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Thursday, August 12, 2010

"The Future" As A White Boys' Club

Athena Andreadis has posted a delightful bit of righteous snark about the White Guys of "The Future" at the stealth Robot Cult outfit IEET (about whose relentlessly unrepresentative whiteness and guyness I snicker myself on a literally weekly basis right here, and with which, like her, I was once briefly and uncomfortably affiliated):
I recently had an exchange with a progressive friend. He had just announced that he had become a fellow of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies (IEET), a prominent transhumanist venue. Since I had trod that path before him, we inevitably came to the part where I pointed out that transhumanism is composed almost exclusively of white American men — and its upper echelon entirely so (H+ devotees invariably counter that most of their gofers are female and/or ethnic, so there!). Whereupon my friend replied: “Yes, it’s a white boys’ club. As far as I know that’s not because of a policy of exclusion. It’s because primarily white boys think about this stuff.” Which puts him in the same group (and class) as Larry Summers, who declared that women aren’t in the sciences because their brains just aren’t wired for numbiz.

I am glad I'm not the only one who holds this particular ferocious grudge against the execrable Larry Summers. When I teach Valerie Solanas' hilarious satirical SCUM Manifesto in my classes I often use Summers' pseudo-scientific "biological" reductionist/determinist rationale for his sexist bigotry to illustrate the attitudes Solanas lampoons in describing all men as "walking abortions," mutilated by the chromosomal shedding from healthy wholesome "X" of Eve's Rib leaving us only a "Y." Rather like her hilariously convoluted diagnosis of all men as having "pussy envy" it is doubly amusing to observe the righteousness with which men presumably targeted by her hyperbole shake their fists at her irrationality and unfairness without batting an eyelash at evolutionary psychology claiming that women are all wired for nurturing or psychoanalytic claims that women all suffer from "penis envy."

Be that as it may, I do find it very strange that scholars who write about technoscience and development issues would believe that this is generally -- no doubt, oh so unfortunately -- still "a white boys' club," when, for example, women, people of color, and a palpably international cast of key figures throng Science and Technology Studies as well as the Environmental Justice Movement, which are in my view the most vibrant and relevant scholarly and activist locations in which such theoretical work is actually being done in the academy (not to mention the work being done in actual labs and science Departments, in neither of which is it exactly right to pretend we still live in the 1950s "white boys' club" either, though we would all still benefit enormously from more inclusion and outreach and representative education programs in math and science and so on). Oh, wait, did I say I find it "strange" that "scholars" would believe "primarily white boys think about" technoscience? I'm sorry -- this is a "think tank" we're talking about, so I'm the furthest imaginable thing from surprised. No doubt these are innovative "thought leaders" more than old-fashioned scholars. They are "framing" and "re-packaging" and "marketing" wish-fulfillment fantasies provoked less by science than by juicy details and sciency projections. Maybe this is indeed something mostly for silly boys circle-jerking round an imaginary toypile while the world has better things to do.

Athena's conclusion is as incisive and it is acerbic (one of my favorite combinations):
[I'm] bored stiff in any place where charlatanism passes for provocative thinking or cutting edge science. Cults are very similar in that you have to actively suppress your brain processes to play along. I told my friend that we should revisit this conversation when his stint at the IEET is done. Unless the Singularity happens first, of course.

Scroll downward to find every Saturday for months my various White Guys of "The Future" Reports, and for a word on the Cultishness of superlative futurological discourses see this.


Martin said...

Was Solanas being sarcastic when she wrote that "the Y (male) gene is an incomplete X (female) gene, that is, it has an incomplete set of chromosomes"?

Did she get that backwards on purpose, or did she just not know the difference between a gene and a chromosome?

To be honest with you, I never read the SCUM Manifesto because I got to that second paragraph and was like, "Ok, this is going to be mindless drivel."

Dale Carrico said...

I think the SCUM Manifesto is one of the most hilarious incendiary parodies since "A Modest Proposal." I recommend it with pleasure.

Birney said...

I can't help it: It looks like the future's so white, we're gonna need shades.

In a more serious vein I've always wondered why this joke ( )from the white house correspondents dinner was funny. Are we laughing at or with summers? And if with, does that change anything?

Athena Andreadis said...

Thanks for the signal boost, Dale. As I and another blog reader said in the comments section, it's not that power fantasies attract white boyz exclusively or even predominantly; it’s that the power fantasies of white boyz are far likelier to be taken seriously and put into practice.

As for Summers, he -- along with Francis Collins -- was one of the greatest disappointments of Obama's appointments, and not just because of that terminally idiotic remark. He played a huge part in handing the Russian economy to the thugs.