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

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Abba New Year to You All

Pop Quiz, Randroid!

[via Something Awful]

What Kind of Libertarian Are You?

The Racism of Hostility to "Big Government"

I wrote a couple days ago about the popular contest between the guiding ideas of a championing of Good Government as against a vilification of Big Government, being staged in the present as a contest of affection for FDR as against Ronald Reagan as Presidential exemplars. One of the problems with this formulation is that the phrases on which it depends are not equally dependable themselves.

Of course, the idea of championing Good Government is not -- as some facile reactionaries would have it -- anything like a blanket celebration of all government as good, so much as the conviction that government can serve the people well whatever its vulnerabilities to do otherwise and that we must all be dedicated as citizens, then, to ensuring that it does do good.

Now, the idea of vilifying Big Government is a far more confused affair. Given the tendency of so many ideologues most loudly opposed to Big Government to enlarge governmental budgets, debts, employees, legislation, and authority the moment they are in a position to do so it is easy to wonder whether they mean or even remember or understand what they say when they repudiate Big Government. Of course, many claim to oppose the very idea of Government as such (which Reagan himself described as "the problem"), in which case what is Bad about Big Government is just that it is more of what is bad in any case, but this surely exacerbates the initial perplexity of those of us who wonder whether those who speak this way truly mean or understand what they say. It seems curious on the face of it that a person who denounces the criminality and corruption and incompetence of the very idea of public service would then strive so diligently to assume the position of such criminality, corruption, and incompetence (although I suppose it does help us make sense of the fact that so many who achieve public office through recourse to such rhetoric go on to be criminal, corrupt, and incompetent). And given that all public figures in the United States declare themselves dedicated to our democracy it seems especially curious that some would denounce government in a system of government of by and for the people, since this would seem to imply that they denounce not only all of their constituents but themselves as well as members of that people.

But it seems to me that the substantial reality underlying the rhetoric of the vilification of Big Government is really rather more straightforward than all this. Not to put too fine a point on it, Big Government tends to be code for "welfare" and for those who respond to this code it typically seems to mean even more specifically any empowerment of non-whites (which of course makes no sense at all since more white people are beneficiaries of welfare than not, but racism is irrational by nature and it is foolish to expect sense from it). That is to say, when you hear the vilification of Big Government it is crucial to understand just how often this vilification amounts to hostility to any Government so Big as to be Big Enough to be of benefit to anybody but well-off straight (or closeted) white guys. No, I do not think this is a facile or sanctimonious oversimplification. The Southern Strategy is real, and its mobilization by Reagan and others throughout the Movement Republican epoch consummated in Bush II is perfectly well understood.

Slavery was an incomparable crime in the foundation of this nation, a crime exacerbated by the native American genocide through which the United States constituted itself as a continental power through internal imperialism, a crime reproduced in the aftermath of the Civil War through racist Reconstruction and an Apartheid South, a crime consolidated by the exclusion of migrant farmers and domestic workers (many of whom were people of color) from the New Deal that created a white American middle class and then the subsequent failure of the New Deal to achieve a National healthcare system and hence a viable social democracy in the twentieth century because racists were appalled at the prospect of caring equitably for African American citizens, a crime re-invigorated right up to the present day in the racist war on drugs.

It is important to rehearse all this, because it is important that we recall forcefully to mind the ugly substance behind what might otherwise seem the merely stupid and self-defeating hostility to "Big Government" that presumably drives Movement Republicanism. It is important to grasp that their embrace of big authoritarian government in practice does not give the lie to their vilifications of Big Government so much as remind us that these vilifications are often profoundly misleading, functioning as cover for what is more substantially their racist hostility to the notion of equitable treatment for the diversity of their fellow citizens of color. And, finally, all this is important, because unless we attend to all this we are apt to forget or misunderstand the extraordinary force and promise (far from a guarantee, but promise indeed) of the historical moment when the Southern Strategy fails and Barack Obama assumes the Presidency of the United States.

Did the Cold War Happen?

It's interesting to re-read the Cold War as a planetary system rather than a planetary conflict, as a kind of meta-stable postcolonial hegemony that mistook itself as the stalemate between two diametrically opposed ideologies when in fact it constituted more a lumpy but continuous ideological system expressing the values of extractive- centralizing- authoritarian industrialism.

The "End of the Cold War," then, would represent less the victory of one antagonist ("capitalism," so-called) over the other ("communism," so-called), so much as the exhibition of systemic contradictions at both poles in an industrial planetary hegemony that eventually convulsed the whole, first at one pole and very soon after (what wishful thinking, "the end of history," indeed!) at the other.

Few readers of this blog will be surprised to hear that I regard the proper successor to the failed planetary system of extractive-industrialism as polyculture: sustainable planetary peer-to-peer consensual multiculture.

Darker possibilities are certainly also possible: warlordism in the midst of climate catastrophe and planetary pandemics, militarist extinction events, corporatist feudalism presiding over genocidal precarization of "surplus humanity" among others. But it does seem to me that history in this moment is rather up for grabs, and more promising than not, especially given the vitality of global resistance movements against neoliberalism (and its neoconservative underside), the corporate-militarist consummation of global extractive-industrialism, the emergence of environmental consciousness and the proliferation of disruptive peer-to-peer formations.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Defining "Transhumanism"

Like most secular progressives I believe that human beings can and should collaborate to solve their shared problems and improve their shared lot, peer to peer.*

According to a new entry in the Oxford English Dictionary a "transhumanist," apparently, is a person who holds “a belief that the human race can evolve beyond its current limitations, esp. by the use of science and technology.”

This definition perplexes me quite as much as efforts to define trasnhumanism I have heard from less authoritative sources hitherto always have done. To help explain why, let me make three inter-related points that arise from a juxtaposition of the two assertions of belief with which I began this post, the first the progressive commonplace that people should work together to solve problems and the second the presumably definitive "transhumanist" belief that humans can "evolve" beyond their limitations.

First, if the phrase "evolve beyond its current limitations" in the transhumanist definition is intended to express roughly the same idea as my own phrase "collaborate to solve our shared problems," then why exactly would anybody think a new word is needed to describe this very widespread secular progressive attitude, let alone a new word that seems to want to be taken to name an "-ism," a unique and organized worldview with adherents, unique and shared beliefs, and so on?

Second, if "evolve beyond its current limitations" is intended to express something different enough from "collaborate to solve our shared problems" to actually justify the sense that it names some novel "-ism," then just how coherent will it manage to be in this novelty? To elaborate a bit: By "limits" here, then, are we to imagine that all "transhumanists" agree about these limits they would "evolve beyond" and further would we expect that this shared desire to overcome these limits in particular would distinguish them from others in some salient way? When the definition refers to the current limits of "the human race," it seems to imply that these limits are understood as monolithic and uniform (hence, perhaps, the choice of the pronoun "its" rather than "our"), despite the fact that human beings testify to an ongoing and ineradicable diversity of problems, interests, ends, and stakes in history. Or is it the very notion of "limits" as such that are to be "evolved beyond"? Would the latter notion even make sense conceptually? Is "evolution" the right word to describe what takes place when particular limits are overcome, by whatever means, "especially by the use of science and technology"? What is subsumed under the category "technology" in this definition, all artifice, all technique, all culture, or do transhumanists focus on particular aspects of technique to more specific purposes (with who knows what justifications)?

Third, if "evolving beyond current limitations" really does convey simply the desire to overcome shared problems, then how can we account for the conspicuous prevalence in actually existing transhumanist-identified discourses of questions of personally overcoming ageing, death, embodiment, material history (as stakeholder contestation), conventional cognitive and morphological traits and capacities, or on imagined but presumably proximate technoconstituted entities who are assumed to exhibit such overcomings, even though the overabundant majority of people who simply believe we can and should collaborate to solve problems don't seem to share these preoccupations in the least? Does this make the definition worse than vacuous, but actually actively misleading?

It is well known that I personally view transhumanism as a form of both superlative and sub(cult)ural technocentrism.

By describing their technocentrism as superlative, I mean to indicate that the apparently technical discourse of the transhumanists is freighted with frankly theological significance, offering up, in schema, objects of faith stealthed as "predictions"; namely, that human beings will technodevelopmentally arrive (the word "evolve" tends to be misused here) at a super-predicated state reproducing variations on the conventional omnipredicates of the God of Christian theology (alas, with many of the same conceptual incoherencies).

How all this concretely plays out in most transhumanist discourse is in regular expressions of fervent belief in (or discussions predicated on faith in) the imminent arrival of a postbiological superintelligent Robot God that will end human history, or in the imminent arrival of precisely controlled self-replicating nanoscale robots that will deliver a superabundance that will end human stakeholder politics, or in the imminent arrival of genetic and prosthetic medical techniques or brain scanning and modeling techniques that will transform at least some lucky humans (guess who?) into imperishable robots or informational beings in cyberspace and, hence, end human mortality. Unfortunately, superlative aspirations to Singularitarian superintelligence fail to grasp the inter-implication of mind and embodiment, superlative aspirations to Nanosantalogical superabundance fail to grasp the inter-implication of plurality and politics, superlative aspirations to Technological Immortalist superlongevity fail to grasp the inter-implication of life and vulnerability (all of these are arguments I have elaborated at great depth here and here).

By describing their technocentrism as sub(cult)ural, I mean to indicate that transhumanists tend to identify with very particular projected developmental outcomes that they designate "the future" and whose spokespersons they then designate themselves to be, a viewpoint that lends itself to alienation, elitism, determinism, triumphalism, and facile oversimplications of the actual vicissitudes of technodevelopmental social struggle among the ineradicable diversity of peers who share the world in history. Like most ideologues they substitute for the open futurity that is democratic freedom an impoverished vision of "the future" for which they mean to fight with their whole hearts against all who oppose them or through the identification with which they indulge in the pathetic satisfactions of self-congratulatory self-marginalization.

It seems to me one is put in a better position to understand the actually reiterated themes, problems, preoccupations, and formulations of actually transhumanist-identified people, writings, organizations, and so on if one concentrates on the Superlativity of their vantage on technoscientific change in history and on the Sub(cult)ural focus of their organizing than simply flinging vacuities around about "overcoming limits" (in unspecified ways) through "technology" (in unspecified terms).

One would have thought that it would be the proper business of a definition to help us pick out salient instances of a unique phenomenon against a background of greater differences. Instead, the Oxford English definition seems to suggest that transhumanists are some (somehow new? somehow unique?) group who think people use tools to solve problems.

It's easy for me to understand why transhumanists themselves -- seeking mainstream respectability and the influence and funding that goes with it for their marginal membership organizations -- would be well pleased to convince newcomers to their discourse that they are merely technoscientifically literate and optimistic problem-solvers, since their interests in freezing their brains cryogenically the better to eventually upload their souls into cyberspace thus achieving a techno-immortality to be lived out in clouds of virtuality or nanobotic "utility fog" catering to their every infantile wish, all the while in thrall to (or having themselves assumed the guise of) superintelligent robot overlord quasi-deities through cyborgic AI "enhancement" are probably less likely to win them much in the way of serious support any time soon.

By the way, it's equally easy to see why social conservatives who seek to ban the consensual recourse to reproductive techniques and other emerging genetic therapies for fear that these will loosen their hold on the patriarchal pieties with which they parochially identify here and now would also be well pleased to convince newcomers to technodevelopmental debates that commonsense secular democratic approval of scientific development in the service of shared problem solving and consensual improvement of our shared lot somehow connect up to the obviously wacky and delegitimizing agendas of the transhumanist Robot Cult.

It's less easy for me to see how an authoritative mainstream informational resource would fall for servicing the inter-dependent self-promotional interests of these two extreme and marginal organizational perspectives, however, especially with the result of generating a definition so vacuous that it is hard to see what new or unique phenomenon it even means to delineate in the first place.

*Like most democratically minded secular progressives, I believe that the best way to accomplish these ends is to democratize society more and more, that is to say, to ensure that ever more people have ever more of a say in the public decisions that affect them, as well as to support a robust human rights culture and a substantial scene of informed, nonduressed consent (best achieved in my own view through the provision of lifelong education, subsidization of consensus science and reliable access-to-knowledge, the provision of universal basic healthcare and the provision of a universal non-means-tested basic income).

Monday, December 29, 2008

Cackles From the Balcony: Every Egg-N-Sperm Is Sacred Edition, Now With Warp Drive!

Eric points out that bioconservative John Howard's claim that we can resolve the issues actually under contest in current debates about gay marriage by proposing a pre-emptive ban on non-existing samesex conception techniques is rather like claiming we can resolve the issues under contest in current debates about the environmental impact of extractive petrochemical industry by proposing a pre-emptive ban on warp drive engines because of that episode in ST:NG where it showed that, like, warp drive damages the space-time continuum and stuff.

Shorter Eric on John Howard: Does he have, you know, problems?


Can somebody who knows about these things please explain to me (or, better, send me someplace sensible where I can discover for myself) what, if anything, I'm missing that John Howard is seeing in this Kaguya example he keeps going on about? As far as I know, Kaguya is the name of a mouse who was born in 2004 via something like parthenogenesis, an experimental method that has not now nor is apt to have any time soon much in the way of actual application to human beings at all. That is to say, nobody but technophilic or technophobic handwavers are devoting much time to the contemplation of human trials of such a technique, as I understand this. I don't even know how fruitful this specific line of research been taken to be for mice, since, after all, I don't think I've heard anything about it in years, since a few breathless sketchy geek-outs in the glossies years and years back in fact.

Certainly, as it stands, this is not a procedure that is even remotely ready for prime time, and I've never heard of anybody who said otherwise who wasn't an obvious fraud or abject fool. Then again I haven't heard anybody talk about it at all, until now, for almost half a decade, and maybe research in this area is heating up again or something? I have to say that my impression, as is usually the case in matters like these, is that those who are discerning dire threats or making breathless promises connected to this technique seem in the main either to be futurological charlatans preying on the hopes of underinformed people or reactionary luddites whomping up panic in different underinformed people, both very much in the service of little but their own ideological agendas.

Just as I (and every single sensible person I know) oppose actually available "reproductive cloning" techniques as completely unsafe for humans at present, and deem them rightly illegal as things stand, so too should any human recourse to the parthenogenetic technique that produced this mouse be opposed, unless spectacular strides have been made that I don't know about. Needless to say, opposition certainly doesn't translate for me into the coveted bioconservative blanket pre-emptive prohibitions in perpetuity of any research or development or eventually emerging safe and wanted reproductive cloning technique or reproductive parthenogenesis technique medical science might manage to come up with who knows when.

John Howard sputters about the legality of these techniques, but that doesn't seem entirely right to me. Again, I'm not offering declarations but asking for good sources of education in an area where I frankly lack expertise. But aren't there actually quite dire consequences that would follow from the abuse of humans recklessly participating in such techniques deemed unready and unsafe by scientific consensus? It seems to me that Howard is painting an enormously misleading picture here. Now, I'm not exactly a naif, you know: Of course, one can argue about the drawing of lines and the meting out of penalties and the pernicious pressure of money and force in propertized for-profit research models and failed states and so on, but Howard's insinuation that laissez-faire prevails in the North Atlantic medical community is not at all correct, is it? My understanding is that there are indeed laws prohibiting human reproductive cloning so long as it remains, as it is at present, unsafe. It may be true that there is no law banning clone armies and gengineered centaurs and designer superbabies in perpetuity, but surely this is rather for the same reason that there are no laws specifically banning warp drive engines and tornado machines. (For all I know, quite to the contrary of the spirit of Howard's fulminations, there may indeed be laws banning all of these things out there, since, if anything, I tend to find lawmakers a bit ban-happy in the therapy department, much preferring a strong regulation, oversight, and access model in the service of consensual self-determination myself.) My understanding is that researchers who cross this line into misinformation, fraud, recklessness, duress, and abuse lose their licenses, their funding, their liberty, and who knows what else. Could somebody (Martin?) direct me to sensible information on this topic?

Actually, I am far from implying that the regulatory schemes in play are adequate. Neoliberal developmentalism and secretive intellectual property regimes render misinformation too ubiquitous for comfort, genomic enclosure, biopiracy, duressed experimentation and organ trafficking among the planetary precariat render genuflections to "consent" all too pro-forma far too much of the time. Radical reforms, (re-)regulations, public subsidizations and oversight, consensualization and democratization are urgently needed. I am not saying anything in saying this that reasonably well-informed democratic-minded people don't already agree is perfectly obvious and even commonplace as sentiments go, but my problem with John Howard types is that these problems and complexities provide no grounds that I can see to go from the urgent need for regulation and oversight and access-to-knowledge to render medical practice safer, fairer, and more consensual instead to pronouncing sweeping pre-emptive bans in perpetuity on any safer more fruitful techniques along these lines that might eventuate from research in years to come, all in the service of whatever fetishization of the natural or customary state of affairs they happen to parochially prefer to consensual self-determination among the diversity of their peers. I mean, democratic-minded people should certainly want to argue about the ethics of nonhuman animal testing, the regulations that should prevail eventually over human trials, and so on, but this really doesn't seem to be what bioconservatives like John Howard are after at all.

I certainly am not qualified to make any predictions as to whether or when techniques like reproductive cloning or reproductive parthenogenesis might become safe enough to warrant access as part of the package of ARTs included in universal basic healthcare provision (which, as I have said, I strongly advocate), but you can be sure if and when the techniques are safe according to a consensus of scientific judgment and consented to by competent, well-informed citizens without duress who want them, then I'll champion both the techniques and celebrate the citizens who make recourse to them.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Is Building or Looting the Path to Presidential Greatness?

It’s a showdown between the two most influential presidents of the 20th Century. Franklin D. Roosevelt versus Ronald W. Reagan.

Forty-five percent (45%) of U.S. voters say FDR, the Democratic father of the big government New Deal who led the country to victory in World War II, was the better president of the two.

The results are actually inconclusive here, but clearly we are witnessing something of a turning of the tide.

I find it a bit flabbergasting that the Republican bad mouthing of FDR's New Deal which vociferously began while FDR was in office and has never ceased, becoming a drumbeat for deregulatory dismantlement ever louder and ever more ruinous every year after right up to the present day, is still so fragile a thing that Americans with so little encouragement or explanation otherwise still remember enough and know enough and care enough to see through the crap they've been peddled and assert so contrary a vision of American greatness.

It's interesting to note that the framing of the poll results here remains more firmly in the grip of Reagan-era fallacies, perhaps, than the people they polled. FDR is the Democratic father of Good Government quite as much as "big government," after all.

Of course, it is important to realize that FDR and Reagan do not represent competing visions in some abstract way, so much as the direct, explicit, passionate assault of elite and incumbent interests on the relatively democratized (but still racist, to its irreparable cost) middle class society created by the New Deal. Ever since FDR and quintessentially so in Reagan, the Right has been defined by the project to roll back the New Deal (largely through the activation of divisive class resentments filtered through racism and patriarchy). Meanwhile, the Left has been defined by the project to preserve the New Deal while ambivalently (to be polite) coming to terms, on the one hand, with the institutional legacies of racist slavery and, on the other hand, with the transformation of patriarchy exacerbated by the pill and gay liberation.

I suspect that this poll will much more enthusiastically favor FDR over Reagan in eight years' time, after two Obama terms (knock on wood). What would be interesting, and far more apt, is to find comparable numbers favoring Carter over Reagan as well by then. Although I would not be the least bit tempted to propose that Carter was a "great" President, I do think it is a heartbreaking catastrophe for the United States that Reagan (who was also far from great in my view, in fact he was relentlessly awful) truly was, as the poll would have it, incomparably the more influential President of the two. Had Carter been the more influential President, I think a renewable energy economy, a basic income guarantee, and universal single-payer healthcare might all be realities in America by now. Imagine! As for Bush, of course, whatever Pickles says to the contrary, now and always and evermore our Worst. President. Ever.


Updated and adapted from rom the Moot, just because I offered a response off the cuff that I'm not entirely sure of and I'd be interested in contrary reactions and elaborations.

Martin raises an interesting question:
Dale, just wondering -- and again, I may have missed it -- where do you stand on polygamy? I think the logic behind gay rights entails support for polygamy. Why just "couples"? That's numerical bigotry. I think any group of consenting adults should be allowed to marry. But I also think that this whole debate would be moot if government got out of the business of sanctioning marriage.

Well, as I've mentioned before, I actually personally disapprove of marriage as a largely patriarchal vestige, and what I specifically disapprove is the denial of the already existing right of citizens to marry to samesex couples in particular entirely as the expression of and in the service of the maintanence of homophobia.

I have no "pre-emptive" or "logical" aversion to state sanctioned threesomes, line marriages, temporary marriages, or any number of imaginable alternatives -- so long as one is extremely vigilant about the ways in which these might become forms of exploitation, indenture, and so on.

But I can't say that I am very interested in these or any other forms of affiliation I might come up with off the top of my head if I give the idea extended thought. This is because I think one should confine one's attention in these matters to actual citizens who are being stigmatized and marginalized here and now as they navigate existing institutions, actual citizens who are making explicit demands in the name of justice for our consideration.

As for organized polygamists (I admit I don't know much about this issue), I would need to see exactly what they claim to be denied, exactly what they claim suffer in consequence, and exactly what they are asking for before I would offer up a blanket approval or disapproval of the form, you know?

Martin says I think the logic behind gay rights entails support for polygamy and I see what he means, but I don't really agree that this is a useful way of looking at the question when all is said and done. I say this because I don't think social struggle for greater equity and diversity and democracy is really a matter of logical entailments, so much as a matter of actually existing citizens testifying to suffering, re-imagining their relation to public discourse, and demanding rights.

I hope that doesn't seem like quibbling on my part or just a way of sidestepping Martin's point. I think it is an interesting question, and the fact that it redeems an otherwise frustrating exchange with John Howard is much appreciated.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Dear John,

I'm endlessly on record opposed to endlessly many expressions of organized transhumanism and I'm also a public critic of much of what gets promoted under the heading of "liberal eugenics" as well. I offer up critiques of these positions not only here but in courses that I teach. It's simply unreasonable for you to say otherwise and unreasonable for me to pretend this is a good faith conversation between us so long as you continue to imply that every time I advocate regulation or indicate awareness of actual medical abuses I am some sort of suave stealthy coporate-militarist or Robot Cultist in my deep secret heart that only you can read.

You say you are less interested in transhumanist-identified people than with people you identify as transhumanists, no matter what they have to say in the matter. I mean, would you just randomly redefine Mormonism or Scientology and start publicly identifying people as members of those organizations even if they're not? This seems to me highly irresponsible, to say the least. There are plenty of words to describe broader characteristics one might associate with some or even most transhumanist-types and others caught up in similar historical discourses -- technocrats, reductionists, eugenicists, elitists, ideologues, cultists, authoritarians, spontaneists, individualists, futurists, utopians, and so on. It is actually clarifying to embed transhumanist discourses in the older, deeper techno-scientific and political discourses they participate in and redeploy in their own ways. I think it is less clarifying to accuse people who disapprove of Robot Cults of being members in them.

But you can of course define any terms however you like and slot people into them however you like, and people will either take up your usages and assignments or they won't according to their usefulness. Be all that as it may, there are deeper problems in play here it seems to me. So long as your emphasis in considering ongoing and perhaps proximately upcoming non-normativizing medical interventions is not on actual harm reduction and actual informed, non-duressed consent but on the "preservation" of this fantasy of a pristine foundational heterosexual integrity imperiled by any medical (or broadly social, apparently) intervention however safe or consensual that you deem "unnatural," I fear nearly everybody but anarcho-luddites and anti-abortion zealots will seem to you to be in the tank with the transhumanists and eugenicists. It's hard for me to see how that can be a particularly useful way to map the terrain we are talking about here.

It's not only prohibition that counts as regulation, after all.

When we recognize the ways in which a scene of would-be consent is duressed by precarity or violated by misinformation it's not only by abandoning the value of consent that we would "defend" it, but by checking the abuses that have undermined it, surely.

It's true I'm not an hysterical luddite nor am I a conservative who mistakes incumbent interests for "natural" ones nor am I an authoritarian who declares people will be "free" only when they are made to behave the way I believe is best for them.

But it's also true that I am strongly opposed to "enhancement" discourses that stealth their moral prejudices as "neutral" hygienic recommendations. I am strongly opposed to neoliberal acts of "consent" made under conditions of marketing, misinformation, elite secrecy via intellectual property regimes, and under prevailing conditions of market duress. I am strongly opposed to medical practices unregulated by assessments of cost, risk, and benefit that square with actual scientific consensus.

You can blow that off as double-talk, or hypocrisy, or hopelessly compromised, or too abstract (there's some justice in that -- my training is in philosophy and rhetoric and so my interventions tend to be on the general side, which I maintain has real uses but is no substitute for more concrete discussion), or whatever, but if you do there's no satisfying you at all as far as I can see. Why should I take you seriously?

And I still don't for the life of me understand why our conversations always seem endlessly to circle back round to this clogged drain of your obsessive interest in "preserving" the "sanctity" and "ubiquity" of heterosexual reproduction above all other things.

Men and women fuck and some of them have babies, we get it, for god's sake, do you need a fucking medal?

Overcoming Gender Among the Transhumanists

Upgraded and adapted from the Moot:
George Dvorsky supposedly coined the term Postgenderism and it might be considered a strain, since lots of Transhumanists might not think about it much, and might still want genders in their enhanced future, but its also kind of central to Transhumanism to not be constrained by any vestiges of our biological evolution, isn't it? And being constrained to one gender and having to reproduce with someone of the other gender is definitely something that EVERY Transhumanist would agree is something to overcome.

I've written on this topic elsewhere, if you want to pursue it beyond this exchange. Whatever else one might want to say about Dvorsky's piece (which is interesting, even if I focus mostly on my disagreements and concerns about his ideas in it), you certainly can't sensibly attribute the coinage of that term to him, and neither does he claim to do. I mean, he cites the influence of Donna Haraway (he mostly misreads her in my view) who used the term in work predating his by nearly a quarter century, for example. And I doubt she coined it either, to be honest, or even thinks she did, or would care in the first place about such things.

I quite agree that there is a real strain -- in more senses than one -- that one discerns among many of the superlative technocentrics, the transhumanists, extropians, singularitarians, cryonicists, cypherpunks, and so on... a horror or disdain of the vulnerable, ageing, messy, desiring "meat body," and there is no denying that a pining to be beyond morphology, beyond death, beyond materiality (in many senses) recurs in much of their literature. To be "beyond gender" or "post-gender" in their accounting of it is very likely of a piece with that tendency.

It is interesting that this "post-gender" attitude is often mistaken by the transhumanists (or by sympathetic readers of theirs) as a kind of feminist tendency in their movement -- but I think there is a crucial difference between the feminist desire to resist and overcome patriarchy and what seems to be afoot in most of the transhumanist pining after a post-gendered post-embodied post-historical and somehow thoroughly instrumentalized agency.

It is useful to note that Judith Butler's wonderful book Undoing Gender indicates in its title at one and the same time, (first) its commitment to a feminist project to undo the patriarchal sex-gender system, (second) its commitment to a "performative" understanding of embodied materiality in which gender to be a thing we "have" must be understood in a key sense to be a thing we "do", and (third) its commitment to an understanding of gender as a site of a desire in which subjects are "undone" in ways that constitute our freedom in both its real danger and real pleasure/productivity. Think of the richness available to a feminist and queer gender politics so construed!

Glib discussions from transhumanists (and, as usual, mostly other people) about "overcoming gender" seem to me rather comically beside the point, inasmuch as gender is a site in which we are invested with the agency that "overcomes" in the first place. To be sure, I find "post-gender" manifestos like those of so many of the transhumanists too typically to signal a complacent declaration of an "accomplishment" of post-sexist consciousness and practice that usually amounts to a kind of dumb "post-feminist" sexism when all is said and done, and certainly manages at best a facile engagement with gender-work as it actually plays out in the world.

The comment goes on to mention that humans are "constrained" to one gender, and then genuflects to the notion of a "natural" biological act of heterosexual reproduction as well. Let me point out that both intersex and transsex people and lifeways actually do exist, right here in River City, and so the "constraint" to which the comment refer so confidently and which seems so foundational to so many of the commenter's assertions is quite simply a facile falsehood.

There is no need to invoke techno-utopian or techno-dystopian teledidonics or chimeras or metamorphs to find yourself in a world underconstrained by the iron limits you speak of, you're already soaking in it.

I leave to the side the fact that the comment uses the word gender rather than sex though all of this, since I'm assuming the terms are are being treated roughly interchangeably, even though it is a convention to use the word "gender" to describe the extraordinary historically and socially contingent and multivariate roles taken up by individuals marked by sex and marking them in their sex, something which hardly lends credibility to the evocation of a gender "constrained" to a stark reproductive imperative and pristine sexual dimorphism.

(None of this is to deny the real costs exacted by the force of socially specific gender-typicalities on those who are seen to deviate from them. One of the strengths of performative accounts that make them worth their complexity is that they really try to do justice both to the contingency and to the density of the historically embodied lifeways in which humanity is materialized.)

But quite apart from the fact that the world seems to me already considerably more contingent and multivariate and deviant from the strict heteronormativity that the comment seems to take for granted, I would also point out that even heterosexual sex scarcely seems to pass muster by the standards of "naturalness" it seems so invested in, really.

"Conventional" reprosexuality, playing out here and now on our streets and on our screens and on our bodies, its desires, its significances, its capacities, are all inextricably embedded in the contingent formations of patriarchy, "natural" only in the sense that its typical forms are indeed the customary ones for the moment. For "straight" folks as well as for queer ones, gender is already a site in which we overcome and are overcome (and sometimes when we are lucky, come).

When one speaks of overcoming gender it takes us to the heart of the work of gender in history, a history bound up in hideous sexist and heterosexist violences, to be sure, but not exhausted by these.

Bringing clones and male pregnancy and avatar sex and all that hype into the discussion and then getting all hot and bothered by it -- whether in a bioconservative reactionary sex-panic or a transhumanist adolescent circle-jerk -- seems to me to indicate a rather impoverished take on the matter, when it comes down to it.

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Structural Asymmetry Faced By Good Government as Against Anti-Government Politics

One cannot stress this point Krugman made in his Christmas column often enough:
[T]he Bushies didn’t have to worry about governing well and honestly. Even when they failed on the job (as they so often did), they could claim that very failure as vindication of their anti-government ideology, a demonstration that the public sector can’t do anything right.

This isn't just a question of the hypocrisy and inertia of elite institutions favoring incumbent and moneyed interests above all. All that was depressingly in evidence often enough, but now that the tables have turned somewhat we are in a better position to understand the different stakes and conditions that structurally confront good government as against anti-government types more generally.

There is a special difficulty for good-government types (who closely but do not perfectly track Democratic as against Republican partisan politics, so one should be a little careful around this) in an era in which it is relatively easy opportunistically to deploy righteous dissatisfaction with organized corruption and incompetence into a popular anti-governmentality that actually benefits most who also benefit most from the corruption and incompetence itself.

(It has been largely the mass-broadcast media formations of the late modern era that facilitated this ease opportunistically taken up by the successive 20C waves of the Right, from the rise of fascism through to the bloody postcolonial global implementation of the corporate-militarist Washington Consensus comsummated in the killer clown college of the Bush II administration. Meanwhile, the ongoing -- but more vulnerable than you might think -- eclipse of mass-broadcast media by peer-to-peer formations has created the conditions, well, together with the emergence of post-nationalist environmental concerns, for a genuinely revolutionary recasting of the planetary political terrain to which radical democracy and social justice movements would do well to avail themselves while the getting's good. This is actually a topic for a separate post, but the politics that are roughly indicated through the shorthand of "good government types" are actually indispensable to this democratizing consensualizing planetary moment in my view -- without them, radical democracy is all too likely to be appropriated by the usual rhetoric of "spontaneism" and "negative liberty" that always eventually buttresses the politics of incumbency over the politics of resistence.)

It is crucial for "goo-goos" (advocates of good government) to resist their temperamental attraction to "moving on" in the name of problem solving here and now. They need to rethink their apparently endless capacity to "forgive and forget" those whose skills seem scarce and wasted should accountability for failure and corruption shunt them aside. And they must explicitly discredit all those who proffer blanket condemnations of government as such -- when good government is literally indispensable to the maintenance of legitimate, democratic, equitable, diverse, consensual social order. They must condemn those who would condemn public service in general as corrupt, incompetent, or ridiculous -- rather than excoriating corrupt and incompetent public servants in particular together with praise of the heroism, service, and sacrifice of public service in general. They must expose the self-serving pretense of those who like to insinuate that there something foolish or impractical or self-marginalizing in a dedication to integrity, fairness, long-term thinking, empathy, waiting for one's turn, achieving competence, right modesty, critical thinking, and taking responsibility for one's mistakes and even for the unintended harms one has had a hand in making -- when these are the public values that help make the world a place worth living in for all, peer to peer.

The anti-government types are all too eager to eat the world they did nothing to make and little to maintain, to howl that there "ain't no such thing as a free lunch" even as they feast themselves on a crumbling infrastructure (not only the physical infrastructure of roads and pipes and professionalisms and legal precedents, but a psychical infrastructure of goodwill and trust and decency and commonwealth eroded by self-promotion and looting and snide short-sighted opportunism) they refuse to pay for, eating it and thinking or pretending they can have it, too. Their carnival of looting and cruelty has been a vicious circle that swallowed a whole generation, their bad behavior feeding failure after failure and ensuring always only that those who were the most vulnerable or who actually sought to save the world from these predations would be the first to fail themselves, the first to burn out, the first to be squeezed, the first to be criticized for any misstep, the most vulnerable to the charge of hypocrisy if they succeeded in accomplishing anything at all, however momentary, under these impossible conditions, and so on.

Good government types must install virtuous circles to overcome these vicious ones always at the ready to undermine the harder work of common sense and common wealth. They must ensure that those who benefit from the equitable administration of society and law understand very well their absolute interdependence with their fellows for their continued security, prosperity, and expressivity and are devoted to maintaining the institutions and standards without which that security, prosperity, and expressivity are hopelessly fraught and fragile: imperiled by the short-sightedness, self-rationalization, and parochialism all human beings are susceptible to, but on which incumbent authority and privilege especially tend to depend for their long maintenance in a dynamic world.

Good government is fragile, and the task of good government types is far more difficult than that of anti-government types (except in rare moments of devastating reckoning like the one we are likely in for at present when the costs and stakes become flabbergastingly stark). Just as anti-governmentality succeeds with every failure, at least until these many failures accumulate into a failure too sweeping and too deep to hide or mistake or bear, good governmentality must ensure that its every success is indeed experienced as the success it is, as an accomplishment of common sense and common wealth for which we can all of us be proud and grateful and which should find us newly dedicated to the common work, peer to peer, without which every creative achievement, every collaboration, every reconciliation, every secure comfort would all too likely have been stillborn or stolen or smashed by the frailties we are all of us heir to otherwise.

Marriage? No, Thanks. The Right to Marry? You Better Believe I'll Fight for It!

I am not personally interested in assimilating into a heteronormative frame in which I become a "good gay," nicely bourgeois, logo-ized, lobotomized, married, buried, kids, all eagerness to kill my nation's "foes" of the moment on some foreign field as an openly gay patriot or what have you.

I am personally much more ferociously identified with promiscuous, punk, and pacifist variations of queerness, nicely crunchy, pinko, pervy, and effete-aesthete. I can't say as such that I am pleased particularly by the appalling but customary tradeoff that would now offer up legal standing and cultural legibility to queer people but at the price of the demand for our assimilation into the mainstreaming machineries of corporate-military monoculture.

I do agree, then, that a crucial dimension of queer critique and political struggle must be to resist this false tradeoff, to direct attention to the ways in which it marginalizes and denigrates intersex, bisex, trasnsex, asex, polyamorous, and otherwise deviant/defiant gender-atypical persons and lifeways.

But I have no trouble at all reconciling this queer agenda with my awareness that the refusal of equitable access to the institutions of marriage, adoption, public and military service for queers who aspire to them is conspicuously unjust and must be fought as such. Not only that, but it is plain to me that these exclusions function as a primary mechanism through which the ongoing stigmatization and abuse of less-assimilable queers takes place anyway:

If even boring white guys who want nothing more than to get married and shop for crap with their kids are rendered not-quite-human not-quite-citizens just because they couple homosexually, you can be sure that more radical modalities of queerness are earmarked for an even surer destruction in such a society.

And, anyway, if I want to celebrate the free expressivity of promiscuous punks and poets, this scarcely entitles me to denigrate all those whose queerness includes forms of long-term commitment, monogamy, child-rearing, public service, and so on that may be less pervy or poetical to my own parochial eyes. My imagination isn't so limited that I cannot conceive of worthy lives lived otherwise than mine nor are my values so insecure that I imagine them imperiled just because they jostle in the public square together with different ones.

So long as equity and diversity and consent are secure (or more to the point: only to the extent that they are so secured) I am usually happiest in the marginal minority, immersed in the bracing and provocative spectacle of difference. I think this is an attitude that is perfectly facilitative of the politics of queer lifeways, however assimilated or deviant they might be, as it happens.

None of this is to deny that assimilationist lgbtq politics cheerfully do produce exclusionary and abjective effects on lifeways I would celebrate as indispensable to lgbtq politics properly so-called, but, hey, nobody promised me civil rights struggle would be a rose garden -- one has, as it were, to walk and chew gum at the same time.

And certainly we should be wary of simplistic either-or divide-and-conquer formulations that would support institutional homophobia under the guise of a celebration of homosex in only some one particular parochially preferred mode (even if the preference happens to be our own). The support and celebration of a more capacious atypical queerness is hardly helped along by the stigmatization and precarity of queers rendered second-class citizens in their own societies by law.

Transhumanism = Gay Marriage? Oh... Kay, Then

Just because I couldn't resist, Expanded and Updated from the Moot, here is bioconservative John Howard explaining why I am indeed a transhumanist (secretly!) despite my relentless critique of the transhumanists, all because of my stance on gay marriage of all things:

There is a clear logical line that all people are on one side or the other: should we ban genetic engineering of people? All Transhumanists are on your side, all Bioconservatives are on my side. And I don't see the point of saying that some people on your side are not Transhumanists, or some people on my side are not Bioconservatives.

Probably most transhumanist-identified people will agree with me that the earth isn't flat, but that hardly makes it irrelevant to point out that only a vanishingly small minority of the people who do agree with me on that score are transhumanist-identified and that it may be jumping the gun a bit to go from our shared denial of a flat-earth to corralling me together with transhumanists who actually are more noted for extreme techno-utopian and crypto-eugenicist views which I actually endlessly explicitly excoriate hereabouts.

The mere fact that some people are crazier than you are doesn't make you sane.

This is one of those man in the mirror moments for you, John, if you're up to it.

You still want to allow people to create people basically however they want,

Do you think people are creating golems from clay and magic spells? Do you think sentient suffering robot sex-slaves are appearing on assembly-lines somewhere? What the hell are you even talking about?

Are you proposing a blanket ban on actually-existing IVF techniques or all practices of surrogacy? As it happens I am enormously concerned about the abuses and problems that freight actually-existing ARTS -- the fraud of duressed and misinformed donors and surrogate mothers, the real health-risks and complications associated with the multiple births eventuating from many currently over-utilized fertility treatments, and so on.

But, you know, all of this is real world stuff, unconnected to and unclarified by sweeping declamations against "The Unnatural" or fearmongering fantasies (not to mention corporatist hype usually from the opposite direction) involving designer babies or clone armies or the like.

yet you refuse to stop them if their education doesn't result in the cautious prudence you were needing for your own PR purposes. Maybe that's when you'll decide we need some rules?

Again, I'm not quite sure what I'm presumably refusing to stop here -- golems? androids? cloned Hitlers? bioengineered centaurs? actually existing IVF kids menacing the natural order somehow while fingerpainting in their kindergarten classrooms? It would be absurd in the extreme for you to cast me in the role of some libertopian anything-goes corporatist just because I "merely" advocate strong regulation and public oversight of healthcare provision based on informed nonduressed consent and consensus-science based assessments of risk rather than blanket prohibitions of even not-yet existing or possibly never-to-exist techniques that might some day violate what you have personally come to fetishize here and now as "The Natural" state of affairs where human beings and their sexual and reproductive practices are concerned.

[I]f you can't see that banning genetic engineering means limiting conception to a man and a woman, and prohibiting people from attempting to conceive with someone of the same sex, then you just are willfully refusing to see, I think.

Well, sure, of course I see that this is the case. Unless Jeebus sees fit to bless buttfuckers like me with a miracle butt-baby (I'd abort it, by the way), it doesn't seem likely that homosex is going to yield much in the way of reprosex any time soon without the aid of some as yet only hypothetical medical technique.

But, then, I don't advocate "banning genetic engineering," I advocate actual harm reduction and health facilitation through equitable consensual healthcare provision (in case you want to know how this cashes out at political ground-level: I am an advocate for universal single payer healthcare and a scene of consent that is truly informed and nonduressed, which for me leads to an advocacy of a universal basic income guarantee and access-to-knowledge politics), whether this means banning some techniques you would call "genetic engineering" or making access universal and safe to other techniques you would call "genetic engineering."

If a technique emerges through which samesex couples can conceive a healthy wanted child with actually negligible risk to their health then you can be sure I will advocate that those who actually desire to make recourse to such a procedure can do so, even if this scares some conservatives who happen to believe for the moment that this would amount to "playing god" or "violating nature" -- as such people once said with the same idiotic fervor of anaesthesia and vaccination and so on as well.

You can be sure that it won't only be weird transhumanist-identified Robot Cultists who would be on my side in championing such access. Indeed, I wouldn't much welcome transhumanist allies in championing this access personally, since I daresay one can expect the transhumanists to remain in such a case very much as they are now, a vanishingly marginal minority of superlative technocentrics riding a more mainstream technoscientifically-literate progressive bandwagon but hyperbolized with a little worse-than-useless techno-transcendentalizing handwaving in the hopes of conning a few more impressionable naifs into ponying up membership dues for their membership organizations to munch on.

Any one that doesn't want a law to keep reproduction natural, between a man and a woman, is a Transhumanist

If you truly believe this, then I must question your sanity a bit.

It is a pretty neat strategy to pursue gay marriage and Transhumanism separately, as if they were unrelated, but it's pretty clear they are one and the same thing.

Well, there you have it.

Neither Nor

Transhumanists who like to accuse me of bioconservativism because I won't join their Robot Cult might be intrigued by the return of bioconservative John Howard to the Moot who likes to accuse me of transhumanism because I won't genuflect to his parochial idea of the Natural. He's piping up edifyingly in the Moots of both the Pope post from a couple days ago and a recent Gay Marriage post.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Pope Rebels Against God's Queer Creation

Clearly the Pope has embarked upon a ruinous path of sacrilege all too likely to eventuate tragically in his eternal damnation in some hot hellish nook in refusing to support God's many actually existing intersex creatures and in declaring "unnatural" the homosexual behaviors that God in His infinite Wisdom and Incomparable Fashion Sense has seen fit to render ubiquitous across His Natural Creation. Setting aside the pesky genocidal implications of the Pope's recent "controversial" pronouncements, I must admit that the Pope's chosen analogy attempting to connect his own pet project to eradicate earthly human sexual and morphological diversity with the more widely affirmed project to preserve the ecosystemic diversity of the earth's rainforests simply doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me, though I cannot say that I expect a lot of scientific or logical good sense to issue from the Vatican, as a rule, any more than I do from the Saddleback Church. That these statements are being uttered by a man in a dress at the head of a males-only club known for its taste for boy bottom doesn't help.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Daytime Television

How strange Food Network is, how weirdly American, really. By day, apparently, it's all Kraft Korner with Kitty Caca of the tornado torn acres of the Great White Midwest, and yet by night, when I'm more accustomed to tuning in myself, it's all amuses bouches for the buttfucking set.

Cheney Seeks to Re-Aim Righteous Popular Anger at His Own Enemies

The usually secretive and always sinister Dick Cheney continues to make a ghastly spectacle of himself in his ongoing farewell tour of public interviews, cheerfully admitting to war crimes one day and now blandly confirming the complicity of Democratic leadership with the Bush/Cheney illegal spying and torture policies.

Of course this latest admission of his yesterday in his Chris Wallace interview on Fox News confirms strong long-held suspicions many of us had who were rightly appalled at the "capitulation" of actually unscrupulous and self-serving Democrats the last couple of years in "legalizing" unjustifiable and tyrannical warrantless eavesdropping and also in immunizing telecoms from liability for this (not to mention in taking the Constitutional remedy of Impeachment "off the table"), despite the nearly universal demands of the constituents they claim to represent to do the opposite for the sake of our nation's free future and the rule of law. As usual, it is Glenn Greenwald who has many of the gory details.

As I said, it's not that we didn't know all of this already, but it's quite clear that Cheney's got his gun out again and we all know that he aims for the face. I think it is enormously important for us to be clear about what he's up to. I suspect he's eager to hobble as much as possible the freshly empowered Democratic Party and its leadership at precisely the moment when they are most likely to be driven to and actually capable of undoing some of the deep institutional damage of the Bush/Cheney corporate-militarist executive power grab. It may seem paradoxical, but his best chance to accomplish this feat is to mobilize precisely the righteous anger of the people about Bush/Cheney tyranny, and redirect it at the agents of change actually positioned to implement something like the will of the people in this moment.

Of course, what one wants to do is ride Harry Reid, Jay Rockefeller, Jane Harman, and Nancy Pelosi out on a rail for their stupidity and venality and complicity in all this. But to do that would likely have mostly the concrete effect of ensuring, as almost nothing else could do at this historical moment, that we lose the only tools we actually have on hand to do anything at all to resume something like the democratizing path of a nation of laws in a planet at peril. You go to war with the army you have, as some asshole once said.

It's truly ugly and it's truly awful, which is no doubt why Cheney is so eager to whomp up this ink cloud of immoral ick at this time in particular. The forces of incumbency thrive best in this ugly and awful world, while the forces of equity and expressivity are divided and demoralized by it.

Millions upon millions have voted for change and are feeling hopeful and empowered for the first time in over a generation -- all that energy has to go somewhere, but if you are a corporate-militarist blood-fat with petrochemical and military-industrial profits and waiting patiently in your web, you know well what it takes to dissipate such righteous passion and derange the trajectories of its threatening reformist forces.

Those who are amazed at Cheney's apparent indifference to his legacy in admitting to all this palpably unpopular amorality, criminality, and tyranny fail to understand that Cheney is a true conservative, that Cheney has never cared at all what even billions of non-rich and therefore non-capable people think about him, and that for Cheney his "legacy" is a matter of preserving the actual institutions of the elite-incumbent "aristocratic" world order with which he has always personally identified, and to the consolidation of which (always, to be sure, to his own personal enrichment) he has devoted all his life's dark energies.

We need to hold everybody accountable for their part in the crimes of this debased epoch, but we need to be thoughtful about the path that accountability will take, patient in the implementation of that accountability, conscious of our actual priorities and attuned to the necessarily stepwise itinerary those priorities impose on the work of accountability, alert to manipulation by privileged and unscrupulous people who seem temperamentally better-suited to such considerations, and take care to preserve a long, strong institutional memory that keeps the drive for accountability fresh enough always to be ready for its right moment when it eventually comes.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Gay Smearage

There are no non-bigoted reasons for disapproving marriage equity for samesex couples. There are surely plenty of reasons to disapprove marriage as an historical or presently sanctioned institution more generally (I am highly sympathetic to many of these arguments myself), but none of these reasons provide a right rationale for the prohibition to samesex couples in particular of access to marriage as it actually exists. If state-sanctioned marriage is something you believe loving competent couples should be able to make recourse to, then citizens in samesex couples clearly must have equal access to the same unless you believe their love less real for its queerness (which makes you a bigot), or you believe their queerness renders them incompetent somehow (which makes you a bigot), or you believe marriage is intended to protect only families and offspring (which makes you confused, not least because many gay couples have children and many non-gay couples do not, but likely also makes you a bigot, against at least some gay people and possibly many others who are not), or you believe that "separate but equal" domestic or civic partnerships should suffice samesex couples as certainly they do not so seem to satisfy straight couples (which, you guessed it, makes you a bigot). Certainly the planetary historical record of mandated marital forms provides a more diverse spectacle of reprosexual, slaveholding, polygamous, incestuous, and queer forms than one would expect to find were one to listen only to the righteous invocations of monotonous millennia of Ozzies and Harriets, presumably now somehow imperiled by the occasional Ozzie and Harry, always attested to with such smug certainty by fundamentalist know nothings. So if you disapprove marriage equity for samesex couples in particular, well, then I'm afraid on this issue at any rate, whatever else you might be in other areas of your life (including the likely possibility that you are a perfectly nice person who is appalled by quite a lot of bigotry otherwise), you're a bigot. Everybody reading these words already knows every one of these arguments already, and it is hard not to suspect that there must be something else afoot if you are still holding stubbornly on to this benighted bigotry at this point. If you don't want to be a bigot under these circumstances, and of course you know you don't, not really, then the thing to do is not to protest the priorities or the anger or the pain of those who are calling a spade a spade where your bigotry in this matter is concerned, but to stop being a bigot.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Obama Talks Science

"[P]romoting science isn't just about providing resources -- it's about protecting free and open inquiry."

Friday, December 19, 2008

No Poofters!

Recent winning streak for America's queers blazes blisteringly along.
Alone among major Western nations, the United States has refused to sign a declaration presented Thursday at the United Nations calling for worldwide decriminalization of homosexuality. In all, 66 of the U.N.'s 192 member countries signed the nonbinding declaration -- which backers called a historic step to push the General Assembly to deal more forthrightly with an[ti]-gay discrimination. More than 70 U.N. members outlaw homosexuality, and in several of them homosexual acts can be punished by execution.

In The Tank In The Tank In The Tank

Conservative Commentariat Surveys the Wreckage

A dozen thinkers of the Movement Conservative Epoch stare into the abyss and scratch their heads.

Want it in a nutshell?

Movement Conservatism


Delusive Reckless Greed


Scapegoating Hatespeech

Minus Authoritarian Desire to Rule or be Ruled


Literally Nothing At All.

This Is Actually A Problem.

The Computer Has Lost Its Voice

Majel Barrett-Roddenberry Dies. No offense, but the headline announcing the death of the incomparable Lwaxana Troi should certainly not be "Wife of 'Star Trek' Creator Dies," in my not so humble opinion.

And here she is playing Number One -- the role later assumed by the odious Riker in "Next Generation" -- in the "Star Trek" Pilot, in which she offered us a stunning prefiguration of "Voyager's" kick-ass Janeway:

Here she is as a blonder blander Nurse Chapel, the more domesticated and non-threatening role the sixties shunted her off to instead, but in which she still managed to convey competence good sense good humor and strength.

If the last few frankly awful movies and the idiotic reactionary Bush-era "Enterprise" series hadn't terminated this epochal franchise, one wonders if the loss of the literally ubiquitous Majel Barrett will. Come what may, it will never be the same.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Wow, Awesome

Obama has selected Rep. Hilda Solis for Secretary of Labor.

Cackles from the Balcony: What Ifs Edition

Responding to the Commenter in the Moot a couple of days ago who in response to my support for Iraqi journalist Muntadar al-Zaidi
asked the immortal question "What if that shoe had been a grenade?" Eric has raised the stakes considerably:

What if the shoe had been a thermonuclear warhead and Bush had been a basket of big-eyed puppies?

What if, indeed.


Eric has pointed out to me that since the Warren Invocation takes place before the administration of the Oath of Office whereas the Lowery Benediction takes place afterward, strictly speaking reactionary bigot Warren will be speaking in the Bush Administration and liberal firebrand Lowery will be speaking in the Obama Administration. Okay, I relinquish the field.

Still in the Tank for Obama

Don't get me wrong -- I'm still completely pleased and proud to have voted for Obama and am still suffused with hope. I'm not a one issue guy and queerbashing is palpably in eclipse despite the best efforts of panicky organized bigots who grasp that losing the Southern Strategy and Gay Panic in one fell swoop pretty much means America is going to turn into a full-on secular multiculture, essentially California writ large, well before our lives are done, probably by the close of the Obama Administration itself. Obama is going to get America on a renewable energy footing, he's going to extend healthcare to millions and millions while creating the conditions under which universal single-payer healthcare will finally be possible, he's going to facilitate labor organizing for the first time in generations. We'll see about the war, we'll see about militarism more generally, we'll see about corporate-militarist budgetary priorities, we'll see about steeply progressive taxation and basic income provision: I suspect I'll be back in the streets soon enough. But it would be foolish not to understand the transformative scope of the change Obama represents and is facilitating, especially so long as we ourselves push and push and push him to democratize and render ever more equitable every sphere of public life, peer to peer.

Why Doesn't Obama Think Warren Is Disagreeing in Disagreeable Way? UPDATED TWICE

I agree we can disagree without being disagreeable. I don't agree that the comparison of gay marriage to child rape is agreeable or that lying to people about the implications of Prop 8 in order to get hate written into a State Constitution is agreeable disagreement. Capitulation isn't "coming together."

And, by the way, no, I don't think "we all know" what a ferocious defender you are of LGBTQ folks, Mr President Elect. I love you, but I consider that an area in which you have to prove your leadership after some lukewarm moves so far, of which this latest is hardly confidence inspiring.

UPDATE: Revealing debate on the topic over on CNN:

UPDATE TWO: This dKos diarist offers up an anecdote that has given me pause but not yet changed my mind. Eric is coming around on this a little bit, especially given the Lowery book-end, and he usually is more sensible than I am about these things, so we'll see. I guess if Warren manages to be bland and Lowery to be a firebrand this will turn out, uh, okay, ish, but I still think this was a mistake, I still think too many progressives think queers are frivolous to expect their demand for equal treatment to be any kind of political priority, and I still think the way to reach out to social conservatives is to marginalize the worst of them while opening the way to more reasonable ones. And this last strategy requires not falling for "America's Pastor" PR like Warren's when there is demonstrably a dime thin difference between him and the likes of Dobson.

No Prominent Pastors Who Aren't Reactionary Bigots? Honestly?

An Anonymous commenter stamps his foot in the Moot: "Is there any prominent churchman who would have been acceptable on the gay right's issue and yet not far too controversial in other respects?"

Oh, us pesky gays! So sensitive! Always whomping up controversy over nothing!

Look, Anonymous, Warren doesn't believe in evolution! Warren thinks forcing women into lethal back alley abortions is non-negotiable for any right thinking Christian! Warren thinks gay marriage is equivalent to child rape! Warren literally lied in public on multiple occasions to get his way on Prop 8! Warren has called for the assassination of the current Iranian President!

You're telling me there isn't a prominent churchman (your word -- tho' guess what, there are also women who are pastors, but let's not even go there, I guess) who is less controversial "in other respects"? Gosh, even a grumpy crusty life-long atheist like me doesn't think that things are remotely that bad.

I daresay Obama's choice of a pastor who didn't hold such lunatic views would be regarded as "controversial" to the wingnuts across the Socially Conservative to Fundamentalist to Christianist Militarist Theocrat axis of America to whom Obama imagines he is "building a bridge" here... talk about a bridge to nowhere! Those who are talking about "neutralizing enemies by including them" need to ask why David Duke isn't speaking at the Inauguration and also take another look at Lucy and her football. This choice legitimizes hate and reaction, where what is wanted is the provision of congenial alternatives. You know... change?

This isn't something I follow at all, but I'm sure there are plenty of prominent figures available for this role -- The Rev. Dr. Welton Gaddy of the Interfaith Alliance? I understand Jim Wallace is a name getting bandied about, hell they probably could have chosen former President Carter. I doubt I would be thrilled with any of these folks in every respect, but this isn't perfectionism or political correctness or oversensitivity.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Still in the Tank for... Oh Never Mind

Yeah, yeah, I still think Obama's the cat's meow, I still think lots of good folks on the left are confusing some brilliant leftward terrain shifting for rightward capitulative drift, and all that. But I must say that the Big-Ag Cornfed Obesity Epidemic Apologist and Monsanto shill Vilsack pick for Ag earlier now followed by this rolling out of the red carpet for lying hatemonger theocrat Warren has left me feeling quite grumpy and a wee bit jumpy right about now.

Ladyhawke Helps Make Amor Mundi More Positive

The kids are back in love with Paris again, it's like a whole soul-sucking near-decade of gibbering parochial idiocy didn't even happen.

MundiMuster! Protest Obama's InvocHATEion

E-mail Obama's LGBT liason Parag Mehtaany at with any complaints that might occur to you concerning the transition team's flabbergastingly wrongheaded decision to provide an historically unprecedented and legitimizing public stage for the anti-gay anti-choice rightwing bigot Rick Warren to offer the Inaugural Invocation. Mehtaany is sure to be a rather unhappy person today, so please be as polite as you are forceful in your communications.

Wonder what all the fuss is about? The links here will lead you where you need to go to know more, but here's Kyle at People for the American Way's RightWingWatch with a quick reminder of who we're dealing with here:
[I]n 2004 Warren declared that marriage, reproductive choice, and stem cell research were "non-negotiable" issues for Christian voters and has admitted that the main difference between himself and James Dobson is a matter of tone. He criticized Obama's answers at the Faith Forum he hosted before the election and vowed to continue to pressure him to change his views on the issue of reproductive choice. He came out strongly in support of Prop 8, saying "there is no need to change the universal, historical defintion of marriage to appease 2 percent of our population ... This is not a political issue -- it is a moral issue that God has spoken clearly about." He's declared that those who do not believe in God should not be allowed to hold public office.

As John McCain once put the point in front of that awful pea green backdrop and in that creepy crawly voice of his: "That's not change we can believe in."

If We All Know the War Was Wrong Then Why Are We Acting This Way?

Upgraded and adapted from the Moot. "JM" raises an interesting point about my support of shoe hurling Iraqi journalist Muntadar al-Zaidi:
I'm not so sure about this. Isn't it kind of important to make sure people aren't getting up and throwing things at public speakers? What if it had been a grenade?

What exactly are the charges? Is he actually in trouble for saying in Iraq what we all know in North America, or is it more of a "don't look like you're attempting to assassinate a world leader" thing?

"What if it had been a grenade?"

You mean like the shocking awesome tons of munitions we actually did drop killing thousands upon thousands of innocent Iraqis in an immoral illegal catastrophic war of choice relentlessly cheered on by the very man at whom the shoe was tossed?

Let me tell you, were nonlethal creampies and smelly shoes to be hurled at this lying ignorant self-satisfied warcriminal every day for the rest of his miserable life it would be quite fine and dandy with me. I would personally prefer that criminal charges and damning historical judgments be hurled instead, and that is my own preferred mode of recrimination, being as you know an effete elite aesthete and all, but I cannot say that I won't have a sunny smile for more palpable expressions of dissatisfaction that find their way to YouTube in years to come.

Yes, we can and already do all agree that assassination is wrong and I refuse to take seriously the suggestion that anything about my position of support for the journalist would be construed as suggesting otherwise to anybody without a highly questionable ideological axe to grind. But if what is wanted here is to stand on principle, I do think the thing for the Principled to be making sure of in this case is not that this man feel properly chastened for tossing a shoe but that this man is not being tortured or killed or shunted off into some deep hole for having the temerity to register in a public way "what we all know in North America" already.

This last felicitous phrase of yours, by the way, makes a claim I do not know that I agree with you about, because like any good pragmatist I cannot feel right about claiming that one can properly be said to "know" a thing at all until one's conduct reflects that knowing in a meaningful way. Now, that's something I scarcely see evidence of, really, given the amount of money, death-dealing, and rationalization still flushing our appalling war machineries as though everybody in North America actually "knows" something altogether different from what they claim to know... namely, that the war and occupation is and always has been illegal, immoral, devastating to all but a few war-profiteers, based on lies, and productive of mostly the opposite effects to the ones on the basis of which it was and is promoted by moneyed elites. If everybody really knows this, then why on earth are we acting the way we do?

That we elected Obama to end the war is encouraging, certainly, but the question whether we will actually truly leave any time soon, whether we will let the killer clowns of the Bush Administration get away with their self-congratulatory fabulizing, whether we will punish them for their monumental crimes or claim that all that is now "in the past" (something almost any criminal could say, by the way, without any expectation that this is somehow exculpatory), whether we will take back the ill-gotten gains of war-profiteers who benefited from this abomination, whether we will ever provide reparations for the damage we have done (the latest round of accusations that the Iraqis are "ingrates" is not particularly encouraging on this score, nor, frankly, the ambivalences being exhibited about support for Muntadar al-Zaidi, in my humble opinion), whether we will learn from our mistakes in a way reflected in our laws, our budgetary priorities, our expressed attitudes toward peacemakers as against warriors and so on all remains to be seen, and until I do see differences that make a difference I hesitate to grant that America knows what it says it now knows about this shattering brutal criminal episode in our history.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Blue Doghouse?

Did you know that the Congressional Progressive Caucus now has 71 members, compared to the 47 members of the more conservative Democratic Blue Dogs? Of course you did! That's because we are being endlessly barraged with stories in the media about how the Progressive Caucus now controls the show, how the Party must tow the line lest it alienate the Progressives, how the overwhelmingly popular positions that got so many Progressives elected to office, positions on ending our illegal immoral catastrophic wars and occupations, providing universal single-payer healthcare, facilitating workers' right to collective bargaining, taxing wealth rather than work, funding education for all citizens, and shifting immediately to a renewable energy economy now define the commonsense by which any viable politician must now orient herself should she seek to appear serious. Oh, wait, exactly the opposite is the case, except for a few stories in which this state of affairs tends to be portrayed as some sort of sinister plot to "take over" the real America by realigning public discourse to better reflect the actual concerns of majorities of real Americans. Huh. Weird.

"Remarkably Successful"

[via Democracy Now! Headlines]
Jonathan Karl: “Did you authorize the tactics that were used against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed?”

Dick Cheney: “I was aware of the program, certainly, and involved in helping get the process cleared. That is, the agency, in effect, came in and wanted to know what they could and couldn’t do. And they talked to me, as well as others, to explain what they wanted to do. And I supported it. There was a period of time there, three or four years ago, when about half of everything we knew about al-Qaeda came from that one source. So it’s been a remarkably successful effort. I think the results speak for themselves.”

Jonathan Karl: “In hindsight, do you think any of those tactics that were used against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and others went too far?”

Dick Cheney : “I don’t.”

Jonathan Karl: “And on KSM, one of those tactics, of course, widely reported was waterboarding. And that seems to be a tactic we no longer use. Even that, you think was appropriate?”

Dick Cheney: “I do.”

Just to be clear here, Cheney has just cheerfully admitted, and for the first time, that he was directly involved with the approval of torture and he still thinks this was a successful and appropriate tactic. Of course, torture is actually never "successful" (and I'm not just speaking of the endlessly documented untrustworthiness of information acquired under torture but also the contribution approval of such tactics inevitably has on the unraveling of legitimate law enforcement across the board) and never "appropriate" in a legitimate law-abiding democracy, whatever else it happens to be. And Dick Cheney is just some kind of unfathomably broken and dangerous person who should be prosecuted immediately for war crimes.

Senatorial Tiaras for Everyone!

I don't care that Caroline Kennedy may indeed be eligible, competent and critical minded enough to be a Senator. There are surely hundreds of thousands of exactly equally eligible, competent, and critical minded citizens who lack her name and cocktail party connections who aren't under consideration for Senatorial appointment for just those reasons, and the fact that everybody knows this is deeply injurious to American democracy.

Indeed, the only people who benefit from this aristocratic nonsense are the vapid commentariat who are thus provided another celebrity feedbag to substitute for the hard work of doing the journalism and providing the considered judgments for which they like to pretend they are paid so much money and attention in the first place (which, it should go without saying, is likewise deeply injurious to American democracy).

If you want to be Senator, go through the same goddamn process as anybody else would, even with the Kennedy aura and Kennedy millions to grease your path at least the campaign trail would provide some minimal vetting and real-time problem-solving and occasion to actually delineate to your fellow citizens your working philosophy and so minimally prepare you to assume a frankly flabbergastingly powerful position of authority as a Senator of one of the richest and most populous States in America.

This is more than a shudder of revolt against the celebration of such blatant aristocratic privilege in a self-declared democracy (which is certainly bad enough), by the way, but another registration of worry about the special dangers of broadcast-mediated celebrity-culture in a Republic far too vulnerable to "executive" overreaching and also of "branding" as a corrosive substitute for critical deliberation.

MundiMuster! Support and Protect Shoe Hurling Iraqi Journalist Muntadar al-Zaidi

Sign-up [via the link] to support Muntadar al-Zaidi! Your signatures will be delivered to the Iraqi Embassy this week!

We, the undersigned, understand and sympathize with the sentiment expressed in the action of Iraqi journalist Muntadar al-Zaidi, who hurled his shoes at President Bush, shouting, "This is for the widows and orphans and all those killed in Iraq." We, too, feel for the widows and orphans and all those killed in Iraq, thanks to the policies of the Bush administration.

It's outrageous that al-Zaidi could get two years in prison for insulting George Bush, who is directly responsible for the deaths of 1.5 million Iraqis and 4,200 U.S. troops, and for the displacement of 5 million Iraqis. The one who should be in jail is Bush, not Muntadar al-Zaidi.

We call on the Iraqi government to immediately release al-Zaidi without charges.

Monday, December 15, 2008

On Talking Far Too Much About Far Too Little: An Honest Response to a Well-Intentioned Reader

It is a terrible thing not to speak the obvious when what is obvious is either truly terrible or truly wonderful. In fact, if you are the sort of person who claims to set some store by the saying of things there is surely nothing more terrible than refraining from saying terrible and wonderful ordinary things out of a fear for their ordinariness. It seems to me a genuine responsiveness to the world, from moment to moment, and a faithfulness of conviction is the best anybody can do. To attest to the terrible or to the wonderful, ordinary as they usually are, is incomparably more important than anything else I can imagine saying, and also more original too in the only sense that matters to me, as arising out of the originary perception and judgment of a thoroughly unoriginal person and offered up to the good sense of others no less ordinary and no less originary either, peer to peer.

"So What?"

[via Spencer Ackerman]
[F]rom George W. Bush's exit interview with ABC's Martha Raddatz after getting shoes thrown at him in Baghdad. One of the things that Muntader al-Zaidi, a 28-year Iraqi journalist, yelled at the disgraced outgoing president as he threw his shoes in disrespect was "This is from the widows, the orphans and those killed in Iraq." And here's a perfect example of why. Look at what Bush tells Raddatz about Al Qaeda in Iraq:
Bush: This [Iraq] is where Al Qaeda was hoping to take...

Raddatz: But not until after the U.S. invaded.

Bush: Yeah, that's right. So what?

….There's two so-whats here. The first [are] the widows, the orphans and those killed in Iraq, just as al-Zaidi said, by a jihadist organization that didn't exist [there] until George Bush made a miscalculation of epic proportions. The second is that Bush just admitted there was no Al Qaeda presence in Iraq before the invasion, despite endless statements [to the contrary].

He elaborates the point, but I'm sure you get it already. What more is there to say?

George W. Bush, one of the very worst Presidents in the history of this nation and quite simply a truly awful spoiled rotten disgusting idiotic person.

Set Your Scandal Clocks Now: How Long to Impeachment?

I speak, of course, of President Elect Obama.

Why on earth would I have meant the city drowning economy demolishing endlessly lying civil-liberties abolishing war mongering war profiteering war criminal George W. Bush?

"'God made me do it' is the latest 'dog ate my homework' in bigot circles."

John Aravosis on the latest round of bigots boo-hoo crying over the "bigotry" of being disapproved of by the targets of their gaybashing.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Necessary for US Security, Iraqi Stability and World Peace?

[via the Washington Post]
BAGHDAD -- Arriving in Baghdad today for a farewell visit, President Bush staunchly defended a war that has taken far more time, money and lives than anticipated, saying the conflict "has not been easy" but was necessary for U.S. security, Iraqi stability and "world peace."

Still lying his ass off. Why stop now, I suppose?

Security, stability, and world peace. Smell it.

Very. Necessary.

"The Future" As Prologue

Upgraded and adapted from the Moot.

"Mike" comments that I simply must take the various futurological predictions of the techno-utopian Robot Cultists I ridicule hereabouts at least somewhat seriously on their own terms, else I would not devote so much time to them in the first place or at any rate devote so much time to understanding them well enough to criticize them on the conversant terms I do.

The simple truth is that I write about these topics not because "they are remotely possible" or whatever thread techno-utopians taking this tack are hanging onto here, but mostly for the reasons I actually say I am -- namely, that here and now these formulations have a deranging impact on present and proximate understandings of ongoing technodevelopmental social struggle (both generally and often on a case by case basis, especially where medical and media and military technoscience are under discussion) and on concrete policy discourse.

That's why "Mike" is really missing the point in my view when in his comment he ascends into a high orbit from which to declare my own advocacy of presently implausible policy initiatives like basic income guarantees "utopian" and then declare "mind-uploading as a path to techno-immortality" to be comparably utopian, and so, somehow, equivalent as topics to discuss.

Actually, as it happens, techno-immortalism is literally impossible in any version that isn't essentially religious in nature and mind-uploading is actually incoherent -- inasmuch as our minds are incarnated in our brains in particular and even if other kinds of materializations of consciousness are eventually possible this lends no credibility even in priciple to the notion of a migration of mind from one substrate to another, not to mention the more general point that we actually are embodied finite beings whose embodied finite lives could not be "immortalized" and remain legible as lives in any case -- whereas basic income guarantees are only implausible in the way European Welfare States might have seemed implausible to Charlemagne, which is actually a difference that makes a difference on the "implausibility" front that I won't let "Mike" or anybody else get away with the elision of.

But be all that as it may, the thing to understand is that I'm not even playing the game "Mike" seems to think I am playing here. That is to say, I am not standing over the roulette table, calculating the Robot God odds as compared to the democratic world federalism or eco-socialism odds or what have you, and then assigning different values to these than Robot Cultists do and so distributing my attention and ridicule in proportion to these assignments... My interest in Robot Cultism is not senso strictu futurological at all, but rhetorical: I am interested in its impact as a discursive and social formation on the practical technodevelopmental imaginary here and now, and also taken as a symptom and even an extreme version of neoliberal and neoconservative global development discourse more generally.

My concern is far more present and proximate than people often seem to realize, even if I talk a lot about people who talk a lot about what they fancy as "the future" rather than the present themselves. Of course, no small amount of what they are really talking about when they talk about "the future" is what they desire and despise in the present, anyway, but in the funhouse mirror of futurological projection.