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

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Transhumanism Without Superlativity Is Nothing

Richard comments in the Moot: "Frankly, I wonder what will be left of transhumanism when you take away the technological determinism, but there we are."

This point has a more general force.

Drop the immortalist handwaving and you're left with commitments to universal healthcare and Pro-Choice politics -- and you don't have to join a Robot Cult to advocate that.

Drop the singularitariansim and you're left with commitments to open source and conventional security concerns -- and you don't have to join a Robot Cult to advocate that.

Drop the scientism and reductionist thought-policing and you just become a defender of consensus science where matters of prediction and control are concerned -- and you don't have to join a Robot Cult to advocate that.

The few people who feel a compelling tug from transhumanism don't feel it from the technology. One can find blue-skying about technology across good old fashioned still-vital sf fandoms and general geeky discursive spaces, none of which solicit True Belief in Superlative Techno-Futures or substitute techno-utopianism for policy discourse, or try to whomp up collective enthusiasm for pan-movements with the Keys to History that seek to prevail across the earth. The "technology-talk" which appears to be the focus of transhumanist discourse is in fact little but the occasion, the pretext for its Superlative freighting, for the problematic authoritarian compensations of Faith in the midst of the distress and dumb desires provoked by rapid, radical, ongoing and emerging disruptive technoscientific change.

Sure, transhumanists seeking to insulate themselves from forceful criticisms in the heat of the moment or to increase their membership and fundraising numbers over the longer term can "moderate" the language of their claims here and there. But this is always a matter of "damage control," always a stealthy cynical repackaging in the service of promotional palatability. The more moderated formulations never remain "moderate" or commonsensical, but either drift back into their pre-"moderated" superlative forms in the absence of ongoing scrutiny or they acquire idiosyncratic new essentially superlative connotations for the Faithful... as "technoprogressive" has for the transhumanists who stole and distorted it.

Without the "extreme" beliefs that solicit its faithfulness and hence provoke the experience of "belonging" among its members, transhumanism doesn't have much or possibly any substance to advocate in the first place.

At its ugliest it's just techno-utopian scientistic reductionism with a dose of technocratic elitism, a vulnerability to eugenicism, an embarrassing susceptibility to corporate-militarist techno-hype, and in many of its partisans what looks like a deeply unhealthy dose of body-loathing and flat-out panic at the prospect of death. Not pretty, but not exactly unheard of either as a constellation of dumb attitudes people in certain complex technoscientific societies can get caught up in until they learn better.

The most sensible among the transhumanists, so-called, like to bill the discourse as a technoscientifically literate advocacy of morphological freedom, but their cheerful solidarity with reactionaries, eugenicists, hucksters, and would-be gurus gives the lie to their apparent reasonableness. And, in any case, one simply does not have to join a Robot Cult to approve of science in its place or the politics of choice, and so one has to ask, if you don't have to join a Robot Cult, then why on earth would you?

48 comments:

Nato Welch said...

"Drop the singularitariansim and you're left with commitments to open source and conventional security concerns"

Really? I remember having been disappointed for a long time with the hesitation researchers like Yudkowsky and Goertzel have had for openly licensing AI work over the years.

Most recently, http://opencog.org/ (sponsored by SIAI) seems a more encouraging step in that direction, but the history of the openness of the AGI development processes has been anything but solidly open source. That reticence is a direct result of the handwringing and fearmongering indulged in by the singularitarian community.

It seems more accurate to say that the only way you can GET reliable commitments to open source AI is to drop the anxiety over "hard takeoff" self-improving AI than to imply that it has always been part of perspectives that include transhuman and singularitarian commitments as well.

It still might not have sunk in very well that software security - framed as "Friendliness" - is much better served when reviewed publicly rather than privately (large NSA-scale Manhattan projects notwithstanding), just like with actually existing software.

Dale Carrico said...

Hey, Nato -- I quite agree with you -- what I meant by the phrase was something like... "drain away the batshit crazy from singularitarianism and most of the remotely sensible ideas and concerns you can discern among the resultant ruins can be encompassed by commitment to open source and by conventional security concerns.

Nato Welch said...

Example

Anonymous said...

At its ugliest it's just techno-utopian scientistic reductionism with a dose of technocratic elitism, a vulnerability to eugenicism, an embarrassing susceptibility to corporate-militarist techno-hype, and in many of its partisans what looks like a deeply unhealthy dose of body-loathing and flat-out panic at the prospect of death.

That's basically what's left of transhumanism, but it is possible to rephrase most of that (more moderately) in a good way.

if you don't have to join a Robot Cult, then why on earth would you?

Apparently you do--you need an organization, and the WTA is the biggest one available (?).


Without the "extreme" beliefs that solicit its faithfulness and hence provoke the experience of "belonging" among its members, transhumanism doesn't have much or possibly any substance to advocate in the first place.


The "experience of 'belonging'" is important.

Sure, transhumanists seeking to insulate themselves from forceful criticisms in the heat of the moment or to increase their membership and fundraising numbers over the longer term can "moderate" the language of their claims here and there. But this is always a matter of "damage control," always a stealthy cynical repackaging in the service of promotional palatability.

"Damage control" is very useful (does your blog have very many readers?).

immortalist handwaving

You can rephrase this in a good way.

commitments to universal healthcare and Pro-Choice politics

SENS?

and you don't have to join a Robot Cult to advocate that.

Not in this case, but it helps.

scientism

Examples?

Without the "extreme" beliefs that solicit its faithfulness and hence provoke the experience of "belonging" among its members, transhumanism doesn't have much or possibly any substance to advocate in the first place.

With the "extreme" beliefs?

De Thezier said...

Anonymous said:

The "experience of 'belonging'" is important.

No one is denying that but the point is that there better places to find such experiences such an Unitarian Universalist congregation for example.

Not in this case, but it helps.

Can you please explain to us how joining a "Robot Cult" helps or can help advocating a commitment to universal healthcare and Pro-Choice politics especially if the Robot Cult one joins is allergic to politics?

Anonymous said...

Not universal healthcare/pro-choice--members of the WTA are important in promoting SENS.

No one is denying that but the point is that there better places to find such experiences such an Unitarian Universalist congregation for example.

That wouldn't help stuff like SENS.

jfehlinger said...

Dale wrote:

> . . .try to whomp up collective enthusiasm for pan-movements with
> the Keys to History that seek to prevail across the earth. . .

Is your computer acting up again? Whomp It! Sick of your Boss?
Whomp ‘em! Ok, maybe you shouldn't whomp your boss… not a good career move.
Whatever you whomp, it won’t hurt because the Whomp It is full of air.
This is a hilarious office toy that can be used to safely blow off steam.
It makes a funny squeaking noise as you whomp stuff all around your office.
Whomp It is a low tech solution for high tech frustration.
http://www.officeplayground.com/whompit.html

Of course, once you've whomped up a log of money, you can just hire
lawyers to whomp the wogs for you.

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/04/08/church_of_scientology_contacts_wikileaks/

"After reviewing documentation on Scientology's endless
attacks, legal and illegal, on critics ranging from Time Magazine
and CNN, which spent over $3 million defending against just
one of their suits, to investigative freelancers who have
had publishers pulp their books rather than facing litigation
costs, we have come to the conclusion that Scientology is not
only an abusive cult, but that it aids and abets a general climate
of Western media self-censorship, due to the fear of litigation
costs," a representative of the site told us.

"If the West cannot defend its cultural values of free speech and
press freedoms against a money making cult like Scientology, it
can hardly lecture China and other state abusers of these same
values. Such states are quick to proclaim their censorship regime
is no mere matter of protecting a cult's profits, but rather of
national security."

Michael Anissimov said...

No panic about death. I'd gladly give my life to save that of a loved one.

Body-loathing... I mean, hey. By our standards, the disease-ridden, undernourished body of the 11th century European peasant was pretty loathsome. Our bodies today may be viewed the same way in the distant future.

Michael Anissimov said...

Nato, ignoring the likelihood of a hard takeoff is irresponsible. Open-sourcing extremely dangerous technology would be foolish. Does the US government open-source its uranium enrichment centrifuge designs?

Dale Carrico said...

I wrote: "At its ugliest [transhumanism i]s just techno-utopian scientistic reductionism with a dose of technocratic elitism, a vulnerability to eugenicism, an embarrassing susceptibility to corporate-militarist techno-hype, and in many of its partisans what looks like a deeply unhealthy dose of body-loathing and flat-out panic at the prospect of death.

Brave Anonymous concedes That's basically what's left of transhumanism, but it is possible to rephrase most of that... in a good way."

My response? Bwa ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!

I pointed out that those who are interested in advocating technoscientifically literate progressive positions on network security, consensual health care, and open, fair technodevelopment have no need of Robot Cults or superlative discourse, and wondered if you don't have to join a Robot Cult, then why on earth would you?

Brave Anonymous replied Apparently you do--you need an organization, and the WTA is the biggest one available.

Who knows what this "apparently" presumably refers to. The fact is, no you don't have to join a Robot Cult to advocate sensible progressive technodevelopment. You join Robot Cults for other reasons -- because you're greedy, or stupid, or scared, or narcissistic, or invested in reductive scientism or some comparable parochialism, or you want somebody to tell you what to do or think and transhumanism just happens to be the cult you fastened on to.

The "experience of 'belonging'" is important.

Nobody has ever said otherwise. But you need to distinguish which beliefs and practices yield scientific consensus, which yield personal meaning, which yield belonging, which yield contingent reconciliations among the diverse stakeholders with whom we share the world. If you want to be a church don't be surprised when you don't get treated as a scientist, if you act like a literary salon don't be surprised when you don't get treated as a scientist with a research program.

Brave "Anonymous," points out "Damage control" is very useful

For robot cults, indeed, I am sure it is.

The Brave one then asks: (does your blog have very many readers?).

This is a personal blog with a very small readership as far as I can tell. If I were a guru trying to set up a world-sweeping Church like you guys that would no doubt frustrate me enormously. As it is, I am just talking online about the things that matter to me both to clarify them for myself and for the edification of those few who appreciate the spectacle of the thing.

You can rephrase [immortalist handwaving] in a good way.

Good luck with that.

I wrote that you don't have to join a Robot Cult to advocate that [where "that" refers to medical research and universal consensual healthcare for me, but where "that" refers for the bravely Anonymous reader to the particular vision captured in the phrase SENS].

Brave "Anonymous," replies: Not in this case, but it helps.

Of course, nothing is helped by joining a Robot Cult but getting some money into the hands of the leaders of the Cult, while enabling some True Believer types in their infantile irrationality, and making it that much harder for people to talk sensibly about progressive technodevelopmental social struggle, which is hard enough already under the best of circumstances.

As an example, let me point out that in my view there are no actually achieveable outcomes available to a SENS program framed as a explicitly techno-immortalist superlative movement than are available to a dedicating to universal consensual healthcare, every single success of which yields longevity benefits. All the rest is just Robot Cultists lying to themselves and flinging out hype and hysteria to others. To the extent that SENS is intervening in distinguishable conditions, then they are susceptible to conventional healthcare intervention and the politics should focus on providing more funding and securing fairer distributions of costs, risks, and benefits in all their complexity.

All the rest is rhetoric, ideology, and cult-politics that want to be sub(cult)ural politics when they grow up, but none of which are particularly serious except as a symptom of more prevailing irrationalities in the technoscientific imaginary of the corporate-militarist epoch.

Dale Carrico said...

Michael Anissimov chastizes: "ignoring the likelihood of a hard takeoff [Robot God singularity] is irresponsible."

But focusing on such a prospect is, to the contrary, frankly, idiotic. And to the extent that it skews attention and resources from more urgent matters, it is outright pernicious.

Nick Tarleton said...

What's up with the sarcastic use of "brave"?

Also, what's up with "reductive scientism"? On the list of ideas causing or threatening to cause suffering and oppression, reductionism and scientism must be pretty low. (Unless, maybe, you count uncritical technophilia by policymakers as "scientism" or stupidly narrow approaches to ethics as "reductionism" - is this what you mean?)

A whole lot of science came out of (not exactly 'literary', admittedly) salons.

With regard to SENS, explicitly longevitist advocacy may be more effective in resisting arguments for the undesirability of longer-than-normatively-human life than more general healthcare advocacy alone.

Brave Anonymous said...

Immortalist handwaving --> negligible senescence

Singulatarianism --> accelerating change/future (Michael)

Nanosanta --> CRN

"Scientism" and "reductionism" can't really be rewritten, but scientism can easily be avoided, and you can actually argue for reductionism (to a certain point).

Dale Carrico said...

What's up with the sarcastic use of "brave"?

What do you think is up with it? I have discovered that there are some high-profile (relatively speaking) transhumanist muckety-mucks sniping at me here from behind that "Anonymous" mask, and they deserve all the scorn I can heap on them, the timorous weasels.

Also, what's up with "reductive scientism"? On the list of ideas causing or threatening to cause suffering and oppression, reductionism and scientism must be pretty low.

Scientistic reductionism is stupid and wrong and it annoys me. That makes it plenty worthy of my castigation and ridicule. Besides, I think the damage caused by a long line of clueless cocksure reductionsist assholes with some "plan" or other for a unilateral duressed so-called "scientific improvement of humankind" has actually been plenty threatening enough to provide just cause for my worries on this score in any case.

A whole lot of science came out of (not exactly 'literary', admittedly) salons.

Inspiration comes from many places -- but I doubt you'd want to call every whorehouse, church, and drug dealer a font of proper scientific activity, however, all the same. The translation from inspiration to actually scientific hypotheses, testing, publication, and consensus is another matter.

With regard to SENS, explicitly longevitist advocacy may be more effective in resisting arguments for the undesirability of longer-than-normatively-human life than more general healthcare advocacy alone.

Normative lifespan as well as expectations about lifespan will expand as/if actual lifespan expands, and expansion of lifespan will never benefit more than vanishingly negligibly from the enthusiasm of immortalists nor will it ever suffer more than vanishingly negligibly from so-called "deathists."

Dale Carrico said...

Immortalist handwaving --> negligible senescence

Among other techno-utopian enthusiasms, among them cryonics, digital uploading fantasies, and the actual people who actually exist and actually call themselves "Immortalists."

Singulatarianism --> accelerating change/future (Michael)

The acceleration of acceleration model of singularity is just one version, Robot God versions involving the tired Strong AI Program and newer cybernetic totalisms are also on offer (Michael knows something about those too, but who knows he may be walking those back nowadays, one never knows.) I have proposed elsewhere that accelerating change is a falsification, in large part just what the disastrous destabilization produced by the neoliberal financialization of the economy looks like to those who are lucky enough to be its beneficiaries or clueness enough to identify with the beneficiaries without real benefit.

Nanosanta --> CRN

The jury's out on that. I think Mike Treder is aware of the nanosanta problem and resists it, and I know Jamais Cascio is aware of Superlativity and disdains it quite as much as I do. CRN may cast its lot with the Robot Cultists in the fullness of time, but I personally do not believe they have done and I hope they don't. The Robot Cultists are swarming though, and they would benefit from a forceful and sustained repudiation if that sort of thing continues though, in my view.

you can actually argue for reductionism (to a certain point).

You can actually argue for self-blinding if that's your bag, although I certainly wouldn't advocate it personally (not even to "a certain point").

jfehlinger said...

Nato Welch wrote:

> I remember having been disappointed for a long time with the
> hesitation researchers like Yudkowsky and Goertzel have had
> for openly licensing AI work over the years.

"Researchers"? "Work"?

Michael Anissimov replied:

> Open-sourcing extremely dangerous technology would be foolish.

Perhaps. But the "extremely dangerous" bit is a great cover
if there's no "technology" to begin with.

It also smacks of self-aggrandizement, don't you think?
(No, of course you don't. But I do. Christ, Anissimov
when are you going to grow up and stop taking these people
at their self-ascribed value?)

Anonymous said...

Among other techno-utopian enthusiasms, among them cryonics, digital uploading fantasies, and the actual people who actually exist and actually call themselves "Immortalists."

The point is that it doesn't sound obviously bad to most people.

Anonymous said...

You can actually argue for self-blinding if that's your bag, although I certainly wouldn't advocate it personally (not even to "a certain point").

You can't argue it effectively, but judging from the number of comments on Overcoming Bias, you can argue reductionism effectively.

Dale Carrico Robot God Brave Anonymous said...

What do you think is up with it? I have discovered that there are some high-profile (relatively speaking) transhumanist muckety-mucks sniping at me here from behind that "Anonymous" mask, and they deserve all the scorn I can heap on them, the timorous weasels.

Not in this case.

Dale Carrico said...

I said: Among other techno-utopian enthusiasms, among them cryonics, digital uploading fantasies, and the actual people who actually exist and actually call themselves "Immortalists."

Anonymous confidently insists: The point is that it doesn't sound obviously bad to most people.

You, sir, are an idiot.

seth said...

Anonymous: The point is that it doesn't sound obviously bad to most people.

Dale: You, sir, are an idiot.

Wha-whaddaya mean?
"We'er better in packs, and all these lemmings can't be wrong!" (Sole).

Michael Anissimov said...

"You join Robot Cults for other reasons -- because you're greedy, or stupid, or scared, or narcissistic, or invested in reductive scientism or some comparable parochialism, or you want somebody to tell you what to do or think and transhumanism just happens to be the cult you fastened on to."

The level of libelous and mean-spirited hate speech in some of Dale's comments is outrageous. I would call on all more mature critics of superlativity, including Nato Welch, Jamais Cascio, and Anne Corwin, to specifically disavow Dale's comments.

This level of ad hominem simply does not belong in any civilized debate.

Seriously, did someone repeatedly hit Dale when he was a child? He has a lot of anger to blow off.

jfehlinger said...

Michael Anissimov wrote:

> . . .libelous and mean-spirited hate speech. . .

Is that code for "you'll be hearing from my lawyers"?

> This level of ad hominem simply does not belong in any civilized debate.

Actually, it does. "ad hominem" is too easy an accusation to hide
behind in this case. The judgment of whether it's applicable (as one
of those "logical fallacies" we all learned about in Philosophy
[or Logic] 101) is not always so simple and straightforward. It's
too subtle and sophisticated a test for you to apply, apparently.

As at least one credentialled technical expert has pointed out here
repeatedly, the argument is simply not fit to occur on a technical
level -- there is just no technical content to argue over (from the
point of view of those qualified to judge such matters).

In light of that, "ad hominem": attempting to piece together
motivations and limitations: personal, moral, characterological, psychological,
political, rhetorical, linguistic -- in light of similar movements, similar
personalities in contemporary politics and history -- **is** the appropriate
framework for civilized debate. Screaming "ad hominem" in this case is a
diversionary tactic, a distraction -- or worse, itself a sign of a limited grasp
of the processes of human intellection and discourse.

> Seriously, did someone repeatedly hit Dale when he was a child?

Probably. What, nobody hit you? You had a coddled and privileged
childhood? Never had to stop believing in Santa Claus and the
Tooth Fairy?

> He has a lot of anger to blow off.

Justified anger. At smug self delusion, cynical con artistry,
megalomaniacal self-aggrandizement, sloppy thinking, slimy PR.

giulio said...

"The level of libelous and mean-spirited hate speech in some of Dale's comments is outrageous. I would call on all more mature critics of superlativity, including Nato Welch, Jamais Cascio, and Anne Corwin, to specifically disavow Dale's comments. This level of ad hominem simply does not belong in any civilized debate. Seriously, did someone repeatedly hit Dale when he was a child? He has a lot of anger to blow off."

Michael, let's not make a big deal of Dale's personality. This is Dale, take or leave him. He probably thinks being a rude clown helps making his points. I appreciate his writing style and would probably like him as a person if we had f2f contact. I read this blog with attention and fun, despite the libelous and mean-spirited hate speech. But I find it more and more difficult to take him seriously.

jfehlinger said...

Michael Anissimov wrote:

> I would call on all more mature critics of superlativity. . .

He means "the ones we can safely ignore", or "the ones we can
plausibly pretend are actually our supporters".

Michael, you do have a talent for these games. You've certainly
found your calling in public relations.

jfehlinger said...

Giulio Prisco wrote:

> This is Dale, take or leave him. He probably thinks being a
> rude clown helps making his points.

Whereas Mr. Prisco himself finds contentment in simply being
a clown.

Michael Anissimov said...

"libelous" -- no, this doesn't mean "you'll be hearing from my lawyers", I just couldn't think of any other word to describe ad hominem on this level "stupid, greedy", etc. Honestly, the only other place I've seen hatred like this are on White Supremacist sites railing against Jews. (I am not saying this for a PR spin, because in case anybody forgot, barely anyone reads this blog anyway.) From the way Dale writes, you'd think there isn't a spark of kindness, intelligence, or humanity in any single transhumanist out there.

It's hard not to make a big deal about Dale's personality, because honestly I've never seen anyone so blatantly hateful towards a group of people, whatever the reason may be. This kind of hate only comes from a personal vendetta, not detached analysis.

James, this isn't a game. Cynical hatred peddled as legitimate critique is genuinely sad. Only people with a scarred past can generate and sustain the intensity of anger and absolute disgust seen in some of these words.

Many of the people here have a personal score to settle against transhumanists. It's unfortunate, because there are legitimate critiques to make of transhumanist ideas, it's just hard to dredge them out of hatred-filled tangents portraying transhumanists as cartoon-supervillian-like caricatures of evil and depravity.

Speaking of my own childhood, my parents were divorced when I was 10, and it was a long divorce, with child custody battling and everything. Your false assumptions regarding my past are just one of hundreds of examples of your attempt to pigeonhole transhumanists into a psychoanalytic subtype existing exclusively in your imagination.

jfehlinger said...

Michael Anissimov wrote:

> Honestly, the only other place I've seen hatred like this are on
> White Supremacist sites railing against Jews. . . It's hard not
> to make a big deal about Dale's personality, because honestly
> I've never seen anyone so blatantly hateful towards a group of people,
> whatever the reason may be. This kind of hate only comes from a
> personal vendetta, not detached analysis.

You sound **exactly** like Tom Cruise talking to Matt Lauer and
comparing critics of Scientology to anti-Semites. It's a disingenuous
(or at best egregiously misinformed) comparison.

> I am not saying this for a PR spin. . .

If not -- if you're not just cynically spinmeistering for a group that's
given you status and recognition, and if you're not defending a cult
that you've become emotionally dependent on -- then I'd suggest you're in need
of a better education. Naive optimism does not come free of charge in
this world.

> because in case anybody forgot, barely anyone reads this blog anyway

And yet, here you are.

> a psychoanalytic subtype existing exclusively in your imagination. . .

Hm. Not "psychoanalytic", properly speaking. And no, I certainly didn't
make it up (I'm not that clever).

> This kind of hate only comes from a personal vendetta, not detached analysis.

As far as I know, Dale has no reason for a personal vendetta againt
the >Hists, or against any particular >Hists. He's got a "vendetta" against
the political right wing, that's for sure, and I think he can make
a disturbing case that the >Hists are all too amenable to right-wing
political agendas, if they're not out-and-out right-wingers themselves
(as most of them are, as far as I can tell).

Now **I**, on the other hand, am not so squeaky clean. ;->

> Your false assumptions regarding my past. . .

I make no assumptions about your past. I'm not particularly interested
in your past. I was responding on a rhetorical level to your rhetorical
remark about Dale having been "hit repeatedly as a child."

You couldn't figure that out?

Dale Carrico said...

I must say, it doesn't take much to provoke cultists into a full-on panic-mode defensiveness that exposes the hysterical irrationality beneath their more suave but surface-level efforts at PR, self-promotion, and soft-sell.

The statement to which Michael takes such exception is this one:

"You join Robot Cults for other reasons -- because you're greedy, or stupid, or scared, or narcissistic, or invested in reductive scientism or some comparable parochialism, or you want somebody to tell you what to do or think and transhumanism just happens to be the cult you fastened on to."

This occurred in the context of my proposal that the technology-talk which actually seems to preoccupy the attention of superlative technocentrics like transhumanists and singularitarians and techno-immortalists functions more often than not as a pretext for the very different edifications of sub(cult)ural identification and True Belief in the face of the distress and provocation of disruptive technoscientific change.

I pointed out that one doesn't need to join a Robot Cult to engage in discussion of the scattered moments of substance in transhumanist or singularitarian discourse or to organize for actually progressive technodevelopmental outcomes.

One tends to join cults for other reasons, as is well known. Among these are greediness for the cash of marks among some of the more cynical figures higher up in the organizational hierarchy, as well as the kind of stupidity that settles for the comfort of broad brush-strokes accounts of an actually complex world, or the kind of narcissistic steamroller that finds in such accounts an easy sense of needed mastery, or out of deep anxieties garnered who knows how but now seeking the reassurance of placement in authoritarian hierarchy, or out of commitments to marginal propositions that are indulged only in certain marginal locations, and so on.

I have said that transhumanism is neither a scientific research program nor a philosophical vantage nor a policy-making apparatus (all of which it promotes itself as in an effort to distract attention from its conspicuous limitations), but a fairly simplistic ideological formation connected to a handful of minor but noisy (and currently consolidating) membership organizations that disseminate it and rely on it while exhibiting many of the characteristics of conventional cults.

As a cult, it follows that I would attribute their members's attraction to these organizations the sorts of attitudes and issues that I think attract people to cults.

Obviously I wouldn't expect Michael to be pleased by these observations, but it is interesting that -- quite true to form for a cultist -- he immediately identifies the critique as nothing but defamation, he claims I am calling particular people names when I am clearly pointing out reasons among many why people join cults of which I think transhumanism is one (I call it a Robot Cult, after all), he calls it hate speech, ad hominem, libelous and so on, quasi-legal insinuations Giulio also eagerly takes up in his pile-on post (transhumanist muckety mucks e-mail me weaselly insinuations about suing me all the time, by the way -- and I say: just try it, you big babies, I am not scared of you, and I could use the inevitable settlement to pay off my student loans).

Michael goes on to claim that reading my posts for him is like a person of color reading the fulminations of a white supremacist or a Jew reading an antisemitic screed. It is in moments like this when you get a glimpse into the fully crazy place transhumanist sub(cult)ural "warriors" have found their way to in their substitution of an identity movement organized by investment in an idiosyncratic construal of "technology" and fantasy of "the future" for serious deliberation about technodevelopmental topics.

That is to say, in this very response Michael most clearly exemplifies the True Believer Groupthink irrationality I attributed to transhumanism and which he is taking such exception to in the first place. No, Michael, reading a persistent and forceful and even contemptuous online critique of the ideological positions you and a few other mostly privileged white guys advocate while promoting your marginal membership organizations as the spear-tip of the world-historical movement you think they represent is not actually the same thing as what it is like for a Jew or person of color to confront expressions of genocidal rage arising out of long histories of literally genocidal conduct and ongoing violence.

I say transhumanists and other superlative technocentrics are wrong for reasons I delineate at considerable length, and I say that much of what you advocate is stupid for reasons that are obvious to anyone who reads the reasons I think you are wrong. But if you take up the mantle of a persecuted minority facing a threat of extermination because somebody says your Robot Cult is dumb you'll have to forgive me if I point out how unbelievably, well, dumb that is.

The level of stupidity, insensitivity, cluelessness, and rampaging narcissism in evidence in such claims makes it very difficult not to portray you and other transhumanists as the cartoons you complain of, frankly. Quite to the contrary, however, I have devoted years of time and thousands and thousands of words to formulations of ideas, frames, entailments that try to understand better the allure and dangers of your ideology in terms that take you far more seriously than you imply (and almost certainly for more than you deserve).

Jim made the point in one of his replies that I have got something of "a 'vendetta' against
the political right wing, that's for sure, and I think he can make
a disturbing case that the >Hists are all too amenable to right-wing
political agendas, if they're not out-and-out right-wingers themselves."

Of course, this is a critique I make quite explicitly in a number of places, and it is indeed true.

idiot said...

You, sir, are an idiot.

It sounds much less obviously bad.

The level of stupidity, insensitivity, cluelessness, and rampaging narcissism in evidence in such claims

...

But if you take up the mantle of a persecuted minority facing a threat of extermination because somebody says your Robot Cult is dumb you'll have to forgive me if I point out how unbelievably, well, dumb that is.

Sure, that's dumb, but he isn't doing that.

Michael goes on to claim that reading my posts for him is like a person of color reading the fulminations of a white supremacist or a Jew reading an antisemitic screed.

He isn't saying it's offensive.

That is to say, in this very response Michael most clearly exemplifies the True Believer Groupthink irrationality I attributed to transhumanism and which he is taking such exception to in the first place.

He's just annoyed by the tone of your posts.

he immediately identifies the critique as nothing but defamation

"'libelous' -- no, this doesn't mean "you'll be hearing from my lawyers", I just couldn't think of any other word to describe ad hominem on this level "stupid, greedy", etc."

giulio said...

"quasi-legal insinuations Giulio also eagerly takes up in his pile-on post (transhumanist muckety mucks e-mail me weaselly insinuations about suing me all the time, by the way -- and I say: just try it, you big babies, I am not scared of you, and I could use the inevitable settlement to pay off my student loans)"

Oh, my (Robot) God.

Now you are saying that I (also) threaten to sue you for libel.

My friend, please listen: you are not so important as you like to believe.

But coming back to my alleged threats to sue you or whatever:

Please give me _one_ example. Please give me _one_ example taken from this blog, private email, mailing lists, or whatever. If you cannot give me this one example, then you are _lying_ as usual.

Dale Carrico said...

Circle the wagons! Circle the wagons!

jfehlinger said...

Giulio Prisco wrote (to Dale):

> But coming back to my alleged threats to sue you or whatever:
>
> Please give me _one_ example. Please give me _one_ example taken
> from this blog, private email, mailing lists, or whatever. If you
> cannot give me this one example, then you are _lying_ as usual.

Hm, no. He's not lying.

**I** was one who tagged Anissimov's use of the word "libelous"
as interpretable as a coded legal threat.

In what Dale referred to as your "pile-on post" you said:

> I read this blog with attention and fun, despite the libelous and
> mean-spirited hate speech.

. . .thus reduplicating the earlier use of the phrase containing
the terms "libelous" and "hate speech", both of which have legal overtones
(in the latter case, if not in this country, then in many others).
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Libel
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hate_speech

> My friend, please listen: you are not so important as you like to believe.

He doesn't believe, not nearly to the degree some >Hists seem to
think themselves pivotal to the future of the human race.

> . . .my alleged threats to sue you or whatever. . .

Look carefully. Dale said "quasi-legal insinuations". And he
mentioned that he's gotten more strongly suggestive insinuations
in private (he didn't say from **you**).

This is a scare tactic. (Anybody with bright ideas on this score
should note that the state of California has anti-SLAPP
legislation in place.)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SLAPP
http://www.thefirstamendment.org/antislappresourcecenter.html

Nato Welch said...

jf:
//"Researchers"? "Work"?//

Past, present, or future work, yes. This includes prospects of opening future work. Point taken, though, certainly.

Michael:
//"Nato, ignoring the likelihood of a hard takeoff is irresponsible."//

Science fiction pays fine attention to these things. It is to be, and has been praised here.

The problem is not in ignoring or paying attention - it's what we propose to do beyond that, with more important resources, that bears and deserves criticism.

//"Open-sourcing extremely dangerous technology would be foolish. Does the US government open-source its uranium enrichment centrifuge designs?"//

How does having a centrifuge help protect me from the bomb? We're talking about software, here, the most multiple-purpose technology ever created. Offensive and defensive knowledge are identical.

I don't feel I can trust ANYONE with a nuclear weapon, ESPECIALLY the US military. Without code access, self-improving robot gods will be no different. Forgive me if "trust us" doesn't work any better for software than it does for hardware, especially when access gives the public a better chance to protect itself from software than it does from hardware.

//"I would call on all more mature critics of superlativity, including Nato Welch, Jamais Cascio, and Anne Corwin, to specifically disavow Dale's comments."//

Huzzah! I've been called!

For what it's worth, I don't think there's really that much fear that prompts Michael's personal involvement in the movement, but everyone's different. But that's not even really interesting to me.

C'mon, now, Dale - give him back his goat.

Nato Welch said...

By the way -

Why is it important that political concerns be "civilized debates"? I mean, this //is// the blogosphere, not a televised presidential debate (not that I'd consider those "civilized" lately, anyway...).

It would seem to me applying this criterion on discussion too easily serves to shut valid stakeholders out of the discussion.

Friendly AI is intended to be designed to listen to the unwashed masses. Why can't their prospective creators?

Dale Carrico said...

Surely Michael can clone a new goat or code one in Second Life or what have you if he pines so for the one I got.

Nick Tarleton said...

Nato: Good points generally, but:

How does having a centrifuge help protect me from the bomb? We're talking about software, here, the most multiple-purpose technology ever created. Offensive and defensive knowledge are identical.

In the AI domain, offense is likely much easier than defense - creating a dangerous AI is much easier than creating a non-dangerous one capable of protecting against dangerous ones. There's no guarantee that anything beyond "trust us" is possible, although of course I hope it is.

Dale: Normative lifespan as well as expectations about lifespan will expand as/if actual lifespan expands, and expansion of lifespan will never benefit more than vanishingly negligibly from the enthusiasm of immortalists nor will it ever suffer more than vanishingly negligibly from so-called "deathists."

Isn't this the kind of overconfident optimistic social prediction you rightly criticize transhumanists for?

Nato Welch said...

//"In the AI domain, offense is likely much easier than defense - creating a dangerous AI is much easier than creating a non-dangerous one capable of protecting against dangerous ones."//

Except that this is just one more of those things we have to "just trust you" //about//. That's quite a statement to make about software that doesn't exist.

Nick Tarleton said...

Except that this is just one more of those things we have to "just trust you" //about//.

Not really; it doesn't require access to the software. The arguments are there.

FWIW, I don't particularly expect to be one of the "us".

Dale Carrico said...

I wrote: Normative lifespan as well as expectations about lifespan will expand as/if actual lifespan expands, and expansion of lifespan will never benefit more than vanishingly negligibly from the enthusiasm of immortalists nor will it ever suffer more than vanishingly negligibly from so-called "deathists."

Nick wondered in response: Isn't this the kind of overconfident optimistic social prediction you rightly criticize transhumanists for?

Well, no, I don't think it is. Not at all. (I might be missing the force of your point, though.)

It seems to me that if and as normative lifespan were to expand in consequence of improved nutrition and medical technique that customary assumptions about lifespan would indeed alter to reflect that expansion more or less as a matter of course. Hasn't it always, so far?

When I say that a politics of increased funding for medical research, of universal healthcare, and of an insistence on the scene of informed nonduressed consensual therapeutic intervention, whether "normalizing" or not in its effects (that is to say, my own advocacy of consensual prosthetic self-determination and lifeway multiculture), is a politics that will yield more actually substantial benefit for those whose declared interest is increased healthspan as any foolish faithful handwaving about "living forever" or indulging in empty sparring with imaginary "deathists" ever could.

Few of these so-called "deathists" will actually disdain actual health gains when they actually materialize in any case and most of them, as far as I can see, are just expressing a healthy ridicule for the ridiculous superlativity of techno-immortalists when they make the points that are then cluelessly condemned as "deathism" by these same idiotic techno-immortalists in the first place.

I can't see what is particularly "optimistic" or not about this assessment. It certainly isn't superlative in the sense I use the term in my ciritque of transhumanist and techno-immortalist discourses.

AnneC said...

Michael A. said: The level of libelous and mean-spirited hate speech in some of Dale's comments is outrageous. I would call on all more mature critics of superlativity, including Nato Welch, Jamais Cascio, and Anne Corwin, to specifically disavow Dale's comments.

Huh? Sometimes I wonder if complaints like this stem from the fact that the persons making them have never really seen *actual* "libelous and mean-spirited hate speech". While I may not necessarily agree with Dale's characterization of "people who join Robot Cults" in an absolute sense, as I tend to be more lenient and hesitant in my own assessments of others' motivations (having had my own called into question while growing up on numerous occasions), I'm having trouble understanding the depth of your feelings of injury.

I'm also having trouble seeing how you can possibly confuse "hurt feelings" with "actual injury or harm", when there are so many people being seriously harmed in the world in ways that are much worse than, say, "being snarked at on the Internet".

Mind you, I know people who have actually been threatened -- and had their children threatened -- by online bullies who ARE actually very cruel and hate-filled, and believe me, that kind of behavior looks nothing like what I see from Dale here.

I know of people who have had to fear for opening their mailboxes (the physical kind) as a result of bomb threats they've received, and people who have received actual death threats.

I have seen widespread, nasty, incisive attempts to discredit and destroy the reputations of various individuals I know to personally be of tremendous integrity, on behalf of folks who are frighteningly lacking in conscience.

I have seen vulnerable people in rightful fear of losing supports they need to stay alive, as such people are not always equipped to defend themselves against the carefully constructed lies of articulate and sympathetic-sounding sociopaths.

And...the entire tone, the entire character, of those very real and very awful instances of abuse, is totally qualitatively different from what I see here.

While there is definitely snark here, and while there is definitely name-calling and such going on, it just doesn't strike me as the sort of vile thing I ought to be outraged about.

Nor does it strike me as anything likely to have negative real-world consequences for the people being snarked at. I don't see anyone here being accused of any crimes, I don't see anyone attempting to intimidate anyone else into silence (believe me, I know what that looks like, and this isn't it), I don't see anyone doing anything that ought to cause them to fear for...well, much of anything.

If I did see anything like that -- if I did see what looked like someone in a position of greater power trying to hurt someone in a position of lesser power who I believed was both innocent and in need of defense -- I would do what I could to offer it, even if only in the form of private support.

But that's not what I see here.

I will say that I don't agree with some of the "psychologizing" that goes on here at times -- having had my own psychological/motivational state sorely misjudged by various people on numerous occasions (that kind of thing was a primary component of a lot of the emotional abuse I suffered on behalf of a former co-worker who wanted to be my "master", and a really bad therapist who tried to gaslight me into thinking that I was functioning better when I was actually functioning worse, and vice-versa).

I know some folks would defend it as necessary as there really ARE people without conscience out there, and who are vulnerable to narcissistic delusion and accompanying Bad Behavior, but it's not my thing, and even when I can see its "greater purpose", it makes me all squirmy in its (superficial) resemblance to actual abuse I've experienced.

However, I have learned that not everyone who engages in that kind of psychologizing is unethical or lacking in character -- some people seem to use it in a kind of cautionary sense as opposed to a self-aggrandizing "I have the knowledge and the authority to diagnose anyone I disagree with as crazy" sense. I may not like it, and I may think that in some cases the cautionary value of what such persons are attempting is outweighed by the long history of powerful individuals actually pathologizing and confining dissidents, but if I had to write off everyone who occasionally used argumentative methods I didn't like, I'd soon end up in an echo chamber. And that wouldn't be very interesting or useful to me.

So, no, I will not "disavow" what Dale has said, because I've seen real hate speech, and I've seen people say things that I do actually see as awful and dangerous and potentially actually harmful in their implications.

If he's not talking about you when he suggests:

"You join Robot Cults for other reasons -- because you're greedy, or stupid, or scared, or narcissistic, or invested in reductive scientism or some comparable parochialism, or you want somebody to tell you what to do or think and transhumanism just happens to be the cult you fastened on to."

...then why are you threatened or insulted by that characterization? If it's not about you, then you have nothing to worry about -- you can feel free to go off and do your own thing, confident that science and truth are on your side, and that the people who need to hear your words will do so.

Do you really think Dale has the power to single-handedly dismantle the organizations you belong to, cause you to lose your source(s) of income, and make the whole world unjustly think you're a sillyhead?

Do you think he can kill you by stating, "You are going to die?"

Do you believe that anyone claiming that any aspect of nanotech, MNT, "uploading", etc., won't work/is infeasible has some kind of special magical influence over whether that stuff actually comes into existence or not?

I think a lot of the valid points made in superlativity critique have to do with the fact that people heavily entrenched in certain formulations of transhumanism (as such) seem to be almost superstitious about such things -- at once seeming to think that dreamed-about technologies are at once powerful enough to practically require hyperbolic paeans to transcendence and terror, and fragile enough in their pre-incarnate state such that they need to be protected and nursed like baby birds, lest they evaporate in a puff of rhetoric.

I'm not saying anyone involved in this discussion personally necessarily feels that way but nevertheless, some people do exist who actually do feel that way. If those people aren't you, then what are you worried about? I'd think that you'd be as worried about such people, and how they might damage your chosen cause(s), as anyone more critical of superlative formulations would be.

(And please, as a favor to me, I would appreciate it if nobody responded to this comment saying, "Well, Anne, that's pretty reasonable -- now if Dale could come across more the way you do, it would be easier to access the valid parts of his critiques!" I don't think the resolution (ha!) of this dialogue is, or ought to be, found in a drive to make everyone communicate the same way.

Dale has his style, I have mine, and I like it that way. And I see attempts to get him to "watch his tone" as sort of symptomatic of a drive to homogenize and standardize discourse in such a way that it should never actually be standardized.)

AnneC said...

Oh, and furthermore:

When looking at the varieties of discourse I commonly find myself participating in and/or observing, I always try to get a sense of who stands to benefit and who stands to suffer per the potential consequences of the positions being espoused by each party.

In other words, if Person A is arguing in favor of Platform X, and Person B is arguing for Platform Y, I don't look just at HOW each person is expressing himself, but at what ramifications Platform X and Platform Y are likely to have in the real world.

In light of that, even if Person A is calling Person B every rude name in the book, I am still going to look primarily at the implications of Platform X versus the implications of Platform Y. And if Platform X looks like the better position to me, then honestly I don't give a flying crap how insolent and snarky Person A is. Similarly, it doesn't matter how "nice" Person B is -- if Platform Y is suspect or actually dangerous from my point of view, I'll be paying attention to that far over and above the demeanor of the person espousing it.

And...frankly, I see Dale saying a whole lot of what I think (based on my personal principles, which I grant that not everyone is necessarily going to share) needs to be said -- urgently. I'm a lot more concerned, you see, about the impact of crypto-eugenicist sentiments and ignorant championing of "IQ/race realism" (which basically amounts to "real racism"), and of the ways in which numerous vulnerable people stand to be exploited and/or otherwise harmed, ignored, trampled, and excluded from discourse they ought to have a part in, than I am about whether some techie subculture gets snarked or not. Really, I don't even see how anyone could make a comparison between those two things if they're thinking with anything resembling actual sense.

(And bear in mind that I say this "despite" the fact that I've been a WTA officer, despite the fact that I've been identified on television and all over the Web as a "transhumanist" in the past, etc.

At this point I'm not really calling myself anything in that regard, as I'm at the point of wanting my actual arguments and such to speak for themselves without any manufactured in-group attached "prestige" or subcultural baggage. But I fully realize that in publicly agreeing with some of the major points in superlativity critique, I am certainly calling my "past self" silly. That's fine with me. I see it as rather bizarre to invest onesself so firmly in a subculture and its defense that one becomes socially and ideologically dependent on that subculture, so I avoid doing stuff like that.

I'm kind of boggled that some folks have expected me to be insulted by some of the H+ critiques that have been posted on here, while I'm not supposed to be insulted by insinuations that people like me ought to be eugenically eliminated as we are "problematic for society".)

jfehlinger said...

Anne Corwin wrote:

> I don't agree with some of the "psychologizing" that goes on
> here at times. . .
>
> I know some folks would defend it as necessary as there really ARE
> people without conscience out there, and who are vulnerable to
> narcissistic delusion and accompanying Bad Behavior, but it's
> not my thing. . .

Here's a cute coinage: narcissacharya
(portmanteau formation from "narcissistic" and "acharya":
"An acharya is an important religious teacher (guru) who teaches
by his own example (from Sanskrit 'achara', behavior)."
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acharya )

Found on a blog:
http://guruphiliac.blogspot.com/2006/07/tyrannosaurus-ken.html

peco said...

I'm not supposed to be insulted by insinuations that people like me ought to be eugenically eliminated as we are "problematic for society".

I'm not offended by this at all.

Matt said...

Yeah transhumanism is a terrible term. I'm trying to think of a better term to describe what I believe. I reject a simplistic progress narrative as well as apolitical "techno-Darwinism". But I do have faith in the profound potential of today's technology, we just need to use it right.

As Buckminster Fuller said:
"I do know that technologically humanity now has the opportunity, for the first time in its history, to operate our planet in such a manner as to support and accommodate all humanity at a substantially more advanced standard of living than any humans have ever experienced."

Dale Carrico said...

I'm trying to think of a better term to describe what I believe.

I suggest "tool." It's funny twice.

I do have faith in the profound potential of today's technology

All of it, exactly the same, in the same way, potential for what, for whom?

all humanity at a substantially more advanced standard of living

Maybe you should focus on the anti-democratic plutocratic politics that make the world shit instead of beating off to futurological fantasies, whatever "term" you choose to assign to your techno-transcendentalizing True Belief?

Matt said...

"Maybe you should focus on the anti-democratic plutocratic politics that make the world shit instead of beating off to futurological fantasies, whatever "term" you choose to assign to your techno-transcendentalizing True Belief?"

Well OK then. I'm really disappointed you say that. Perhaps you could elaborate? And I'll try to clarify myself, if that helps. To be clear, I don't give a shit about "futurological fantatasies". Albeit I do enjoy science fiction. And I'm hardly uncritical of anti-democratic plutocatic tendencies, in fact what I was trying to say was that is the biggest impediment to human welfare there is. My point was that TODAY we can eliminate poverty, that is, its existence is an entirely unnecessary evil. Which is I was trying to say I was critical of the tendency to imagine future magic solving things without political action. But you're probably going to suggest some further sin. Whatever, I guess you're right.

Dale Carrico said...

I'm sorry I misunderstood you and as a result disappointed you. I honestly wonder how you could have expected me to read your comment differently, given the context in which you posted it? In your comment you did not say at all what you now say you meant to say. Rather than assume I am incapable of talking with you, just try to say again more clearly what you want to say and we can still have a conversation.

Let me add one of my regular themes to this reply. There is no such thing as "technology in general" which can be supported, or opposed, or used to achieve some universal good, and in my view making recourse to terms like "technology" or "development" (very commonplace in public discourse, not only the futurological nonsense I lampoon but in all sorts of Establishment discourses with real punch across the political spectrum and institutional terrain) actually renders the address of wealth-inequality and extractive-industrial environmental destruction and military violence (in my view the three greatest evils in our world) less rather than more susceptible of understanding or change. This is because these are terms that tend to "monolithicize" what is actually diverse, "naturalize" and "normalize" what is actually contingent, and imbue what needs to be thought of calmly (rather than in hyperbolic terms of greed, dread, and denial) and democratically (that is to say, in a way that is sensitive to the actual stakes of the actual diversity of stakeholders to it) instead with irrational passions that ultimately conduce to elite-incumbent interests.

This is a topic to which I regularly return here. Would you like to talk about this, explore what I mean by it, what its unexpected implications and applications are? Possibly we agree about much of this already and can learn from each other about how it plays out in the world?

Don't let your disappointment at an understandable miscommunication provide you an excuse not to challenge yourself or to challenge me in a productive way!