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

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Tears of a Crown

Matt Yglesias posted a particularly revealing snippet from Robert Rubin's appallingly self-oblivious and self-absolving WSJ interview yesterday,
“Nobody was prepared for this,” Mr. Rubin said in an interview. He cited former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan as another example of someone whose reputation has been unfairly damaged by the crisis.
As many people go on to document in the comments section of Yglesias's post, countless perfectly respectable economists and policymakers were of course quite well-prepared for every aspect of the current crisis and had been sounding alarm after alarm to that effect to no avail for years.

Unless Rubin's assertion that, in effect, "nobody could have predicted" this crisis amounts to the useless but apparently self-exculpatory vacuity that nobody who was raking in the cash through this pyramid scheme expected this precise amount of shit hitting this precise fan at precisely this moment, one has to wonder if he is just being, well, facetious in saying these things.

For me, there is something far worse than Rubin's denial of the obvious fact that better people than he warned of the danger of what he was doing and were right and he was wrong and his wrongness hurt many people more than he is capable of understanding and yet he won't ever hurt at all for all that. What is far worse still is that as one of the principal authors of this ruinous shitstorm wanders through the swirling shit wreckage aftermath (or, rather, floats above the stench in a bazillion dollar dirigible bought and paid for with royalties from his authorship of the shitstorm itself) here is Rubin shedding his tears not for the victims of his irresponsibility nor in shame at his own refusal to listen to those who knew better, but in frustration that Alan Greenspan, another of the chief architects of this wonderful world of shit, has been "unfairly" damaged in his "reputation" by this debacle of theirs.

Honestly, what is one supposed to even say to people like this?

Atrios captured the spirit of my own reaction quite nicely when he wrote that "it's very wrong to hurt the feelings of our elite overlords by suggesting that they have some responsibility for, well, anything. It makes them very sad. And the sadness of very rich people is something which hurts us all."

Even more flabbergasting to me is the realization that Alan Greenspan's "damaged reputation" still commands incomparably more authority, respect, attention, and filthy lucre than that of the overwhelming majority of his detractors even right now, on the very subjects about which they were right and he was wrong so catastrophically. Robert Rubin has neither tears nor even ears for any of them even now.

Obama and the Wary, the Worrying, and the Warriors

During the Presidential campaign incumbent-broadcast media whomped up a completely hysterical and in fact rather damagingly divisive pseudo drama between supporters of Clinton and supporters of Obama that reignited precisely the resentments the facts of their candidacies demonstrated to be in eclipse. After the nominations were sewn up we were treated to the atrocity exhibition of Sarah Palin, precisely the kind of superficial demoralizing spectacle that our "serious" pundits like best in all the world, the kind they are equal to. Now in the aftermath of the election the pundits and panelists are picking over transition team appointments and cabinet nominations, tonguing every gap and cranny for unmasticated morsels, spinning arias of import out of thin-air, finding reassuring signals being sent to the Establishment here, finding scalps being taken by the Netroots there. It really is too much.

What I want and what I expected and what I still believe is that an Obama Administration with Democratic Congressional majorities behind it and a mandate for Change as the wind behind its back is going to end the war in Iraq, is going to begin the irreversible transition to universal health care in the United States, is going to halt torture and harsh treatment of "suspected" terrorists and others, is going to restore habeus corpus and the rule of law, is going to reverse the rightwing takeover of the Supreme Court and lower courts, is going to make it much easier for people to form and maintain unions, is going to repair partisan-politicized administrative offices, and is going to regulate carbon polluters and invest in renewable energy to ameliorate the threat of catastrophic climate change.

Yes, that's what I wanted from an Obama Administration given my sense of the problems at hand and the actually existing resources available in this moment in my estimation. Yes, that is what I expected from an Obama Administration given the things he has written in the books of his I have actually read, in the policy papers he and his staff have made available online, and given the things I have heard him say in speeches and interviews and so on. Yes, I still do believe that an Obama Administration will manage to accomplish all of these things. Yes, that's change I can believe in.

Given the fact that some critics I admire very much are writing about Obama's appointments and public utterances in this period of relative powerlessness before the man is even sworn in or the new Administration gets underway that they demonstrate Obama to be a return to the politics of Bush the Elder I think it is safe to say that even when the Obama Administration accomplishes all of the things I expect him to do, delineated above, that they will be perceived nonetheless as a string of compromises and betrayals (which, not to put too fine a point on it, looks palpable crazy to me) because many will take longer than we like, many will be implemented in compromised forms designed to structurally facilitate the emergence of better forms rather than the direct implementation of ideal forms, many will be presented in muted rhetoric to reassure those with whom progressives disagree but who do actually exist as citizens in this country, and so on.

Since this sort of disappointment and anger will function as an ongoing spur from the left to blunt the overwhelming energies that are sure to impinge upon the Administration from the incomparably moneyed and authoritative incumbent interests of the right I am of course glad of it and surely, soon enough, I'll be participating in some versions of it myself.

But I do think there is a quality of real and pointless foolishness in the quickness and sweep of some of these dismissals of Obama's politics (which seem to me more or less center-left pragmatic with real openness to more truly progressive impulses around the edges) as same as it ever was, as just the same old corporate-militarism, a foolishness that reminds me of the nonsense that lead so many to insist there was no difference between the parties in 2000 with nothing to show for their conviction but years of catastrophe indicating just how wrong they were.

I realize it's always a pretty safe bet to predict disappointment and betrayal from a politician (incumbency is corrupting, plurality demands compromises), and I've been burned more times than I can say in my own long season of political alertness and enthusiasm. But I'm still feeling enormously hopeful and even confident about our historical moment. And this is far from denial or naivete on my part -- although some of you might disagree about that, with good reasons on offer that I'm happy to listen to. As somebody who flings the term "corporate-militarist" around as my preferred Big Bad I'm not exactly insensible to the critical perspective that identifies the ruinous structural continuity between our two parties, but I do think one needs to recognize the practical, institutional, demographic constraints within which one translates the insights available from that perspective into organization and agitation to overcome those constraints.

Even at his greatest I have never expected Obama to advocate democratic world federalism or a universal basic income guarantee like I do myself, and so even at their best I have never expected an Obama administration to be "enough" to satisfy me. But I do expect great things from an Obama administration, a real turning of a long and literally catastrophic tide. I expect the repair of some conspicuous wounds, the redress of some deep grievances, and the enablement of unprecedented expressivities and energies. Nothing Obama has said or done lately shakes my confidence that he will meet my expectations, or that the meeting of those expectations will represent the substance of and occasion for real change and facilitate the emergence of greater change still.

I'm a critic, I criticize. I certainly recognize the crucial importance of this function. But I think we really must struggle not to assume so reflexive or so generalized a critical stance that we fail to attend to differences that make a difference, that we ensure our critical judgments not drive us into orbit above rather than immerse us more deeply into the world itself. Be wary, but be sure your wariness makes you more a warrior than a worrier, if you know what I mean. We are living in the midst of an unexpected outbreak of history, and real change is possible right now. Taking it apart isn't always the same as taking part.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Why Waste Your Time on Robot Cultists, Anyway?

Updated and adapted from the Moot, the usual answer to the usual question.

The actually actively self-identified "transhumanists" and "singularitarians" and "Extropians" and "techno-immortalists" who most clearly represent the political and "philosophical" ambitions I summarize and criticize (not to mention ridicule) as Superlativity or "Robot Cultism" have remained an extremely marginal sub(cult)ure numbering never more than a few thousand folks throughout the whole of their decades-long organized global existence -- albeit, one must admit, they are an unusually attention-grabbing band for all their marginality.

They seem to me to be likely to remain just as marginal from here on out since theirs is a membership with a relentlessly high turnover... some wise up to the scam when they actually study the relevant science, some grow impatient with a "geek rapture" that never shows much sign of actually arriving, some of the True Believers drift off to attach no less uncritically elsewhere soon enough... And the folks who stay on seem to be the ones with the most intransigently marginal views, the ones who expect the Robot God to "wake up" any day now from the scattered informational churn of the intrawebs, the ones who can't say with confidence that we aren't already living on the Holodeck nor why it can possibly matter then if we are, the ones who mean to wrap their brains in foil to freeze for the nanobots to resurrect one day, the ones who expect to "upload" their "minds" into imperishable computers, and so on.

Given this abiding marginality it does seem reasonable to ask why the Robot Cultists deserve our attention, rather than simply our sympathies. I will say that if the last twenty years have taught us anything at all it is how a small self-deluded coterie of extremists who think they're the smartest boys in the room can do flabbergasting amounts of damage if they play their cards right (I have the Neocons in mind, but many examples are available). And so it probably pays to pay at least some attention to the transhumanists and the singularitarians if only because they provide rationales for certain modes of corporate-militarism (technocratic elitism, duressed genetic interventionism, centralized and industrialized responses to designated existential risks, and so on) that make them -- however ridiculous they are in so many ways otherwise -- sufficiently attractive to at least some incumbent interests to make them far more dangerous than could possibly make immediate sense to the sensible.

But quite apart from all that, I have always said that the transhumanists deserve scrutiny less for the pleasurable fascinations of their curious cultiness and kookiness (a worthy enough payoff on its own terms when one is in the mood for a bit of well-earned snark), but because they represent in their very extremity a particularly illuminating expression, almost a reductio, of techno-utopian elitist reductionist and eugenicist tendencies that are playing out more diffusely but disastrously across the whole neoliberal and neoconservative "developmental" policy imaginary in our present historical moment. In exposing what is ridiculous in Superlative discourses like the Robot Cultisms of the transhumanists and their zany kin one often chisels through to a deeper understanding of what is wrong with the steamroller of "neoliberal" "developmental" "technocratic" discourses more generally.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Nico Helps Make Amor Mundi More Positive

Obama's Dance

Worrying over the application of the term "pragmatist" to describe conspicuous neoliberal ideologues like Lawrence Summers and Tim Geithner who are receiving high-level appointments in the Obama Administration, David Sirota writes:
[W]hen you label one thing like conservative free-market fundamentalism as "pragmatic" there is the implicit suggestion that the opposite of that ideology -- like, say, progressivism -- is not "a practical point of view."

That's the whole goal, of course. Whether it's the constant perversion of the term "centrism," or the Orwellian use of the word "pragmatism," the objective from the media and political Establishment is to marginalize progressivism in this, a supposed "center-right" nation. And what better way to do that than bill discredited free-market fundamentalism as undebateably practical, and anything else as impractical, pie-in-the-sky idiocy?

There is no question about any of this, of course, nor even any controversy about it I should imagine. Selling these conservative narratives to the benefit of incumbency is precisely the goal of the gatekeepers, and has always been. Despite generations of consistent insistence by majorities of Americans that they wanted environmental protections, universal healthcare, liberalization of drug laws, less militarism, and so on, incumbent interests have broadcast-mediated the fantasy that our secular multiculture identified with blandly Christianist "moral values," has a horror of "socialized medicine" on behalf of their abusive bosses, and that our center-left nation is instead a "center-right" nation for which the definition of "center" skews ever more surreally rightward. And who could forget the flabbergasting facile falsity of Thatcher's correlated declaration of the neoliberal TINA ("There Is No Alternative"), and the crowbar blow to reality it dealt generations who knew and know otherwise? Mass distraction, mass disinformation, mass cynicism, mass disaffection were the predictable consequences of this state of affairs, very much to the short term benefit of the richest and rottenest people in the world.

The thing to remember about this by now well worn narrative is that all these world-historic consequences were hardly a matter of audacious and brilliant rhetoric. That attribution of brilliance and audacity is, fortunately enough, the self-congratulatory fable told by the primary beneficiaries of all these fun and games, and I suppose by the rubes who identify with them without the benefits -- and I say this is "fortunately" so because this explanation is delusive in a way that renders them far less capable of grasping the scale of the shit they're in now.

But the brutal fact remains that the actual efficacy of this sort of Orwellian discourse in the service of incumbency has always depended first of all on the congenial dissemination of authoritative descriptions via broadcast-media formations. That is to say, incumbency needs precisely the pre-emptive filtering and structural incentivization of authoritative descriptions of the possible and the important that have been fatally undermined (for now) by the emergence and ramification of p2p-formations. And this dependency of the modern Right on broadcast-mediation was as true for the European fascists as for the activations, by Nixon and then Reagan, of the dark and sunny sides, respectively, of the anti-democratizing politics of resentment that hand in hand fueled thirty years of catastrophically "successful" movement conservatism in America.

Sirota continues on:
[I]f there was ever a time for a paradigm shift, it is now. We're facing a potential depression that is a direct result of conservative's ideological and decidedly un-pragmatic policies. Our own history during the Great Depression indicates that the pragmatic way to deal with such a massive crisis is through some good old fashioned ideological progressivism.

Obama, I think, knows this, and is doing something of a dance -- one that doesn't seek to challenge or change the Orwellian shenanigans, but to manipulate them for his own -- and likely progressive -- ends. It could be really brilliant.

I agree with Sirota in all this. I must say that I've felt a bit annoyed by all the histrionics about Obama's "betrayals" of progressive principle that have roared across the Netroots since election day. For one thing, Obama always campaigned (not to mention voted in office) as an Actual Centrist, and it seems rather absurd to decry his consistency on this score as betrayal. Far from feeling betrayed, I have personally found Obama to be ideologically right where I expected him to be so far, but also to be efficacious beyond my wildest dreams. I have always expected that it would be the sheer scale of conservative catastrophe together with the energy of the progressive supporters to whom he is beholden that would nudge an Obama Administration in the more progressive directions we demand against the grain of his own tendencies (which is not to deny for all that, that Obama is not the most inspiring and progressive President elected in my lifetime, Carter certainly included). Of course, to do this nudging the Netroots needs to do precisely the sorts of things that are annoying me now, I suppose, pushing Obama from the sensible and popular left, calling him on his accommodations with scoundrels, reminding him of his best campaign promises and so on.

It's just that I do think Obama is engaging in what Sirota calls here a kind of dance on hot coals -- I do indeed think he's sending complex signals to the actually existing diversity of institutional players who crowd the terrain on which he needs to do his work and corralling his political capital to spend it where it makes most sense, and that he is doing all of this in an enormously competent fashion in the service of the left wing of the possible. In this I think he -- and we -- will benefit from an enthusiastic and reasonably united progressive left. I think some of the cynicism and outrage I am hearing across the left instead is too lazily reflexive and too needlessly divisive and too unproductively frustrating of collective energies and so scarcely likely to contribute in the least to the outcomes the desire for which presumably inspire it in the first place.

Sirota has been one of the figures of the progressive left to whom I normally turn for good arguments but who has sometimes seemed to me to be jumping the gun a bit in decrying Obama's failures before he's had a chance to succeed (Glenn Greenwald -- who I think is absolutely brilliant and marvelous is another). That is what made me especially pleased to read this post today from him.

I think we need to give Obama the space he needs to dance in before we start crying out to stop the music.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

"I know that you can't live on hope alone, but without it, life is not worth living."

Before Barack Obama, there was Harvey Milk.

A politician who brought a message of hope and empowerment to a place that had suffered under years of conservative rule. Who broke down a major barrier for a group of long-persecuted Americans. Who knew how to reach out to sometimes hostile and different groups to build a coalition for change.

30 years ago today Harvey Milk, the first openly homosexual person elected to office in America, was assassinated in San Francisco City Hall by a fellow Supervisor, Dan White. White went on to kill Milk's close ally and another great San Francisco liberal, Mayor George Moscone.

All this is from a wonderful tribute published today on dKos, where I hope you will go to read it in full and then recommend it if you can so as to direct more widespread attention to it.

Crackpottery and Assholery Among the Robot Cultists

Updated and adapted from the Moot.

Quite a while ago I began an exchange with a techno-utopian "transhumanist-identified" person who seemed sufficiently ambivalent about that designation to be teachable. Here is the last of my replies to her or him or them, now too deep down the blog to easily scroll to, and hence beneath general attention unless you actually click the link to dredge the whole exchange.

We begin with the third of three questions I put to our ambivalent would-be Robot Cultist. The first two questions have been rightly and graciously conceded as devastating to the notion of "movement transhumanism" but my Anonymous interlocutor thinks one might still have a go at the third: Name one not crackpot belief common to most self-identified "transhumanists" that is not held by far more people who do not so self-identify.
Ah. This is the question that I now feel that I can answer satisfactorily. Put simply, it is the idea that the human condition is fundamentally, but not incurably, flawed, and that the only way to fix this is through the use of ridiculously advanced technology. From what I can tell, these flaws are as follows: death, disease, aging, stupidity, disability, the inability to sometimes communicate basic ideas with one another, not using all of the resources that are at our disposal, requiring a constant source of sustenance (food), weakness, and not being able to let one's mind focus on purely mental tasks. Every transhumanist that I have ever read about has expressed those ideas. I know that many other people share those same views as to Mankind's flaws, but transhumanists (to me) are the only ones that believe that technology provides the only, or best, means to fix these perceived problems. In my estimation, this belief is not crackpot. Misguided, probably. But not crackpot.

You will discover, via even a superficial survey of the record of human civilizations, that exasperation with the absurdity of mortality is a commonplace. But I think that to describe the constitutive finitude of the human condition as "flawed" is to imply a designer, a bad one, which I happen not to believe in at all -- indeed, I'll admit I find the find the notion of a perverse, or mean, or absentminded, or dumb Designer far more absurd, even insipid, than the condition of absurdity and heartbreak (and tender transformative promise, as it happens) bequeathed by the facts of our finitude…

But quite apart from all that jazz, and very much more to the point, the great works of medicine, education, artistic expression, and the helping professions are all of them already devoted to the work of ameliorating the vulnerabilities, diseases, humiliations, and ramifying ignorances human animals are so prone to.

You certainly don't need to join a Robot Cult to participate in any of these enterprises, and, I fear, the specific contributions of the brave boys of the futurological congress is mostly just to indulge in snide or hysterical wish fulfillment fantasies and then pout and stamp when grownups point out that far from making them scientific geniuses out to save the planet this tends instead to make them silly bores endlessly wasting time and confusing the issues at hand.

There actually is a more serious problem lurking in this formulation -- concerning the description of moral and aesthetic values (what counts as a disability? what do we take for stupid? what is it that is wanted from communication?) that are more properly conceived as the material of private perfection, as though they were susceptible of consensus in the way scientific descriptions provisionally are and ethical pronouncements formally are. This confusion fuels no small amount of the relentless reductionisms and whiffs of eugenicism that attach so indecorously to transhumanist formulations in the usual way that always plagues technocentric and techno-utopian discourses (a problem that is not, then, uniquely or even best addressed through a discussion of its transhumanist variant).

And so to speak more specifically of the Robot Cultists of transhumanism, singularitarianism, and the rest of the corporate-militarist Futurological Congress: Techno-immortalists, anti-political nanosanta cornucopiasts, cybernetic totalists ready to divest their informational "souls" of their meat encumbrances, and all those who pine or flutter over the coming of the Robot God are all of them, every one, awash in the most palpable and laughable crackpottery imaginable.

To the extent that this is what the Robot Cultists are on about, they are indeed crackpots. To the extent that they are just cooing their bland advocacy for medical research, technoscientific literacy, and a fairer more democratic distribution of the costs, risks, and benefits of global technoscientific developments, well, then they're just secular social democrats like most intelligent decent people are and they'll find they're more apt to make a real difference in a real measure in the real world if they drop the self-delusions and the stupid crap. That is to say, unless the chief difference they are actually out to make is to attract attention to themselves through hyperbolic noisemaking the better to fleece a few vulnerable dumb-dumbs looking for a membership organization to order them around and tell them the meaning of life in exchange for cash. These Robot Cultists, bless them, are not just crackpots but cool frauds as well, indulging in a venerable all-American past-time.

As for the suave neoliberal assessors of "existential risks" one finds among transhumanists, who like to calculate the odds of asteroid impacts and chart the probable paths of bioengineered pathogens, they seem to be a minor sub-population who don't look to me to be crackpots (at least until they start treating the Robot God as an existential risk to be contemplated on a continuum with actual realities like tsunamis and illegal arms trafficking, or demanding we treat the proposition that we are inhabiting virtual reality as serious in a way that makes some kind of difference) so much as mostly self-appointed technocratic elitists looking to divert public monies into corporate-militarist coffers for industrial model solutions to political problem in what is instead a p2p epoch, so we'll leave them to the side. Most of them still hold to the crockpottery anyway, and the rest is just a sideline in assholery.

A Thanksgiving Prayer

"You always were a headache, and you always were a bore." William Burroughs gives thanks. Director Gus Van Sant helps out.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Amor Mundi Has Moved…

…From Irrational Bush Hatred to Being Completely in the Tank for Obama

Please make a note of it. Thank you.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

VV Brown Helps Make Amor Mundi More Positive

The Beast That Is Santa Cannot Be Starved

You can try to starve it small enough to strangle in the bath-tub, but social democracy just won't stay dead however hard you throttle its neck, because the basic needs that social democracy meets better than any organizational alternatives on offer are as real as needs get, whether you like it or not.

It was never actually true that meeting these needs better than social democracy can do was the actual goal of those who sold their anti-governmental fervor with neoliberal hype about inefficient welfare states and sure-to-be-splendid "spontaneous orders." They always just feared and despised the loss of incumbent privileges that follow from the always actually democratizing provision of general welfare whenever properly accountable secular social democracy is implemented.

Incumbents appealed to class resentments and ugly ignorant intolerances to create an electoral environment in which they could hold back sensible social democracy for a time despite their own conspicuous failures to provide solutions to problems or meet basic needs. But eventually the stomach will always demand to be consulted.

James Pethokoukis has written a punchy little number proposing that it may finally, and funnily enough, be mild-mannered Tom Daschle who slays Movement Conservatism once and for all through the implementation of an enormously big and hungry and functioning and indispensable universal (or universalizing) healthcare program that will be cherished by the American people it serves thus permanently transforming the rhetorical landscape on which market fundamentalist idiocies have been ruinously sold since the reactionary pushback against the New Deal (and actually long before that).

The welfare for the rich that is the Defense budget has certainly been long cherished by the incumbents and elites who mouth their free-market pieties while they count that taxpayer cash. (Never you mind about the bloodstains, honey, that money still spends fine!). And you better believe that general welfare for everyday people will teach them fast enough that when government is actually of the people and for the people then anti-government rhetoric is an attack on them, on all of us, the people, even when it's costumed in shirtsleeves and declared with a twang.

It turns out that the Beast Grover Norquist has long wanted to starve and strangle was Santa! But Santa cannot be killed. And once Santa's down the chimney, he can't be crammed back up again.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Change Isn't Jumping Off A Cliff For Heaven's Sake

If the leak circuit is any indication Obama is indeed going to be making a number of key appointments drawn from the enormous pool of qualified people associated with the last Democratic Administration. It is not cynicism but a basic expectation of competence that should have made such an outcome a foregone conclusion. Pundits seem to think it's cute to insinuate that these hires somehow violate the spirit of Obama's Change message. Can it be that the Villagers actually didn't know that by "change" most Americans just meant to indicate the keen craving they all felt permanently to see the backside of the killer clowns of the Bush Administration and Movement Republicanism more generally? While it's true that many of Obama's more progressive supporters (me, included) regarded the corporatist Clinton Administration as too uncomfortably close in its governing philosophy to the senior Bush Administration that preceded it, it is indeed true that legions of competent, qualified, actually progressive folks worked with Clinton in some capacity or other. Obama is more of a true Centrist than I am, and so I don't expect to be thrilled with him all the livelong day -- far from it. But so far I see nothing at all to diminish my sense that he represents Change We (me, included) Can Believe In, as the man said. So far, his choices seem to me enormously smart, pragmatic, and facilitative of (if not exactly equal to) the left wing of the possible. People need to get a grip.

Monday, November 17, 2008

And Now a Word on Gay Assimilation

While it would be foolish to prefer the bad over the banal, it is just as bad to confuse the banal with the good.

Gnarls Barkley Helps Make Amor Mundi More Positive

Sorry, Wrong Number

This will be old news to some, but Eric has just informed me that scholars have called seriously into question whether the original Number of the Beast in the Biblical Book of Revelations was actually 616 rather than 666.

Insert obvious truism about the idiocy of fundamentalist literalism here.

I must say that it is rather disappointing that my pet theory about
R o n a l d
W i l s o n
R e a g a n

looks to be decisively dashed.

Two Advocates of Net Neutrality Have Been Put in Charge of Obama's Transition Team to Review the FCC

Elections. Consequences.

[via WiReD]
The Obama-Biden transition team on Friday named two long-time net neutrality advocates to head up its Federal Communications Commission Review team.

Susan Crawford… and Kevin Werbach… are highly-regarded outside-the-Beltway experts in telecom policy, and they've both been pretty harsh critics of the Bush administration's telecom policies in the past year.

Their jobs will be to review the agency and arm the president, vice president and prospective agency leader with all the information needed to make key decisions as they prepare to take over.

The choice of the duo strongly signals an entirely different approach to the incumbent-friendly telecom policymaking that's characterized most of the past eight-years at the FCC….

The article goes on to list a number of other "tech notables" who have received appointments in Obama-Biden's transition review teams, and there is a lot to chew on.

Compare and Contrast

Paul Armentano, senior policy analyst for the NORML Foundation writes:
In the past 40 years, tens of millions of Americans have voluntarily quit smoking a legal, yet highly addictive intoxicant [nicotine]. Many others have refused to initiate the habit. And they've all made this decision without ever once being threatened with criminal prosecution and arrest, imprisonment, probation, and drug testing.

By contrast, during this same period of time, state and local police have arrested some 20 million Americans for pot law violations -- primarily for violations no greater than simple possession. And yet marijuana use among the public has skyrocketed.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Payment Due

It's laugh out loud funny to me that some homophobic bigots who offered serious material support to efforts to amend the California Constitution to write permanent second class citizenship status to a minority of their fellow citizens are now pouting and stamping their feet that their Constitutional right to free expression as a minority with an "opinion" about whether some people aren't really fully people at all is somehow threatened just because everybody worth knowing hates them now and doesn't want to work with them anymore now that their appalling beliefs about their queer acquaintances, family members, and friends are actually known.

Needless to say, one of the reasons to be something of a First Amendment absolutist is precisely because it is better that hateful and dangerous positions and those who hold them are exposed to the light of critical scrutiny rather than insulated from the commonsense objections of their peers or conspiring in secrecy.

But quite apart from such considerations one wonders why our righteous red-blooded Californian and friendly out-of-state bigots are shrinking from the echoes bouncing back off the walls of the world from their initial proud exclamations of bigotry, now that they discover that those with whom they disagree might have an opinion on the matter as well?

Hey, you've got to fly your bigot flag high, baby, if you really want to remake America in the image of that dazzling straightjacket utopia that moved you to sign that check or that petition after all!

And, well, if you fail to achieve that button-down closet-case moral Republic in this lifetime, if instead you have to pay the price in permanent marginalization, if that's what comes from taking your stand, well, so be it, right? If that's what you really care about? That's why they say it takes courage to stand up for what you believe in, after all. Did you think all that was just words?

Starting to have second thoughts about being an intolerant asshole now that you've had a good look at the company you have to keep when all the bleeding heart secular liberals you privately disdain don't invite you to their parties anymore?

You'll have to forgive us if we're not moved to tears by your appeals to Constitutional principles ten minutes after you try to wipe your ass with the Constitution.

(PS: Grow up, change your mind, embrace diversity, get past your stupid fears, and join the work of repairing the damage bigots like you have caused and most of us bleeding heart secularists will forgive you soon enough -- it's not like most of us haven't been ignorant and stupid in our own lives, after all.)

Estelle Helps Make Amor Mundi More Positive

Love her!

Wishing Makes It True!

Speaking of topsy-turvy, here's Chris Cillizza on "Five Myths" about Election 2008. I shit you not, the "five myths" are, I'm quoting now,
1. The Republican Party suffered a death blow.
2. A wave of black voters and young people was the key to Obama's victory.
3. Now that they control the White House and Congress, Democrats will usher in a new progressive era.
4. A Republican candidate could have won the presidency this year.
5. McCain made a huge mistake in picking Sarah Palin.

Yes, yes I know -- I'm sure to get pouty stampy e-mails from libertarian types nibbling around the edges of straw men versions of the contrary claims to these wish-fulfillment fantasies, just as I'm sure to get castigatory e-mails from my more radical left friends begging me not to get complacent or wondering if I'm suddenly in the tank with mushy corporatist Dems.

But, people, people, step back and get a glimpse of the big picture here. There is simply no good news for Republicans this year, and -- far better still -- there is no good news either for the corporate-militarist ideology that has fueled Movement Republicanism as the ruling ideology of the last quarter-century.

Funny, but Cillizza's "Myth Busting" is all about spreading the good news for Republicans and incumbent ideology at the very moment when History has handed them their hats.

It is obviously true and it obviously matters that the Republican Party and the market fundamentalist, neocon, theocon ideologies that have driven it met for the first time in a generation with an explicit resistance and a decisive defeat. It is obviously true and it obviously matters that a long complacent diverse electorate was energized to come to the polls and voted for change. It is obviously true and it obviously matters that people who want to end the occupation, make health care a right, make abortion safe and legal, end our dependence on oil and halt catastrophic climate change, invest in infrastructure, tax the richest of the rich and provide support for everyone now control every branch of government at every level of government. It is obviously true and it obviously matters that despite the enormity of our problems and the utter bankruptcy of conservative ideology, Republicans could have won the Presidency if Democrats had made the choice -- John Edwards, say -- of a competent candidate unfortunate enough to be vulnerable to the shabby superficial scandalmongery and flabbergasting irresposibility of our corporate-militarist media. It is obviously true and it obviously matters that the rifts in the current Republican party in the aftermath of their achieving the power to do everything they wanted with the result of producing -- by all available metrics, foreign, domestic, fiscal, popular -- the worst, most catastrophic Administration in living memory, and confronted with their always fragile now tattered alliance of embattled Christianist cultural reactionaries and embattled corporatist social reactionaries, they were forced against the obviously better judgment of their own candidate to embrace a palpably unprepared disaster of a vice-president who appealed to the Base enough to hide for a few week's time just how terminal the Party's current incarnation truly is.

These are not myths -- even if one can prune and polish these obvious truths that obviously matter into less plausibly hyperbolic variations -- but facts of life.

But tap, tap, tap go the snide dishonest annoying demoralizing little hammers of incumbency at the hopes of those who want change.

Don't fall for it.

But by all means do read it. It's good for a laugh.

And one hopes many Republicans will read these "demythifications" as well, and take a measure of warm comfort in them... and hence remain in stubborn unelectable denial long enough to stay out of the way while the rest of us clean up their stupid mess and make the world a little bit better a place to live in.

The Senate Situation Through the Looking Glass

Because its all topsy-turvy all the time for our corporate-militarist punditocrats you probably are very excited to see whether or not the Democrats can miraculously "pull off" the feat of achieving a 60-seat filibuster proof majority in the Senate through nail-bitingly last-minute successes in Alaska (I expect so), Minnesota (I'm cautiously optimistic), and Georgia (I doubt it).

All very well. But now look what happens to the story if we flip the script and respect the actually-existing realities presently in play:

The twice humiliated Republican minority is desperately flailing to maintain the starkest bare minimum 42 seats it needs to invoke cloture. This it is struggling to do in a deeply fractious caucus that has lost most of its moderates and so lost touch with the mainstream and now is filled with wounded peevish often not-very-bright out-of-touch reactionaries with something to prove to their even more zealous bases, who might get them re-elected in local elections but aren't doing a Party hoping to remain relevant on a national terrain any favors at all.

Under such circumstances (the best case still available to Republicans and under threat for all that), all that any Republican at all has to do is threaten to defect to an even only moderately disciplined and united majority Democratic front on any issue whatsoever and the Republican leadership must either cave to whatever demands ensue or lose right there any hope at all of having any impact on policy whatsoever. Hence, already rightly tarred with the brush of corruption and obstructionism and extremism the Republicans find themselves in circumstances that will expose them almost irresistably to behaving in corrupt, compromised ways with their most extreme, obstructionist and marginalizing members in order to try to get anything done on their terms at all.

Funny, but those don't seem even remotely to be the way the stakes are getting framed in most of the corporate-militarist mediated narratives I'm seeing.

All the News That's Fit to Predict

Who's been messing with the Wayback Machine? Somebody left a copy of next year's New York Times July 4, Special Edition on my driveway!

Now make it happen.

Smell That Right Wing Mandate!

Center-Right America? "Center" Right?

In the topsy-turvy land of corporate-militarist media everything must always be framed in a way calculated to inflict the worst possible despair and humiliation and pain on those who, in any measure, believe in or work for progressive possibilities.

And so, if you just read the papers and watch the Sunday shows and the nightly news on the tee vee, you might not realize that the earthshattering mandate offered by the American people on Election Day to Democrats in every branch at every level of government across the country precisely because they specifically, explicitly, and repeatedly promised to end the war, provide healthcare to all Americans, create jobs and repudiate oil with a renewable energy economy, restore the Constitution to protect citizens from torturers and spies and unitary executives, tax the richest of the rich and support everyday Americans actually isn't somehow an indication that a "Center-Right" America hostile to peace, unions, gays, abortion, "socialized" medicine, the "socialism" of taxes and public infrastructure investment, or the very idea of social responsibility will be demanding that Democrats -- from the President who won with a message of Change, and across the Congressional board -- must govern according to the same old widely hated and endlessly failed right-wing principles of the last three decades of Movement Republican rule.

Of course, it's as obvious to the Villagers of the corporate-militarist media as it is to literally everybody else with a brain that hasn't been utterly brainwashed (Hi, Dad!) that this "conventional wisdom" of a "Center Right" America -- where, one must add, the most bankrupt and batshit crazy warmongering market libertarian and intolerant theocratic fantasies of the extreme right are presumably imagined to constitute that "Center" -- doesn't connect to living realities at any point at all. What they fail to grasp quite yet is that they simply don't have anything like the power anymore through the selective application of manic repetition, snide deflationary insinuation, hysterical distraction, and phony outrage to crowbar commonsense open to interpose the corporate-militarist spin of incumbent interests between our lyin' eyes and the world we share, peer to peer.

The Republican Noise Machine together with the Village vessels of the corporate-militarist Capitulation Congress (including too many defeated and defeatist but still earnestly self-described "liberals"), so smug, so suave, so sure of itself so long as an engine of consummate hegemonic substantiation, quite spectacularly suddenly just looks oafish and cheap and desperate and scarcely cobbled-together. Look at all the killer clowns with the B-movie ketchup-squirting prop-daggers, Mommy! Why are their faces so red, why are they flapping their hands like that?

This is how it goes, one day you worry that fascists are going to impose martial law and the next day they have all the threatening materiality of stale stinky steam escaping from a storm grate. You can't fool all the people all the time. History breaks out unpredictably and people start making change before your eyes.


Apparently, Obama will be the first President to have a computer on his desk.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Playgirl Is Zipping Up

I can't pretend it is likely to be as widely regarded as momentous as announcements go as hearing not so long ago that the Christian Science Monitor was shutting down its print publication the better to direct its energies to the cyberspatial sprawl. But, as you see, hearing Playgirl is now doing much the same gets a post from me, while the CSM news went unremarked hereabouts. After all, the CSM story meant little more to me than the realization that we had little reason anymore to consider that perfectly likable and truly venerable journalistic outfit more respectable or influential than, say, TPM is in our deliriously changed and changing p2p-mediated landscape, which is something I already long thought anyway. But losing the crinkly palpable pages of Playgirl does feel like it means something to me. And so I do want to offer up a brief salute to Playgirl in its eclipse, especially the Playgirls of 1979-1982, which were incomparably more useful to me in what was an otherwise sludge-gray Hoosier adolescence than they ever were for my mother, who subscribed to the publication for roughly three of the four years I was in high school as a protest against my Dad's Playboy subscription. Dad didn't get the point, or didn't much care if he did get the point, and as far as I could tell Mom never did more than snicker at the photo-spreads with her sisters occasionally if they happened to be around on the day of the latest issue's arrival. But if it hadn't been for the Dune books, old screwball comedies on public television on Saturday nights, and Mom's trashed Playgirls under my mattress there would have been far less light in those last years before I broke out of Floyds Knobs, Indiana for College at last. GiggleSugar provides a snarky slideshow of classic covers in tribute to the passing legend, and that seems quite good enough for me.

Hedwig Helps Make Amor Mundi More Positive

Part I:

Part II:

Clinton's Presidential SOS

I'll call these splattered speculations, since they're even looser than the usual scattered ones. Eric and I have been puzzling over the noises about Obama's possible offer to Clinton of the position of Secretary of State, and, more puzzling initially, noises about Clinton's possible acceptance of it.

Given what we know of the no drama Obama's machine discipline from the campaign, the first thing to discount is any sense that we know enough to know anything if what we know is said to have "leaked" from Obama's direction.

But assuming the information is good or at any rate goodish, and that the offer were to be made, and Clinton were to accept, what exactly are the players thinking here? In a nutshell, my calculation is nudging along these lines:

In a reasonably successful and hence spectacularly popular 8 year Obama Administration, SOS is a higher profile and more Presidential position than Clinton is likely to wangle otherwise as Junior Senator from NY, a position from which to launch her own bid for 2016 as at once a continuation of a successful and popular Administration with which she is strongly associated while at once recapturing the energy of an historic Presidential election (no doubt calling to mind the joy of our moment). Biden is likely too old to harbor Presidential hopes to stand in her way. Everything else equal, it's incomparable positioning for Clinton -- if what she's positioning for is specifically Presidential, rather than, you know, simply doing great good as a public servant, which she could also clearly do as Senator.

But it occurs to me that SOS positions Clinton well in other scenarios we might contemplate as well as the rosy one I sketched already and hope for. If the troubles Obama confronts yield especially painful reckonings -- as they so easily might do, the scale of inherited Killer Clown clusterfuckery considered -- if his Administration gets pitched as less successful and less popular, it occurs to me that Obama could do far worse than to switch Biden to SOS and Clinton to VP to re-energize the base for a tougher battle in 2012.

I think even a difficult and less popular Obama will be hard to beat, especially since I don't think Republicans will have had time to adjust to changed circumstances. Their socially reactionary base will demand red meat and that will translate to electoral dead meat for Republicans for the foreseeable future in an ever larger majority secular multicultural America.

But I think Clinton can recalibrate her image through SOS to appeal to some of the "independents" who might otherwise peel off a less successful Obama while retaining the high-energy of her loyalists. Even continued difficulties in a second term won't alter the fact that as VP she is frontrunner for 2016, and given my sense of America's demographics and the world situation in 2016 the White House would very much be hers to lose. From Obama's position the choice gives him a measure of desirable control over Clinton, not to mention, to be less cynical, a consummate politician with a lot to admire among other things.

While the leaks caught me very much by surprise when they occurred, and seemed quite puzzling to me initially -- and I still don't think they're gospel, even of the aprocryphal variety -- things look a bit more plausible to me this afternoon. We'll see.

A Transhumanist Files a Complaint in the Hurt Feelings Department

Upgraded and adapted from the Moot. My "Anonymous" HumanityPlusTronic interlocutor soldiers on (I suspect she or he is approaching critical mass now, soon to set this sillyness aside for good or, to the contrary, to leap for a time into full-on saucer-eyed True Belief):
You’re right that the word “transhumanism” does have some very odd, and very frequently negative connotations. However, I have only truly realized this fact over the past 2 months or so, when I started to meet other transhumanists (and see how much they and I truly differ). But after about two years of calling yourself something, it can be somewhat difficult to stop thinking of yourself in that way. So I guess that I call myself a transhumanist simply as a relic of my own stubbornness

Despite all of the above, even though I am a not a tremendous fan of the title “transhumanist,” it can still, however, be somewhat useful to call oneself something that has values somewhat similar to your own. For me, I have found it helpful to compartmentalize my beliefs, so using a word like transhumanist to describe myself is appealing. For instance, I would really hate to call myself a “space exploration enthusiast/powered exoskeleton junkie/life-extension hopeful/etc…” That’s just far too long for my tastes. It really is much easier to sum up all of that into one connotation-filled, four syllable word, even if it doesn’t quite fit the bill.

Getting back to what it actually means to be a transhumanist, I still think that it is a gross over-simplification to say that all, or nearly all, transhumanists are somehow robot-cult members. If I had to guess, the vast majority of them are somewhat like me, in that their views are quite non-extremist, and they’re just interested in the possible paths that technology will lead the human race down in both the near and distant future. I am, of course, excluding some people like Michael Anissimov (whose blog I still can’t seem to stop reading, even though many of his views are in stark contrast to mine) and Ray Kurzweil, whose views are quite decidedly extremist at best, and, put bluntly, scary at worst. I know that this is a cliché, but it is easy to make generalizations about an entire group of people based solely on its most vocal members, even though this will result in a skewed view of what the group actually believes. If it were up to me, I would shut up the vast majority of those people, since they have the ability to make people like me seem like disgusting eugenics-lovin’ people just because they might like to compartmentalize their views in a similar fashion to myself.

Look, I'm not going to delve too deep into your personal life, it's not really my business.

You say "it is a gross over-simplification to say that all, or nearly all, transhumanists are somehow robot-cult members." I honestly think you are missing the force of my point altogether. Nobody who does describably foolish or damaging things is exhaustively describable as a fool or a danger as a result. As witness, the dictator who is kind to puppies or the neglectful parent who is a fine teacher blah blah blah. I daresay we can all accept as a given that people are multifaceted beings, their identifications are always at once multiple and partial and (as a result) dynamic. And so on.

There is certainly nothing wrong with being a space enthusiast, some of my best friends are space enthusiasts, some of my best fucks were with space enthusiasts, it's cool, everything's gonna be all right. Now, I am an "enthusiast," I suppose, for ranked or instant runoff voting reform, but I do worry that narrating my selfhood through too deep an identification with colleagues in a club devoted to an educational and organizational campaign on the subject would serve no useful purpose while at once possibly signalling that my life had gone awry in a "get a life" way that wanted tending to.

When you call yourself a "transhumanist," though, you are in some mighty odd company, my friend, to put the point kindly, and it probably isn't a bad idea for you to understand that there are many other people who publicly so identify who see that declaration as an indication of participation in a "movement," a "subculture," a world-historical force, of membership or affiliation in organizations with published "principles" and programmatic manifestos that explain the world and offer their Believers the Keys to History and so on.

Most of these principles and formulations are the most arrant nonsense imaginable (I have earned that glib assertion through too many words of close analysis, most of which you can read, if you care to do, by clicking the topic anthologies that cap my blogroll), and since these "transhumanists" (and so on) are actually making arguments, well, I read them as such and expose what seem to me to be their mistaken assumptions, their problematic historical contexts, and their anti-democratizing implications wherever I see them.

Taking these readings personally doesn't make a lot of sense to me, but I don't doubt it is rather an inevitable result when people become less critical about certain beliefs of theirs as the price for organizing a defensive marginal identity out of them. Many of the champions of these ideas say truly ridiculous things over the course of championing them and I am not ashamed to admit that I do not hesitate to expose the ridiculous to ridicule where pretending it serious gives it a power it doesn't deserve and with which it can do real damage in the world.

As I have pointed out many times, "transhumanists" and "singularitarians" are, when all is said and done, a rather marginal sub(cult)ure that never seems to expand beyond a few thousand members or so and are quite self-marginaling in their discourse in a way that suggests this will remain the case for good.

It is mostly because they illustrate and symptomize in their extremity particularly clarifying expressions of characteristically reactionary tendencies to reductionism, scientism, millenialism, fetishism, elite technocratic anti-politicism, and (crypto-) eugenicism prevalent in technoscientific discourses more generally that I have devoted energy to analyzing them.

Also, it must be said, at the practical-institutional level of the Robot Cult archipelago of diffusely inter-related organizations, I believe that it pays to devote close attention to some of their corporate-militarist funders and allies and to the curiously disproportionate impact their published intellectuals have had in framing certain quandaries of disruptive technodevelopment -- for example, describing parochial biomedical preferences as neutral "enhancements," farcically modeling technoscientific change as the acceleration of the acceleration of "growth," providing a rhetorical afterlife in popular discourse and public policy to long dead facile reductionist and "cybernetic totalist" notions of intelligence, life, and public life, suggesting a social priority of terrorizing existential threats over more proximate and local ones, likewise an industrial-elite geoengineering priority over distributed-p2p alternatives for solutions to environmental problems, fostering a relentless dismissiveness about critical technoscientific perspectives arising out of the humanities, and so on and on and on. All of these themes unvaryingly unspool in ways that (whatever the professed politics of the writers themselves) have proved congenial in their overgenerality, in their technocratic elitism, in their fear-mongering and hype-notizing emotionalism, in their budgetary priorities, in their reductionism, sometimes (shockingly often given current disasters) in their explicit adherence to market libertarian formulations, and so on to neoliberal and neoconservative agendas I personally abhor, as should you if you ask me.

At the end of your comment you made what looked to me like a promising claim: "Getting back to what it actually means to be a transhumanist..." I was expecting or at any rate hoping an actual address of the questions I posed at the end of our last exchange would be forthcoming, an effort on your part to actually characterize this "transhumanism" you would adhere to despite being so appalled, it seems, by so many of its perfectly representative published figures.

You'll recall the questions, I'm sure? [One] Tell me anything at all that is clarified about a presumably desirable technodevelopmental outcome by adding to it the designation "transhumanist." [Two] Name one quality about an artifact that can only be clarified by describing that quality as "transhumanist." [Three] Name one not crackpot belief common to most self-identified "transhumanists" that is not held by far more people who do not so self-identify.

I still think you would benefit enormously in coming to terms with these questions. Instead of doing anything of the kind, though, you follow your declaration about what it means to be a "transhumanist" by pouting that I have painted a picture with broad brushstrokes that hurt your feelings. Look, the world is full of nice people, full of bright, complicated people, full of people who do as many splendid and harmless things as dangerously idiotic ones. We're not in the nursery here, you can assume that everybody participating in this conversation is well aware of such vacuities already. You're talking about an ideological system with published formulations and funded organizations with published agendas. If what is wanted is a critique of these notions and their impacts it is simply neither here nor there that their adherents were sensible enough to vote for Obama or are likable at cocktail parties or are kind to their pets. Keep your eye on the ball.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Yo, Mo, How's It Go?

Missouri still hasn't figured out who it voted for for President? The trainwreck alone says "likely McCain State" to me...

Buy Don't Bail, Share Don't Destroy

Enterprises failing but "too big to fail"? Okay, fine. So, rather than bailing out these crooks and incompetents with taxpayer money and thereby nonsensically rewarding bad behavior at our expense, why not buy these enterprises with the money instead at their present bargain basement prices and then distribute the shares to their actual workers across the board? I'm sure that must be a crazy idea but I can't understand why because I lack the special genius that enables my betters of the "investor class" to see Ayn Rand novels as more than just crappy hybrids of Harold Robbins and Amway promotional brochures and stuff like that.

A Member of the HumanityPlusTron Caucus of the Reasonable Makes a Plea

Upgraded and Adapted from the Moot, an Anonymous reader makes a comment and a request:
Even though I would consider myself a "transhumanist," I find myself in almost complete agreement with you, Mr. Carrico, when it comes to the dumbass robot cultists out there. They all, in their minds, live in this pie-in-the-sky future, with all of the gadgets that you already mentioned, but are, in the real world, truly angry because we aren't yet immortal, etc.

I have met some of these people at local transhumanist events, seeking like-minded people, but have only found some of the most deplorable people imaginable. From what I can tell, these people share virtually no similarities to me, except that they use the same clichéd term to describe themselves as I. I consider myself a transhumanist simply because I believe (key word: believe) that most of this future crap is possible, and the development of which might even be likely in the relatively near future.

However, I am under the impression that you should be more careful when describing all, or most, futurists as robot cultists, since there certainly are exceptions to the rule. And just as a side note: there are a fair number of futurist scientists, such as myself (though I'm involved in pure mathematics, so it's not too relevant) and some physics and astronomy professors, who would describe themselves as transhumanists.

I can say with confidence that any truly reasonable "transhumanist" will abandon that idiotic self-designation soon enough that it isn't a particular worry of mine that all three of them will be annoyed by their inclusion in my blanket dismissal between now and then.

But let me be a tad more generous with you for a moment, thou Anonymous but Reasonable HumanityPlusTron.

Are you sure you aren't just a common or garden variety geek or, you know, a nice sf fan? We love geeks and sf fans here at Amor Mundi!

And if you are just a reasonably techno-scientifically literate person interested in facilitating concrete progressive technodevelopmental outcomes, well, there simply isn't really any reason for you to join a Robot Cult to participate in such struggles.

When you say you believe that "most of this future crap is possible" and "likely in the near future" I have to ask you to hit the pause button, though, because if by "this future crap" you mean the usual constellation of nanoscale santa-robotic swarms making you immortal and rich beyond the dreams of avarice, or you worry about the coming of the Singularitarian Robot God, or you think uploading your "self" into cyberspace is a coherent proposition, then, I'm afraid, I have to question your ascription to yourself of a "reasonableness" lacking in other HumanityPlusTrons you have been heeby-geebied by at HumanityPlusTron gatherings.

Becoming invested in highly particular visions of "the future" -- or worse, actually forming self-marginalizing identities with their attendant defensive identity politics or, even worse still, getting caught up in curiously cult-like membership organizations formed around shared identification with such particular visions -- is not at all the same thing as foresight, it is certainly not the same thing as policy making (though selling cults as think tanks seems to be something of a fashionable racket at the moment), nor is it even really what it most resembles, the kind of enjoyable speculative blue-skying about logically possible mega-engineering implementations and their imagined impacts one comes across in any good bookclub for sf fans.

I think you wildly over-estimate the actual number of serious people who self-identify as "transhumanists," or "singulariatiarians," or "techno-immortalists," or whatever other identity-formations are bubbling up at the moment, mostly online, around Ayn Raelian modalities of superlative technocentricity, though I have no doubt at all that many people you might be tempted to describe in these terms do indeed exhibit the more familiar reductionisms, scientisms, technocratic antipoliticisms, eerie near-eugenicisms of which "transhumanist" sub(cult)ures seem to represent the most noisy and photogenic extremities presently in play.

Not to put too fine a point on it, I feel sure that if you really think this business through you will discover there has been nothing reasonable at all about whatever it is that brings you to the odd choice of "identifying" as a "transhumanist," of all things.

Here, let me help you along a bit.

Tell me anything at all that is clarified about a presumably desirable technodevelopmental outcome by adding to it the designation "transhumanist."

Name one quality about an artifact that can only be clarified by describing that quality as "transhumanist."

Name one not crackpot belief common to most self-identified "transhumanists" that is not held by far more people who do not so self-identify.

Now think it through.

No need to thank me. I'm here to help.

Computer Says Yes

Josh Marshall has a question:
Could GM really go under in the next couple months because the Democrats who'd bail the company out are currently at the mercy of the electorally discredited Republicans who want to use the crisis to crush one of the last major manufacturing unions?

Of course, one should point out that Marshall's "because" here, while true enough and awful enough as it is, is actually the last of a string of such becauses that all had their part in the fiasco. That "because" would little likely be in play at all had GM been making cute fuel efficient cars and electric cars that people want rather than stubbornly making crappy unsexy refrigerator-box gas-hogs and crowing about how "innovative" that strategy was for some reason year after year while the bright brainless boys at the top really made their gazillions in paper profits (time for another bonus, fellas!) by eviscerating their American union workers and outsourcing more and more and more.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

They Won't Stop Until Either They Destroy Everything Or Lose Everything (Chapter Two Already)

Matt Stoller:
[T]hose on our side who claimed Bush should be impeached were roundly and are still roundly mocked by most Democratic leaders, even after eight years of radical lawless policies and torture planned by high level Bush officials in the White House. And yet, today, a conservative movement icon [Michael Reagan] has called for impeachments of unnamed Democrats (though we can assume Obama is one of them), and the new administration hasn't even named a single cabinet member to even go through Senate confirmation, let alone taken office.

"I Think of Myself As A Blogger… On Tee Vee"

Just one more reason to adore the brilliant hilarious meteor-hot genuinely progressive queergeek Rachel Maddow of MSNBC and Air America Radio.

Shorter Washington Post

Our advice to President Elect Obama: Don't Try To Do Anything Because Nobody Can Do Anything Anyway. No wonder corporate media sources are losing readers in droves and influence by the second. What stooges, what losers, what featherweights!

Stop the Racist Blame-Gaming on Prop 8

Nate Silver is talking sense again:
Certainly, the No on 8 folks might have done a better job of outreach to California's black and Latino communities. But the notion that Prop 8 passed because of the Obama turnout surge is silly. Exit polls suggest that first-time voters -- the vast majority of whom were driven to turn out by Obama (he won 83 percent [!] of their votes) -- voted against Prop 8 by a 62-38 margin. More experienced voters voted for the measure 56-44, however, providing for its passage.

Now, it's true that if new voters had voted against Prop 8 at the same rates that they voted for Obama, the measure probably would have failed. But that does not mean that the new voters were harmful on balance -- they were helpful on balance. If California's electorate had been the same as it was in 2004, Prop 8 would have passed by a wider margin....

At the end of the day, Prop 8's passage was more a generational matter than a racial one. If nobody over the age of 65 had voted, Prop 8 would have failed by a point or two.

The mass-mediated racist hairball of common wisdom presently getting hacked up by corporate media figurines on this issue looks for all the world like the same tired dreary culture-war divide and conquer nonsense (memo: the culture war is over, people -- we liberals won it a decade ago) -- but driven more by joyless juiceless narrative inertia at this point than by any kind of energetic outright right wing design as likely as not.

Look, correcting this ugly bit of last-ditch organized bigotry is just a matter of time: and very short-term, too, if the highly plausible court challenges filed so expeditiously by the ever-marvelous ACLU find purchase, and otherwise as early as a 2010 proposition if the gathering resistance to this awful hate and ignorance is any indication.

Time is on our side on this one. I don't mean to sound complacent -- you may recall I was arrested fighting anti-gay job discrimination in Cracker Barrel restaurants in Atlanta as a Queer National in the 90s. Even if Eric and I aren't particularly jazzed about the vestigially patriarchal human trafficking institution of marriage in the first place, committed though we certainly are on our own terms, well nigh seven years at this point, we know well enough the work of catastrophic legal stigmatization and psychological warfare represented by Hate Propositions like 8. But as unhappy as I am about 8 in the immediate aftermath, I just can't manage to be unhappy enough about Prop 8 to feel unhappy about Election 2008. America has turned a corner on race, we are killing the catastrophic Southern Strategy for good, we are starting to open a way past race-hatred and race-panic into a more honest address of the terrain of multicultural class warfare in the US. Don't let tired old inapt racist narratives poison the promise of this moment. I'm still savoring more than stewing. I'm feeling hopeful. I can't help it.

The Special Comment

Honoring Service, Because Freedom Isn't Free

Veterans Day differs from Memorial Day in that it honors all veterans, living and dead, for their service to our country and to the ongoing project of our greater freedom.

Given the awful neglect of so many of the wounded and suffering veterans of our many disastrously ill-conceived wars it is especially important in my view to set aside a day to honor them in this way, to viscerally remind Americans, if nothing else, that honoring their service and sacrifice, all too often under orders that were tragically misguided, cannot after all properly be confined to a single day's ritual devotions if we are to be honest with ourselves about it.

It is especially remarkable to note how often those who seem most eager to drive our nation into ruinous avoidable conflicts in the name of patriotism seem to be the very same ones who accuse those of us who would direct our collective attention to the shattering costs of these conflicts as unpatriotic for doing so. On Veterans Day, of all days, one would like to think this ugly and nonsensical gambit would be more likely to fail than at other times, as we all turn to face those very costs written on the bodies and expressions of those who have paid them most palpably.

And since on this day we are meant to honor the service of those who have devoted their energies and even their lives to the struggle to preserve and enlarge the space of our freedom I will add, by way of conclusion, that it is very fitting that we remember in our thoughts today not only those soldiers who fought and died on battlefields in our names, even when in the service of enterprises many of us disapproved and protested, but all those who struggled and suffered no less courageously for our freedom across the fraught span of our history in our streets and in our minds, the freethinkers, the abolitionists, the suffragists, the labor organizers, the socialists, the pacifists, the New Dealers, the Beats, the nonviolent protestors for civil rights, the Panthers, the hippies, the radical feminists, the environmentalists, the queer nationals and riot grrrls, the card carrying members of the ACLU, the multiculturalist theoryheads, the anti-globalizers, the netroots bloggers and citizen documentarians, and, oh yeah, all those community organizers, too.

On this day we honor you all, or at any rate we certainly should, all of you veterans, living and dead, for your service and for your struggle and for your sacrifice, and we will think of you all and draw on your accomplishments as we work in our own modest measure to build a bit more of the road we are progressing along as we go, together, peer-to-peer.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Techno-"Progressive" Priorities Among Our Brave Blinkered Futurologists

I know I don't talk about this stuff as much as I used to, but one simply reaches a point of rapidly diminishing returns with Robot Cultists, it seems to me.

Not to put too fine a point on this, I believe we need universal healthcare and a re-invigorated labor movement before we can get the basic income guarantee and subsidized consensual prosthetic self-determination I think would be so emancipatory (not to mention neat), and we need sustainable energy and waste disposal infrastructures before we get space elevators and a solar diaspora I geek out over the prospect of.

Handwaving about the latter outcomes at the expense of, or even as a substitute for, education, agitation, and organization to accomplish actually progressive priorities is finally not progressive, but functionally reactionary -- even if you slap a "techno-progressive" moniker on it, or claim to affirm actually progressive priorities while never actually talking about them if you can help it or really doing much of anything to bring them about.

As far as I can see, progressivism is already substantially techno-scientifically astute (defending consensus science over faith-based BS about climate change, industrial toxins, science education in public schools, and harm-reduction over faith-based puritanism in drug policy and reproductive health, fighting for net neutrality and free wireless access, funding stem-cell research and renewable energy technologies and so on) and has no real need of a special "techno"-progressivism that adds nothing to this substance while working in the main to distract some progressives from the more proximate struggles that are the preconditions for the very outcomes self-described techno-progressives presumably crave.

I say that progressivism is already substantially techno-scientifically astute, but of course there are voices in the rich ongoing progressive conversation that seem to me rather ill-informed and reactionary in their techno-scientific ideas and attitudes.

So what? That hardly means one has to join a Robot Cult to work for actually progressive techno-scientific outcomes. Indeed, the opposite is far more likely to be the case.

It is surely true that there are indeed some less-informed, more-alarmist, pastoral-fantasist folks who are included in the voices taken seriously among conventional progressives when talk turns to planetary technodevelopmental politics. But my strong impression is that those few truly progressive persons who have shifted their focus from conventional progressive to more "futurological" politics out of frustration with these voices (or so they say) have ended up making surreally bad decisions about who it makes more sense to make alliances with instead:

Market fundamentalist dead-enders and right wing Glenn Reynolds and Newt Gingrich types, still-smug Ayn Rand enthusiasts for heaven's sake (what is this, the 80s?)? Narcissistic silicon valley entrepreneurs looking for circles of admirers to proclaim them gurus while they wait to hype the next techno-bubble? Bio-fetishistic reductionists who take The Bell Curve seriously? "Liberal Eugenicists" who disapprove of deaf parents who approve of their deaf kids or who pine for "cures" for "too"-stressed, "too"-depressed, "under-performing," or otherwise "neuro-atypical" people? "Champions of Science" who are given in their Championing to imperially triumphalist declarations about overcoming the "pomo relativism" coming out of Humanities Departments (what is this, the 80s?) blithely unaware that they are re-enacting the dull disastrous discredited nineteenth century scripts of Social Darwinists or even phrenologists?

Even worse, look at the surreally bad decisions our "techno"-progressives make about what they should be taking seriously in the way of topics: The just-around-the-corner Robot God Singularity? Dealing with comet impacts with bazillion dollar comet-blaster mili-tech? Wondering how soon before we are all going to upload into somehow immortalizing data-streams? (Answer: Never.) Wondering whether nanoscale robot worker-bees are more likely to deliver superabundance via genies-in-a-bottle or to reduce the world to goo?

Look. Want to participate in a truly techno-progressive politics? That is to say, want to devote yourself to progressive and democratizing technodevelopmental social struggles that seek to increase technoscientific knowledge through education, funding, regulation, and wider participation, all the while struggling to ensure that the costs, risks, and benefits of technodevelopmental change are all fairly shared by all the actual stakeholders to that change on their own terms?

Then strive to be a technoscientifically literate conventional progressive and act accordingly.

Everything else is a distraction at best and a sad scam at worst.

Re-Working the Center

When glowing declarations about "moving to the center" actually mean realigning public policy to better reflect the center-left views that Americans have supported for generations rather than moving to the far-right while bought-and-paid-for corporate-military media figurines peddle such out-of-touch extremism as some kind of commonsense populism, well, then "moving to the center" is a different phenomenon than we are used to hearing about and not necessarily something to resist or fear.

We all need to thoughtfully assess the actual actions and policies Obama captions with phrases like "moving to the center" before unreflectively freaking out about them. Subversive citations of slogans like "bipartisanship" and "moving to the center" in the service of leftward realignment do powerful and even necessary rhetorical work for progressives.

People are investing Obama's utterances and personnel choices with a significance that in many cases looks more like superstition than intelligence right about now. Some skeptical scrutiny is very sensible, some progressive pressure is very useful, but to trampoline from the trickle of conduct and information presently available to declarations of Progressivism Betrayed Again are nearly as absurd as those that deem Obama the arrival of the Age of Aquarius.

It seems to me a center-left shift from the far-right falsely figured as center is an undeniably good thing for people of the radically and socially democratic left like me, but it certainly isn't something I am going to confuse for my own politics or mistake as good enough to settle for. A center-left shift refigured as the commonsensical mainstream it has actually long been but has rarely been recognized to be sweeps away a crippling rhetorical minefield for actually democratizing politics, and hence represents an opening for truly progressive work. Not the accomplishment, an opening.

As Obama put it in his victory speech in Grant Park: "This victory alone is not the change we seek. It is only the chance for us to make that change."

There's a lot up for grabs at the moment. A center-left vital center is a good foothold on which progressives can build, a firm purchase on history from which to make a difference that makes a difference.

I think we need to allow ourselves to enjoy the beautiful and hopeful accomplishment represented by Obama's Presidency, we need to understand that a center-left Administration is truly good but not good enough for progressives, and then we need to build on what is good and demand more rather than assume the worst, abandon painful compromises with stakeholders who share the world with us but with whom we disagree, reject the real good at hand for ideal perfections in our heads, pretend that a center-left America is actually as radically left as we are, and so on.

Hello Goodbye

Sunday, November 09, 2008 Helps Make Amor Mundi More Positive

A Mandate for Nation-Wide Early Voting and Universal Voter Registration

There is, of course, no end to the sensible suggestions one hears from progressive people about the ways in which the United States could improve its elections. What interests me especially about the two excellent and profoundly democratizing suggestions discussed in this story in the NYT a couple of days ago, is to see the names attached to the actual bills that seek to implement these ideas and my delighted realization of the very different legislative environment these sponsors and supporters are going to inhabit in January.
“The single most important thing that Congress can do right now is create universal voter registration, which would mean that all eligible voters are automatically registered,” said Rosemary E. Rodriguez, the chairwoman of the federal Election Assistance Commission, which oversees voting. “We also saw incredible success with early voting, and requiring states to adopt it would help as well.”

Ms. Rodriguez said universal registration would reduce the dependence on third-party groups like Acorn to sign up people and would remove the impetus for much of the pre-election litigation over who should be allowed to register.

Congress is already discussing the adoption of early voting nationwide. It now exists in 32 states in various forms.

A bill to do so was drafted last year by Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, and its co-sponsors included Senator Barack Obama, Democrat of Illinois. The bill was tabled after receiving little support from Congressional Republicans....

Early voting... eas[ed] the strain of turnout on Election Day[,] gave voters the chance to clarify their eligibility before Election Day, and it gave election officials more time to test and understand new machines and rules.

Legislation to expand registration [is also] likely to be introduced in the coming months...

“A system of automatic registration, in which the government bears more of the responsibility for assembling accurate and secure lists of eligible voters, is a necessary reform,” Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, who is working on legislation intended to overhaul how eligible voters register, said Thursday. “All eligible Americans should be able to cast their ballot without barriers, and the registration problems we saw on Tuesday and during the weeks that preceded Election Day make clear that the system needs improvement.”

Elections Have Consequences, and among these are Consequences in the way we Have Elections.

First One Hundred Minutes

[via TPM]
The incoming Obama White House is already getting ready to quickly reverse various George W. Bush policies by executive order: The ban on federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research, the prohibition against California setting its own [much more rigorous than the present National] emissions standards, and the global gag-rule that prevents international groups that receive federal funding from counseling women about abortion, among others.

Saturday, November 08, 2008


President Elect Obama's affable quip that he was a mutt has attracted far more attention than anything else he said during his historical first presser yesterday. Although you may be inclined to see in this fact further evidence (as though any were needed) that our lazy and superficial media figurines are incapable of reporting anything actually newsworthy or substantial if they are given any opportunity at all to report anything else at all, it seems to me that in this case, as sometimes does happen, this laziness and superficiality has prompted the media to cover for a change what was indeed the most newsworthy and substantial -- even, dare I say it, epochal -- thing that happened in the Press Conference.

In referring to himself as "a mutt," Obama was playing The Mutt Card. This move was nothing short of an act of genius in my view, even if it amounted to an off the cuff comment on the President Elect's Part, and well worthy of the wide attention it has garnered. Like many truly genius plays of such cards from the political deck, Obama's play of the Mutt Card was especially powerful in large part because few people are likely to have known there was such a powerful Mutt Card to play in the first place.

They do now. Upon hearing it on a newsclip show, my partner Eric said of Obama's playing of the Mutt Card, "just a reminder, for anybody who may have forgotten it already, or may be trying to forget it, the Southern Strategy is Dead."

I couldn't agree more. One of the best things accomplished by the play of the Mutt Card is that it threatens to throw the Race Card out of the deck forever, and to the benefit of us all.

"Mutt Like Me." America the beautiful, land of mutts, lovable freaks, and working class heroes...

Not a place likely to be fooled again by authoritarian minorities who pitch themselves as a "Moral Majority," not a place likely to warm up to mean spirited assholes who pitch themselves as "Values Voters," not a place likely to fall for a weird marginal klatch of violence-prone know-nothing racists who declare the majority of Americans "un-American."

Mutt Like Me. Mutt Like We.

They Won't Stop Until Either They Destroy Everything or Lose Everything

Steve Benen:
The second highest ranking Republican in the Senate [Jon Kyl], just a few days after the election, is already talking about blocking Supreme Court nominations that haven't been named, in response to Supreme Court vacancies that don't exist.

Friday, November 07, 2008

The View From the Village

I've long wondered what "dividing the country" means. I've finally figured it out that means "doing things Beltway pundits don't like."

Steely Dan Helps Make Amor Mundi More Positive

No static at all.

MoveOn Is Bigger Than the NRA

Jane Hamsher at Firedoglake [h/t Eric]:
It was only a short time ago that every Democrat in the Senate was trashing MoveOn, refusing to stand up for them as the right tore them apart. Many of us argued that it was really stupid and irresponsible to help dismantle a critically important part of progressive infrastructure…

After endorsing President-elect Obama in February, Political Actions 4.5 million members contributed more than $88 million towards Barack Obamas presidential campaign….

In the 2008 presidential campaign, MoveOn and its members.... [d]elivered up to 600,000 battleground state volunteers [and] 400,000 more volunteers participated from non-battleground states…. [MoveOn r]egistered more than 500,000 new young Obama supporters in battleground states

With 4.5 million members, MoveOn is now bigger than they NRA. Maybe our leaders should think about that for a while.

What she said.

Obama Will Be Roosevelt… Or He Will Be Hoover

All this -- including the guarded reality-based optimism -- seems to me just about right.

Robert Kuttner from this morning's Democracy Now:
[A] crisis is also an opportunity, and the crash on Wall Street was also the crash of right-wing ideology, the ideology that claimed that markets could do nothing bad and governments could do nothing good.

We’re going to have reality making the most compelling case for activist government since the New Deal. The question is whether Obama seizes the moment. He will either be Roosevelt, or he will be Hoover. There’s no middle ground….
And my bet is that Obama is smart enough that he does not want to fail and that events will force him to be sufficiently bold, but he has very little time to get this right…..

I’m a shade more optimistic for the reason that in desperate times, ideas that are usually dismissed as impossibly radical become barely adequate. And those are the times that we live in. And I hope Obama grasps this sooner rather than later…..

[I]t would be much more straightforward and effective if the government simply took some of this money and nationalized one or two banks. Then the government-owned bank could resume lending, would not have to worry about paying dividends, because there wouldn’t be any shareholders, would not have to worry about executive bonuses, because these would be civil servants. And a lot of the civil servants at places like the FDIC are a lot more competent at running banks than most of the bankers these days.

But these half-measures of throwing money at banks and then not realizing how much leverage you have, probably because Paulson still views himself as Wall Street’s guy in Washington who just happens to be occupying the post of Treasury Secretary rather than the instrument of America’s citizens and taxpayers—so you need a radical change in the way the Treasury Department views the task of recapitalizing American banks and getting credit flowing again.

You’re not going to get this by any kind of variation in the Paulson plan. Obama would be right to resist Paulson’s overtures to buy into this. It’s a disaster. But it could be done right. And if you look at today’s headlines, each European country is struggling with how to do its version of this right. And Obama has a couple of people on his team who are much more progressive than either Summers or Geithner or the rest of the crowd….

I think the jury is still out on what kind of policy Obama is going to ultimately pursue, not because he’s not a centrist—his history is that of a centrist—but I think events are going to force him to be bolder, more progressive, the same way they did with Roosevelt….

If Roosevelt [ha]dn’t become bolder, he would have been Hoover all over again.

They also had social movements. And if you look at the great presidents -- Lincoln, Roosevelt, the Johnson of the civil rights, not the Johnson of Vietnam -- you had the abolitionist movement, you had the industrial labor movement, you had, of course, the civil rights movement.

And I think there’s going to be a tug-of-war inside the administration. And the really interesting question is, what is going happen to the youth movement that became an Obama movement that I think needs to become its own movement for social change, not simply Obama groupies.

Great stuff, I think. For the whole conversation -- another moment in which I discussed a bit in my last post -- go here.