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

Monday, June 29, 2009

Another Week Begins...

As I said, it's the last week of Session A. Incredibly, Session B begins Monday, without break or preamble, and of course I'm slated to teach another course at that time (a last minute organizational scramble is sure to fill my upcoming weekend in preparations). Meanwhile, my Critical Theory survey at SFAI in the City continues apace according to their rather different summer schedule, now entering week three of eight and chugging along nicely. This has certainly been one of my more demanding summer teaching efforts -- it's like being back in the dinner theater circuit when I was a kid, but doing a double, matinee and evening performances, every single day rather than just once a week. It's a wonder I remember my lines.

Final Prompts:

It's the last week of the six-week intensive Summer Session A at UCB. It's been well over a week since I provided topics for the two short essays of the take-home final they will be handing in on the last meeting a few days from now. Most of these topics were adapted from prompts I have assigned classes before. But this morning my students get a last minute gift, some added prompts for those who are stymied or uninspired by the already available topics or who perhaps are just putting things off to the last minute as I used to do as an undergaduate myself. These prompts are new, and they also function, I hope, as a way of encouraging the students to read the last assigned texts despite end-of-term pressures that might otherwise lead them to skip these, and provide a preliminary map of the terrain to which which the last lectures of the course will be devoted.

For Essaylet Two:

In "Relfections on Violence" Hannah Arendt writes
The experience of death, whether the experience of dying or the inner awareness of one's own mortality, is perhaps the most anti-political experience there is, insofar as it is usually faced in complete loneliness and impotence, signifying that we shall leave the company of our fellow men and with it that being-together and acting in concert which makes life worthwhile… What is important is that these experiences, whose elementary force is beyond doubt, have never found an institutional, political expression. No body politic I know of was ever founded on the equality before death and its actualization in violence.

How does this viewpoint comport with Judith Butler's elaboration in the essay "Precarious Life" of a connection between politics and an awareness of the precarity of human life? In the essay Butler draws our attention to a provocative claim by Emmanuel Levinas, namely: "To be in relation with the other face to face is to be unable to kill. It is also the situation of discourse." How does this assertion differ (if it does) from Arendt's insistence that "to speak of nonviolent power is actually redundant"?

For Essaylet One:

Option A -- Make and defend any strong claim about the situation of the colonized and their political prospects in the chapter "Concerning Violence" from Frantz Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth, but you must substantiate that claim primarily through a close reading of the unusually long passage Fanon recounts (curiously without providing much in the way of a reading himself) from Aime Cesaire's Les Armes Miraculeuses, the exchange of the Rebel and the Mother. How do the arguments and details in that passage illuminate the problems, ambitions, characteristics of the text as a whole to which you want to draw our attention?

Option B -- Make and defend any strong claim about the relation between the "doing" of gender, our "undoing" by gendered desire, and the differences (or not) between these doings and undoings and the way in which violence can "do us in" as Judith Butler elaborates these paradoxes in Undoing Gender, but whatever case you make, you must substantiate your claim in a way that takes into account, among other things, the following provocative claim:
[O]ne mourns when when one accepts the fact that the loss one undergoes will be one that changes you, changes you possibly forever, and that mourning has to do with agreeing to undergo a transformation the full result of which you cannot know in advance.

Although there is no necessity about this, it may be useful, in responding to either of these options for Essaylet One, to bear in mind (even if you do not address it specifically in the resulting reading) the passages on the relation of mortality and freedom from Arendt's "Reflections on Violence" to which I have already drawn your attention in the prompt for Essaylet Two, above.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Where Will the Blue Dogs Be With Fewer Republican Enablers Around? And Where Will We Be?

Given the ongoing suicide of Movement Republicanism via scenes of hypocrites in sex-scandals and via self-marginalizing genuflections to their Crazytown Base on issue after issue in defiance of sense, one wonders if the corporate-militarist capitulation caucus of Blue Dog Democrats will actually no longer have enough Republicans left soon to cover for them or play their reindeer power games with to be quite so frustrating as they are these days, endlessly undermining the progressive popular will that made their Party the majority. The Progressive Caucus already outnumbers Blue Dogs and it takes surprisingly few faces to change to tip power dynamics quite dramatically (especially when you contemplate how many Blue Dogs are also Rats who tend to behave differently in sinking ships). It would be interesting if mid-terms were to give Obama the numbers for a second, better Honeymoon rather than the usual retrenchment, especially given his apparent tendency to play a rather more modulated and longer-term game than we've grown used to lately. Please don't read into this or pretend to read into this that I'm putting the Obama sign back up in the window with stars in my eyes, or that I'm settling for DADT, DOMA, ENDA after the mid-terms (although I always expected the first year priority to be enabling a renewable economy, real health care reform and EFCA), especially since an executive order could effortlessly blunt the injustice of DADT right now for now and since his Administration's gratuitous and ongoing insults to queerfolks in the aftermath of the DOMA brief demand a compensatory re-prioritization of glbtq rights in my opinion. I'm just surveying the scene and taking stock of possibilities is all.

Consensual Prosthetic Self-Determination and Progressive Democratization

I just want to repeat a paragraph from a recent post of mine decrying the tendencies to eugenicism in too much futurological discourse -- whether the prevailing neoliberal/neoconservative corporate-militarist global developmental discourse of incumbent interests and their technocrats, or the condensed reductio of that mainstream discourse, the superlative futurology of the transhumanists, digital-utopians, singularitarians, techno-immortalists, megascale geoengineers, extropians, and nano-cornucopiasts I deride here so often as Robot Cultists. The paragraph I want to reiterate is a more positive and programmatic one to which I want to append at its end a further rather expansive elaboration concerning the relation of the notion of consent to properly progressive and democratic politics more generally.

As I remarked in the prior post, I advocate a politics of consensual prosthetic self-determination, which I take to be the usual pro-Choice politics, elaborated to include both the right of all women to end their unwanted pregnancies safely as well as to facilitate wanted ones through assistive reproductive techniques, and elaborated further to include a host of familiar civil libertarian positions on biomedical and lifeway issues concerning the self-determination of end-of-life conditions, informed consensual comparatively harmless recreational drug use, consensual body modification (cosmetic procedures, sexual reassignments, body modifications like tattoos and piercings and so on), and elaborated further still in the context of actually emerging genetic, prosthetic, and cognitive interventions to affirm and protect the choices of sane competent adult citizens either to make recourse to or refrain from entering into emerging therapeutic regimes, whether they are normalizing or not, even when their eventual and combinatorial effects are imperfectly understood (as is usually the case after all), so long as participation is not under duress (where "duress" marks force, the threat of force, but also precarity: insecure legal status, the pressure of poverty, and the disruptions of war, pandemic, or catastrophic climate change), the decision to participate is informed (not compromised by fraud, secrecy, or misinformation), and the regime is regulated, transparent, and accountable. To this, let me add that inasmuch as all culture is best-understood as prosthetic in my view, consensual prosthetic self-determination connects up as well to the politics of free expression and association, including deployments of style as performances of subcultural identification, dis-identification, and negotiation.

Just as the scene of consent -- actually informed, actually nonduressed consent, mind you (where "informed" is not measured against the impossibility of omniscience, where "nonduressed" is not measured against the impossibility of omnipotence) -- provides the ground on the basis of which I navigate the interminable (and often productive) tension in democratic politics between the values of equity and diversity, so too consent negotiates the customary tension between individual and collective: Individual self-determination depends on consent, while the achievement and maintenance of the scene of consent is a collective project, peer-to-peer.

Notice that a democratic politics devoted to consent does not properly provoke a commitment to anarchy. This is so since, just as a consistent commitment to nonviolence compels the advocacy of a democratic state tasked with providing institutional alternatives to the violent adjudication of disputes, a consistent commitment to consent compels advocacy of a democratic state tasked with the administration of equitable justice and welfare and access to reliable knowledge to ensure that the scene of consent it actually informed and nonduressed and hence substantiated rather than a vacuous formalism. And of course, to the extent that consent is legible, it enables the "consent of the governed" that legitimates the state as democratic in the first place, as does the (ill-understood, much maligned, but in fact definitive) connection in democratic governance of the taxation without which government cannot function to representation (all citizens can vote for and against current office-holders as well as stand for office themselves).

In my view, consent also provides the key to a progressive politics that is properly compatible with a commitment to democratic politics. To be devoted to democracy is usually to be progressive as well, of course -- since actual democratization remains so partially and imperfectly realized in the present this is only to be expected as an empirical matter -- and yet the usual glib identification of progressive and democratic politics yields much mischief in my view. Democracy is the idea that people should have a real say in the public decisions that affect them, and the progressive politics of democratization is the one in which we work to ensure that ever more people have ever more of a real say in the public decisions that affect them.

The actual play of diverse lifeways and the public reconciliation of the aspirations of the diversity of stakeholders to the costs, risks, and benefits of historical change, peer to peer, that is to say the actual substance of democratic politics is unpredictable, interminable, and, therefore, strictly speaking, non-progressive. That is to say, freedom isn't going anywhere, it isn't progressing toward some destination or end: It is open, promising, threatening, problematic, ideally interminably ongoing.

And so, it seems to me that for democratically-minded people progressive politics, properly understood, should be progressing toward the achievement of an actually-legible actually-substantive scene of consent. Else, all too often, "progress" is either naturalized into a "faith in progress" that tends to function as self-congratulatory apologia for privileges that derive from exploitation, or is superlativized into a denialism about limits couched in terms of endless aspiration that tends to facilitate the deferment and externalization of costs and risks onto the vulnerable to the benefit of the privileged. That is to say, any commitment to progress that is not progress toward the accomplishment of the society of informed, nonduressed consent, will tend to be a conservative retro-futurism figuring "progress" always only as the amplification of the terms of imcumbent privilege.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

First, Do Mo' HAARM

Transhuman Eugenicism

I have regularly accused "transhumanist"-identified futurists of parochial, at best, and outright eugenicist, at worst, ideas about what constitutes "enhancement" treated as self-evident truths to guide public policy.

An "Anonymous" commenter responded in the Moot:
I've been reading your blog for quite some time, and every time you mentioned this I've always wanted to pipe up and say that I have never actually read about any transhumanists wanting to enhance humanity. Instead, I hear them talking about 'enhancing' themselves (whatever that entails -- it seems entirely reasonable that they want only to modify themselves to whatever manner they deem to be improvement). And, to me, there's absolutely nothing with this. If someone wants to do something to her own body, let her.

I just don't see [this] as being a fair criticism, since, as far as I know, there isn't anybody advocating for widespread 'improvement' of the human race. Though, I could very well be wrong -- I tend not to follow quacks too much

I advocate consensual prosthetic self-determination myself, after all, so I can't say I disapprove of folks seeking to change themselves, either, so long as they aren't under duress or unduly misinformed about risks and costs and benefits and so on. I take consensual prosthetic self-determination to be the usual Pro-Choice politics, simply elaborated to include both the right of all women to end their unwanted pregnancies safely as well as to facilitate wanted ones through assistive reproductive techniques, but also elaborated further to include a host of familiar civil libertarian positions on biomedical and lifeway issues concerning the self-determination of end-of-life conditions, informed consensual comparatively harmless recreational drug use, consensual body modification (cosmetic procedures, sexual reassignments, body modifications like tattoos and piercings and so on), and elaborated further still in the context of actually emerging genetic, prosthetic, and cognitive interventions to affirm and protect the choices of sane competent adult citizens either to make recourse to or refrain from entering into emerging therapeutic regimes, whether they are normalizing or not, even when their eventual and combinatorial effects are imperfectly understood (as is usually the case after all), so long as participation is not under duress (where "duress" marks force, the threat of force, but also precarity: insecure legal status, the pressure of poverty, and the disruptions of war, pandemic, or catastrophic climate change), the decision to participate is informed (not compromised by fraud, secrecy, or misinformation), and the regime is regulated, transparent, and accountable. Inasmuch as I ultimately take all culture to be prosthetic and all prostheses to be culture I also believe a defense of consensual prosthetic self-determination to connect in the largest sense to the championing of access-to-knowledge and public education and the celebration of lifeway diversity and convivial consensual secular civilization.

However, it seems to me that far too many "transhumanists" (and so-called "liberal eugenicists" more generally, whether so described themselves -- as, incredibly, some do -- or taking up comparable descriptions -- "better humans," "humanity plus" -- or deserving of the moniker come what may) have a distressing tendency to describe as "objectively suboptimal" many capacities, morphologies and lifeways that are actually viable and wanted (deafness, neuro-atypicalities, among others) but which happen to fail to accord with their own parochial values.

Much desolating talk of "efficiency," "competitiveness," "performance" tends to get megaphoned where this sort of "enhancement" cheerleading is afoot, you can be sure. It is rather what you would expect, frankly, from a "movement" whose members so often seem to treat "Science Fiction plus Vegas plus self-esteem workshops plus nutritional supplement informercials" as equaling "civilization."

Especially charming I must say are the discussions of the ways in which "atypicalities" and "sub-optimalities" impose social costs that should not be borne by the more typical and more optimal, as well as the discussions which seem to pine for bodies transformed into interminable arms races of ever more enhanced competitiveness. Quite apart from the fact that one never quite knows how to square such puritanical frugality with the predictions these futurologists are endlessly making about the stunning techno- nano- robo- info- sooper-abundance that is always just around the corner if we will truly believe in it enough, one also has to wonder about all this hardboiled hard-edge hardcore utilitarian diversity policing just what kind of person thinks this would be a marvelous way to live one's life in this breezing buzzing befuddling bedazzling world of ours?

Even those "enhancement enthusiasts" who don't go so far as to advocate coercive implementation of their stainless-steel vision of post-human sooper-models, still collaborate in the denigration of perfectly legible actually wanted lifeways of present-peers while peddling facile visions of "better-humans" who I daresay would still know hardship and humiliation contrary to the glossy brochures.

It wouldn't be fair to say that every "transhumanist"-identified person is an explicit braying coercive eugenicist, certainly -- and I do not make, nor have I ever made, that claim. But I do think "enhancement" discourse is saturated with implicit eugenicist assumptions (often under-interrogated by more or less well-meaning or at any rate deluded advocates) and unwarrantedly intolerant consequences.

What is troublesome in so much of this "enhancement" discourse is the suggestion that viable wanted difference parochially designated "suboptimal" translates inevitably to inequity, that disapproved difference is dis-ease, and that ideally a commitment to justice demands arriving at homogeneity via medical intervention peddled as the arrival at an "optimality" that inevitably reflects very parochial prejudices concerning what human beings should look like and be like and what we are for.

It is not surprising to stumble upon suggestions even from "liberal" and insistently anti-authoritarian enhancement-enthusiasts that deaf parents screening for a wanted deaf child is equivalent to deafening one's actually hearing child, that parents with differently-enabled children inevitably find themselves in an especially tragic circumstance. As if a child with mild Down's cannot be a flourishing cherished person, familiar, and peer? And also as if the parent of a "normal" child, however construed, won't be beset by heartbreak, distress, tragedy as well?

It is not surprising either to hear "transhumanists" insist that we have a moral duty to "uplift" nonhuman animals into human consciousness if we can do so. Notice that this is not just a claim that it might be interesting or useful or warranted to nudge non-human animal cognition into conformity with more human forms of cognition, it is the claim that such a transformation would objectively constitute an improvement or enhancement of that cognition, that difference-from-human-norms (in whatever construal) is tantamount to inferiority, nonviability, even a kind of harm, and that, hence, policing cognitive diversity into anthopocentric homogeneity becomes a kind of moral imperative a righting of the "injustice" of parochially disvalued differences.

There is an interminable tension in democratic societies that must struggle, reform, and experiment in an ongoing way to institutionally implement the values of equity and diversity, both of which are indispensable to a properly democratic vision of social justice, a consensualist vision of equity in diversity.

It seems to me that "enhancement" advocates identified with the left (however ambivalently) too readily err on the side of "equity" over "diversity" to the cost of freedom, while "enhancement" advocates on the right too readily err on the side of affirming a facile "diversity" including most or all choices, however duressed they may be by inequitable conditions of poverty, violence, ignorance, misinformation, exploitation.

It seems to me that those "enhancement" advocates and especially "transhumanists" who are not explicit eugenicists or who abhor eugenicism (of whom there are some I'm sure) would do well to spend less time in defensive denial about how this problem relates to them, and far more time addressing its causes and symptoms among so many fellow-members of their sub(cult)ural "movement" with whom they are nonetheless so eager to affiliate despite this asserted disagreement and abhorrence.

UPDATED from some subsequent exchanges in the Moot:

Another "Anonymous" poster to the Moot declared she or he "didn't get it" when I protested the position of some transhumanists who declare "screening for a wanted deaf child is equivalent to deafening one's actually hearing child." Brave "Anonymous" wanted to know "What is wrong with that claim? (Assuming the deafening is done right after birth, assuming equivalent means morally equivalent, etc.)"

After a brief shudder I pointed out, in response:
A fetus -- actually, since we are talking here about screening, a not even conceived potential fetus -- isn't a person who can be harmed and "who" must in "their" vulnerability be protected from violation or unwanted unnecessary risk. But a woman contemplating pregnancy or actually pregnant most certainly is just that, a person who can be harmed and who must be protected from violation or unwanted unnecessary risk -- and as an actually-existing hearing child threatened with such violation most certainly is, too.

A person cannot reasonably be said to suffer violation or harm simply by virtue of being different from every one of indefinitely many alternate persons who might have emerged out of the circumstances of their conception with whatever benefits and problems that that different person would differently incarnate. All that sort of rhetoric is just the usual obfuscatory anti-choice bullshit as far as I can see.

Another commenter wondered if I really "think all screening by parents is acceptable. If not then what criteria separate good screening from bad screening."

I think this question raises genuinely difficult issues. Here was my response:
The first thing to say is that every woman makes the right choice, by which I mean to say every woman's choice is the choice she has every right to make in respect to how she wants to end or facilitate a pregnancy in her own body, as far as I'm concerned.

Does that mean that I am unaware of the irrational prejudices (in respect to race, gender, atypicality, different-enablement, and so on) that can articulate many of these choices? Not at all. Certainly, I am aware of all this.

Let me make the point in the most personal way I can think of.

I'm a gay man whose own mother would very likely have aborted me had she known I was going to be gay. She has said as much to me, and it is clear that she would have made this choice at the time as much because she didn't know she would become a person who could love a gay child as easily as a straight one when the issue arose (which it turns out, happily, she could and did), as because she was too ignorant at the time, as most people were, I suppose, to know that society would afford a gay child a flourishing life rather than a miserable one (which it turns out, happily, it could and did).

But let me be very clear, that as a pro-choice person I fully defend the right of any woman to end an unwanted pregnancy for whatever reason makes it unwanted to her, even a person in an exactly analogous position as my Mother's in respect to the prospectively gay me.

Of course I know that pregnancies can be unwanted for reasons that are hateful, irrational, or deeply ignorant (as would have been the case with my Mother at the time, as she would now be the first to agree).

What is wanted in such cases is to shame the hateful, address the irrational, and educate the ignorant, so that differences that don't make a difference in the way they are sometimes hatefully, irrationally, or ignorantly imagined to be are no longer unwanted, so that whatever choices are made are better informed than not. The way to address hatred, irrationality, and ignorance is not through infantilization and prohibition of choices that symptomize these wrongheaded states of mind, but through argument, education, and wider exposure to differences that only seem threatening to those who lack the experience to know better.

I think that there is an incredible amount of misinformation and mystification and pernicious wish-fulfillment that takes place when talk turns to "screening away" unwanted kinds of people or "selecting for" especially wanted kinds of people as a matter of fact.

And I think much of this talk is enormously hurtful and relentlessly stupid, deeply disrespectful and insensitive to the actually viable, actually wanted, actually differently flourishing lifeways of any number of peers with whom the would be "optimizers" and "enhancers" are actually already sharing this world.

But it is crucial to distinguish the politics through which one would address this sort of hatefulness and irrationality from the politics through which one affirms the right of competent sane adults to informed, nonduressed consensual prosthetic self-determination where healthcare choices, cultural investment, and so on are concerned.

I understand that it can be really tricky to hold all these demands together.

That complexity and difficulty is of course one of the reasons why those who make recourse to "enhancement" discourse in the first place seek to simplify these quandaries through a depoliticizing would-be neutralization of what are truly parochial value-judgments, treating them as already settled simply by calling them, simply, "enhancements" at all -- when "enhancement" is always actually "enhancement" to whom? "enhancement" in respect to what end? "enhancement" at what cost to what other possible ends? -- and when these values and ends and costs and risks and benefits are all manifestly under contest in fact.

But whatever the difficulty and complexity, it does seem to me that resisting the impulse to undue simplification here is what democratic commitments to consent, equity, and diversity actually require of us here.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

First Feedback from the Re-Public Article

Upgraded and adapted from the Moot, "Mark" responds to my Re-Public article:
I support your criticism of Transhumanism but I still support a Transhumanist organisation with a mandate to support and influence the achievement of the following goals: Freedom: of scientific research on human enhancement. (Due to conservative resistance to such goals); Development: of targeted feasible and practical research programs that have maximum impact on improving societal and individual conditions. (Due to misplaced focus of limited resources); Access: of all global stakeholders to the process of technological development and its outcomes (Due to the existing inequalities both within and between countries).

Of course, commitment to safe, accountable technoscientific research, to public investment in useful sustainable development, and to equitable distribution of developmental costs and benefits (Mark's three "goals," fleshed out a bit) are all completely mainstream progressive attitudes. You don't have to join a Robot Cult to support these attitudes, and the fact is that nobody actually does join a Robot Cult out of commitment to these attitudes, no matter how often they get trotted out in glossy futurological brochures to whomp up support for the Robot Cult in the general public.

The overabundant majority of people committed to these mainstream progressive notions are not "transhumanists" nor will they ever be, meanwhile the overabundant majority of people who actually identify as "transhumanists" have in common instead (one) faith-based wish-fulfillment fantasies about personal "transcendence" through "technology," (two) parochial (at best, eugenicist at worst) ideas about what constitutes "enhancement" treated as self-evident truths to guide public policy, and (three) highly idiosyncratic views concerning the urgency and proximity of superintelligent Robot Gods, prosthetic or genetic superlongevity techniques, or automatic superabundance on the cheap.

Add to all this the actual lingering influence within transhumanist sub(cult)ures of a number of market-fundamentalist ideologues who disdain the very values in whose name Mark claims to endorse transhumanism. Add to all this the structural tendencies to anti-democracy inhering in any technocratic elitism, and also in any fetishization of megascale engineering and geoengineering that preferentially benefits incumbent corporate-militarist formations, and also in the glib depoliticized deployment of the contested term "enhancement" as though it were merely technical or neutral, and so many of the other anti-democratizing tendencies I highlighted in the very critique he otherwise supported, and so, I must say, I cannot quite understand where Mark is coming from here.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Re-Public Piece

The journal Re-Public has published a piece of mine called Superlative Futurology. Most of the arguments there will be quite familiar to readers here. The piece appears together with a number of others that are considerably more sympathetic to transhumanism and futurology than I am myself, and I will be reviewing each of the other contributions as time allows.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Private Galactic Spaceport That Isn't

Ground has been broken on the construction site of Spaceport America, the world's first purpose-built commercial spaceport.

Those behind the project say that it will help provide a new chapter in space exploration. When finished in 18 months' time, the facility will house Virgin Galactic's space tourism business and other firms working in the commercial space arena.

It will cost the New Mexico government almost $200m (£121m). Steve Landeene, executive director of the New Mexico Spaceport Authority, said: "The future is here and we are not too far off a new age of space. "It is not just about private astronauts going up…"

To impress upon those gathered at the site just how within reach the commercial space-age now is, the star attraction of the ground-breaking event was to have been a fly-by of Virgin Galactic's WhiteKnightTwo aircraft. But much to the disappointment of the crowd, at last minute it was forced to turn back with technical difficulties….

If all goes to plan, the inaugural flight should carry Sir Richard Branson, his family and spaceship designer Burt Rutan on a sub-orbital ride within two years. They will be followed by a waiting list of 300 who have all ignored the current economic climate and are willing to pay about $200,000 for the privilege of experiencing six minutes of weightlessness during the two-hour flight.

Space programs funded by hundreds of millions of dollars of public investment are not "private" in any sense. And sub-orbital flights are not "space flight" (let alone "Galactic") in any sense, either.

The future is now! Time for the free marketers to Go Galt in that great Galt's Gulch at L5, or in the Asteroid Belt, or possibly in the Oort Cloud! Yay, stupidity! Yay, stealing!

Corporate Media Coughs Up New Hairball of Conventional Wisdom

It is very newsworthy that many Republicans hate Obama, but it is not particularly newsworthy that Americans more generally like Obama and hate Republicans.

Hard Gay Helps Make Father's Day More Positive

[h/t Gary Shiffrar]

Is All Futurology Superlative Or Is Some of It Simply Silly?

The reason I became aware of the surreally silly claim by "police-futurist" Gene Stephens -- who, as I discussed yesterday, expects 5000 years of technological progress to unfold by 2025 -- is because Singularitarian Robot Cultist Michael Anissimov described Mr. Stephens's foolishness as "superlative" and kindly directed his readers to my own work to illustrate what he meant by the term. For all I know, Stephens is indeed personally invested in a superlative understanding of technodevelopment in my sense of the term, but I can't say that this is really evident in the silly quotation Anissimov drew to my attention for me to lampoon. Those who clicked the link Anissimov provided to my work might well have arrived soon enough at the following passage from the post, Understanding Superlative Futurology:
"Superlativity" as I use the term very specifically in my critique isn't a synonym for "really big epochal technodevelopmental changes." Like most technoscientifically literate people, I expect those, too, assuming we don't destroy ourselves any time soon instead with our waste or with our weapons. Instead, Superlativity in my sense of the term names the effort to reductively redefine emancipation in primarily instrumental terms and then expansively reorient the project of that emancipation to the pursuit of personal "transcendence" through hyperbolic misconstruals of technoscientific possibility.

This personal transcendence is typically conceived in terms that evoke the customary omni-predicates of theology, transfiguring them into super-predicates that the futurological faithful personally identify with, but proselytize in the form of "predictions" of imaginary technodevelopmental outcomes. Nevertheless, superlativity in my view is a literary genre more than a research program. It relies for its force and intelligibility on the citation of other, specifically theological/ wish-fulfillment/ transcendentalizing discourses, more than it does on proper technoscience when all is said and done. It is a way of framing a constellation of descriptions mistaken for facts, and embedding them into a narrative that solicits personal identification, which then forms the basis for moralizing forms of sub(cult)ural advocacy.

While Stephens's "expectation" that 5000 years of technological progress (and heaven only knows what even counts as progress on his accounting) is of course palpably silly, I don't think it inevitably expresses a superlative outlook. Possibly it does, but hyperbole, even fantastically inflated hyperbole, is not all there is to superlativity. Superlativity mobilizes unfounded irrationalist hyperbole about technoscientific change, but specifically in the service of delusive projects usually conjoining denialist wish-fulfillment fantasies of personal transcendence of human finitude with personal identification with what are taken to be world-historical "trends" or "movements" or, in extreme cases, highly insistent marginal ideological sub(cult)ures like "transhumanism" or "cryonics" that imagine and declare themselves avant-gardes of such world historical trends or movements.

Anissimov explicitly self-identifies as a Singularitarian and, thus, believes that the arrival on the scene of imaginary post-biological artificial superintelligence would shatter human history in unprecedented ways and that this event is sufficiently likely and proximate that we should be devoting the lion's share of our attention and no small amount of public resources to its anticipation. He also self-identifies as a Transhumanist and, thus, believes that "enhancement" and "transcension" of his intelligence, his mortality, his embeddedness in stakeholder social struggle through the application of imaginary "emerging technologies" is also sufficiently likely and proximate as to demand urgent personal investment and movement-building of a sub(cult)ure of like-minded individuals who would be privileged agents mobilizing and articulating this transcendentalizing technodevelopmental world-historical force.

That is to say, Anissimov most certainly is fully caught up himself in what I would describe as superlative technology discourse. And while it may be the case that he is right to describe fellow futurologist Gene Stephens as a fellow-superlative as well it isn't actually clear to me from his writing that Mr. Stephens is necessarily more than just a conspicuously silly person given to the usual self-serving futurological handwaving that likewise suffuses most of the insipid privileged futurological literary genres in our corporate-militarist social order: from the sleekly futuristic pastel-hued CGI imagery in fraudulent television advertising for boner pills and anti-depressants and anti-perspirants and underpants, to the soul-destroying corporate-robotic go-getter self-actualization pep-rally discourse of sales and management seminars, to the predatory disasterbatory prophecies in "position papers" from Defense Department friendly think tanks, and so on.

Anissimov very sensibly disagrees with Stephens's obviously idiotically false contention "that we’ll see '5000 years of progress' between here and 2025." But the imaginative moves that follow upon this disagreement are far more intriguing as Anissimov continues on to ponder: "It’s interesting how some 'non-transhumanist' futurists seem to buy more deeply into the strong accelerating change thesis than many (sometimes more cautious) transhumanist futurists." Certainly it is "interesting" how "one" becomes "some" here somehow, to be treated a moment later as even more generally representative, while transhumanists -- who say the sorts of things Stephens has said here with such stunning regularity that Anissimov will go on to describe Stephens's "non-transhumanist" talk as "transhumanist-themed" just a few sentences later in a rather delightfully incoherent effort to have his cake and eat it, too -- get constructed here rather fantastically as "more cautious" somehow, presumably because he takes himself to be at once more reasonable and exemplary and generalizes accordingly.

I won't even try to follow these odd self-justificatory twists and turns, but I will note that there may be some truth in Anissimov's larger point that "transhumanist futurism is becoming the new mainstream futurism" and that "superlative futurology... [may be the] new emerging consensus futurology" (even if Anissimov's example of Stephens's hyperbole ends up being just silly without also managing to be superlative strictly speaking).

I have long insisted that the reason I take the rhetoric and work of the marginal, noisy, and endlessly foolish Robot Cultists like transhumanists, singularitarians, techno-immortalists, extropians, digital utopians, nano-cornucopiasts, techno-libertopians and so on so seriously despite their marginality, noisiness, and arrant foolishness is because they have an enormously more damaging actual and potential impact on technodevelopmental discourse than their small numbers and great ridiculousness would seem properly to indicate.

Their hyperbole cites deep, widely-disseminated, age-old wish-fulfillment fantasies and narratives about our anxious inhabitation of human finitude, our susceptibility to disease, error, betrayal, duress, humiliation, exploitation, and the rest, at once exacerbated by disruptive technoscientific change and soothed by dreams of transcendent technoscientific change. Their discourse activates the very familiar irrational passions of agency that almost always accompany the technological imaginary, fears of impotence, fantasies of omnipotence. These citations of deeply familiar narratives and frames -- not to mention the ready susceptibility of so many deeply vulnerable people to just such mobilizations of irrational fear and fantasy in historical moments of disruptive technoscientific change such as our own -- render superlativity compelling however ridiculous it is revealed to be upon the least actually critical scrutiny, however deranging their impact on sensible technodevelopmental deliberation about stakeholder costs, risks, and benefits of technoscientific change at the worst possible moment.

I also worry that to the extent that their formulations feed the irresponsible hunger of broadcast-media for sensationalist and oversimplifying narratives, and to the extent that their formulations depend on the treatment as "neutral" and "technical" what are actually parochial or normative viewpoints ("enhancement," "efficiency," "progress," and so on), the rhetoric of the Robot Cultists also conduces especially to the benefit of incumbent interests, to corporate-militarist formations that command the resources to implement the megascale engineering projects and planetary research programs they tend to prefer and self-appointed technocratic elites to explain, justify, and administer these projects and programs to the majorities affected by them come what may.

And let me add again, as I so often do, that this structural tendency of futurological discourse generally and superlative futurological discourse particularly and especially to conduce to the benefit of incumbents and so conservative/authoritarian politics is a tendency that is largely indifferent to the professed political orientation of the futurologist, be he authoritarian or she democratic, be he righteous or she hypocritical: Every futurism is always also a retro-futurism, every sub(cult)ural identification with an imaginary "the future" is a moralizing anti-democratizing dis-identification with the futurity arising out of the diversity of stakeholders, peer-to-peer, in the present world opening onto tomorrow's present world.

Usually the jarring extremities (cyberspatial immortalization! nanobotic treasure caves! sexbots! history-ending superintelligent Robot Gods!) of superlative futurological discourse are smoothed out considerably as it circulates and disseminates into the mainstream enough to be of real use to the voracious ambitions of incumbency, but the contradictions and aporiae that are most conspicuous in superlativity proper still remain in force in the mainstream corporate-militarist global technodevelopmental discourse for which superlativity is the iceberg tip.

While neoliberalism rarely indulges in the dreams of Robot Cultists to upload their minds into cyberspace, its financialization and logo-ization of production partakes of the same fantasies of techno-dematerialization. While neoliberalism rarely indulges in the dreams of Robot Cultists to smash the state by inventing nanofactories to translate sunlight and dirt into abundance on the cheap and so end stakeholder politics, its market fundamentalist mantra of deregulation without end and fables of consumer-societies too self-indulgent for war partake of the same techno-libertopiansim. While neoliberalism rarely indulges explicitly in the dreams of Robot Cultists for techno-transcendence of all limits, its insistence that the meaning of life is the accumulation of wealth, that organizations must grow or die, that innovation without a specification of its content or end is the justification for every collective decision all beg the very same questions the Robot Cultists do:

Just where is all this "progress" finally going, how can movement without specified direction or end (and implied omni-predicated "ends," being incoherent, don't properly count as specifications) be meaningful at all? How can the same growth that has always meant flourishing within limits now be directed into a disavowal of limits? Is a life devoted to accumulating a mountain of skulls to survey from its summit the resulting devastation really a meaningful life? Is "innovation" in the service of exploitation, parochial profit-taking, buttressing incumbency really emancipatory in any sense worthy of the name? Is a "growth" devoted to the denial of death at the cost of death-dealing really a flourishing life or is it a cancer, a growth that destroys growth?

Neoliberal "developmental" ideology, or more broadly the contemporary neoliberal-neoconservative corporate-militarist system in this moment of its consummation and eclipse, is a profoundly irrational and delusive system of assumptions and works, it is true, but it may indeed be the case, as Anissimov implies, that nowhere are its guiding assumptions and characteristic works (and hence, in my view, its catastrophic irrationality) rendered more palpable and clear than in its condensed essence and extremity as symptomized in superlative futurological discourses which, no doubt, it would disavow in horror as surely as any ignorant monster smug and satisfied of its wholesomeness and handsomeness would turn from a too-revelatory look in the mirror or in the eyes of its victims.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Maher's Latest New Rules

Reich's Right on Healthcare Reform

Read it, and cross your fingers the President is on the same page.

Futurologists Say the Darnedest Things

Singularitarian Robot Cultist Michael Anissimov has called my attention to one of his fellow-futurologists, one Gene Stephens, who has apparently said the following extremely curious thing:
“With the equivalent of 5,000 years of technological progress expected between 2000 and 2025, it’s difficult to forecast the dilemmas that lie ahead.”

This person apparently works for the FBI and is also a member of an ominously-monikered organization of which I have never before heard called "Police Futurists International," which I must say red-lights every alarm across my personal control-panel.

Quite apart from all that, however, I must confess to feelings of deep perplexity about the actual claim that is being highlighted in this quotation.

When Stephens suggests that the equivalent of 5,000 years of technological progress is "expected" between 2000 and 2025, just who is it that he thinks "expects" this? I think that probably at least a hundred thousand people expect the arrival of the Biblical Rapture for every single person on earth who expects 5,000 years of technological progress to have nudged humanity into an unfathomable elsewhere fifteen years hence. Even so, I think it would be problematic to describe the Biblical Rapture to be generically "expected" in any sense, surely?

When Stephens suggests that the equivalent of 5,000 years of technological progress is expected between 2000 and 2025, is he aware that nearly ten of those twenty-five years have already elapsed? Maybe when Stephens evokes "5,000 years of technological progress" he means to refer to the 5,000 years of technological progress that played out between 45,000 BCE and 40,000 BCE? Otherwise, is it his view that the Bush years amounted to a kind of Golden Age in which the equivalent of, say, 2,000 years of technological progress took place? One wonders why the kids are still listening to "new" music from the 90s, why my 1998 computer crashes less than my 2006 one, why obesity and flu pandemics rather than immortalization therapies are sweeping the planet, and why the Shuttle and the Concorde are grounded rather than zipping us off to the L5 Four Seasons right about now?

And just what are we to make of that apparent fudging of actual substance through the introduction of the notion of "equivalency" here? When Stephens suggests that the "equivalent" of 5,000 years of technological progress is expected between 2000 and 2025, does that mean that he will be satisfied that such an "equivalent" is in evidence if by 2025 we just get more boner pills, more ubiquitous jittery digital media, more windmills, and maybe a 70s-style Chinese Moon landing as seems more likely in my view?

One has to wonder if the self-congratulatory attribution of "expertise" to the futurologist (whatever that "expertise" is finally supposed to consist of, apart from what looks to me like relentless corporate-friendly bullshit-artistry) ever diminishes the least bit in the face of serially failed prognostication? Can the futurologists ever get it so wrong so often that the people who take them seriously in the first place will ever, well, stop taking them seriously? Honestly, how many times does energy too cheap to meter, radical longevity medicine, artificial intelligence, robotic super-sex, and universal superabundance on the cheap have to fail to arrive fifteen years from today before the futurologists' literally annual supremely confidence declarations that they will arrive fifteen years from today will fail to attract the attention of breathless corporate media outlets and even serious policy-makers who have, after all, actual jobs to do that often require sensible deliberation about the funding and regulation of technoscience in an actual world of actual consequences to actual diverse stakeholders with little connection to the deranged and deranging hyperbole of futurology?

My Intensives

As I feared, the relentlessness of teaching two summer intensives in two separate cities, five days a week, has nudged me for the time being into becoming a weekend blogger. My schedule changes in a couple of weeks, though I will still be teaching two concurrent intensives, I acquire a couple of additional days off in which something more like regular blogging can probably re-commence, even if some of those days off will be devoted to grading and prep and so on. Bear with me...

Differences Make A Difference

The worst Democrats in the context of the Democratic Party cohort are better than best Republicans in the context of the Republican Party cohort, if what you want is progressive democratization. This matters even when it isn't all that matters.

Ask yourself if Republicans would be pushing cap and trade as Democrats are? Would they have the historical sensitivity to refrain from meddling jingoistic empty tough-talk in the midst of the desperately fragile Iranian people-powered resistance to tyranny as Democrats are struggling to do? Would they be pushing Israel on settlements as Democrats are insistently continuing to do? Would they have nominated Solis or Sotomayor as Democrats did? Would they have passed a massive stimulus with unemployment benefits in the midst of our present financial catastrophe as Democrats did? Would they be pushing to protect women's health-care providers from a rising tide of home-grown Christianist terrorists? Would they be pressing to re-regulate financial institutions at all as Democrats are? Would they be pressing for the health care reforms Democrats are? Would they ever try to pass EFCA? And, yes, do you really think Republicans will end DADT, DOMA, and implement ENDA and hate-crimes legislation before Democrats will do so?

This doesn't mean one doesn't feel disappointed and even outraged by particular Democrats and by their compromises and by their timidities and by their inability to stand on principles in public and by their corporate-militarist associations. This doesn't mean I am not pushing for more actually-helpful environmental politics than cap and trade, more actually-relevant financial regulations, more actually-progressive nominations, more actually-equitable radical healthcare reform, more actually-timely lgbtq policies myself. This doesn't mean progressives don't have to push Democrats from the left. This doesn't mean we shouldn't work to unseat incumbents who are less progressive than their districts are. This doesn't mean we shouldn't fight to implement instant-runoff voting so that progressive third-party votes don't amount to votes for Republicans. This doesn't mean Republicans can't eventually transform their party into a cohort some of whose best members are better than the worst Democrats as has historically often been the case as it is not at present in my view (although I doubt Republicans could ever improve so much that I would prefer them as a cohort to Democrats, since I'm temperamentally a progressive Democrat rather than a conservative, even if I do think some conservative sensibilities are indispensable to the health of a Republic).

But all this does mean that facile equivalency theses about the parties and their policies do nothing to facilitate progressive and democratizing ends, but rather render us insensitive to differences that make a difference in ways that actually facilitate conservative and reactionary ends, despite the self-congratulatory progressive-purist fanfare that tends to accompany these cynical declarations of equivalency or blanket betrayal and so on.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Phony Progressives' Principled Anti-Gay Bigotry

Obama could stop the implementation of the catastrophically failed Don't Ask Don't Tell in five minutes' time, by the way, with an Executive Order, while Congress sets up the groundwork for the "proper" repeal of the policy everybody the least bit sane claims to support (without, you know, ever doing anything about it). And given the waning of support for the policy outside the beltway as well as in the public pronouncements of military brass and experts this move would cost him almost nothing at all in the way of cherished political capital. Those who are pretending that defending the letter of a gratuitously unjust law represents some highfalutin' moral principle need to stop kidding themselves because they certainly aren't kidding me. As if history has ever looked unkindly upon those who refused to implement an unjust law in an effort to fight bigotry. I daresay few straight people lecturing me smugly and philosophically on "questions of principle" today would be offering up these moralizing castles in the air if it was their own standing and rights that were being compromised like this, year after year after year after year by their allies and friends as much as their rabid reactionary foes. Complete and utter bullshit.

If You Are Not Directly Impacted by the Obama Administration's Anti-Gay Bigotry...

...then please don't take it upon yourself to inform me how I should feel about it. If you think I am being unreasonable, impatient, disproportionate, histrionic, superficial to feel enraged and disgusted and heartbroken at the cavalier dismissiveness and gratuitous bigotry of the Obama Administration where American lgbtq citizens like me are concerned then you should just keep it to yourself, because it isn't your dignity and rights that are being denigrated and it isn't your place to add insult to injury.

Angrily Awaiting Statements from Members of the "Equality Caucus"

List of Caucus Members in the 111th Congress:

The caucus currently has 79 members:


Tammy Baldwin (D-WI02)
Jared Polis (D-CO)
Barney Frank (D-MA)

Vice Chairs

Rob Andrews (D-NJ)
Xavier Becerra (D-CA)
Lois Capps (D-CA)
Yvette Clarke (D-NY)
Joseph Crowley (D-NY)
Diana DeGette (D-CO)
Keith Ellison (D-MN)
Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ)
Mike Honda (D-CA)
Barbara Lee (D-CA)
Caucus Members
Neil Abercrombie (D-HI)
Shelley Berkley (D-NV)
Howard Berman (D-CA)
Tim Bishop (D-NY)
Earl Blumenauer (D-OR)
Robert Brady (D-PA)
Michael Capuano (D-MA)
André Carson (D-IN)
Kathy Castor (D-FL)
Susan Davis (D-CA)
Peter DeFazio (D-OR)
Bill Delahunt (D-MA)
Rosa DeLauro (D-CT)
Eliot Engel (D-NY)
Anna Eshoo (D-CA)
Bob Filner (D-CA)
Charles Gonzalez (D-TX)
Luis Gutierrez (D-IL)
Phil Hare (D-IL)
Jane Harman (D-CA)
Alcee Hastings (D-FL)
Mazie Hirono (D-HI)
Rush Holt (D-NJ)
Mazie Hirono (D-HI)
Steve Israel (D-NY)
Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX)
Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX)
Patrick Kennedy (D-RI)
Mary Jo Kilroy (D-OH)
Dennis Kucinich (D-OH)
John Lewis (D-GA)
Zoe Lofgren (D-CA)
Nita Lowey (D-NY)
Carolyn Maloney (D-NY)
James McGovern (D-MA)
Jerry Nadler (D-NY)
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL)
Linda Sánchez (D-CA)
Jan Schakowsky (D-IL)
Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL)
Henry Waxman (D-CA)
Anthony Weiner (D-NY)
Peter Welch (D-VT)
Doris Matsui (D-CA)
Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY)
Jim McDermott (D-WA)
James Moran (D-VA)
Patrick Murphy (D-PA)
Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC)
Frank Pallone (D-NJ)
Bill Pascrell (D-NJ)
Chellie Pingree (D-ME)
Mike Quigley (D-IL)
Steven Rothman (D-NJ)
José Serrano (D-NY)
Joe Sestak (D-PA)

Out Rage

Eric and I were expecting the beginnings of damage control and walk-back from the recent Obama Administration fuck-ups on lgbtq issues. John Berry has provided what looks to be a preview of coming attractions in this vein. It is, in a word, weak. We are, in a word, outraged. I am literally shaking with rage and upset at this moment. Here's John Aravosis on why. Here's Pam Spalding on why.

Eric has taken our Obama sign off of the front window. It's been there a long time now. I miss it already. I miss the feeling I had that made me want it there.

The Dallas Principles

For more information, go here. To join, go here.

President Obama and Congress pledged to lead America in a new direction that included civil rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans. We now sit at a great moment in our history that inspires the nation to return to its highest ideals and greatest promise. We face a historic opportunity to obtain our full civil rights; this is the moment for change. No delay. No excuses.

Nearly forty years ago, a diverse group of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people stood up to injustice at the Stonewall Inn in New York City. In doing so, they submitted themselves to bodily harm and criminal prosecution. Their demand was simple -- equal protection under the law.

Still today, full civil rights has eluded the same community that rioted forty years ago. Instead, untold sums of resources have been spent to divide our nation and turn our lives into a political football.

At several junctures in American history, the stars have aligned to deliver the promise of equal protection under the law to those previously denied. At this unique time in history, our nation must once again exercise the great tradition of making its people equal.

Justice has too long been delayed. A clear path toward full civil equality for the LGBT community is overdue and must come now.

Using fear and misunderstanding to justify discrimination is no longer acceptable in this nation. Those content with the way things are will be judged harshly by history. Those who do not actively advance these ideals or offer excuses will be judged just as harshly. Those who attempt to divide our community or to delay and deny action on civil equality, waiting for the right moment to arrive, will be held accountable.

We reject the idea that honoring the founding principles of our country is controversial. We believe in the inherent human dignity of all people. No longer will we submit our children, our family, our friends and ourselves as a political tool for any Party or ideology. A new day has arrived.


The following eight guiding principles underlie our call to action. In order to achieve full civil rights now, we avow:

1. Full civil rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals must be enacted now. Delay and excuses are no longer acceptable.

2. We will not leave any part of our community behind.

3. Separate is never equal.

4. Religious beliefs are not a basis upon which to affirm or deny civil rights.

5. The establishment and guardianship of full civil rights is a non-partisan issue.

6. Individual involvement and grassroots action are paramount to success and must be encouraged.

7. Success is measured by the civil rights we all achieve, not by words, access or money raised.

8. Those who seek our support are expected to commit to these principles.


Being united by common principles and engaging in united action, we will achieve the following goals:

1. DIGNITY AND EQUALITY. Every lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender person has inherent dignity and worth, and has the right to live free of discrimination and harassment.

2. FAMILY. Every LGBT person has the right to a family without legal barriers to immigration, civil marriage or raising children.

3. ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY. Every LGBT person has the right to economic opportunity free from discrimination in employment, public housing, accommodation, public facilities, credit, and federally funded programs and activities.

4. EDUCATION. Every LGBT child and youth has the right to an education that is affirming, inclusive and free from bullying.

5. NATIONAL SECURITY. Every LGBT person should have the opportunity to serve our country openly and equally in our military and foreign service.

6. CRIME. Every LGBT person should enjoy life protected against bias crimes.

7. HEALTH CARE. Every person should have access to affordable, high quality, and culturally competent health care without discrimination.


1. We demand that government officials act now to achieve full civil rights without delay.

2. Our organizations and individuals need to develop a collaborative and revolutionary new organizing model that mobilizes millions of supporters through emerging web and phone technologies.

3. All LGBT individuals must accept personal responsibility to do everything within their power for equality and should get involved in the movement by volunteering, giving and being out.

4. We will hold elected officials and our organizations accountable for being transparent and achieving full civil rights by active participation when possible and active opposition when necessary.

5. Our allies need to be proactive in public support for full civil rights.

6. Every government measure that quantifies the US citizenry must permit LGBT individuals to self-identify and be counted in every way citizens are counted.

7. We demand that the media present LGBT lives in fair, accurate and objective ways that neither include nor give credence to unsubstantiated, discriminatory claims and opinions.

To join the growing chorus of Americans speaking in unison that now is the time to provide full civil rights to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender citizens, CLICK HERE.

For more information, please email

Patricia Clarkson Helps Make Amor Mundi More Positive

The violets are breaking out! Here's to the violets!

Obama's Gay Pride Parade from Hell

Richard Socarides: Obama's Choice to Defend DOMA and Its Consequences.

Fix this. Now. We are arriving at Damage Control time at this point. Does the Administration even grasp just how off the rails their serial mis-steps on lgbtq issues are getting?

Frankly, Obama should have to Fast Track ENDA and ending DADT as penance for this evil idiocy (and, yeah, for having that disgusting fucking homophobe deliver the invocation at his Inaugural, too -- I forgave Obama at the time, but I've changed my mind, all things considered).

It was bad enough that Prop H8 pissed in my punchbowl on the glorious day when Obama was elected, but the silence in the face of gay marriage decisions, the endless parade of patriotic Americans still getting booted from service by Don't Ask Don't Tell, the unbelievably bigoted language and surreally bad timing of Administration utterances on these topics are adding insult after insult after insult to lgbtq injuries now.

I know the priority is health care and EFCA, I fully get the necessity of structural change first and expenditures of political capital where they are most necessary and useful, and so on, I'm completely down with grown-up politics for a change, but at this point the Obama Administration is being so clumsy, so tone-deaf, so out-of-touch, so gratuitously complicit in odiousness that their moves aren't even remotely justifiable on pragmatic grounds.

America is no longer the homophobic country Obama appears to be catering to on these questions, embracing our diversity is part of the Change We Believed In when we elected Obama.

On no other topic does Obama seem to me so relentlessly out of touch (whatever my disagreements with him on other areas, accountability for war criminals, bailouts for corporate criminals, still too hawkish foreign policy, and so on) as he does on lgbtq issues.

It's past painful at this point, it's starting to get a little surreal for us queer folks.

[UPDATE: I am very pleased to say now that in the early months of just the third year of Obama's first term, with the gale force winds of relentless queer activism and criticism at his back, "Don't Ask Don't Tell" ceased to be official military policy -- although implementation of this change was exactly speedy or smooth, and also the Obama Justice Department stopped defending the Defense of Marriage Act, declaring it unconstitutional by their lights, as proliferating test cases across the Nation nudged it to the edge of a cliff. I must say that in retrospect the only detail in this post that leaves a bitter taste in my mouth is my declaration in it that EFCA was an Administration priority -- if only!]

MundiMuster! Jane Hamsher's Call to Action

Against Anarchy: The Politics Nonviolence, Civitas and p2p Democratization

I don't want to smash the state, I want to democratize it.

The following is a reverse-chronological anthologization of posts thinking democracy in relation to anarchist aspirations, nonviolent politics, and the question whether there really can be anything utopian about millions of citizens engaging in boring harm-reduction policy administration accountable both to consensus science and to its actual stakeholders on the public dime. Preview of coming attractions: if the world is not to be slaughterhouse forever, then the answer to that question has to be something like "yes."

Many of the aphorisms anthologized as Dispatches from Libertopia speak to these themes as well, I guess. As aphorisms go they are not as funny as you might like, but they don't take as long to read as my posts do.

Sometimes, in these posts I find myself trying to find new ways of talking about what seem to me very basic political ideas, even points of departure for political thinking as such. For example, there are quite a few posts that offer variations on the claim that taxation is indispensable to the creation and maintenance of public alternatives for the nonviolent adjudication of disputes rather than a form of violence, let alone the paradigmatic state violence. In spats with anarchist friends I offer up many variations on the argument that even though states notoriously can and do operate to rationalize violence and enforce hierarchies the struggle is not so much to smash states but to democratize them (as my slogan goes), since violence and hierarchy both precede and exceed state forms in a finite world shared by a diversity of stakeholders.

These can seem unconventional and even paradoxical ideas, and so I have to admit that people of good will can misunderstand or disagree with them. I know, of course, that there are plenty of people who are allies on important issues, in political campaigns, during particular actions, making radical art, and who are generally right on with their right on and yet who think of themselves as anarchists. But I personally think that what genuinely lefty, genuinely thoughtful anarchists think of as "anarchy" -- when they are not simply being naive narcissistic tools enabling reactionary politics and consumer complacency in bubbles of privilege -- is better thought of as "democracy." I get that it might seem something of a dick move to tell so many of the few people anywhere near my own wavelength as a queer atheist vegetarian democratic socialist feminist anti-racist anti-corporatist anti-militarist aesthete that their anarchism is aligned with American consumer-complacency and racist plutocracy when all is said and done -- but, honestly, if somebody who allied with me as much as so many lefty anarchists do sincerely thought I was enabling reactionary politics that horrify me, and offered up considered formulations to that effect to public scrutiny, I would want to hear them out on the subject more than I would want to devote myself to filing report after report to the hurt feelings department over it. But, hey, maybe that's just me.

Anyway, also anthologized here are posts on issues of access-to-knowledge and peer-to-peer democratization and on the anti-democratizing politics of elite-incumbent design culture (some of the posts anthologized under the separate heading Futurology Against Ecology are also relevant to this topic). What all these pieces share is the conviction that democratization is an interminable process of social struggles and experimental implementations, efforts to give ever more people ever more say in the public decisions that affect them, struggles for a sustainable, consensual, equitable, and diverse shared and made world, peer to peer.

A Clash of Spontaneisms: Howard Kunstler on Thomas Piketty, posted April 29, 2014.

The Military-Industrial Complex Is Not A Deeper State Than Our State of Democratizing Capability, posted February 23, 2014.

American Anarchism Is Racist Through and Through, posted July 20, 2013.

The "Mixed Economy" Isn't A Mix, It Is "Ideal" Capitalism and Socialism That Are Mixed Up, posted June 15, 2013.

Beyond "No Gods, No Masters," posted September 30, 2012.

Non-Violent Politics and the Democratization of the State, posted September 24, 2012.

Nonviolent Statism? posted September 20, 2012.

Conversations With Anarchists and Democrats, posted September 19, 2012

Nonviolent Revolution As the Democratization of the State, posted September 17, 2012.

And Many More! (A Happy Birthday to Occupy As It Is Growing Up) posted September 17, 2012.

The Ambivalence of Investment/Speculation As the Kernel of Reactionary Futurology, posted March 29, 2012.

"Stand Your Ground" As Secessionist Treason, posted March 24, 2012.

To Be Anti-Establishment Is Not the Same Thing As To Be Anti-Government -- In Fact Anti-Governmentality Is Almost Inevitably A Crypto-Establishmentarianism!, posted January 10, 2012.

Why I Am Not One of Those Democrats Who Are Fond of Ron Paul, Not Even Up To A Point, posted December 19, 2011.

Belgium Is Not Anarchy; Or, Scattered Speculations on the Radical Democratic Imaginary Against the Anarchic Imaginary, posted September, 2011.

cDc's Oxblood Defines "Hactivism" and Critiques Anonymous, posted August, 2011.

It Turns on Power: A Schematic Distinguishing the Politics of Technodevelopmental Social Struggle from Futurological Anti-Politics, posted August, 2011.

Riot, Try It: A Pragmatics of Urban Disruption in a Planet of Slums, posted August, 2011.

Why I Am Still Not An Anarchist (Or Am I?), posted July, 2011.

Indebtedness As A Lifelong Condition of Existential Precarity, posted July, 2011.

Politics of Design. Anti-Politics of Design, posted April, 2011.

The Egyptian Revolution Is Not Miraculous, posted February, 2011.

Democracy and Nonviolence, posted January, 2011.

p2p-Democratization, posted August, 2010.

Democracy Is Not Anarchy, posted July, 2010.

The Peer, posted February, 2010.

Prologue for Futural Politics, posted August, 2009.

Consensual Prosthetic Self-Determination and Progressive Democratization, posted June, 2009.

More on Freedom, posted May, 2009.

Arendt, Fanon, King On Violence, posted May, 2009

Designs on Us: Same Basic Contentions on the Politics of Design, posted May, 2009.

Science, Politics, and Administration, posted March, 2009.

Is Obama the Face of Ongoing p2p-Democratization? posted March, 2009.

Democracy, Consent, and Enterprise (And Their Contraries), posted September, 2008.

p2p Is Not Anarchy, posted April, 2008.

Left and Right, Back to Basics, posted December, 2007.

Eight Propositions on Taxes, posted December, 2007.

What's Wrong With Elitism? What's So Good About Democracy? posted December, 2007.

Thinking About the Politics of Design, posted December, 2007.

Democratic World Federalism Discussion on CRN, posted September, 2007.

Thinking Out Loud About Democratic World Federalism, posted September, 2006.

Why I Want to Democratize the State Rather Than to Smash It, posted June, 2006.

Democracy Among the Experts, posted June, 2006.

People-Powered Politics and the Emerging Technoprogressive Mainstream, posted June, 2006.

The Politics Are Prior to the Toypile, posted June, 2006.

Technology and Terror, posted March, 2006.

Technology Needs Democracy, Democracy Needs Technology, posted February, 2006.

World Without Work, posted January, 2006.

Trouble in Libertopia, posted May, 2004.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Futurological Brickbats

It is curious the number of twenty-first century futurologists whose notions of political economy remain firmly in the eighteenth century.

Futurological Brickbats

Iconoclasts should always smash their mirrors first.

Futurological Brickbats

Every priestly peddler of immortality has died. Every one. And this is most certainly true as well of the priests of faithly medicine and reductionist scientism.

Futurological Brickbats

Futurity is the openness in the present arising out of the ineradicable diversity of calculating, contending, and collaborative stakeholders who struggle to make and remake the shared world, peer to peer. Futurity cannot be delineated but only lived, in serial presents attesting always unpredictably to struggle and to expression. "The Future," to the contrary, brandishing the shackle of its definite article, is always described from a parochial present and is always a funhouse mirror reflecting a parochial present back to itself, amplifying its desires and fears, confirming its prejudices, reassuring its Believers that the Key to History is in their hands. Futurity is a register of freedom, "The Future" another prison-house built to confine it.

Many more Futurological Brickbats anthologized here.

Futurological Brickbats

Futurology is in the business of investing the vicissitudes of ongoing technodevelopmental social struggle with the aura of either novelty or of nostalgia, and then peddling these evocations of mood as "truths" or "trends." Never once has a futurologist made a contribution to actual sense by means of this odd operation.

Futurological Brickbats

Hyperbole is not foresight.

Futurological Brickbats

Few salesmen would properly be mistaken for intellectuals.

Not A Good Thing

To be elected after very public promises of being a fierce advocate for gay rights as well as bringing accountability to war-torturers, it isn't exactly inspiring to see the Administration ferociously and unnecessarily applying and defending bigoted anti-gay laws of which they presumably disapprove while at once refusing to enforce laws on the books that would facilitate bringing war-criminals and torturers to justice as they would presumably surely approve. I am terribly aggravated about all this, although I expect this sort of thing from representative stakeholder politics as everyone should do. And I am very relieved to see intelligent, organized pushback from some quarters of the progressive Netroots that would pressure Congresscritters especially to move on both these fronts and thereby "make him do it" from the left. We'll see how it plays out.

I don't think Obama is homophobic in the least, nor do I think he is a torture-apologist, and those who want to bamboozle the well-meaning into various Third Party irrelevancies by saying so are being silly. And of course those who are taking up these disappointments as occasions to catapult nothing-really-matters blanket cynicism, Bush-Obama equivalency theses, Obama as stealth right-wing tool, and comparable purist narcissisms in a self-congratulatory masturbatory mode remain in my eyes exactly as useless as they have been from day one.

However angry and rebellious I am about the Administration's moves in these areas it remains perfectly true that Obama's election represented an unprecedented and indispensable turning of the political tide in America, that Obama remains the first President in my lifetime with whom I (a pinko-queer who abhors all war, let alone war-crimes) can personally and proudly identify, and that Obama's Presidency remains the best hope for actually-possible progressive change since the New Deal.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Moving Past the Manichean Moment

"The Commenter Formerly Known as NCSteve" over at TPM wrote:
[I]n the fever del[i]rium that conservatives call "reality" these days, people are endlessly, dangerously su[s]cept[i]ble to video games, popular music and situation comedies, but completely unaffected by those who actually purport to be trying to affect their opinions. Are we going to have to wait until one of these loons gets his hands on some fertil[i]zer and fuel oil and takes out hundreds [before] the MSM says "enough is enough" to jolly ol' Rushbo, the dramatic Beck, and the little black dress clad Coulter rather than calling them "great guests" and "entertainers" and "always provocative?" …

At some level, every one of them, from John Boehner to Rupert Murdoch to Rush Limbaugh to Billy Jim Goober in his un-airconditioned manufactured home/arsenal in the Dixie Twilight Trailer Park believes that race means something more than a slight variance in the genes that control melanin production. They think that that something is inextricably linked to "Americanism." Obama personifies and crystal[l]izes their anxiety over the browning of America that's been growing among them for thirty years. For the rich ones, their horror is magnified by the idea that he wants to bump their taxes up a few points and put some modest curbs on the unfettered rapacity they fought so hard to claw back from the New Deal reforms.

Fearing taxes and regulation, they eagerly whipped up the more open racial hostility and anxiety of their poorer brethr[e]n. They saw it as a handy tool with which to rally the poor whites to the noble cause of unfettered rapacity.

All too true, of course. The Southern Strategy was an undeniable reality, and it reverberates perniciously into the present life of Movement Conservatism's mass-mediated hate speech, long after the Culture Wars were fought (and decisively won by us secular democratic multiculturalists, it pays to remember).

I worry a bit that just what is being recommended by the phrase "enough is enough" is under-specified here (more straight-talk analyses of the kind exemplified by the marvelously compelling quoted commentary itself? or wider legal proscriptions of ugly opinions construed as incitements to violence, with all the real practical and civil libertarian problems of any such moves?), just as I worry about the rather cavalier admission that right-wing dumb-dumbs and hate-mongers are all participating "at some level" in the maintenance of a climate that denigrates the vulnerably different but leaves unspecified how actual differences in participation should make a difference in our responses to them.

I do think it is crucial that we respond to the terrifying reality delineated here by working to marginalize the white-racist patriarchal theocrat (whether market or Chiristianist or both) "Movement Conservative" element both from the American mainstream and the Republican Party, rather than just losing ourselves in yet another facile self-congratulatory episode in borad-brush Manichean politics -- remember when the left were all traitors for opposing an obviously illegal immoral ruinous war of choice? -- that leaves substantial minorities of comparatively reasonable but unfortunately not progressive actually-existing fellow citizens with too little recourse but likely common cause with the very demonic extremity that so properly horrifies us (and surely most of them).

UPDATE: I just mean that we should always frame these necessary analyses of Movement Conservatism in a way that facilitates the marginalization of the white-racist patriarchal theocracy and encourages the comparatively more reasonable (or susceptible to reasonableness) under its umbrella to dis-identify rather than defend these vile extremities, and also resist investing white-racist patriarchal theocracy with a depth and pervasiveness that provokes paranoid or authoritarian reactions contrary to purpose. I'm far from denying (or defending!) the legacies of white-racist patriarchal corporate-militarism or Christianism, obviously, I should hope, I'm just making a broad point about how actually-democratizing politics should proceed in the belly of the beast.


As I feared, the demands of summer teaching are intense, and as I take up another course next week look only to intensify further. Teaching is the usual exhilaration while it's actually taking place, but once I leave the classroom I snap like a twig and ride the bus or train home exhausted beyond words and right on the brink of a big gray grump.

Fifty Days to Meltdown

California's government risks a financial "meltdown" within 50 days in light of its weakening May revenues unless Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and lawmakers quickly plug a $24.3 billion budget gap, the state's controller said on Wednesday….California's state government is speeding toward a financial disaster unless officials act urgently to balance its books.

"Balance its books" will almost surely mean "dismantle civilization" and pray that the predator gods of spontaneous order will miraculously save the day somehow as they never once have done in all history however fervently the market fundamentalists pray and prey while refusing to pay.

I predict that Governator "Shut It Down" Schwarzenegger and the Movement Conservatives who have held this State hostage to their anti-tax anti-government zealotry via the State's stupid Constitutional 2/3rds provision will succeed in framing and blaming "profligate" "corrupt" Democrats for the mess and will use the resulting devastation as an opportunity to rewrite California ever more in the image of Somalia or some comparable Randroidal libertopia. The results will, in a word, suck.

Of course, to the extent that Democrats seem relentlessly unwilling or unable ever to actually explain what is facile and false in the anti-tax anti-government rhetoric that has transformed California into a failed State or to offer up readily available easily explainable contrary rhetoric about the indispensability of progressive taxation and public investment to build and maintain legitimate consensual equitable diverse actually functional democratic governance, then it is, after all, quite right to apportion them a hefty dose of blame for this idiotic unnecessary human-engineered catastrophe. Of course, the answer is more and better Democrats, but we are most likely to get more and worse Republicans instead, to the ruin of all.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Summer Intensive...

I've got a feeling I may have to become a week-end blogger this summer, given the teaching load. I mean, this is just week two...

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Unexpected Abortion Exchange

I wrote, speaking of anti-abortion zealots who murder and terrorize abortion-providers: No words to describe these evil fuckers. Catch him and throw him in jail forever.

"JM Inc." commented: And yet "evil fuckers" seemed to fit the bill so well. Although "catch him and throw him in jail forever" seems a bit vindictive. I'd be happy knowing it wasn't going to happen again (which it will, you know, that's how the culture of life works).

I responded: Putting a murderer in jail seems vindictive?

"JM Inc." clarified: "Forever" certainly does.

I elaborated: "Forever" means life in prison, obviously, and I don't agree that it is vindictive to think murderers should spend the rest of their lives in prison. I disapprove of capital punishment, even when a horrible crime like the murder of Dr. Tiller really incenses me, as was evidenced in this post written at the height of my horror and anger about it, which makes your reaction to the post especially perplexing to me. Capital punishment does seem to me always wrong and usually vindictive, certainly prone to unacceptable miscarriages of justice, and also damaging to the public world, the res-publica by eliminating the possibility that both victims and perpetrators of the worst crimes might be allowed world-building acts of forgiveness in the fullness of time. Life in prison, on the contrary, seems to me a very reasonable registration of the magnitude of the crime involved when a competent adult intentionally takes a fellow citizen's life when it is not a matter of self-defense. You can disagree with that, but calling it vindictive makes no sense

I'm curious about others' impressions of this exchange. The topic often yields befuddling but ultimately illuminating discursive twists and turns.