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

Friday, May 30, 2008

Echo and the Bunnymen Helps Make Amor Mundi More Positive

there's blood on my hands and you want me to listen / to brawn and to brain when the truth's in the middle

First One Hundred Days

[via Reuters]
If elected president, Democratic White House hopeful Barack Obama said one of the first things he wants to do is ensure the constitutionality of all the laws and executive orders passed while Republican President George W. Bush has been in office.

Those that don’t pass muster will be overturned, he said.

During a fund-raiser in Denver, Obama -- a former constitutional law professor at the University of Chicago Law School -- was asked what he hoped to accomplish during his first 100 days in office.

“I would call my attorney general in and review every single executive order issued by George Bush and overturn those laws or executive decisions that I feel violate the constitution,” said Obama

Other goals for his first 100 days: work out a plan to withdraw troops from Iraq; make progress on alternative energy plans and launch legislation to reform the health care system.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

All Through

The last of my grades have been submitted at last. No more meetings, no more forms, no more papers. It's been a hell of an end of term this time around for some reason. I'm definitely ready to recharge my batteries for a couple of weeks before summer teaching begins...

Hey, Wha' Hoppened?

[via Talking Points Memo]

A trip down memory lane…

His reaction to Richard Clark's tell-all book is especially priceless, uh, considering.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

McClellan: No Prick of Conscience, Just a Prick

For those sweet-souled rubes who incline to the view that there was some sort of change of heart at the birth of Scotty McClellan's new tell-all expose of the warcrimes, illegal spying and propagandizing, and flabbergasting derelictions of the Killer Clown Bush Administration I am here to tell you, very much to the contrary, that all there has likely been here is an exchange of dollars.

A man with a heart to change would not have lied about 9/11, about Iraq, about Katrina, about Plamegate in the first place. McClellan has no conscience, he has a price.

It's an interesting indication (one more among many) of the extent to which the wheels have come off the clown cart to realize that the Bushites didn't have the sense to hush li'l Scotty by meeting his price otherwise.

Needless to say the rats still on board the sinking ship of Movement Conservatism are sliming McClellan's truth-talk, but there is little doubt that most of the rats who fail to go down with the ship will be writing their own self-serving testimonials soon enough. It is amusing that among the rat smears prominently in play is the assertion that in telling his belated and lucrative truths Scotty sounds like a "left-leaning blogger" -- which sounds like free promotional discourse for the left blogosphere when all is said and done rather than a particularly damning indictment.

But be all that as it may, rather than buying his book and filling his pockets with still more filthy lucre to supplement his salary as shill for a death-dealing criminal administration in the first place I suggest you all buy Rick Perlstein's Nixonland instead. As for the doughy dullard's confirmations of so many of the truths we have known all along -- despite his own lies to the contrary when it mattered most -- I suggest you just read the choice bits as they are made available online for free.

Saturday, May 24, 2008


Posted, Without Comment, via OpenLeft:
We're headed for a realigning period in American politics, but whether we get there with a group of conservative Democrats or progressive Democrats is an open question. In fact, in many ways, it's the political question.

Who will Obama be as President? If he is confronted with 60 Blue Dogs in the House that feel no pressure, he will be a moderate President, necessarily. If he has progressive allies advocating from the left pressing for a low carbon economy, a sustainable food system, and a return to a civil society that respects the rule of law and criminalizes torture, he will be progressive. The place to make this change is in primaries, but there is a reason most DC groups won't go there. It is because when you try to go after someone within the party, party establishment figures go after you. It's a compendium of little things, from denying credentials to conventions to being unable to find consultants and pollsters and media buyers to work a race.

Friday, May 23, 2008

A Wash

Well, there's no doubt about it... May's been a wash on the blogging front. I've got one more class to submit grades for and one final handful of honors theses to put through their paces one last time and then, at last, I'll be done. I've got a couple weeks free before I start teaching summer term, and so I should have some time for some Amorous Mundyizing soon.

Thursday, May 15, 2008


[h/t Eric]

Amazing wall-painted animation by BLU.

Okay, and NOW back to grading.

California Overturns Gay Marriage Ban

[I]n view of the substance and significance of the fundamental constitutional right to form a family relationship, the California Constitution properly must be interpreted to guarantee this basic civil right to all Californians, whether gay or heterosexual, and to same-sex couples as well as to opposite-sex couples.

Full Decision Here

Yay. Back to grading now.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Design for Living

I'll be teaching my first graduate seminar next academic year at the San Francisco Art Institute. I'm really excited about it. Here's the course description:
We find ourselves in a world we make, and find that we are made and unmade in the making of it. What are we to make of the abiding artifice that is "the political"? What are we doing when we are doing design and what do we do when we discern that design has designs on us?

In this seminar we will think design as a site through which politics are done, but typically done by way of the gesture of a circumvention of the political. At the heart of this disavowed doing of politics we will contend with a perverse conjuration of "the future." The good life is a life with a future, and it is to the future that design devotes its politicity. The species has a future, too, and its City demands design most of all.

We will survey the biopolitical field of design's futurisms through an engagement with selections from Hannah Arendt, Michel Foucault, Giorgio Agamben, Roland Barthes, Donna Haraway, Judith Butler, Paul Gilroy, Jacques Ranciere, and Mike Davis and then direct our attention very specifically to the perverse futurological de-politicizations investing three contemporary design discourses: democratization through social software coding (Lawrence Lessig, Yochai Benkler, Clay Shirky, Henry Jenkins, Michel Bauwens), fairness through Green design (David Holmgren, William McDonough, Michael Braugart, Janine Benyus), and emancipation through eugenic biomedical "enhancement" (C.S. Lewis, Slavoj Zizek, Nicholas Agar, Nancy Scheper-Hughes, Kaushik Sunder Rajan), as well as some of their points of inter-implication (Katherine Hayles, Eugene Thacker, Bruce Sterling).

We will conclude the seminar with a symposium directing these discursive lenses onto aesthetic, curatorial, practical, and collaborative objects and events.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Sorry, Guys

Updated and adapted from a few comments in a still-thriving thread in the Moot

It's not really true to say that I focus on transhumanists to the exclusion of other topics here on Amor Mundi. What I "take on," if one must call it that, is what I call technocentric superlativity, under which I subsume transhumanisms, singularitarianisms, corporate-militarist futurologies, "liberal" eugenicisms, and various other techno-utopianisms.

Depending on when you dip your toe into the water, it will sometimes seem that one particular variation of superlativity or other gets the brunt of my critical energies, but I don't think it's right to say that transhumanism is really my central concern.

It's certainly true that Amor Mundi has, among other things, taken up a position in the online niche market for exposure and analysis of certain Robot Cult foolishness, and I think this is a perfectly legitimate and useful service as far as it goes. The small Robot Cult groups nattering on the internet deserve exposure however marginal they are -- once upon a time Neoconservatives were comparably fringe, after all, and look at all the damage those dumb cocksure boys-with-their-toys ended up doing. But it is as a kind of particularly clarifying reductio of the technocentric superlativity that prevails in many more mainstream neoliberal, technocratic, eugenic, and reductionist mainstream developmental discourses that transhumanism seems to me a particularly useful and illuminating target of critique as well.

This is a blog and the shape of the conversation is articulated in no small part by the objections and concerns raised by its conversational partners in real time. There are a number of earnest to cynical Robot Cultists lurking and posting in the Moot, and for better or worse my blog reflects my efforts to engage with their expressed concerns. Lately, organizational insiders and PR hacks have been flinging random anonymous vitriolic poop on the walls of the Moot in the effort to see what sticks -- how on earth could anybody ever think of transhumanists as a cult when they behave this way? -- and so I am beginning to police some repeat offenders at the moment although I hope a balance will eventually be struck that keeps both criticism and substance high. But be all that as it may, in the larger context of my writing and teaching it is quite easy to see that my critique of superlativity and focus on technodevelopmental social struggle is scarcely reducible to lambasting transhumanists.

No small part of the confusion at hand arises in my view from the way that transhumanist-identified people themselves seem eagerly to assume the mantle of a "movement" and a general "we" whenever it suits their ambitions, but then to disdain any number of particular positions that get expressed by exemplars of the movement when it suits their vanity. Transhumanists rise and descend to levels of generality, "technicality," inclusivity, and exclusivity at the drop of a hat and all incredibly opportunistically. However edifying it may be to them, none of this is particularly compelling or even coherent to those of us who are not already sympathetic to their general take on things and observing the spectacle they are making of themselves critically.

To be blunt, transhumanism doesn't have enough of a history, a wide enough membership, nor an archive of adequate accomplishments to demand respect in the face of these sorts of shenanigans. It isn't "terminological imperialism" as one critic objected to my criticism of positions actually affirmed under the heading of transhumanism even though he himself -- who also ascribes that label to himself -- disapproves of them. I am just trying to make sense of what you people are saying and what you are up to and to connect what you are doing to its larger contexts in a critical way, and you freak out nine ways till Sunday.

A marginal movement with a hundred members and a hundred "versions" (yes, I exaggerate a tad to make a point) is an incoherent mess, and it is plain to see that all these deep "variations" are no barrier to general identification once the critics turn their heads again and the "movement" flies its freak flag in the club house (I speak as someone with more than one freak flag to fly of his own, so don't mistake the actual target of my criticism here).

There is no more commonplace strategy among kooks, paranoids, cultists, and such than to project their own extremity onto those who are simply observing it and testifying to what they see. Some of the suave cynical PR shills of the Robot Cult organizational archipelago tossing brickbats into the Moot these days are now rather desperately accusing me of being a cult-figure because I blog under my actual name and seem to mean what I say despite the fact that they literally have facile pontificating would-be gurus making public pronouncements about technological "transcendence" in "The Future" by means of "The Way" which I critique, obviously enough, as hyperbolic and authoritarian nonsense. They would accuse my low-traffic rather academic blog of being "cultlike" despite the fact that they literally have membership organizations to whomp up enthusiasm and donor-monies for, filled with True Believers endlessly testifying to "We Transhumanists" this, "We Singularitarians" that, and on and on.

Terrified at the prospect of actual sustained critical scrutiny, they now imply that any engagement with transhumanism itself compels one into the position of being a closeted Robot Cultist oneself, one who needs to shut up forthwith with the criticisms or risk exposure as such. Or they insinuate that there is something "immoderate" or "bizarre" about tarring transhumanism or singularitariansim or techno-immortalism generally with the kooky cultism of a few nonrepresentative bad apples, when the obvious question is why the presumably "good apples" of these movements fail to police more judiciously the bizarre and immoderate things said and done in the name of their own "movement," why the "non-cultists" are so blandly unconcerned about the cranks and True Believers among them.

The devastating truth remains that one simply doesn't need to join a Robot Cult to advocate the progressive democratization of technodevelopmental social struggle nor to champion consensual prosthetic lifeway diversity. That even the "good" "reasonable" "moderate" Robot Cultists do so anyway is a problem for them, one that is very likely insurmountable, and, I might add, a source of endless comedy gold for their sensible critics.

Transhumanism just doesn't stand up to scrutiny as an autonomous "viewpoint" -- and as a sub(cult)ural tendency it is mostly just an extreme and symptomatic expression of more prevailing hyperbolic technocratic reductionist eugenic techno-utopian strains in neoliberal and neoconservative developmental discourse.

Sorry, guys, that's the way it looks to me. I've said why in countless well-reasoned arguments elsewhere that you can all take or leave as you will. I never expected Robot Cultists themselves to take these interventions particularly to heart, obviously.

I'm So Tired

Apart from some minor skirmishing in the Moot, I'm too tired and frazzled to post much that is new these days. It's end of term and things are a bit overwhelming at the moment. More to come soon, I promise.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Today's Random Wilde

I cannot help saying that a great deal of nonsense is being written and talked nowadays about the dignity of manual labour. There is nothing necessarily dignified about manual labour at all, and most of it is absolutely degrading. It is mentally and morally injurious to man to do anything in which he does not find pleasure, and many forms of labour are quite pleasureless activities, and should be regarded as such. To sweep a slushy crossing for eight hours on a day when the east wind is blowing is a disgusting occupation. To sweep it with mental, moral, or physical dignity seems to me to be impossible. To sweep it with joy would be appalling. Man is made for something better than disturbing dirt. All work of that kind should be done by a machine.

And I have no doubt that it will be so. Up to the present, man has been, to a certain extent, the slave of machinery, and there is something tragic in the fact that as soon as man had invented a machine to do his work he began to starve. This, however, is, of course, the result of our property system and our system of competition. One man owns a machine which does the work of five hundred men. Five hundred men are, in consequence, thrown out of employment, and, having no work to do, become hungry and take to thieving. The one man secures the produce of the machine and keeps it, and has five hundred times as much as he should have, and probably, which is of much more importance, a great deal more than he really wants. Were that machine the property of all, every one would benefit by it. It would be an immense advantage to the community.

All unintellectual labour, all monotonous, dull labour, all labour that deals with dreadful things, and involves unpleasant conditions, must be done by machinery. Machinery must work for us in coal mines, and do all sanitary services, and be the stoker of steamers, and clean the streets, and run messages on wet days, and do anything that is tedious or distressing. At present machinery competes against man. Under proper conditions machinery will serve man. There is no doubt at all that this is the future of machinery, and just as trees grow while the country gentleman is asleep, so while Humanity will be amusing itself, or enjoying cultivated leisure which, and not labour, is the aim of man -- or making beautiful things, or reading beautiful things, or simply contemplating the world with admiration and delight, machinery will be doing all the necessary and unpleasant work. The fact is, that civilisation requires slaves. The Greeks were quite right there. Unless there are slaves to do the ugly, horrible, uninteresting work, culture and contemplation become almost impossible. Human slavery is wrong, insecure, and demoralising. On mechanical slavery, on the slavery of the machine, the future of the world depends.

A Secular Pentangle

A student from my Aesthetics and Politics course at Berkeley (hey, Raul!) snapped the chalkboard while I was lecturing about rationality and secular pluralism and forwarded the image to me. It amuses me to realize that, contrary to those who would decry secular outlooks as nothing but atheism, I seem to be offering the bolstering reassurance that, no, it's just witchcraft.

For an inkling of the lecture that accompanied the image, here are some blog-posts that have nibbled around the edges of what I talked about in that lecture…

Technoethical Pluralism

Is Rationality Always Instrumental?

Many of the Faithful Are Really Just Aesthetes

Moralizing Isn't Politics

Disability Discourse As Moralizing

Dr. Lloyd Miller Helps Make Amor Mundi More Positive

words put together but not mixed