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

Monday, April 14, 2008

From One Extreme to Another

A commenter over at Pam's place seems to be implying I'm some sort of "closeted transhumanist" just because I don't want to pre-emptively ban any possible emerging therapies, even actually promising ones, that some religious and social conservatives deem "unnatural"? I suppose it was inevitable. But it is hard not to wonder is it really simply impossible to resist the drift into either technophilic or technophobic extremes when people contemplate emerging technologies?

In my view, most of the transhumanists want to be techno-immortalized and/or have their minds uploaded into digital networks (aspirations that are actually impossible as rather crazy and which symptomize in too many cases a worrisome sociopathy and body-loathing in my humble opinion) -- meanwhile the bioconservatives start howling about designer sooperbabies and clone armies and human-animal hybrids the moment people propose their support for research for stem-cell therapies to address hitherto untreatable conditions.

My interlocutor says that the "people driving this agenda aren't planning on stopping at a cure for Alzheimer's or whatever the disease is that gathers the most sympathy." First of all, I do want to point out that curing Alzheimer's is an unambiguously desirable thing even if bioconservatives are afraid it sets humanity somehow upon a "slippery slope" at the end of which cats and dogs start sleeping together or whatever it is that has them so exercised. When he speaks of the "people driving this agenda" I can't help but wonder who my interlocutor means. Does he mean the transhumanists themselves? People like Ray Kurzweil or Glenn Reynolds (when he's being awful and idiotic about robots rather than just awful and idiotic about everything else)? To the extent that the transhumanists themselves don't "plan" to stop short of immortal sooperbodies and sooperbrains in techno-topia the fact is that it is reality that will stop them in their tracks.

But if what my interlocutor really means to point out is that there are a lot of corporate-militarists who want docile workers and conscientious foot-soldiers and are eager to deploy Pharma to those ends, then I agree certainly with him. If he wants to point out that racist, sexist, heterosexist, and typicality assumptions still drive a huge amount of conventional Development and bioethics discourse, then I agree with him there too. The people in power taking up these pernicious anti-democratizing discourses aren't for the most part transhumanists in the sense of belonging to the actual rather-cultlike marginal membership organizations that attract literally "transhumanist-identified" people (at least as far as I know), but my conversational partner is right in my view to discern a conceptual kinship between these broader cultural currents and the wacky doctrines explicitly handwaved about by transhumanists who "identify" as such. Transhumanism looks to me kinda sorta like the iceberg tip of a more general reductionism, technocratic elitism, eugenic-normalizing, techno-utopian hyperbole that prevails in western neoliberal development discourse more generally.

But I honestly strongly disagree with him that the way to address what is dangerous in that development discourse (with transhumanism as its reductio) is to pretend that transhumanist transcendental fantasies are a real threat on their own terms, only now re-framed as bioconservative nightmares.

I think that deranges sensible deliberation about ongoing technoscientific change.

I think we need to emphasize access to reliable knowledge so that people (including regulators) make more informed decisions, we need to correct the corruption of for-profit healthcare and corporate-cozy regulation of Pharma and r&d, and we need to provide more equality so that people are less likely to "consent" to techniques in ways duressed by inequality, informal status, social stigma and so on (and focus a bright light on actual practices wherever such duress is currently in play).

It's true that I do think technoscientific knowledge can contribute to emancipatory ends for all if it is directed by a more democratic, more fair, better regulated polity. I don't care if the places scientific change take us look "unnatural" to social and religious conservatives. I'm a queer atheistical vegetarian and I've been conducting myself "unnaturally" and thinking "unnaturally" all my life.

To the extent that my interlocutor is worried about actual harms, then I agree with him. To the extent that he is worried about actual safety, then I agree with him. To the extent that he is worried about actual corruption, then I agree with him. To the extent that he is worried that people will be forced or even eager to settle for a scene of consent that is actually subverted by fraud, misinformation, or duress, then I agree with him.

But if what is really wanted is to "preserve" what some parochially construe as "human nature" from the very idea of a safe and wanted medical facilitation of queer kids with two mommies and no man in sight, or differently enabled (a much better word than "disabled") folks who want kids who share their valued morphological lifeways, their deafness, their neuro-atypicality, or what have you, if what is wanted is to preserve the customs some describe as "nature" even against the wishes of informed nonduressed consenting adults -- well, then, I'm not going to agree with that anti-democratic nonsense so readily anymore. That seems too much like a declaration of pre-emptive bigotry to me. If parents want their kids to be deaf, or queers want to have kids of their own when safer techniques become available to do so, or people with aspergers demand dignity on their own terms, it seems eugenicist to me to deny their standing where they would make consensual therapeutic recourse to express their wants -- to the extent that we establish and enforce safety standards, standards of reliable information, universal access, noncorrupt oversight, and so on. (I'm not accusing my interlocutor of particular positions on these issues, I'm casting about for analogies to give people a sense of what my values cash out as on the ground.)

It seems either a little confused or possibly even a little dishonest to imply that my views amount to nothing but "moderate" or "stealthy" transhumanism. (Just ask the transhumanists who rampage about my views here on a nearly daily basis!) I'm a secular democrat who believes in consent, who values lifeway diversity, and who thinks scientific progress is possible and desirable so long as it is regulated and fair and responsive to its stakeholders.

I think that transhumanist and bioconservative outlooks are pretty much equally hyperbolic and deranging of sense: One undercritically technophilic, the other undercritically technophobic; one invested in a eugenic vision of engineering the "enhanced" "optimal" post-human lifeways with which transhumanists identify, the other invested in a eugenic vision of "preserving" the "natural" "properly" human lifeways with which bioconservatives identify.

31 comments:

smartypants said...

I'm a secular democrat who believes in consent, who values lifeway diversity, and who thinks scientific progress is possible and desirable so long as it is regulated and fair and responsive to its stakeholders.

Transhumanists accuse you of stealth Luddism. Bioconservatives accuse you of stealth transhumanism.

This is new territory for you. Do you know why this is happening?

Before I give the answer, does anyone else want to take a stab?

AnneC said...

My guess? Because some people are so obsessed with simplistic, falsely dichotomous framings that their brains basically implode upon encountering commentary that doesn't fit tidily into their little skirmish model.

Dale Carrico said...

Transhumanists accuse you of stealth Luddism. Bioconservatives accuse you of stealth transhumanism.... This is new territory for you. Do you know why this is happening?

It actually isn't new to me at all. I've known many bioconservative folks who worried my views were too transhumanist, I've known many transhumanists who've accused me of being bioconservative (plenty of you guys do it in the Moot all the time).

In the introduction to The Bioconservative Bestiary blogpost-anthology you'll find this frame:

"Bioconservative" is a term I use to describe positions that oppose particular medical or other technodevelopmental outcomes in the name of a defense of "the natural" deployed as a moral category... I have no doubt that I would be wrongly described by many people as a "transhumanist" because of [my anti-bioconservative] arguments, just as I have no doubt that I would be wrongly described as "bioconservative" by many other people (many of them people who actually identify as "transhumanists") because of my critique of Superlative Technocentricity.

As you see, nothing new.

Before you give your answer, Maxine, I'll point out the structural complementarity that is my own first stab at an answer:

I think that transhumanist and bioconservative outlooks are pretty much equally hyperbolic and deranging of sense: One undercritically technophilic, the other undercritically technophobic; one invested in a eugenic vision of engineering the "enhanced" "optimal" post-human lifeways with which transhumanists identify, the other invested in a eugenic vision of "preserving" the "natural" "properly" human lifeways with which bioconservatives identify.

Both extremes perceive a closeted inhabitation or stealthy advocacy of their polar opposite in any repudiation of their own position. Both perceive technodevelopmental issues in hyperbolic and moralizing terms, both rely on the same sorts of deranging fantastical iconography (one valorizes it, the other demonizes it), both believe they hold the Keys to History and assume the role of guardian for a Human or Post-Human figure with whom they identify, under threat due to the sinister machinations of their Significant Other (bioconservative/transhumanist -- although the terminologies have some wiggle room).

Neither side is much interested in a secular democratic distribution of technodevelopmental costs, risks, and benefits, peer to peer, coupled to a defense of consensual lifeway multiculture. In fact, I'm not really sure my own perspective is even legible from either of their complementary extremities.

I must say that I won't be shocked to discover that your own stab at an answer, Maxine, involves my cluelessness, stupidity, deceptiveness, or effete eliteness in some combination. I can only pine forever after the argumentative force and clarity and conviction of the tech-talk of you Robot Cultists or your bioconservative reactionary foes. Alas!

jfehlinger said...

Mr. genius pants wrote:

> Do you know why this is happening? . . .
> [D]oes anyone else want to take a stab?

I suppose you're going to say that Dale's actual position
is so impenetrable and/or incoherent that all his
interlocutors hear is "whatever **you** believe, it's wrong"
and so they're free to project their own version of
"hated other" onto him.

What I'd say is that True Believers (of any stripe) have
a damn hard time listening sympathetically to any kind
of nuanced argument.

smartypants said...

AnneC wrote:

Because some people are so obsessed with simplistic, falsely dichotomous framings that their brains basically implode upon encountering commentary that doesn't fit tidily into their little skirmish model.

What was that about effete eliteness again, Dale?

I suppose it's tempting to take the problem, gift-wrap it, and punt it back to the unwashed masses, the issue itself all but shat from their asses.

But, that's the easy way out.

jfehlinger wrote:

I suppose you're going to say that Dale's actual position is so impenetrable and/or incoherent that all his interlocutors hear is "whatever **you** believe, it's wrong" and so they're free to project their own version of "hated other" onto him.

In the right hands this could be sculpted, I suppose, into a real critique. But in this form it reaches. More gravely, it's just not clever, and so fails.

I must say that I won't be shocked to discover that your own stab at an answer, Maxine...

You recently said you had it figured out that I'm some kind of panic-stricken, high-profile robot cult leader. At the time, I thought this was perhaps the worst insult you could come up with on short notice...

...involves my cluelessness, stupidity, deceptiveness, or effete eliteness in some combination.

You've left me little room there to manoeuvre. Nonetheless, my answer is forthcoming.

Many things I can command the Mirror to reveal...and to some I can show what they desire to see. But the Mirror will also show things unbidden, and those are often stranger and more profitable than things which we wish to behold...Do you wish to look?'

John Howard said...

This sounds like an REO Speedwagon band meeting. Dale wants to pursue that much-loved Middle Of The Road sound. He'll grow his hair a little bit, but it'll be neat.

John Howard said...

One thing I think your not taking into account is that banning genetic modification in perpetuity will have major benefits. You assume that it will just cut us off from possible benefits (or harms), but you assume that it wil leave the world unchanged, just as it is. I think you should consider that not only will we be able to divert huge amounts of medical resources back into working on cures and cares for existing people, but it will also have a great psychic effect on our outlooks toward the future. We will have to stop thinking that some scientific advance by some elite group of scientists will fix everything for us and realize that the future is in all of our hands. Instead of thiking that we are unfit for each other, not worthy of passing on our genes, we will be told that we are as fit and worthy as anyone. It will be empowering and respecting of each of our lives.
Genetic engineering has a huge carbon footprint, thousands of people driving to labs everyday, and then if they discover some cure for Alzheimers that requires everyone to get their gametes modified, it will mean that what once took some physical activity in the dark now must take teams of lab workers and computers and government regulators all working full time on every conception. If any natural conceptions slip through, then Alzheimers won't be cured, so we won't even save the energy that we need to be spending on figuring out what causes it and what might cure existing people.

Oh, and I'm Locke on PHB, by the way. Don't tell Pam.

Dale Carrico said...

I think you should consider that [through perpetual bans on certain medical techniques] will we be able to divert huge amounts of medical resources back into working on cures and cares for existing people,

That's the only medical research and development that interests me anyway, including some of which I had the impression you would ban for fear of the "unnatural" slippery slope it might put us on. Perhaps I have misunderstood you?

We will have to stop thinking that some scientific advance by some elite group of scientists will fix everything for us

I strongly disapprove of that attitude as well. I don't agree that all medical research and development into hitherto untried genetic, prosthetic, or cognitive therapy implies such an attitude however.

realize that the future is in all of our hands.

I agree with you about that, definitely.

Instead of thinking that we are unfit for each other, not worthy of passing on our genes, we will be told that we are as fit and worthy as anyone.

Well, surely you wouldn't want to imply that only stasis or the status quo provides an occasion to testify to the worth, fitness, and dignity of ourselves and others?

It will be empowering and respecting of each of our lives.

Some of them, certainly. Others would be empowered through informed nonduressed consensual recourse to non-normalizing therapy.

Genetic engineering has a huge carbon footprint, thousands of people driving to labs everyday,

Should we close down conventional medical practice on these grounds? I think the more forceful arguments along these lines would be to point out the skewed budgetary priority of cosmetic and "enhancement" medicine over the treatment of neglected diseases in the overexploited regions of the world, or to point out how neoliberal intellectual property regimes and for-profit healthcare both function to distort such priorities, lead to incredible waste and fraud, and so on...

And, hi, Locke. Do you really honestly think I'm BSing, btw, or were you just irritated at the fact that our disagreements look to be deeper than you initially might have thought they were? I'm honestly curious to know.

jfehlinger said...

Mindful trousers wrote:

> Many things I can command the Mirror to reveal...and to
> some I can show what they desire to see. But the Mirror
> will also show things unbidden, and those are often
> stranger and more profitable than things which we wish
> to behold...Do you wish to look?'

By crikey, it **is** a Philosopher Queen!

jfehlinger said...

> . . .unwashed masses. . .
> . . .shat from their asses. . .

And a poet, too.

John Howard said...

I have only used "natural" in reference to conception, to mean the resulting genome is exactly what it would be if the progenitors were healthy and reproduced out in the wild, in contrast with conception that attempts to create a genome that has been created by manipulating the genes to be different from the way they would be. I'm not talking about IVF, or whether it's "natural" to use a knife and fork or what have you. So you needn't sidetrack the pertinent issue with a discussion of "natural." We are just talking about germline genetic modification and impossible-if-healthy conceptions (so, I don't consider using frozen sperm from a dead Iraq soldier natural, I think that should be prohibited also, but if he only had his bits blown off, then it's natural, by my "if-healthy" definition).

So, I'm all for improving health through medicine and using technology to ensure social justice and human flourishing, that's not the slippery slope I'm talking about. (The slope I'm talking about is saying, let's allow germline GE for this Alzheimer's gene, but certainly not for that Breast Cancer gene..well, alright, let's allow it for that Breast Cancer gene, but not that intelligence gene, well alright, etc...The only way to avoid getting to complete eugenics and government control of all conceptions is by saying "Enough" right where we are at natural conception). I also think that more emphasis should be put into prevention rather than invention, more emphasis on caring than curing. We don't need to go so fast and have so many people working so hard on curing diseases, we can cut those budgets 90% and stop having to make that money in the first place, cut back the economy so that we aren't burning so much oil in order to skim off enough to fund genetics research.

Yes, I do think you're BS'ing, if you think we should develop same-sex conception and eugenic intervention, then you're a transhumanist, even if you think immortality is silly. I think Wesley Smith and Will Saletan are transhumanists too, very much like you. Merely criticizing the most silly transhumanists doesn't mean you aren't one. I did think from your comment at PHB that you were taking the contrary position from Dvorsky, saying that same-sex conception was a waste and would be bad. The only explanation for my misconception is that you were BSing.

Dale Carrico said...

Yes, I do think you're BS'ing

Still? Well, that's disappointing and even a bit depressing. I hope at the very least by BSing you meant to say you think me deluded rather than outright deceptive. I've got to concentrate on teaching demands for a couple of days, so I probably won't reply more till Thurs. I haven't forgotten you, though.

I did think from your comment at PHB that you were taking the contrary position from Dvorsky, saying that same-sex conception was a waste and would be bad. The only explanation for my misconception is that you were BSing.

Well, what I actually said was that even subversive same-sex practices (of which same-sex conception would be one were it to arrive) would still be citations of sex-gender norms, and so should not be described as "post-gender" in some triumphalist way, especially from someone who goes on to cite these same norms non-subversively and even rather reductively elsewhere in his argument (biological male female differences are deeply salient, blah blah blah) That was also Haraway's point in the passage I quoted there. Sorry to have disappointed you. I still stand behind what I said, and I still think it matters.

More later.

John Howard said...

OK, "deluded" is probably more accurate. You sincerely think you are offering some third way that is neither transhumanist or bio-conservative. But the fact remains that I got the wrong impression of your position regarding Dvorsky, so I think the explanation has got to be that said "third way" is paved with bullshit and you haven't realized that yet. Thinking that some Transhumanists are fetishizing robots and over-estimating how possible various transhumanist ideas are doesn't put you into a third category. It's a clear line and everyone is on one side or the other: either you believe we should say "Enough" at natural conception with a law, or you believe it isn't enough, and we should (continue to) allow people to be created that aren't from natural conception.

John Howard said...

(By "continue to" above, I meant leave it legal as opposed to enacting a ban. Didn't mean to confuse by suggesting that we were already actually doing any non-natural conceptions.)

Dale Carrico said...

Super quick -- still immersed in school stuff.

I don't see myself offering a Third Way, because I think transhumanism and bioconservatism are both "no ways." Advocating consensual multiculture, peer-to-peer, isn't about implementing A Way, it is about keeping futurity open.

Zealots always see "a clear line" they push folks to either side of, and both transhumanists and bioconservatives do the same thing when they start carving up the world into warring tribes that reflect their assumptions while ignoring the complexities of the world.

I don't think actually progressive technodevelopmental social struggle is facilitated by either transhumanist or bioconservative hyperbole or moralizing. Bioconservatism and transhumanism are both ideologies, perfectly complementary and to a certain extent inter-dependent in their shared recourse to superlative figures one side vilifies and the other side valorizes.

I think both perspectives derange efforts to achieve fairer distributions of technodevelopmental risks, costs, and benefits by activating irrational panics, desires, and moralizing where what is wanted in openness, critical thinking, and democratic deliberation.

The danger is that bioconservative and transhumanist frames and figures are essentially the lens through which everybody thinks about emerging technologies now.

Because of bioconservative and transhumanist hype it's always about "living forever" and "babies designed to order" and "uploaded robotic minds" and "clone armies," when what really matters is research and development and regulation for emerging and improving therapeutic techniques for hitherto untreated conditions, providing access to those techniques, and providing access to reliable information about those techniques in a scene of informed nonduressed consent.

If you feel content to say "Enough" it just means you're privileged. Sorry, that's it. People in the world do not have enough, enough freedom, enough health, enough legal recourse, enough equity. I'm far from satisfied.

I definitely don't approve of those who claim to love progress so that they don't have to work for justice here and now with what we have on hand, but neither do I revile the very possibility of a progress that should be made to benefit everybody by everybody, peer to peer.

Bioconservatives want to sell nostalgia as progress and transhumanists want to sell hype as progress.

I'm not fooled and I'm not interested.

Michael Anissimov said...

The preceding comment is actually one of the most coherent and calm explanations of your position yet.

Conciseness improves clarity.

smartypants said...

Dale, you're at least recognizing the existence of biopolitics, as opposed to your usual insistence that the difference between left and right is the only difference that makes a difference. Leftist zealotry has its place, but I would remind you of your take on such simplistic, dichotomous frames:

Zealots always see "a clear line" they push folks to either side of...they start carving up the world into warring tribes that reflect their assumptions while ignoring the complexities of the world.

Of course, there is a discernible difference between left and right, and it makes a difference. However, the left-right frame doesn't adequately address the complexities of the issues at stake. There is a difference between transhumanism and bioconservativism, and it, too, makes a difference.

In many places on this blog you've written about how apoliticality or 'moderate' political positioning actually conduces to the benefit of incumbent interests. If I had to describe the views of a biopolitical moderate, or even more interestingly, the views of an apolitical on these issues, I would have no problem pointing people to the following:

I'm a secular democrat who believes in consent, who values lifeway diversity, and who thinks scientific progress is possible and desirable so long as it is regulated and fair and responsive to its stakeholders.

This position, and John Howard is completely correct in my view, really doesn't take a position at all. It will conduce to the benefit of whatever interest finally scores the political power to become incumbent and frame the terms of the debate with legislation that affects everyone.

And, much like the way you view left-right moderates and apoliticals, transhumanists and bioconservatives will view your positioning as the kind that conduces to the benefit of the opposing tribe. And so, in staking out this centrist ground, you will fend off attacks from both directions, in perptuity.

giulio said...

Re: It's a clear line and everyone is on one side or the other: either you believe we should say "Enough" at natural conception with a law, or you believe it isn't enough, and we should (continue to) allow people to be created that aren't from natural conception."

Very true. This line exists, and we are at opposite sides.

I could ask you to define "natural" and all that. But that would lead to metaphysics, how many angels can dance on a pin, and all that. I will ask you a simpler and more concrete question.

Suppose a same sex couple want to have a baby and choose to use whatever medical option available. Question: what are they taking away from you?

Nothing?

Then why don't you take care of your own life, and let them take care of theirs?

Dale Carrico said...

Transhumanist Queen Maxine approves of bioconservative John Howard's extremity because it mirrors so precisely her own. Maxine needs John, John needs Maxine. Maxine then wants to call me apolitical because I refuse her own zealotry.

Refusing to assume a "position" in transhumanist battles with bioconservatives on the "Will the Robot God be Friendly or Not?" non-issue, or the "Should We Live Forever?" non-issue, or the "What Must We Do About the Evil Clone Armies?" non-issue, or the "Will Nanobots Deliver Post-Political Superabundance or Reduce the World to Goo" non-issue is actually not the same thing as refusing to assume a position on technodevelopmental questions.

The reason I lodge my interventions at what Maxine considers a "moderate" or "apolitical" level (I think she means to say they are essentially vacuous because they aren't interested in calculating the Robot God odds or offering up immortalization timelines) is because I lodge my critique at precisely the level where transhumanists and bioconservatives have done the most damage, or the level at which technoscience thinking is most liable to feel the falsifying tug of transhumanist and bioconservative formulations in the first place, and to their cost.

I emphasize that what people mean by the "thing" technology is better conceived as an interminable process of technodevelopmental social struggle among a diversity of stakeholders. I emphasize that what people think of as "the future" is always a parochial projection of the present that function to domesticate the openness of futurity out from a contested present. I emphasize that whatever concrete technodevelopmental outcomes we might most fervently desire for whatever good reasons we must always strive foremost to democratize technodevelopmental social struggle to ensure the costs, risks, and benefits of technoscientific change are distributed fairly among its stakeholders as they testify to that fairness on their own terms, otherwise our desired outcomes will be poisoned in their fruition. I emphasize that whatever actually-available or proximately-possible morphological lifeway we might most fervently seek to incarnate in our own projects of private perfection we must always strive foremost to support and celebrate consensual lifeway diversity and the scene of legible actually informed actually nonduressed consent on which it depends, otherwise our own aspirations be threatened with insecurity and illegibility.

Taken together these emphases constitute an alternate, democratizing vantage on the politics of technoscientific change, one that should disable the superlative, transcendentalizing, hyperbolizing, anti-democratizing temptations that have as their most extreme expressions the polar opposite ideologies of bioconservativism and transhumanism.

These two superpositions are both engaged in what amounts to a metaphysical struggle, functioning on an almost entirely rhetorical, ideological plain. I engage with them on precisely that plain.

Their struggle symptomizes and provokes deep fears and fantasies of agency in the midst of the distress, the threats, and the promises of disruptive technoscientific change in the world right now as well as palpably proximate.

Their rhetoric piggybacks on the most speculative technoscience, much of it explicitly science fictional, and on hyperbolically extrapolative derangements of current quandaries. Healthcare becomes immortalism, software bugs become superintelligent Robot Gods, stem-cell research becomes Brave New World.

Once one has assumed a more worldly and ideally more democratizing vantage on technodevelopmental politics, then, it is true, one will want to advocate more concrete positions on desired technodevelopmental outcomes for good reasons or testify to more concrete cultural or prosthetic aspirations in one's personal project of self-perfection.

To defend the conditions on which progressive technodevelopmental social struggle depend for their maintenance against those who misconstrue or even despise them is hardly the same thing as refusing to engage in actual politics, although I will agree that this defense is only a point of political departure rather than a place for political settlement.

jfehlinger said...

Giulio Prisco wrote:

> This line exists, and we are at opposite sides.

Golly, Batman, Giulio has found somebody **else** to fight
with on this blog!

Seriously, though, the idea of legislating a "ban" on a
technology that doesn't even exist yet gives me the
willies.

I'm not just talking about biotech here (and Jesus Christ,
hasn't the stem cell nonsense done enough damage already?) --
I'm thinking about all the silliness I saw being spouted
last year on WTA-talk: portentous intonements of warnings
of the necessity to regulate "irresponsible"
research into artificial intelligence. And this kind of
stuff wasn't just coming from the "left-wing" contingent
(a.k.a. James Hughes) -- though he was taking it all
ludicrously seriously -- it's the sort of thing that's
solemnly head-nodded and finger-wagged over by the SIAI
crowd. Such utter nonsense -- we haven't a frigging
clue what an AI would look like or how to build one, and
self-important blowhards are proposing WMD-class bureaucracy.

> Question: what are they taking away from you?

They're taking away your "right" to keep the world from
changing in ways that happen to give you the fantods,
I suppose.

jfehlinger said...

Michael Anissimov wrote:

> Conciseness improves clarity.

Yeah, Dale, why don't you stop trying to write
the Encyclopedia Boringatica?

TL;DR, man, tl:dr.

Michael Anissimov said...

From The Elements of Style:

"Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason a drawing no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts."

Dale Carrico said...

There is more than one way to write and think worthily. Elements of style is a useful resource but not a Bible. Your parochialism is mostly harmless, I suppose, unless, since you're a transhumanist after all, it might occur to you to impose (or "incentivize," no doubt is how you'd put it to yourself) your rather dour and frumpy vision of acceptable stylistic limits on the world through cognitive modifications in what you deem service to "The Enlightenment Project" [TM] or try to code a Friendly Robot God (the fact that it won't happen doesn't protect the world from the mischief that can be done in the name of trying) according to a vision of proper intelligence subservient to such parochialism.

John Howard said...

giulio, "natural conception" refers to fertilization of an egg of a human female by the sperm of a human male, where "of" signifies that the gamete truly represents the person's genome and hasn't been modified or coaxed to represent someone that doesn't exist.

As to your question, you might as well ask why I should care if they kill each other. People kill people every day, and I usually don't even notice, it's a story in the paper. Once I witnessed a mass murder first hand, but even that really didn't effect my life that much. Just went to a bunch of memorial services and went back to work.

And you might want to ask the person being experimented on if it might affect them at all. All the evidence so far is that it would probably result in major birth defects and they'll be extremely lucky to make to adulthood.

Also, the money and energy being put into researching same-sex conception comes out of my pocket and warms my globe, and lowers the quality of my health care. The benefits of banning it and stopping the research would be immediately noticable to me, not just by allowing for more and better healthcare and lower taxes and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but it would have a psychological impact too, reducing my phobias and angsts and raising my consciousness of my intrinsic value and responsibility. In other words, duh, why the fuck would anyone care about something that doesn't matter to them? How big is your head that you assume it's just to vex you? I don't care about you.

John Howard said...

Seriously, though, the idea of legislating a "ban" on a
technology that doesn't even exist yet gives me the
willies.


It exists, jfehlinger. It just hasn't been tried in humans yet (as far as we know). They've cloned monkees, they've made florescent bunnies, they've made the mouse Kaguya from two females using embryonic stem cells, they've created "female sperm" and "male eggs" using human bone marrow (I think). The whole point of the ban is to prevent them from attempting any of this stuff to create a human being, with the key word being "prevent", as in, stopping them before they try it.

John Howard said...

Regarding the "clear line", Dale, it's not clear to you because you assume it will be some constant slow and steady advance as people get used to the last advance and argue about the next advance. The ban I am talking about (on conceiving children that aren't the union of an egg of a human female by a sperm of a human male) is a clear line. There is no difficult "what about this?" or "what about that?", a conception is either prohibited by that law or it isn't, and a person is either for that law or opposed to it. (Avoiding taking a position, or BSing about "PtoP" or how there is no "clear" answer, means you oppose the law, like Wesley Smith)

Greg in Portland said...

The benefits of banning it and stopping the research would be immediately noticable to me, not just by allowing for more and better healthcare and lower taxes and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but it would have a psychological impact too, reducing my phobias and angsts and raising my consciousness of my intrinsic value and responsibility.

More and better healthcare (at least in the US) is not being prevented by the desire to allow gays to have kids. It's being prevented by very specific people and corporations doing very specific things. When I get up in the morning and think to myself "shit, I still don't have access to the medical system and even when I supposedly had insurance they tried to rip me off the one time I needed care" I don't really think - dammit, those fuckin' gays and their desire for babies. I usually get a picture in my head of somebody like John McCain or George Bush or some cracker asshole in the Heartland who thinks universal healthcare is communism and makes Jeebus cry.

Likewise, when I think of all the things that are raising the earth's temperature I think of people like that same dumb cracker again driving their Ford Explosion back and forth to Macdonald's for pig-fried-steak with lard sticks. I also think of the corporate scumballs who sold him the Explosion and the lard sticks and then spent millions on a disinformation campaign to convince him that global warming wasn't real. Again, not exactly the medical researchers working on stem cells or cloning.

In short this whole argument of yours here is just a pretentious appeal to the liberal good will of your interlocutors to advance your own particular, and totally pathetic, little pet ideological monkey, which is banning germ cell mods. At the same time you manage to channel George W and his buddies with your "either-with-us-or-agin-us" attacks on Dale's alleged transhumanism because he won't bow down to that monkey of yours. In short, you're just another fanatic with an axe to grind.

John Howard said...

It's being prevented by ...

Lots of things, among them, that a ton of money and scientists and lab workers and lab time are devoted to genetic engineering research instead of doing real health care. It defies logic to deny this. Is it also being prevented by selfish people who don't want their money being spent on health care for poor people? Yes, and you are one of them.

Likewise, there's the Ford Explosion driven by the cracker, and there is ALSO the Ford Explosion driven by the genetic researcher and all the people that a forced to work two jobs to raise the money that government and insurance companies take to pay for all the biotech companies offices and labs that never turn their lights off. Oh, and did I mention the millions of animals they kill? Those all take energy to breed and feed and then they're probably incinerated after they've been cut up and tested. They require hundreds of poor workers to raise and care for, though those workers are probably conscientious enough to to take public transportation, not that that doesn't take energy too.

The fact that you only think of the crackers is my point - you are myopic, you don't think about how wasteful and unnecessary this stuff is. It's stupid. And you probably eat as much as anyone on top of it. how many miles away did your organic kale come from? Food should be grown locally, textiles and clothes should be made locally, and that's the kind of thing that would replace all that genetic engineering work once we get rid of it.

And I hope you're not saying that I'm not allowed to make an argument that might actually appeal to the people I am arguing with. That shows bad faith, you only want me to make the Wesley Smith argument that stem cells are people over and over again. Look, that guy is a fraud, as are all of the people that purport to be arguing with you on intractable issues that will never be resolved. That's their whole point. I am not only trying to stop genetic engineering because of the bad things that it will lead to, I'm also shocked at the waste and misplaced priorities, it offends me that people would rather work on it than actual health care and preventative research, and it bothers me that people aren't thinking of the good things that banning it will do. I also am offended by 50 billion dollar Hollywood movies and ridiculous ads for cars and obnoxious NASCAR races and 162 game baseball seasons. These things all offend me and cause harm and I'd ban them all. But it's harder to ban something that we already do and that most people love than it would be to ban something that has never been done and most people think will be a bad thing. It's hard to believe that some people are working so hard to introduce a new way to waste money and ruin the planet, when banning it would be such a great sea change in public consciousness. After that, maybe we could think about at least taxing movies or baseball games, and then pig fried lard sticks too. We need to start somewhere, and this is a great place to start.

Dale Carrico said...

These things all offend me... and I'd ban them all.

Bioconservative Freedom's on the March!

Greg in Portland said...

The fact that you only think of the crackers is my point - you are myopic, you don't think about how wasteful and unnecessary this stuff is.

No, I'm not myopic. I have a sense of scale and proporitions that you either lack or are being disingenuous about. Greenhouse gasses and denial of medical care are huge problems caused in the main by a few huge things. Go ahead and ban ALL new medical research if you want. It'll free up a few bucks and maybe we can convince even the Republicans to divert that money to providing existing care for the uninsured in some kind of shitty high deductable basic second class citizen plan for people like me. After all it wouldn't require the rich to pay more taxes. They might actually be down with that and it would make them look less like assholes even while still sticking to their basic plan. I might actually benefit from this in the short term myself. In the long run, not so much, especially knowing my family medical history. If you want to ban something to get universal health care, ban the fucking insurance industry. That right there probably solves the whole problem.

Likewise, want to really tackle global warming. Tax all the behemoth trucks those crackers ride around in, tax the coal and oil industries, raise gas taxes too so the crackers are in even more pain. There's a simple strategy here - hit the big, obvious targets first and hardest. It will produce the most benefit fastest and let people see real improvement immediately.

And I hope you're not saying that I'm not allowed to make an argument that might actually appeal to the people I am arguing with. That shows bad faith

No it does not. It shows that you are making extremely weak arguments to support your idea that are tailored to the biases of the people you argue with because I imagine they would not be sympathetic at all to your real reason, which I think you actually did state along with all the rest. That reason is the one you always find at the core of biocon arguments - it should be banned because it makes me personally feel icky, unloved, unwanted, or somehow less valuable. Every biocon seems to have his own particular thing that makes his flesh crawl. This is yours. This is your personal monkey. Take him for a walk and leave the rest of us alone.

Dale Carrico said...

Greg proposes that bioconservatives tend to make "arguments to support your idea[s] that are tailored to the biases of the people you argue with because I imagine they would not be sympathetic at all to your real reason, which I think you actually did state along with all the rest. That reason is the one you always find at the core of biocon arguments -- it should be banned because it makes me personally feel icky, unloved, unwanted, or somehow less valuable. Every biocon seems to have his own particular thing that makes his flesh crawl. This [ie, same-sex conception] is yours. This is your personal monkey. Take him for a walk and leave the rest of us alone.

This does indeed seem to me to be true more often than not. Saying so, of course, will provoke howls about armchair psychologizing from those stung by the observation just as equally generally true statements about narcissism, cultlike psycho-dynamics, body loathing, and fear of death among curiously many transhumanists do.