" people might have a dignity and value worthy of affirmation and support on their own terms, I can't say that this latest expression of eliminationism is particularly encouraging. Given the problematic whiff of eugenicism in the bioethical recommendations of "enhancement" and "optimality" discourse, one has to wonder whether that tendency coupled to a self-image as "The Enlightenment's" Chosen traffic cops might cash out in worrisome recommendations when talk turns to neuroethics, the "enhancement" and comparable "optimization" of mood, memory, and rationality itself.

In the past I have devoted quite a lot of my critique of techno-utopian discourses to the frank absurdity of their Superlativity, their exacerbation of irrational passions originating in the fear of vulnerability and death, hostility to the contingency of one's fate and place in a dynamic world, stress due to the precarity of human existence especially in a time of radical technodevelopmenal transformation and endless war, irrational passions that play out as hysterical faith in the imminence of technological immortality and cyborg superpowers, superintelligent Robot Gods ending human history in a consummate paradise or apocalypse, automation or nanotechnology delivering abundance beyond the dreams of avarice, and so on. Despite the fact that emerging developments in genetic, prosthetic, and cognitive medicine do indeed offer unprecedented transformations of limits that have hitherto defined the human condition, despite the fact that networked information, computation, and communication systems do indeed offer unprecedented transformations of the terrains of publication and political participation, education, agitation, organization, collaboration, security, and privacy that have hitherto defined public life, despite the fact that ubiquitous automation, materials science, chemical engineering and biotechnology offer unprecedented transformations of global capacities for modes of production equal to the demands of a planetary population but with incomparably lower social and environmental costs, it remains true that none of these fraught and complex transformations of customary capacities assumptions justifies the hyperbolic and essentially theological discourse of the Superlative Imaginary. Nor do any of these transformations alter the basic fact that technodevelopmental changes are progressive and emancipatory only when technodevelopmental social struggle among the stakeholders to those changes succeed in making them so. There is nothing inherently emancipatory in any strictly technical accomplishment on its own.

I mention this because it seems to me the worries I am testifying to in this post differ somewhat from the concerns I have registered in my many critiques of the facile follies of techno-utopian Superlativity. In mobilizing eliminationist formulations in the name of Optimal Health and Enlightenment Rationality it seems to me that at least some of the silly Robot Cultists of the "transhumanist movement," so-called, are beginning to hone their message in a way that is somewhat more ready for Prime Time, more likely to attract corporate-militarist monies and Establishment credibility. To the extent that this is true, it is clearly an ominous development that demands close scrutiny.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Consolidated Helps Make Amor Mundi More Positive

America, Hot Thing, Number One!

Transhumanists Appoint Themselves Master Defenders of "The Enlightenment"

Some of the sub(cult)ural techno-utopians who call themselves "transhumanists" seem to have adopted lately, and ever more stridently, the line that they represent some kind of key bastion in the defense of what they are calling "The Enlightenment."

This move is, I suppose, commonplace enough for cultists of a particular stripe (one also finds this embarrassing delusion among many of the True Believers in the "Objectivism" of the terminally awful Ayn Rand, for example), that I guess I should have expected it among the transhumanists as well eventually.

While I suppose it is unobjectionable enough, in a general sort of way, to say that all social struggle to make our world more democratic, more consensual, more equitable, more diverse, more self-critical, more educated, more open, more peaceful and so on constitutes a struggle of Enlightenment against more ignorant, incumbent, faithful, authoritarian forces, I don't really agree that it makes much sense at all to try to simplify such a richly shifting and complex constellation of struggles into a few pat doctrines or slogans that could cash out in a fantasy of a monolithic Us vs. Them squaring off over "Reason" on History's Chessboard.

It should not be necessary to say, but "The Enlightenment" is the farthest thing from a monolith, or some singular unitary doctrine readily encompassed by an official "manifesto," or anything remotely so facile as that. Enlightenment has been and remains to this day an enormously rich and ramifying discourse, with many contrary tendencies and emphases, with a long history containing many unexpected developmental vicissitudes from figure to figure, nation to nation, era to era.

The critical projects of Sade, Kant, Mill, Marx, Freud, Foucault, and Rorty (among countless, countless others) could all be readily characterized as taking Enlightenment projects right to the center of their most fervent and animating concern. But it is hard to imagine polemical partisans for "Enlightenment" in the more sloganeering variations beloved of marginal membership organizations seeking to put more asses in their pews and more money in their collection plates being particularly well-pleased to take this range of positions into account in their earnest handwaving on the subject.

The idea of a simple straightforward struggle "for" and "against" some overgeneralized and highly personalized construal of "The Enlightenment" seems to me an idea almost as idiotic as American Chistianists fighting a non-existent War on Christmas. Now, don't sputter into your coffee mugs just yet, all you earnest Robot Warriors for "Reason." None of this is to deny the obviously pernicious effects undermining our efforts to solve shared problems and share lifeways openly with one another due to the workings of deliberate deception, ignorance, uncritical thinking, unquestioned faith in authorities and incumbency, authoritarian and reactionary politics and so on.

But it is one thing to point to the irrationality of a particular claim, tendency, movement, or discourse, or to point to the pernicious disrespect, misuse, or distortion of consensus science by incumbent interests who selectively disapprove of warranted scientific results at their convenience, and so on. And yet it is quite another thing to fancy oneself as bolstering, through one's resistance to particular instances like these, some more vast historical abstraction called "Reason" or "Enlightenment" as such with which one then identifies personally and to which one imagines oneself in that identification made thereby essentially indispensable -- with the inevitable dis-identification with vilified others cast as generically serviceable villains.

Indeed, whenever people come to view themselves as special guardians of Reason and Enlightenment in some more ecstatic construal (and their opponents inevitably as contrary forces of an equally epic Unreason or Endarkenment), one should expect truly fundamentalist and authoritarian recommendations to follow not too far behind.

Vast and horrific generalizations involving millions of people consigned to an undifferentiated mass of "fundamentalist" or "postmodernist/relativist" subhumanity are fairly typical, glib generalizations about a clash of civilizations with an absurdly monolithicized "Islamic World" or about a battle of "science" against the "fashionable nonsense" of an equally absurdly monolithicized archipelago of "University Humanities Departments" are commonplace sputterings in this rhetorical vein. The irony that such essentially irrational and hysterical expressions arise from self-appointed paragons of Enlightenment rationality seems not to give their enthusiasts the slightest pause (and the ugly insipid obviousness of it all provides scant opportunities for abiding mirth for the rest of us either).

As for the few hundred mostly white, mostly male, mostly privileged, mostly Euro-American techno-fetishists who refer to themselves as "transhumanists," "singularitarians," "extropians," or what have you, all pining for technological immortality, cyborg superpowers, and nano-riches beyond the dreams of avarice, I daresay the social struggle for a more Enlightened world even on the most oversimplified imaginable terms would manage to soldier on whether or not you guys manage to champion it from the Robot Cult clubhouses of your marginal membership organizations. A little perspective, guys, honestly.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Big Gay Albus Helps Make Amor Mundi More Positive

The readers have spoken, who am I to deny y'all anything?

Another Achievement from Our Bright Brave Free Marketeers


As An Actual Person, May I Point Out That I'm Actually Speaking A "Language of the People" Already, Thank You Very Much?

A comment in the Moot suggests that Dale could reach a larger audience of both academics and laymen if he talked the "language of the people." Actually the comment appeared in the context of a defense of yesterday's Valentine's Nay post, against some numbskull who idiotically accused me of being over-intellectual and elitist (something I get a lot of here, together with boo-hoo crying about my "negativity," especially from the Robot Cultist brain trust members who like to lurk around the edges of my blog because I talk about the politics of emerging technoscience here among other things).

This comment is probably true, and not particularly objectionable to me at all, inasmuch as it leaves open the very real possibility that reaching such a larger audience by this means may not be the reason I am blogging here after all, and maybe that's fine. But the comment goes on to imply that this is a choice with wider stakes, and I think it is interesting to think these through a little bit.

After proposing I might reach a wider audience by speaking "the language of the people" (for obvious response, see title of post), the comment goes on to quote Howard Zinn (author of A People's History of the United States) [who] argue[s]:
The Left hasn't reached out to people with a clear, coherent, and emotional message. The Left often does not know how to talk to other people. Tikkun magazine appeals to intellectuals. I've never spoken the language of ivory tower academics. And there are other voices on the Left that speak in understandable language. For instance, Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed, in which she took menial jobs across the country and wrote about those lives, was a bestseller. There's an emotionalism to her message that makes contact and touches thousands. Michael Moore's movies have been seen by all sorts of people. GI's in Iraq watched his movie. We just have to do more along those lines.

Of course, Zinn is right that the authorized voices of the Left too often have failed to speak to everyday people effectively. Of course, I know exactly what he is talking about here, and endorse the palpable good sense of what he is saying for the most part.

I happen to think this ineffectiveness he is talking about has largely been a structural matter, more than some personal failing, a consequence of the inherently reactionary division of "intellectual" from physical labor and a resulting tendency of even many notionally left-leaning intellectuals to function primarily as water-carriers for incumbent interests rather than as people empowered to speak truths to the powers that be. Also, high financial/time costs imposed by exclusive broadcast model media landscapes, high psychological costs imposed by the precarity of the increasingly privatized and financialized economy for low and middle income folks likely to do much of the actual work of organizing, among many other factors, has produced what has too often been a harsh tradeoff even for very righteous well-meaning well-informed dem-left folks between our democratic ideas and the demands of organizational effectiveness in a pre-p2p epoch.

Part of the reason this doesn't lead me to despair is because we are living in an era of emerging p2p democratization that is undoing this impasse -- blogs among other things are filled with passionate voices from all walks of life, inspiring change with knowledge, emotion, character, good sense, helpfulness, wit, and provocation. p2p formations are also loosening the financial and time constraints that have circumscribed effective rapid pushback against mass-mediated deceptions, exposure of corrupt and secretive practices between representatives and incumbent interests, educated people in real time about anti-democratic manipulations of parliamentary processes in the service of incumbent interests, organized petition drives, small donor aggregation in support of people doing good work at great personal risk, and countless other things, transforming right here, right now the terrain with which Zinn is grappling in that passage. Even so, probably the deft-left will never manage a message so "coherent" as the right does, but that is because diversity is as real and as valuable as equity is for the dem-left and perfect coherence is always only the marching orders of incumbent interests.

The word "often" in Zinn's second quoted sentence seems to me more true than the categorical "hasn't" of the first, though. The left often hasn't been as effective as it could have been and surely should have wanted to be in connecting to the very people who would benefit most from the work we are trying to do. Often... but hardly always. And this matters enormously. And as you well know, I love Zinn's book and his work more generally and recommend it widely because it has affected me powerfully personally, in part because he manages to do precisely what he says more people of the dem-left need to do. I think he is certainly right about that.

However, I do want to insist that there are more things to do in the world, and more ways to contribute to the diversity of human expressions and knowledges and lifeways than just the one Zinn is emphasizing here.

Look, I'm a theory head. I am an ivory tower academic, I guess. I mean, I lack tenure or print publication or the conventional trappings of academic professionalization, but I do make my happy home in the ivory tower, I suppose, and I do try to do democratizing and emancipatory work there. I don't approve of those who invest this institutional location and lifeway with more value and authority than it deserves, but I do enjoy most the conversations I have in this ivory tower with my students and some colleagues and I do think that these conversations can contribute a real measure to the sum of human freedom worthy of celebration on its own duly modest terms. I am capable of writing in the clear and emotional way Zinn prescribes here and do so here on this blog from time to time. But I also write dense, theoretical, provisional, sometimes exploratory and meandering prose on topics of concern to me from time to time.

Welcome to me.

Let me speak some everyday language here.

I don't give a fuck if anybody doesn't like any particular facet of the expression I engage in here. I don't give a fuck if people are disappointed I don't stick to the topics and stylistic mannerisms I exhibit in their favorite posts. I don't give a fuck if some people decide I have become preoccupied with the wrong issue and want to talk about it here. I don't give a fuck if some people think I'm an "elitist" because they don't understand or aren't interested in some of the writing I do.

Nobody knows just what writing, just what style, just what formulation, just what perspective, just what frame, just what provocation will be the one to make the best contribution to the collective work of greater democratization and expressivity and consensualization and justice in the world.

Maybe we would indeed find our way to global permaculture and democratic world federalism with a universal basic income and healthcare if everybody wrote like Howard Zinn. But Zinn does not know that this is true, nobody does. Nobody can.

We do know that it hasn't only been "plainspoken" work (already, actually, a rather problematic notion in my view -- but, hey, I'm a snarky elitist, don't mind me) like Zinn's that has produced democratizing accomplishments the left celebrates now.

And, besides, there are other good things to do and other enriching contributions to make to the sum of human equity and diversity and freedom than just the ones Zinn is making, absolutely fabulous though they are and celebrate them though we rightly do. (Please don't take any of this as a denigration of his wonderful work!)

Even the dem-left should be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. And worse than that, when people get too strident on this particular line (I do not refer here to Zinn) they often start to endorse highly anti-intellectual and expurgationist attitudes in my view that are much more suited to reactionary than to progressive politics when all is said and done.

As an example of what I mean by that last point, contemplate the endless variations -- mostly on the Right but increasingly among some on the Left -- accusing them effete elite English major types of being a right relativist menace with their fancy wordgames and such. All that is just bullshit, and the dem-left does not benefit by it, nor do the emancipatory practices of consensus science demand the denigration or sacrifice of poetry or theory to do their good work in the world as some of science's would-be Priestly and Curatorial "Champions" seem to want.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Shorter Bush on FISA

Provided by Senator Edward Kennedy:
The President has said that American lives will be sacrificed if Congress does not change FISA. But he has also said that he will veto any FISA bill that does not grant retro-active immunity. No immunity, no FISA bill. So if we take the President at his word, he's willing to let Americans die to protect the phone companies.

Just point out this arrant absurdity over and over and over and over again and we might still win this fight for American democracy.

Valentine's Nay

Eric and I are boycotting Valentine's Day this year as usual.

Neither love nor loyalty is testified to by the purchase of cheap crap squirted into a heart-shaped mould on an assembly line in the presence of who knows what human suffering. But you know all that already.

It's funny, but Eric and I actually met in person (after a week or so of flirting first online) the day after Valentine's Day six years ago, and an awesome punky dyke notarized our domestic partnership forms in a dusty downtown San Francisco office the day before Valentine's Day five years ago. Our indifference to Valentine's Day has twice contributed to our failure to notice that key moments in our romantic itinerary were freighted with the high cheese factor of close proximity to corporate cupid's dimpled ass cheek.

Nice to see that we're not the only ones [via Open Left] who feel the way we do:
How much do I hate Valentine's Day? Let me count the ways. Oppression is the hallmark of this Hallmark Card holiday: the cheap chocolates made from cocoa beans harvested by child slave labor on the Ivory Coast; the fungicide-filled flowers picked by exploited Ecuadoreans; the sleazy lingerie stitched together in a Jordan sweatshop. Only in the lexicon of the Great American Lemming could these global grotesqueries say "I Love You."

Just in case all this comes off as one of my "too negative" posts, here's the incomparable Nico singing My Funny Valentine to pick you back up:

Of course, if it really is true that Valentine's Day is just another crapitalist hokeyday manufactured like "the consent of the governed" or Cheez Whiz to provoke consumers into shopping for still more future landfill to stave off panic at the prospect that they will die alone (you will, you know), then nothing could be more true in America than the truism of the song's last, curiously imperative, line: Each day is Valentine's Day.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

An Observation

Honestly, if you're still identifying as a Republican after all that has happened since 2001 -- hell, since Gingrich, hell, since Reagan, hell, since Nixon -- then you certainly should be in therapy, honey, and you should probably be in jail.

Today's Random Wilde

I don't want to earn my living; I want to live.

The Jinx Is Broken

Eric and I are thrilled that Donna Edwards won last night, not just because she is such an awesome Netroots Progressive, but because her victory eliminates the growing suspicion that we have been laboring under, that some mysterious social mechanism is triggered by campaign donations from our household that ensures the recipient will always lose.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Sweet Signs of CPAC

Have a look at the wit and wisdom of the leading lights of Movement Republicanism, if you have the stomach for it.

It's so easy to see why the Villagers have been declaring that all the "Big" "New" ideas have been coming from the Right for over two decades and counting.

Monday, February 11, 2008

I Think It's Trauma Talking

Look, I agree that Superdelegates are an anti-democratic historical vestige that cries out for reform. I agree that the disenfranchisement of Florida and Michigan is an ugly anti-democratic business for which I'd like to see the decent justice of restaged primaries that count. I agree that there have been shady shenanigae on the campaign trail here and there that seem to denigrate what should be the foundational values for Democrats of enfranchisement and democratic process on certain occasions where brutal exigencies of winning and losing seem to have come unattractively to the forefront of the competition for the nomination.

Despite all that, it seems to me that there is something disproportionate and emotionally weird about the stridency and hysteria of some of the doomsaying and enraged and panicky scenarios being spun around Superdelegates and last minute reversals of popular mandates and so on.

I happen to think most rank-and-file Democrats like both Clinton and Obama quite a bit and will likely unite deliriously enough eventually around either one. I was an Edwards supporter and feel ambivalence (at best) about aspects of both of the remaining candidates, but I don't deny the ferociously wholesome force to a white racist patriarchal imperial America of a Presidential victory for either one, and I honestly feel either one is better than Kerry behind whom I offered up my solid support in 2004.

I'm leaning Obama because I think he is provoking more people-powered politics and he is beholden to more people-powered politics, and I think his coattails will bring in marginally higher majorities in the House and Senate than Clinton will, majorities we could use when we're fighting for a pathway to universal healthcare, fighting to end the illegal catastrophe of occupation, fighting to demand accountability for the criminals of the Killer Clown era, and so on. But Clinton doesn't seem to me conspicuously worse on any of these counts, and my partner Eric could pen a paragraph just as compelling in support of Clinton on this score. We're both very amicable about it.

Honestly, the Republicans sound like warmongering corporatist lunatics with theocratic leanings. McCain and Huckabee, are you freaking kidding me? Bush had to lie about who he was to get close enough to steal the election in 2000, and these two crackpots aren't hiding behind palatable moderate masks -- and this after seven years of Movement Conservative disaster on every front and unprecedented unpopularity for the Warmongering Jeebusfreak policies these two are trumpeting to their zealous crackpot base. It's as if Victorian Imperialists with muttonchops and bibles are vying for the votes of a p2p generation facing a Greenhouse future.

Democrats need to take an honest look at reality and get a grip. I'm not advocating complacency, but the skewed conspiracies and vitriolic attacks between inside-baseball supporters of the remaining two candidates don't seem to me to be contributing much useful work or sensible perspective on our actual circumstances or the work those circumstances actually demand of us in the way of education, agitation, and organizing.

It's hard not to suspect that the Superdelegate disenfranchisement hysteria is something of a symptomatic, and not particularly helpful, psychic restaging of the trauma of the 2000 stolen Presidential election and the shocking realization in that moment that none of the institutions in which we presumably repose our trust (I read Chomsky and Vidal and even I was a bit flabbergasted) -- the Supreme Court, our Representatives, the "leaders" of the Democratic Party apparatus, the "eminences" of the media Establishment -- were functioning even remotely as we were supposed to think that they were, in our palpably clear interests. The confirmation of that traumatic realization in the run up to War, knee deep in the Big Muddy of an illegal occupation, in the dismantlement of civil liberties and non-partisan professional administrative functions, in the Swiftboating of John Kerry, in the catastrophic non-response to Katrina, in the taking of Impeachment off the table, in the affirmation of torture and illegal wiretaps, and so much more, have just compounded and compounded that initial trauma but never once provided any occasion to come to terms with the trauma itself.

It seems to me that the voice of traumatized people is speaking in the panic of those who really think Superdelegates will trump a conspicuously more popular nominee (isn't the whole point that Superdelegates are in the picture precisely because the popular contest is so close?) and so risk disarray and utter demoralization in an era of p2p-mediation on the eve of the Presidential election that looks likely to put Democrats in power of every elected branch of government in a landslide mandate that will change history.

Today's Random Wilde

The critic has to educate the public; the artist has to educate the critic.

Good Luck With That in November

Watch it again like it's the first time.

Sunday, February 10, 2008


It isn't exactly good news for the McCain Presidential campaign -- which some bad, bad, bad people are already christening the "McAncient Campaign" -- that according to a much-discussed poll from last year undertaken by the Gallup organization 42% of people polled admitted that they would not vote for a candidate 72 years of age or older.

A slightly higher 43% admitted they wouldn't vote for a "homosexual" (I'd probably already suspect anybody who would use the rather awkward and clinical term "homosexual" to describe queer or, if we must, gay folks like me in the first place wouldn't be too eager to vote for one, one regrets that Gallup didn't poll the terms "homophile" or "psychic hermaphrodite" or "Urning"). And, highest of all, over half of those people polled, a full 53%, admitted they wouldn't vote for an atheist.

Given my atheism and faggotry -- thank heavens they didn't poll about vegetarians or democratic socialists or pacifists or theoryheads -- I'm starting to think I don't have much of a chance to become America's President after all, despite the assurances I received to the contrary by the well-meaning adults who raised and educated me. Why, in thirty years' time, I'll be 72!

Friday, February 08, 2008

Less Guns, More Butter

[via Seattle Times]
The way to get the country out of recession -- and most people think we're in one -- is to get the country out of Iraq, according to an Associated Press-Ipsos poll.

Pulling out of the war ranked first among proposed remedies in the survey, followed by spending more on domestic programs, cutting taxes and, at the bottom end, giving rebates to poor people in hopes they'll spend the economy into recovery….

Forty-eight percent said a pullout would help fix the country's economic problems "a great deal," and an additional 20 percent said it would help at least somewhat. Some 43 percent said increasing government spending on health care, education and housing programs would help a great deal; 36 percent said cutting taxes.

"Let's stop paying for this war," said Hilda Sanchez, 44, of Waterford, Calif. "There are a lot of people who are struggling. We can use the money to pay for medical care and help people who were put out of their homes."

It is striking to compare the overwhelming anti-militarist pro-social welfare sentiment expressed here to the campaign rhetoric coming out of presumptive Republican Presidential nominee John McCain: more wars and unending occupations, coupled with making Bush's tax cuts permanent and a refusal to address the healthcare and subprime mortgage crises with anything but the same shopworn "free market" pieties that led us into these messes in the first place.

I think it is foolishly premature to celebrate the hostility expressed by some social and religious conservatives to the McCain candidacy in these early moments of its ascendancy, as if these expressions of frustration represent the prospect of an inevitable victory for Democrats in 2008. To underestimate the capacity of Republicans to fall in line with a Party command, even when it directly contradicts the apparently deepest and most belligerently expressed convictions of the last moment, is to make an inexcusable error given the evidence of the last decade of turn-on-a-dime Republican about faces on everything from impeachment to rule of law to up or down votes to states rights to civil liberties to on and on and on. Nevertheless, I also do agree with those who believe that at least some Republican higher ups are essentially writing off this election as a strategic matter, and directing their serious attention to planning for a 2012 bid exploiting the pain that will inevitably attach to any serious efforts to clean up the catastrophic messes left by the Killer Clown Administration.

I happen to think, however, that these bright brittle Republican strategists may be underestimating the extent to which this election could represent at last a well-nigh comprehensive repudiation of Movement Conservatism's actually logically contradictory but apparently emotionally gratifying combination of anti-government with pro-militarist rhetoric. So, too, they may be underestimating the extent to which demographic realities (among them the more comfortable and open-minded attitudes of straight white younger voters toward queer folks and people of color) represent at last the crumbling effectiveness of the racist Southern Strategy on which corporatist Republicans have depended since the Johnson Administration to whomp up enough popular support to implement policies that benefit moneyed minorities at the expense of everyday majorities.

The effort to recast the Southern Strategy through a racist anti-immigrant politics seems to me exactly as doomed to fail in its actual ambitions as the comparable effort to recast the Cold War through the racist "Clash of Civilizations" in the Middle East. This is not to deny the mischief, violence, heartbreak, and injustice Republicans and conservative Democrats are managing to accomplish through these tired sequels of old 20C political frames, but it is just to suggest that this time around these gambits seem less capable of amping up hegemony and damping down democratic resistances quite so effectively for as long as they would need to do to keep people-powered politics from flourishing for good, especially in light of emerging p2p formations.

In other words, by 2012, Movement Conservatives may find themselves more deeply in the wilderness than they could easily imagine right now, even in the midst of their obvious current distress, given their long habituation to such sustained control of so much of the political discourse and budgetary priorities. Of course, corporate-militarist influence on the Democrats themselves may well manage to blunt this opportunity and keep the door open for the scoundrels and thieves of the Right after all. Heaven knows, if it had been up to me, most of them would have been impeached or forced to resign by now, and rotting in jail cells for war crimes, fraud, and corruption.

For now, I can only hope that Obama and Clinton are listening to the less guns, more butter message the American people are calling for so loud and clear. Certainly Obama would do well to listen to that advice much more than to the social security privatizers and tax cut crackpots who alarmingly dominate his team of economic advisors at the moment.

McCain could not be more palpably out of touch with the sentiment of the American people with his rhetoric of endless aggressive war together with his appeasement of corporatists by mouthing tired "free market" slogans we've all heard a million times before by now. Obama (and Clinton, too) need to get out in front of this and make their difference from McCain stark here, and align themselves with the American people whom they claim to want to represent.

Zinn's People's History to Become Feature

[via The Hollywood Reporter]
Historian Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States is being adapted into a feature documentary.

Called "The People Speak," the documentary will feature dramatic readings and live musical performances from the likes of Josh Brolin, Viggo Mortensen, David Strathairn, Marisa Tomei, Jasmine Guy, John Legend, Q'Orianka Kilcher, Michael Ealy and Kerry Washington.

Four performances in Boston at Emerson's Cutler Majestic Theater have already been shot and a planned spring shoot will have Matt Damon, Sean Penn, Eddie Vedder and Steve Earle, among others….

The book, first published in 1980, presents American history through a bottoms up approach, focusing on voices seldom heard in history books such as defiant Indians, mutinous soldiers, striking workers, and rebellious women.

I love that, "bottoms up approach."

Anyway, this is excellent news. It's a great book, an excellent teaching resource, and a welcome documentary subject.

Friday Already

Wow, Monday to Friday in a flash. In between this post and the last I've been lecturing a throng of students on Marx and postmarxism, Naomi Klein, Guy Debord, Nietzsche, and shepherding a dozen students through their theses. Definitely teaching and blogging seem to draw on comparable resources and satisfy a comparable impulse, so that while I'm immersed in the one I scarcely even give a thought to the other. Maybe I should blog snippets of my lectures or something, or even podcast them here, for those days when lecturing trumps blogging... Otherwise, I've got a feeling that blogging might be a little sporadic in the middle of the week this term.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

"The Anglo Disease" Critique of Neoliberal Hyper-Financialization

Jerome Guillet, known as "Jerome a Paris" on dKos, EuroTrib, and Energize America is one of my favorite bloggers for sustainable energy policy and against neoliberal policy. For years now, he has been critiquing the disastrous neoliberal financialization of North Atlantic economies, which he has called "The Anglo Disease."

Together with the indispensable engaged scholarship of Mike Davis and Naomi Klein, as well as the more conventionally published writing of David Harvey on the topic of Neoliberalism, the periodically updated posts on "The Anglo Disease" at EuroTrib have been most indispensable to my own sense of the political economy of contemporary corporate-militarism.

A summary of the articles by Guillet and a few other like-minded folks anthologized mostly on European Tribune that together are delineating "The Anglo Disease" Critique is available on the other end of this link. I mention all this, just because Guillet has posted a new short introduction to the topic this morning, providing a nice point of entry for newcomers to the critique.

It's all here, but I'll post a few short grafs in the hopes of drawing you in deeper:
In the 70s, the Economist coined the label "Dutch Disease" to describe the economic travails of the Netherlands as the country's export-oriented industrial sector struggled with the increased exchange rates caused by the rapid growth in gas exports that followed the discovery and development of the massive Groningen field. The extractive sector was so profitable that it captured a large share of new investment, and its export volume was large enough to alter the trade balance and boost the currency, further rendering other activities less attractive.

Today, we can observe a similar phenomenon on a large scale around the financial industry, whose high profitability for many years has also caused weakness for other sectors of the economy. As this has developed around the money centers in New York and, in an even more concentrated way, London, I would propose to label this the "Anglo Disease"…

Financiers, with their ability to monetize today future revenue streams, are able to generate instant profits which can be captured by them and, to a lesser extent, their clients and employers. That capacity to create apparent wealth out of thin air cannot be matched by any other sector in the economy, and sucks in talent, resources and money. Meanwhile, the investors that have made those immediate profits possible will want to ensure that the future flows that underpin them do materialize, and will impose their rules and discipline on the underlying economic activity.

Thus the financial world imposes its unrelenting focus on profits and shareholder value on all economic activities; the domination of "return on capital" criteria ensures that many activities outside finance are in decline, as they struggle to reach the required returns on potential investments. Financial analysis sees labor as a cost, reducing profits, and pushes for its reduction, either via outsourcing, off-shorization or wage stagnation. Similarly, government regulations are seen as restrictions on profit to be fought and eliminated, as, naturally, taxes.

To boost domestic demand in the face of flat incomes, debt has been pushed on households as the way to keep on increasing their spending, to the further benefit of the industry that provides the loans.…

The model of financial capitalism is thus all-encompassing, not only grabbing an increasing share of the economic pie, but also dominating all political and economic discourse.

The reality, unfortunately, is a massive inequality, declining or stagnant living standards for the majority, who spend more than they earn, and, as a consequence, a massive bill pushed out into the future. Well, that future is now….

If… policies are focused on propping incomes for the poor and the middle classes rather than profits, on investing in the real economy rather than in monetizing its existing activities (for instance via plans to boost energy efficiency in the household sector and renewable energies), on taxing today's wealthy rather than tomorrow's citizens, then there is a chance to limit the crash.

Just like the Dutch disease was caused by a new sector providing temporary windfalls, the Anglo disease was made possible by the combination of technological progress in the financial world, the long bond bull market created by Volcker's successful fight against inflation and the successful promotion of the ideology of greed by the right (with the timely fall of the Berlin Wall providing an additional boost by discrediting the other extreme of the ideological spectrum). The great middle classes created by the Keynesian policies of the New Deal have now been exploited for the past 30 years, and they are depleted. The economy will need to find another, more real, way to grow and prosper.

Quite apart from importance of this critique on its own terms, quite apart from the usefulness of its recommendations and rhetorical framing here and now, I will remind the technoscience-focused readers of Amor Mundi that I have proposed in the past that it is the instability and the displacements of real impacts enabled and exacerbated by the reckless financialization decried by the "Anglo Disease" Critique here that provides much of the actual lived substance (as seen from the perspective of the relative winners and those who identify with the winners) of the "dynamism" crowed about by many corporate futurists and other technophiles when they go on idiotically about the so-called "acceleration of acceleration" of technodevelopment in the various Superlative Technology Discourses I regularly decry here.


Robin tags me with a bug, philosophizing ensues.

Today's Random Wilde

Man can believe the impossible, but can never believe the improbable.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Can Somebody Please Explain Gay Republicans to Me?

[via NYSun]
Gay Republicans are in a state of mourning over Mayor Giuliani's exit from the presidential race, but they are moving swiftly into Senator McCain's fold despite concerns that he has not always been faithful to their agenda.

Ew. Just, ew ew!

The Obama JFK Comparison Makes Me Far More Nervous Than Hopeful

I get it why this sort of thing makes good people excited after so many years of destruction and despair, but, honestly, will Americans never tire of returning to the bloody well of self-congratulatory celebration of their "can do" spirit? Do we need yet another survey of what American Empire does when it gets in its head that it needs to save the world, unsolicited, and on its own terms?

A couple of days ago I indicated the hesitant shift of my support from the fatally-eclipsed Edwards campaign to the endlessly-dawning Obama one. In making this choice, I am pinning my hopes on the creative collaborative energies of his many good and hopeful supporters -- who seem to me far more progressive and principled and feisty than the candidate who inspires them.

But it is obvious I feel ambivalence about Obama that I never felt for the righteous (but far from perfect) John Edwards. And as I said, my partner and I have split our allegiances cordially between Obama and Clinton where once we were united, so there's ambivalence all over my household these days.

Actually, ambivalence is a blander word than the worry I feel.

Here is an assertion from a LiveJournal post by Roz, that I found via a link over at Lance Mannion's blog. It names much of my worry very succinctly: A Clinton Presidency is going to be unexciting, not especially idealistic and only better by comparison with Bush. But it will break no one's hearts.

It goes without saying, actually, that since this is an American Presidency we're talking about, even a tired technocratic one would deal death and destruction across the globe, even if it weren't in the corporatist-militarist mode Clinton seems too eager to embrace as her husband -- probably the best Republican President of the twentieth century, whatever his official Party designation -- did before her. So, one can be sure that Clinton would preside over many a literally broken heart. But I fully get Roz's point, which is a different one. Here's how I would put my own spin on it:

If what finally determines my support of Obama over Clinton is my excitement about the inspiring provocation of people-powered progressive politics of his supporters, it is important to consider whether the damage to that energy from "betrayal" by an Obama Presidency that failed to live up to their ideals and expectations, perhaps rather dramatically, would be greater or less than the damage done to it by a comparably compromised and corporatist Clinton Presidency few expected more from in the first place?

Here is a bit more of the tail end of Roz's post (follow the link for the whole fine thing), in much of which I feel she is speaking my mind for me, although not changing my mind much, ambivalent as I already am feeling about the whole thing:
I have known idealists who went stale, and I have seen people who evoked mass enthusiasm in spite of not being nearly as good as their fans thought, and I have known machine politicians who worked hard for the common good.

I don't know what to think about the American elections -- a black President would be a good thing, and so would a woman President.

What I do know is that a husband and wife team is not a dynasty, and that people whose supporters go on and on inaccurately about dynastic politics should not be seeking out the endorsement of actual dynasts. Ted Kennedy is an admirable man whose opinion I respect -- but not when he is acting as part of a dynasty rather than as a distinguished senator. Caroline Kennedy is wholly and solely a member of a dynasty, and her endorsement of Obama is a dynastic one.

'A President like my father' -- by which I take it we are not supposed to understand a man who will nearly cause nuclear holocaust, who will get the US into another disastrous war, who will stand aside from important social causes.

I think better of Obama than that he is the over-rated JFK's natural heir.

What I do think is that I would rather have a battered pragmatic public servant than an untried personable spinner of wonderful empty words; I see the idealism that has focussed on him and I remember how many of my friends had real hope from Blair as opposed to voting for him because it was important to get the Tories out.

A Clinton Presidency is going to be unexciting, not especially idealistic and only better by comparison with Bush. But it will break no one's hearts.

I look at my friends list and see a lot of wonderful ideals and I worry that Obama will break your hearts if he attains power.

I hope that I am wrong.

As an interesting complement and perhaps slight corrective to some of the above, I also resonated with Ralph Nader's (of all people) comments about Obama in a discussion with Amy Goodman over at Democracy Now! a couple of days ago:
RALPH NADER: My assessment of Barack Obama is that he knows what the score is in terms of the maldistribution of power. He knows what he has said in the past about the Israeli-Palestinian issue and the need for Palestinian rights and a two-state solution. He knows that this war was a criminal war in Iraq and we’ve got to get out of it in a responsible, expeditious manner. He knows that corporations have too much power over workers and consumers and small taxpayers and elections and the government.

But when you watch him, he stays at a very high plain of generality and abstraction about change, and we’re one nation, and we’re one people. And that may sing with the desire of people to feel like they’re part of a unity, but it doesn’t do much for the productivity of the political dialogue. He does not get specific enough. Therefore, I think his main problem is he’s censoring himself, and that is not sufficiently rationalized by saying that’s just a tactic to win the primaries and get elected. After a while, day after day, week after week, when you self-censor yourself, you become a different person, and it’s a reflection on character.

This seems to me a necessary corrective to the many people who keep telling me Obama is better than his current rhetoric suggests, and that I must trust he won't be a corporatist triangulator once he is in the White House, whatever his willingness to take up or at any rate dog-whistle tired right wing frames about social security privatization, Harry and Louise-style socialized medicine baiting, cozying up to wouldbe "curers" of homosexuality, and so on. Of course, even if he were such a figure (as I rather wearily suspect he would be) this would not provide much of a contrast with Clinton as far as I can see, and so, again, it is the world-changing energy of his supporters as against Clinton's that justifies my endorsement of Obama... even as I worry on top of everything else that too much of this very energy is awfully shallow and narcissistic and may not long survive the inevitable heartbreak of Presidential "pragmatism" when it comes.

God, I miss John Edwards.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Got Milk?

[via Calitics]
Assemblymember Mark Leno today announced that he will be introducing legislation in the California Assembly to recognize May 22nd as "Harvey Milk Day." If Leno's bill passes, this will be the first time a LGBT Civil Rights Leader will be recognized with an annual state holiday.

More Milk:

The Forgotten Populist
Milk Pages (lots of photographs)