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

Saturday, January 31, 2009

"What Is the Difference?"

Contemplate the following exchange from the Moot:

Seth to Giulio: "[Y]our identity... includes all of it, the squishy, the science, the diarrhea, the philosophy, all of it."

Giulio to Seth: "[I]t also includes being poor, helpless, without education and health care. So in the name of a fixed God-given 'plenitude of identity,' should we conclude that BIG, social justice, education and health care for all are all bullshit? If not, what is the difference?"

Just to be clear, Giulio Prisco -- considered one of the leaders of "movement transhumanism," founder and officer of many of its conspicuous organizations, regular contributor to what passes for its official and "intellectual" discourse -- doesn't seem to be able to distinguish, on the one hand,


the political aspirations of democratically-minded progressives who would educate, agitate, and organize to

(i) increase access (ideally to planetary universality) to well-regulated safer ever-advancing consensual healthcare and to

(ii) increase welfare entitlements to the vulnerable (ideally consummating in the provision of a planetary universal basic income guarantee) to better ensure that nobody, not even those who are sick, hurt, lonely, unlucky, unemployed, uneducated, misunderstood, dissenting, atypical, nonconformist is never threatened with homelessness, starvation, isolation, impaired access to legal redress, durressed "consent" to risk, exploitation, or criminality

from, on the other hand,


the superlative aspirations of Robot Cultists who pine for technoscience, somehow, somewhen, to

(i) "exchange" their actually-existing mortal organismic bodies for incomparable imperishable digital or robot bodies, to

(ii) "exchange" their embodied intelligence for incomparable digital computer networks, and to

(iii) "exchange" the terms of political economy from those at hand in which a diversity of stakeholders collaborate and contend over ends in a shared and limited world for a post-political world in which materials science, plastics, robotics, nanoscale replication or what have you (a retreat from materiality altogether into a "superior" virtuality is sometimes pined for as an alternative but complementary proposal to the same purpose) overcomes the impasse of stakeholder plurality altogether.

I have put the word "exchange" in quotations in each of the examples of superlative technocentric aspiration because the mechanisms through which one would presumably find one's way from an embodied intelligence into an artificial superintelligence, from a mammalian mortality into digital or robotic superlongevity, or past the impasse of plurality in finitude into post-political superabundance is always at best a metaphorical conjuration, not just ill-specified as a technical matter (such a state of affairs would merely inspire calls to divert public resources from the solution of actual shared problems to the propping up of superlative wish-fulfillment fantasies), but such a departure from conventional usage in respect to the terms at hand, "intelligence," "person," "life," "politics" as to be, strictly speaking, incoherent.

This is nothing new, of course, but just a straightforward expression of the superlativity thesis in the first place. A reasonably short version of my critique of superlativity is available here.


h+ ftw said...

I must feel sorry to say this, Mr. Carrico, but Michael Anissimov is right:

Dale Carrico said...

Shorter Michael Anissimov:

"If this idea that doesn't make any sense (embodied human intelligence can be "digitized") is treated as "true" then all sorts of other ideas that also don't make any sense and have no connection to reality (techno-heaven, sooper-brains, sweet sweet soma, whole earth as wilderness park for robot tourists, magic for realz, telepathy, borg-collectives, and immortality) suddenly seem worthy of serious consideration as well even though they aren't, except as science fiction."

Classic Robot Cultism. And I'm not at all "sorry" to say this.

I recommend you go back to church with the rest of the Robot Cultists and continue to congratulate yourselves on how "right" you -- and only you -- are to insist that actually embodied intelligence could or will somehow migrate into cyberspace or that human life could or will somehow manage to be prosthetically immortalized or that history could or will be end through nano-cornucopia, paradisical virtuality, or the singularitarian arrival of the Robot God.

If your silly handwaving didn't compel the attention of the unwary to the cost of us all through its activation of irrational passions -- mostly panic and greed -- always occasioned by disruptive technoscientific change, though its facile oversimplifications of technodevelopmental complexities, through its misleading pseudo-priestly neologistic and guru-friendly mumbo jumbo masquerading as "cutting edge science," through its dramatic media-ready framing of issues of general concern, through its easy appropriation of incumbent interests ever eager for rationalizations for elite-technocratic control and corporate-militarist responses to political problems, if the Robot Cultists were not positioned to do so much damage at a time when sensible deliberation about technoscientific change has never been more urgent in fact, then it would be better just to ignore your idiocies altogether, along with the few hundred mostly North Atlantic white guys who preach it.

Unfortunately, your extreme positions both filter out into the mainstream in dangerously deranging ways while, more fortunately though no less tediously and embarrassingly, represent in their very extremity clarifying crystallizations of reductionist, elitist, eugenicist tendencies that prevail more generally already in mainstream neoliberal development discourse.

giulio said...

[A] = The aspirations of persons who want to improve their and others' lives by overcoming current limits.

[B] = The aspirations of persons who want to improve their and others' lives by overcoming current limits.

I am consistent: I say fuck all limits, all kinds of fundamentalists and all kinds of bigots. I say fuck poverty, fuck helplessness, fuck oppression, fuck authority, fuck discrimination, fuck disease, fuck vulnerability, and fuck death. I don't make artificial differences that, at the end, only amount to say I like this and I don't like that.

Dale Carrico said...

Giulio, you sound like a tot throwing a tantrum, not any kind of radical. Delusive insistence that the Robot God will immortalize you by digitizing your "mind" (I don't think that word means what you think it means...) or barnacling your body in righteous prosthetics isn't "improving people's lives" just because you say it is, any more than a Pentecostal's harangue about hellfire for homosexuals is "improving people's lives" just because he says it is. What other violations of logic, consensus knowledge, commonsense do you subsume under the heading of "improving other people's lives by overcoming current limits"? An eager world wants to know more!

You can pout and stamp your foot at your mind's incarnation or your person's vulnerability and mortality or at the frustrations occasioned by sharing the world with a diversity of peers, but it is all to no purpose.

Like most cocksure capitalists -- and your transhumanism really does sound more than anything like some steroidically plumped variation on late-nite informercial hype -- sooper-brains! robot-slaves! virtual paradise! cyberspatial immortality! -- conjoined to can-do corporatist self-help literature -- do the math! just do it, man! no limits, man! to the extreme! -- crowing about a "world without limits" you just end up being an eternal adolescent who feels sure there will always be other people around to clean up after your messes for you.