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

Sunday, March 09, 2008

The Power of Poop; or, Prisco Responds

In a post entitled We the Poopers, Giulio Prisco responds to my last few posts discussing the limitations of the techno-utopian "transhumanist" perspective he champions. It would appear that he disapproves of my potty mouth (if I may so put it), and also thinks that I "define humanity in terms of shit." I can't say that I know where my doctrine of scatological humanism is presumably delineated, or even what such a doctrine would consist of exactly (I find myself thinking of Julia Kristeva's Powers of Horror and Norman O. Brown's Life Against Death, possibly, for some guidance here). It seems to me that there is something slightly awry in what appears to be such a full-on spasmodic freakout about a couple of mild poop jokes (which I'll admit to an infantile fondness for here and there), but it will probably be best if I leave it to readers to make their own assessments.
Of course there are the usual personal insults: “idiot, bullshit, jackass...” and even a new word that I had to look up in a dictionary: “doofus”. But I am impermeable to Carrico’s insults, for which as usual the best policy is one-ear-in, other-ear-out. What I find interesting, instead, is that he is defining humanity in terms of shit.

Yes, shit. In his passionate defense of the body: “it is true that life is lived in bodies, and that bodies are various and vulnerable and mortal and hungry for connection, and that embracing embodied life demands an embrace of all this about bodies. To deny their variation, their vulnerability, their mortality, their sociability is to deny the body”, he makes references to the alleged body-loathing of “Transhumanists who want to talk about living forever in computers and not having bodies that have to poop”. I and other transhumanists are “dispirited at the prospect of continuing to have to poop or whatever it is that freaks you out so much about bodily life”….

Yes, I Shit. I Belch. I Fart. When I was in high school I won many farting contests, and I am as proud of this as of other sporting achievements. But if I had to choose between never farting again and never reading Shakespeare again, I think I would go for Shakespeare. I do not define human nature in terms of farts. I prefer to define it in terms of curiosity for reality, overcoming limits, and love for others. And I believe these things would survive the transition to an enhanced biological body or a uploaded consciousness.

To all those who define their human identity in terms of shit: please feel free to do so. I will feel free to define my human identity in terms of other things.

So far, Prisco's response has occasioned one comment, which I reprint in full: "Bravo! You are right, it is better to leave the insults of imbeciles like Carrico enter one ear and out of the other. His insults they show that has nothing valuable to say. I think that his hatred towards transhumanists is a masked religious fundamentalism." Clearly, something to think deeply about.

In an interesting side note, Prisco also announces "a seminar on Morphological Freedom in Second Life, by Natasha Vita-More & Anders Sandberg" described in these terms: "Do individual humans have a natural right to Morphological Freedom -- the right to seek augmentation and enhancement -- and the right not to be coerced to augment and enhance?"

One is perplexed to find the profoundly denaturalizing project of prosthetic self-determination described as a "natural right" -- of which I personally think there are none, only stubborn but contingent sociocultual accomplishments in an ethical formulation that solicits universal assent, always seeing in "right" the resonance of its etymological birth in ritual, in "rite."

But I do think it is a very good thing for this debate to be happening among transhumanists, given my worries about the ways in which they might stealth a policing of human lifeway diversity in their reductively functionalist understanding of medical "enhancement" construed as always only facilitating "optimality," especially in those variations that conjoin "enhancement" to a project to ensure -- and insist on -- the provision of universal healthcare (which, of course, I too approve of, so long as it doesn't come at the price of universal involuntary conscription in some Robot Cultist's zombie army).

Prisco goes on to say of "Natasha [Vita-More] and Anders [Sandberg, that they] are two of the principal transhumanist thinkers. Natasha has given a good definition of transhumanism in a recent interview: “Transhumanism is a set of ideas which represents a worldview to improve the current situation that we as humanity are facing, which includes short lifespan, limited cognitive abilities, limited sensoral abilities, erratic emotions…starvation, lack of housing, or lack of, basically, getting any of the necessary fundamental needs met. We look ardently at how technologies, including the NBIC technologies—nanoscience, bioscience, information science, and cognitive science – can possibly be used to help solve some of the problems in the world that address humans being stuck in a state of stasis.”

I must say I enjoyed the inevitable genuflection in evidence here to world hunger and homelessness (which of course is never the practical focus of any of these discussions, but always just thrown in to make transhumanists seem non-monstrous and remotely real-world relevant), before they get seriously down to the "business" of sooperpowers, techno-immortality, and Nano-santa sooper-money in your personal future!

Note that "the current situation we… are facing… includes… limited cognitive abilities, limited sensoral abilities, [and] erratic emotions." I'll leave as an exercise for the reader to imagine whether the "non-erratic" emotions wanted here amount simply to relentless go-getter Randroidal assholery treated as norm or require instead the simple expedient of simultaneously and permanently anaesthetizing everybody on earth. More interesting to me is the return yet again, even in the briefest and most popular formulations of the perspective, to the transhumanist hostility to the very idea of "limits."

Surely, even increasing (they actually mean "intervening to change," but of course it always has to be framed as bigger, better, faster, more!) our cognitive abilities and sensoral abilities (as hallucinogens, writing technologies, caffeine, libraries, universities, p2p formations already have the one, and aesthetic and media techniques -- perspective, montage, avant-garde experiments in form -- spectacles, a plethora of scientific instruments, and so on already have the latter) still leaves these "limited."

Limits define and articulate (even if only contingently) the determinateness of actually-existing capacities, they are not an "offense" but a condition of existence, and the existential revolt against limits as such (the contrary of which is not a resignation to the precise limits that prevail in the moment of our birth, clearly as prosthetic, artifactual, cultural beings we are constantly renegotiating the defamiliarizing refamiliarizing denaturalizing renturalizing boundary between agency and sense), this revolt against finitude is a repudiation of the condition of worldliness at a profound level in my view, far more nihilistic than emancipatory.

In political terms, it seems to me the declaration of the refusal of "All Limits!" is always the pampered greed-head's declaration of indifference to costs they imagine they will not be expected to bear, the ugly assertion of the privileged that there will always be others around to clean up their messes for them. It is very interesting that Vita-More foregrounds that her perspective on NBIC paradigm technologies (which, I grow ever more convinced these days, is simply a paradigm designed to mainstream one version of singularity discourse, it's "acceleration of acceleration" converging onto "techno-rapture/technopalypse" version) as "ardent" when it consists of a systematic misconstrual and repudiation of the dynamism of actually-existing human multiculture and social struggle and open futurity as being "stuck in stasis."

I assume by this she and other likeminded transhumanists -- of especially the more Ayn Raelian "extropian" persuasion -- mean that they think there is money to be made even at this late date by continuing to flog tired 90s techno-utopian irrational exuberance and self-help mantras to the rubes.

33 comments:

jfehlinger said...

Dale wrote:

> It would appear that [Giulio Prisco] disapproves of my potty mouth
> (if I may so put it), and also thinks that I "define humanity in
> terms of shit." . . . It seems to me that there is something slightly
> awry in what appears to be such a full-on spasmodic freakout about
> a couple of mild poop jokes. . .

Yes, Prisco has taken a cue from Ayn Rand -- get on your moral
high horse when you think somebody's insulted The Spirit of Man.
It's a great diversionary tactic. Of course, you're not the
only one who has used the poop argument:

From the Oct. 2002 issue of _Harper's_ magazine,
article entitled "Programming the Post-Human:
Computer Science Redefines 'Life'", by Ellen Ullman
(bio: http://arts.ucsc.edu/Faculty/Lord/Ullman.html ):

p. 66:
"What these views of human sentience have in
common, and why they fail to describe us, is
their disdain for the body: the utter lack of a body
in early AI and in later formulations like
Kurzweil's (the lonely cortex, scanned and
downloaded, a brain in a jar); and the disregard
for this body, this mammalian flesh, in robotics
and Alife. Early researchers were straightforward
about discarding the flesh. Marvin Minsky
pronounced us to be 'meat machines.' ...
This suspicion of the flesh, this quest for a
disembodied intelligence, persists today..."

p. 67:
"I had a talk with Cynthia Breazeal, who was a
student of Rodney Brooks and is now on the
faculty of the MIT Media Lab... [E]ven she
revealed an underlying disgust for the body.
Growing impatient with me as I pressed
her for a definition of 'alive,' she said:
'Do you have to go to the bathroom and
eat to be alive?'

The question stayed with me -- do you have to
go to the bathroom and eat to be alive? --
because Breazeal's obvious intent was to
pick what she considered the most base
part of life, to make it seem ridiculous,
humiliating even. But after a while I came
to the conclusion: maybe yes."

Here is what I think: Sentience is the crest
of the body, not its crown. It is integral to the
substrate from which it arose, not something
that can be taken off and placed elsewhere.
We drag along inside us the brains of
reptiles, the tails of tadpoles, the DNA of
fungi and mice; our cells are permuted
paramecia; our salty blood is what's left
of our birth in the sea. Genetically, we are
barely more than roundworms. Evolution,
that sloppy programmer, has seen fit to
create us as a wild amalgam of everything
that came before us: the whole history of
life on Earth lives on, written in our
bodies. And who is to say which piece
of this history can be excised, separated,
deemed 'useless' as an essential part
of our nature and being?'"


And apropos of crawliness and gookiness, here's
a favorite passage from From C. S. Lewis, _That Hideous Strength_,
Chapter 8, "Moonlight at Belbury" (pp. 172 - 173):

"At dinner he sat next to Filostrato... [who] had
just given orders for the cutting down of some fine
beech trees in the grounds...

'Why have you done that, Professor?... I'm rather
fond of trees, myself.'

'Oh yes, yes,' replied Filostrato. 'The pretty trees,
the garden trees. But not the savages... The forest
tree is a weed. But I tell you I have seen the civilized
tree in Persia. It was a French attache who had it
because he was in a place where trees do not
grow. It was made of metal. A poor, crude thing.
But how if it were perfected? Light, made of
aluminium. So natural, it would even deceive....
[C]onsider the advantages! You get tired of him
in one place: two workmen carry him somewhere
else: wherever you please. It never dies. No
leaves to fall, no twigs, no birds building nests,
no muck and mess... At present, I allow, we must
have forests, for the atmosphere. Presently we
find a chemical substitute. And then, why **any**
natural trees? I foresee nothing but the **art**
tree all over the earth. In fact, we **clean** the
planet... You shave your face: even, in the
English fashion, you shave him every day. One
day we shave the planet.'

'I wonder what the birds will make of it?'

'I would not have any birds either. On the art tree I
would have the art birds all singing when you press
a switch inside the house. When you are tired of
the singing you switch them off... No feathers
dropped about, no nests, no eggs, no dirt.'

'It sounds... like abolishing pretty well all organic
life.'

'And why not? It is simple hygiene. Listen, my friends.
If you pick up some rotten thing and find this organic
life crawling over it, do you not say, "Oh, the horrid
thing. It is alive," and then drop it? ... And you,
especially you English, are you not hostile to any
organic life except your own on your own body?
Rather than permit it you have invented the daily
bath... And what do you call dirty dirt? Is it not
precisely the organic? Minerals are clean dirt.
But the real filth is what comes from organisms --
sweat, spittles, excretions. Is not your whole
idea of purity one huge example? The impure and
the organic are interchangeable conceptions.'

'What are you driving at, Professor? After all, we
are organisms ourselves.'

'I grant it. That is the point. In us organic life has
produced Mind. It has done its work. After that we
want no more of it. We do not want the world any
longer furred over with organic life, like what you
call the blue mould -- all sprouting and budding and
breeding and decaying. We must get rid of it.
By little and little, of course. Slowly we learn how.
Learn to make our brains live with less and less
body: learn to build our bodies directly with
chemicals, no longer have to stuff them full of
dead brutes and weeds. Learn how to reproduce
ourselves without copulation.'"

p. 174:

"'The Head? You mean Jules[*]?' said Mark in
surprise. 'I thought he was a mere figurehead...'

'You were mistaken,' said Filostrato. 'Our Head is
no figurehead.' There was something odd about his
manner, Mark thought...

'It is all true,' said Filostrato at last, 'what I said at
dinner... The world I look forward to is the world
of perfect purity. The clean mind and the clean
minerals. What are the things that most offend the
dignity of man? Birth and breeding and death.
How if we are about to discover that man can live
without any of the three? ... '"

pp. 177 - 179:

"'This Institute -- Dio meo, it is for something better than
housing and vaccinations and faster trains and curing
the people of cancer. It is for the conquest of death: or
for the conquest of organic life, if you prefer. They are
the same thing. It is to bring out of that cocoon of organic
life which sheltered the babyhood of mind the New Man,
the man who will not die, the artificial man, free
from Nature. Nature is the ladder we have climbed
up by, now we kick her away.'

'And you think that some day we shall really find
a means of keeping the brain alive indefinitely?'

'We have begun already... The Head himself has
already survived death, and you shall speak to
him this night.'

'Do you mean that Jules has died?'

'Bah! Jules is nothing. He is not the Head...
Our Head is the first of the New Men -- the first
that lives beyond animal life. As far as Nature is
concerned he is already dead: if Nature had her
way his brain would now be mouldering in the
grave...'

'But who **is** it?' said Mark.

'It is Francois Alcasan,' said Filostrato.

'You mean the man who was guillotined?' gasped
Mark...

'You are frightened?' said Filostrato. 'You will get
over that... [I]f you were outside, if you were mere
canaglia you would have reason to be frightened...
It is the beginning of power. He lives forever.
The giant time is conquered...'

'It is the beginning of Man Immortal and Man
Ubiquitous,' said Straik. 'Man on the throne of the
universe. It is what all the prophecies really
meant.'

'At first, of course,' said Filostrato, 'the power will
be confined to a number -- a small number -- of
individual men. Those who are selected for
eternal life.'

'And you mean,' said Mark, 'it will then be extended
to all men?'

'No,' said Filostrato. 'I mean it will then be reduced
to one man. You are not a fool, are you, my young
friend? All that talk about the power of Man over
Nature -- Man in the abstract -- is only for the canaglia.
You know as well as I do that Man's power over Nature
means the power of some men over other men
with Nature as the instrument. There is no such thing as
Man -- it is a word. There are only men. No! It is not
Man who will be omnipotent, it is some one man, some
immortal man. Alcasan, our Head, is the first
sketch of it. The completed product may be someone
else. It may be you. It may be me...'

'I don't understand, I don't understand,' said Mark.

'But it is very easy,' said Filostrato. 'We have found
how to make a dead man live. He was a wise man
even in his natural life. He lives now forever; he
gets wiser. Later, we make them live better -- for
at present, one must concede, this second life
is probably not very agreeable to him who has it.
You see? Later we make it pleasant for some --
perhaps not so pleasant for others. For we can
make the dead live whether they wish it or not.
He who shall be finally king of the universe can give
this life to whom he pleases. They cannot refuse
the little present.'

'And so,' said Straik, 'the lessons you learned at
your mother's knee return. God will have power to
give eternal reward and eternal punishment.'

'God?' said Mark. 'How does He come into it?
I don't believe in God.'

'But, my friend,' said Filostrato, 'does it follow that
because there was no God in the past that there
will be no God also in the future?'

'Don't you see,' said Straik, 'that we are offering
you the unspeakable glory of being present at the
creation of God almighty? Here, in this house,
you shall meet the first sketch of the real God. It
is a man -- or a being made by man -- who will
finally ascend the throne of the universe. And rule
forever.'

'You will come with us?' said Filostrato. 'He has
sent for you!'

'Of course he will come,' said Straik. 'Does he think
he could hold back and live?'

'And that [other] little affair...,' added Filostrato.
'You will not mention a triviality like that. You will
do as you are told. One does not argue with the
Head.'"

> Prisco goes on to say of "Natasha [Vita-More] and Anders
> [Sandberg, that they] are two of the principal transhumanist thinkers.

Speaking of La Natash:

I think the transhumanist community is an attractor for
narcissistic types.

And not just what Sam Vaknin calls "cerebral" narcissists,
either -- there are (a few) somatic (body-centered) ones, too.
E.g., have you ever come across Natasha Vita-More's
design for a synthetic body (modelled after you
can guess who, of course) -- "Primo 3M+"?

http://www.natasha.cc/primo3m+.htm
--------------------
20th Century Body Primo 3M+

corrosion by irritability, turbocharged optimism
envy, depression

Intelligence capacity: Intelligence capacity:
100 trillion synapses 100 quadrillion synapses

Embedded high-throughput
contradiction detectors.

Elimination messy Recycles and purifies waste
and gaseous waste

Dynamic hair management
--------------------

Where do I go to get my optimism turbocharged (and get a
pair of Natasha's eyes)? ;->

100 quadrillion synapses **and** "dynamic hair management"
(and a catalytic fart converter).

Are we really "on the verge"? ;->

jfehlinger said...

With apologies to Robert Browning:

Even had you skill in speech -- which I have not --
to make your will quite clear to such an one, and say,
'Just this or that in you disgusts me; here you miss,
or there exceed the mark' . . .
E'en then would be some pooping; and I choose
never to poop.

Anonymous said...

Thanks to Jim who has for every occasion a pertinent quotation up his sleeve. The long excerpt from CS Lewis is very good, though I admit that the following passage made me react exactly in the opposite way J. intented, namely cheerful affirmation. (I'm only half-joking - I have a certain degree of what one could call euphemistically body skepticism.)

---
In us organic life has produced Mind. It has done its work. After that we want no more of it. We do not want the world any longer furred over with organic life, like what you call the blue mould -- all sprouting and budding and breeding and decaying. We must get rid of it.
---

FrF

giulio said...

I will also admit to an infantile fondness for mild poop jokes (also hard poop jokes) here and there.

I freak out because it appears to me that, behind the poop jokes, you really mean to celebrate the weakness of the body against any hopes and prospects for improvement. To me it sounds as more than "resignation to the precise limits that prevail in the moment of our birth" - it actually sounds as a celebration of this limits. Put it down to lack of nuanced understanding to a non native speaker, but this is how it sounds to me.

And, Dale, recently you have started to say often that

giulio said...

Oops sorry, continuing previous comment:

And, Dale, recently you have started to say often that when transhumanists talk of enhancement they mean "enhancement as defined by a norm". I have never said that, and I have said many times that I have never said that. Most transhumanists that I know have never said that, and they have said many times that they have never said that. Do you want a notarized declaration or something? Why don't you give me just one example?

G.

Dale Carrico said...

[I]t appears to me that, behind the poop jokes, you really mean to celebrate the weakness of the body against any hopes and prospects for improvement.

If that's how it "appears" to you, then this suggests that you certainly read carelessly and probably think carelessly.

giulio said...

Then let's suppose radical anti-aging and life extension medical technologies are developed within the next, say, 50 years. Let's also suppose that mind backup technologies are developed to offer the additional possibility to reload a mind lost to an accident to a new biological or robotic body..

Would you call this a good thing or a bad thing?

Please answer just good or bad.

Dale Carrico said...

I consider optimality discourse and its normalizing functiona a sub(cult)ural default and so, no, I won't help you do the panic-stricken work of damage control here and now by helping you attach individual names to what is obviously a general problem (in fact, it a problem far more general in the culture, for which transhumanists are just an especially clarifyingly extreme and egregious expression).

Start actively resisting this vulnerability to anti-consensual policing inhering in transhumanism's reductive functionalism and false evocation of consensus as to what count as "enhancements," and that will convince me you care (this seminar you've advertized about morphological freedom may be a step in the right direction, depending on its seriousness).

I don't care about "he said she said" or notarized documents -- because I doubt transhumanists have even thought through the implications of what they are saying here.

You ask for an example. Are you admitting you don't see the principle, or grasp the possibility of the danger? Once you understand the problem I'm talking about you'll see the examples everywhere, but until you understand the problem I'm talking about you'll never see any of the examples as anything but defamation or facile armchair psychologizing none of which will touch your core True Belief the least belief.

Dale Carrico said...

[L]et's suppose radical anti-aging and life extension medical technologies are developed within the next, say, 50 years.

Such suppositions are literally worse than useless.

Let's also suppose that mind backup technologies are developed to offer the additional possibility to reload a mind lost to an accident to a new biological or robotic body.

Not only will I not suppose this, but I think this is a sentence filled with literally incoherent statements. To speak of a "mind backup" is to not understand what a mind is, and to speak of a "robotic body" is to not understand what a body is.

Would you call this a good thing or a bad thing?

Apart from the uselessness of some of this frame and the logical impossibility of the rest, well, I would have to say of this, as I would say of any technoscientific change, or technodevelopmental outcome, that it is better the fairer and more democratic the actual distribution of risks, costs, and benefits attending its development and accomplishment.

Please answer just good or bad.

I won't be stupid for you. Sorry.

giulio said...

Re: "You ask for an example. Are you admitting you don't see the principle"

I cannot see a "principle" when there is no actual example.

Re: "vulnerability to anti-consensual policing inhering in transhumanism's reductive functionalism and false evocation of consensus as to what count as "enhancements,"

I think an enhancement is whatever the person concerned considers as an enhancement. I must have written this hundreds of times. Hundreds of transhumanists must have written this hundreds of times. I don't know ANY example of transhumanists writers who have proposed a norm to be enforced.

giulio said...

Re "Such suppositions are literally worse than useless"

Why?

Re: "To speak of a "mind backup" is to not understand what a mind is, and to speak of a "robotic body" is to not understand what a body is"

Last time I checked I had one of each, and I think I do understand what a body is fairly well, and that I have some understanding of what a mind is. What I don't understand is how you can refuse to acknowledge that robotoc bodies and mind backups are engineering problems that may, or may not, be solved at some moment.

Re the last paragraph: I agree on this.

Dale Carrico said...

What liars you all are! I think an enhancement is whatever the person concerned considers as an enhancement. I must have written this hundreds of times. Talk about consensual modification then from here on out and you'll never once have to write out the explanation again. This will cause you to focus on the conditions that actually facilitate informed nonduressed consent rather than blue-skying about big chrome boners (or technofetish substitutes for these) and sooper capitalist innovator brains and all the things you guys actually always really mean when you speak of "enhancement" but are pretending not to mean at the moment. The problem is very easily resolved.

Dale Carrico said...

Re "Such suppositions are literally worse than useless"

Why?


Read the thousands upon thousands of words in the articles of the Superlative Summary to refresh your memory. You claim to read me regularly. What do think I'm talking about? What are you reading?

What I don't understand is how you can refuse to acknowledge that robotoc bodies and mind backups are engineering problems that may, or may not, be solved at some moment.

Well, since I've also written on this topic countless times and you claim to read me with care and interest, I will presume that if you don't understand my point at all yet then you are not likely ever to do, and perhaps it would be better for you to read somebody you find more congenial or intelligible? Life is short (barring the whole robot body or becoming a computer network "plan," of course) and not everybody is a member of one's proper audience, after all.

giulio said...

Liar???? Tell me ONE thing that I have written on this subject different from "I think an enhancement is whatever the person concerned considers as an enhancement". Really now.

Dale Carrico said...

Fine, maybe dumb, maybe delusional, maybe lying to yourselves would be a better way to put the point that drives my exasperation here. Why won't you talk about consent if consent is central to what you mean? Why won't you speak of consensual modification if that's always what you really mean? Why is that so hard to do? Why won't you do it? Ask yourself what work the word "enhancement" is actually doing for you that isn't done by consent, since nothing can get you people to give it up apparently.

giulio said...

Re: "Fine, maybe dumb, maybe delusional, maybe lying to yourselves would be a better way to put the point that drives my exasperation here."

Dumb and delusional are indeed better than liar: they are value judgments, while liar pretends to be a fact. So, I think you are acknowledging that I never said the things you like to think I said.

Re: "Why won't you talk about consent if consent is central to what you mean? Why won't you speak of consensual modification if that's always what you really mean? Why is that so hard to do? Why won't you do it? Ask yourself what work the word "enhancement" is actually doing for you that isn't done by consent, since nothing can get you people to give it up apparently."

You know what. Let's do an experiment. Since _perhaps_ we mean the same thing by "consensual modification", I will try to use this term instead of "enhancement" and I will also try to persuade other people to do the same. To be crystal clear, to me "consensual modification" means full ownership of one's body and mind including the right to make use of all modification options available at a given moment. I have often used "enhancement" to mean precisely the same thing but, if you think the term may have some fascist undertones, perhaps you are right. Let's make this experiment.

But sadly I think that even if all transhumanists stop using "enhancement" and start using "consensual modification", sooner or later the notion of transhumanists as fascists who want to force everyone to follow a norm will resurface in your writings. Why? Because I have come to the conclusion that you will say everything and the contrary of everything to demonize transhumanists. This appears (to me of course, and I may be wrong of course) to be your primary motivation. If this is the case, little unimportant things like facts won't change much.

Re: "perhaps it would be better for you to read somebody you find more congenial or intelligible?"

Perhaps. I read you because I often find what you have to say interesting, even if in my comments I focus on points where I disagree. Do I have to interpret this as an invitation to stop posting here? If this is the case please say so, and of course I will honor your request.

Dale Carrico said...

I have come to the conclusion that you will say everything and the contrary of everything to demonize transhumanists.

Uh huh.

giulio said...

Does that mean "yes, this is correct"?

jfehlinger said...

> Does that mean "yes, this is correct"?

It means, in contemporary American idiom,
"Yeah, whatever." (Which does not generally mean,
"yes, this is correct.").

Or, in Valley Girl talk, "OK, fine, fer sure, fer sure."

;->

Nick Tarleton said...

But sadly I think that even if all transhumanists stop using "enhancement" and start using "consensual modification", sooner or later the notion of transhumanists as fascists who want to force everyone to follow a norm will resurface in your writings. Why? Because I have come to the conclusion that you will say everything and the contrary of everything to demonize transhumanists.

Well then, don't do it for Dale, do it for everyone else! Even though "enhancement" doesn't imply potential coercion to you, I think Dale is hardly the only one to whom it does, which makes it worth deprecating. Remember, if your audience misunderstands you, it's your fault, not theirs.

giulio said...

Re: "Well then, don't do it for Dale, do it for everyone else!"

Fine - "consensual modification" it is, defined as above as "full ownership of one's body and mind including the right to make use of all modification options available at a given moment". I will use this terminology instead of "enhancement", but remain persuaded of the conclusion mentioned in my previous comment (I hope to be proven wrong).

Dale Carrico said...

Fine - "consensual modification" it is, defined as above as "full ownership of one's body and mind including the right to make use of all modification options available at a given moment".

Why do you have to introduce the figure of ownership and property into a discussion of consent this way? And what is the force of "full" here? Knowing you, Giulio, you'll try to throw some facile "gotcha!" at me two posts down the line saying I agreed that the self is a form of property and that technology makes us omnipotent, because I "agreed" to characterize agency as "full ownership." One really never knows with you.

I talk about consensual modification and lifeway diversity. And when I talk about consent I say informed, nonduressed consent. That's what I always say. I've said this for years. All the terms are well and incessantly defined in my usages. If you don't get it by now you likely never will. If you say things that look to me to diminish the possibility of the scene of informed, nonduressed consent and lifeway diversity then I will criticize you for it and offer reasons why I do. As I always do. If you want to call that demonization and defamation and all the rest, feel free to do so, but it isn't true and few but the True Believers in your circle will buy what you're selling.

I don't honestly think it is hard to understand how "enhancement" discourses that take a whole host of traits for granted as more desirable than others produce policing effects, even among very nice people who think they disapprove of bad things like the very outcome they contribute to. It isn't hard to understand, but you seem to find it impossible to understand.

Bottom line, say whatever you want. I'll criticize what you say if it seems anti-democratizing and I won't if I don't. I won't promise in advance to give you a pass just because you agree to change a word for reasons you don't understand with the consequence that you'll likely just use new words to say the same idiotic things and then pout and stamp that I'm breaking a promise not to call you on your crap anymore.

giulio said...

Re: "Why do you have to introduce the figure of ownership and property into a discussion of consent this way? And what is the force of "full" here?"

Because that is how I understand consent. It means that I do what I want with my body and you do what you want with yours. As long as we don't harm anyone else. "Full" means "full".

Re: ""enhancement" discourses that take a whole host of traits for granted as more desirable than others"

I will repeat it once more: I do NOT consider some traits as more desirable than others.

Re: "I'll criticize what you say if it seems anti-democratizing and I won't if I don't"

Fair enough. Only, please criticize me on the basis of what I actually say and not on the basis of preconceptions.

Dale Carrico said...

Only, please criticize me on the basis of what I actually say and not on the basis of preconceptions.

No, Giulio. "He said she said" is not analysis. I will report on the truth or not of what you say, I will discuss the effects and entailments of what you say (whether or not you grasp them yourself), and I will try to grasp the significance by my lights of what you say. Welcome to the grown-ups table (yes, we still joke about poop occasionally at the grown-ups table).

giulio said...

Re: "No, Giulio. "He said she said" is not analysis. I will report on the truth or not of what you say, I will discuss the effects and entailments of what you say (whether or not you grasp them yourself), and I will try to grasp the significance by my lights of what you say. Welcome to the grown-ups table (yes, we still joke about poop occasionally at the grown-ups table)."

This is what I mean by "criticize me on the basis of what I actually say" - I am not saying that possible hidden implications and effects should be excluded from criticism.

What I am saying is that a-priori judgments should not be part of criticism. In other words, if I ever say that 2 + 2 = 5, please call bullshit because 2 + 2 = 4, but do NOT call bullshit because I am a transhumanist.

Said that, I think we can continue enjoying poop jokes at the grown-ups table.

What I do

Dale Carrico said...

I wrote: "Why do you have to introduce the figure of ownership and property into a discussion of consent this way? And what is the force of "full" here?"

Giulio responded: Because that is how I understand consent. It means that I do what I want with my body and you do what you want with yours. As long as we don't harm anyone else. "Full" means "full".


It is interesting to note that the post that probably inaugurated this whole series of exchanges offered up a first attempt to talk about how we can still value autonomy even when we realize that selves are deeply vulnerable and inter-dependent in ways that complicate the picture of full ownership you are using here. That original post is here. It was a provisional post, not a polished or settled one, but I am more sure than ever that it is calling attention to deep limitations in the understanding of agency typically mobilized by techno-utopian viewpoints, among them transhumanist ones, generally speaking.

If you understand "consent" as full control, if you understand autonomy as full self-ownership, then what you mean by those terms amounts to complete fantasies organized by profound denials of the vulnerability and radical interdependence of human beings.

You may think this is a celebration of death or loss or whatever, but it pays to remember that whatever the real costs occasioned by this vulnerability and sociability (real costs that don't vanish just because one denies reality and tries to sell that denial as the "celebration of limitless possibilities" in the manner of a fraudulent self-help guru) these are also the very conditions that make us open to change and available for novel pleasures.

The fact that transhumanists see "deathism" and the celebration of pain in such recognitions make it very difficult to avoid the sense that they are deeply in denial and rather infantile about the human condition, the ineradicable finitude of which (even in a world with bigger computers and nanobots in it) means that even good things cost something and impose risks.

Dale Carrico said...

I am not saying that possible hidden implications and effects should be excluded from criticism.

Very good.

What I am saying is that a-priori judgments should not be part of criticism. In other words, if I ever say that 2 + 2 = 5, please call bullshit because 2 + 2 = 4, but do NOT call bullshit because I am a transhumanist.

I have never criticized anything you have ever said "because you were a transhumanist." I criticize what you say because it is sometimes facile, sometimes wrong, and sometimes dangerous. I call it "trasnhumanist" in its facile, wrong, dangerousnous because you do, and because it aligns with comparably facile, wrong, dangerous things also characteristic of the discourse of other transhumanists.

You sometimes like to pretend I have conceived some irrational sputtering hostility for "transhumanist people" but that is just because you have allowed yourself to personally identify with a set of views concerning technoscience in a way that makes it difficult for you to hear criticism without also hearing defamation, difficult for you to resist fetishizing particular outcomes rather than embracing technodevelopmental openness governed by basic political guidelines. I've been trying to explain why an identity politics model is deformative of progressive commitments for dem-left minded people interested in technoscience for something like a decade now. It's not my fault if transhumanists won't listen and organized a sub(cult)ural technodevelopmental politics anyway and then get tripped up by True Belief and hierarchy on the inside and marginalization on the outside in consequence of these obviously bad choices. People pay for what they do. That's how it works.

giulio said...

Re: "t is interesting to note that the post that probably inaugurated this whole series of exchanges..."

Of course "celebration of death and pain" was not what I actually think of your arguments but a deliberate insult (like yours). But I do think that you are giving up too soon.

I cannot understand "consent" as full control and autonomy as full self-ownership, because we do not have these options at the moment. I know that, with _almost_ total certainty (I do insist on _almost_), I will never be 25 again, I will never be uploaded to computronium, and I will die in the next few decades. But I wish the possiblity to be, and I wish to everyone the possibility to be, _as close as possible to_ full control and full self-ownership. Where _as possible_ of course depends on what can actually be done at a given moment. In this sense I have much more control and autonomy than my grandfather, and hope my grandson will have much more control and autonomy than I.

A radically extended lifespan and the availability of radical bodily and mental modifications are probably not realistic options for our generation, but I do see them as plausible options for one of the next generations. And I think having these options will make people happier.

Of course I realize that the human condition will always be "finite" in some sense, but its finitude will always be a moving target, with new options becoming available and of course new limits becoming visible. Hoping and trying to push the finitude of the human condition a bit farther is not a denial of the human condition. On the contrary, this trying to achieve something more and something better a little step at a time constitutes, in my opinion. the very essence of the human condition.

Nick Tarleton said...

Giulio, I think this talk (by a transhumanist, mind) says something kind of like what Dale is saying in a more readable way. Excerpt: Clearly in reality all of the person’s mental functions are in some sense the person’s mental self. But it is also clear that in actuality the unitary self is a toy mode, a polite fiction, and a gross simplification of the complex interactions of the neurological subsystems, each of which have varying degrees of autonomy, and are organized on different scales and possibly in certain scale-free or fractal relationships.

In other words, I think Dale's point is at least in part that the nature of the "self" that "owns" "itself" and "its" body is one hell of a lot more complicated than it intuitively seems, and this fact has ethical and policy implications.

Dale Carrico said...

I cannot understand "consent" as full control and autonomy as full self-ownership, because we do not have these options at the moment.

Understand me, Giulio. In a world we share with other people, in lives lived in bodies, we will never, ever have what you are thinking of as "full" control. Never.

And here is actual force of my point. You should not want such "full" control. The desire for full control bespeaks a fear of life lived in bodies in the company of others, with all the vulnerabilities and uncertainties they bring, a fear of freedom as it actually makes its play in the world. The pleasures and dangers of freedom are inter-implicated, the benefits of struggle are inter-implicated with the risks and costs. No uncertainty, no risk... no freedom. No limits... no emancipations.

There is no amount of prosthetic encrustation that will insulate you from the terrors and exhilarations of the open sea of human freedom, there is no more will to be had with nanobots than there is to be had with the clay tablet and stylus. There are ongoing practices of prosthetic self-determination in lifeway multiculture.

But I wish the possiblity to be, and I wish to everyone the possibility to be, _as close as possible to_ full control and full self-ownership.

I don't deny the possibility of technodevelopmental outcomes that include unprecedented rejuvenation and modification for some human beings and democratizing de-industrializing modes of cheap decentralized production and so on.

But when you imagine these possibilties through the lens of an asymptotic approach to a more fulsome and perfectly autonomous, perfectly omnipotent agency you are pining fearfully and in deep ignorance for the impossible, and worse than the impossible... you are pining in a way that makes a death of earthly lived life here and now, all the while that you are pining for an end that *is* death.

The dream of "full control" aspires at the achievement of the indifferent stasis of godhood, mistaken for the accomplishment of some impossible unfrustratable liberty.

It is not "deathism" "denialism" nor "defeatism" to grasp that it is the frustration as much as the fruitions that give substance to such liberty as we practice. We resist and are resisted and are changed, opened, pleasured, imperiled in that transaction.

That *is* freedom, not some fantasy of deification indistinguishable from the vanishing act of death itself.

No world, no liberty... but given the world, inevitably there will be frustration.

The dream of full control is a pining for death that doesn't even grasp what it is doing, what it means to be doing anything.

It is to speak as a child.

Nick Tarleton said...

How sure are you that all of those qualities are necessary parts of a life, rather than contingent features of humanity without which life would be, not necessarily human, but still valuable? (Mostly I mean "it is the frustration as much as the fruitions that give substance to such liberty as we practice" and "the dream of full control is a pining for death"; omnipotence and non-finitude do seem to be incoherent.)

Dale Carrico said...

How sure are you that all of those qualities are necessary parts of a life, rather than contingent features of humanity without which life would be, not necessarily human, but still valuable?

Many things are still valuable as such but not valued by me. My greatest worry is that techno-utopians and superlative technocentrics rarely seem even to grasp what they would lose (or think of it as a thing lost) when they aspire at power as (near-)omnipotence. They fail to account for just how different from the actual working of such freedom and agency we have always had and valued the states they denominate as "enhanced" techno-facilitated freedom and agency are.

Not to put too fine a point on it, when it comes to life, bodies, limits, beliefs, agency, freedom, power, mind, and many other things that are quite at the center of their discourse it honestly isn't clear to me that transhumanists have the slightest idea what the hell they are talking about at the most basic level, quite apart from questions of the "plausibility" of the "technical" outcomes they fetishize so ardently to the cost of sense.

giulio said...

Re: "we will never, ever have what you are thinking of as "full" control. Never"

I think I have conceded that. We are using "Full control" as a shorthand for an asymptotic condition that will never be achieved because, as you say, "given the world, inevitably there will be frustration".

I want MORE control and autonomy.

Take transexuals. I have an enormous respect for transexuals who say NO to forced unhappiness and try changing the cards they have been dealt. At this moment gender change is a painful, complex, unreliable, expensive and not very effective procedure.

I wish those who want it had the option of full gender change with a simple, reliable, affordable and effective procedure. This is what I mean by more control and autonomy.

Of course once a target has been achieved there will be other problems to make life difficult. And we will thing of how to make things better, and so forth.