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

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Nice Humanity-Plus-Palooza Liveblogging Over at "Futurisms"

Over at the futurisms blog they are live-blogging this year's Humanity-plus Summit. There is quite a lot of absorbing skepticism and healthy snark in evidence and I recommend it heartily. For a more cautionary note, you'll have to wait to the end of the post.

Now, if you don't know what "humanity-plus" is, well, you might just as well assume you're humanity-minus. This, however, might help clarify matters for you. Together with the Singularity Summit and the annual TransVision Conferences, the Humanity-Plus Summits are superlative futurological high holidays for Robot Cultists (here in Blarnia it's always Easter but never the Crucifixion).

While one expects the Robot Cult Parade to make a lot of noise among the on-line shut-in sociopath set (among whom none of my own dear readers number I'm sure) as well as to garner the eager attention of our simultaneously tech-illiterate and tech-fetishizing Village Idiot punditocrats -- appealing as they do to the deranging passions that fuel mass-mediated info-tainment spectacles, at once to the greediest dreams of omnipotence and the most terrorizing nightmares of impotence -- I must say it is rather awful and disheartening to find that Oxford and Harvard are willing to lap up these futurological lines of hype as well. One wonders if Harvard hosts Raelian love-ins and Serious Scientology summits these days if you have enough cash on hand?

As a discourse, superlative futurology is mostly damaging in that it deranges urgently necessary public deliberation on the most equitable and sustainable distribution of the costs, risks, and benefits of technoscientific change among the diversity of its stakeholders at the worst possible moment. But the organizational archipelago of superlative futurological sects and think-tanks themselves are filled with mostly quite absurd figures and it is difficult to grasp the threat they represent institutionally until one sets them side by side with comparably absurd groups of deluded megalomaniacal white guys, like the Neocons, and contemplate how through perseverance and the slow accumulation of monetary and cultural capital such foolish folks manage to become extraordinary forces for evil in the world, especially if they are saying things that elite-incumbent interests like to hear (as definitely what the futurologists are saying is deeply congenial to incumbent interests, even if few of them are entirely aware of the fact yet).

It is important to note that futurisms, which is pretty much the go-to anti-transhumanist blog at the moment (as a rule, they're less wordy and less angry than I am), is published under the auspices of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a socially conservative think-tank that publishes lots of analysis and advocates lots of policies I disapprove of, and that, more proximately still, the "futurisms" blog -- like the also usually fine text patterns blog (which tends to puncture net-hype and defend humanistic education) -- is connected to the journal The New Atlantis, from which I have learned a lot but with which I also generally disagree (although much can be forgiven a journal which re-publishes Hannah Arendt). I discern a general but not pervasive tendency to bioconservatism in the journal (also apparent in many posts on the "futurisms" blog), but rarely the full-on fulminating supernativity that would correlate them directly with the superlativity of the Robot Cultists (as one finds in, say, some anti-civilizational discourse, of which John Zerzan is probably an interesting and reasonably good exemplar). Thus, though I often find myself enormously cheered to hear their elegant disposals of futurological nonsense from the likes of folks I often skewer myself, from Michael Anissimov, to Kyle Munkittrick to James Hughes, it is important to read their critiques with a grain of salt. As I pointed out again earlier this week:
[T]here may be endlessly many good reasons to oppose particular medical or technoscientific outcomes on their merits, apart from bioconservative worries about their "unnaturalness" or our "playing God" (which we surely already did in inventing Him/Her/It/Them). Such opposition on the merits isn't inevitably "bioconservative" or "luddite" by my lights, as far too many futurological cheerleaders would have it. But it is also true that many critiques of the furniture and preoccupations of "technological society" will raise legitimate questions of safety, inequity, misinformation, misplaced priorities commandeered into the service of a larger bioconservative project of anti-democratizing naturalization of incumbent interests and parochial concerns, and it is important to disarticulate these strands in assessing the force of a technodevelopmental critique. I tend to regard the obvious antagonism between bioconservative and transhumanist advocacy also as a mutually enabling partnership in hyperbole, rather as the antagonism between technophobic and technophilic attitudes masks the pernicious undercriticality toward matters of technodevelopmental social struggle they share and to which they contribute more or less equally, rather as the obvious antagonism between supernative and superlative ideologies yield mirror image retro-futurisms.

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