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Saturday, August 14, 2010

Socially Alienated Futurists Accidentally Re-Invent the Idea of Having A Social Life

Has Hank Hyena managed to punk the Robot Cultists over at humanity-plus and IEET?

IEET has re-posted an article that first appeared a few days ago in h+ Magazine, a punchy little number entitled The Abolition of Loneliness.

You may not know, by the way, but "h-plus" or "humanity-plus" is how the World Transhumanist Association "re-branded" itself when they began to fear that they might sound a little too off-putting, a little too, you know, "culty."

If you find yourself wondering just what it is that is so "humanity-plus" about the Robot Cultists of transhumanism, believe you me, that probably just means you're "humanity-minus"! Too bad for you, mehum loser!

"Hank Hyena," is the pseudonym of Hank Pellissier, an anarchic free-wheeling satirist, which surely would leave at least some folks wondering a bit about the words they are reading tap tap tapping their way to their eyeballs from Hyena's fingertips. But it is under Pellissier's name that the article has been posted at IEET, together with credentials indicating that he is a blogger for the World Future Society, and a columnist for Salon and the San Francisco edition of the New York Times. And to read the comments over at "humanity-plus" the Humanity-Plus-trons are deadly earnest about the ideas they are drinking in.

It is, of course, conceivable that I am wrong in reading this as a parody. After all, flabbergastingly enough, the transhumanists involved in the Order of Cosmic Engineers really do mean for us all to take them straightforwardly seriously. One cannot ever doubt the capacity of futurologists to outpace even the most hyperbolic satire.

I'll let you be the judge. Pellissier's piece opens with this simple premise:
Many humans feel that no one loves, cares, or understands them. They deserve a better future. I believe that transhumanists need to annihilate the sad, estranged, socially-disconnected emotion of loneliness by creating an abundance of cures.

Quite apart from the slight weirdness of framing the pain of loneliness in such stiffly futurological terms -- "better future" rather than just, you know, a better life, "creating cures" rather than, you know, just helping out -- if you are anything like me you will have boggled a bit at what seems the slightly undue violence of the phrase "annihilate the sad," especially coming on the heels, as it does, of the call for "Abolition" in the title. The theme continues, curiously enough, a few sentences later, in which we are told about a "desire to exterminate loneliness."

Annihilate? Exterminate? Why, it's like a cry for help!

Pellissier does indeed propose "an abundance of cures" soon enough. Predictably enough, near the top of his list of loneliness annihilators, Pellisier has just one word for us all: "Robots."

Among the other properly transhumanistical anti-loneliness proposals offered up are "Flash Mobs," "Genetic Therapy" (natch), and also "Hologram Connection" -- which we are told involves "sharing space and mingling colors" -- and "Insta-Art," which is, er, just "Regular Art," but posted in an online forum in the expectation of getting instant feedback.

Of "Hologram Connection," by the way, Pellisier has much, much more to offer, including the following
Hologram friendships would create togetherness as "light beings" that pantomime the distant meatbags. They could sleep together (non-tactile, of course). They could watch each other eat and masturbate. All in all, a huge upgrade in intimacy[.]

If this isn't satire -- indeed, heavy-handed satire -- of futurologists, I really don't know what to say.

Especially charming about this list of loneliness techno-fixes is that it is prefaced by the recognition that "both the radio and the telephone were heralded as inventions that would destroy isolation," as also the internet has been. But, very true to futurological form, the failure of all these techno-fixes -- hence, the need for the article -- has done nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of the futurologist Hyena is lampooning (surely).

Best of all for me, though, is the very first of Hyena/Pellisier's techno-utopian proposals.
Artificial Families: As birth rates in developed nations have plummeted, the huge clan assemblies of bygone eras have dwindled to tiny Christmas dinners. Familial bonds that homo sapiens require can no longer be provided by the genetically-linked. To alleviate this, we need to create large, serious, pseudo-family units with holiday and birthday gift obligations, assigned familial roles (maternal, filial, fraternal, etc.) financial obligations and encounter group intimacy. (Vonnegut illustrated this elixir in his "karass" team structure.) My opinion? Meatbag gatherings must be mandated and regularly-scheduled for "AFs" to succeed.

Feeling lonely, futurologists? Perhaps you should get out more? Make a connection? Get a life? Yes, others too have recognized from time to time the "need to create large, serious, pseudo-family units" from which one might "encounter group intimacy."

It's called a dancefloor, and here's what it's for. You know, friends? Sexy singles? Acquaintances? Concerned fellow citizens? Colleagues? It's as if someone who spent all his time in Second Life accidentally hit on the idea of having an Actual Life in the abstract and then tried explaining the notion to the computer-generated potted-palms in the background. I must say that the use of the completely gratuitous futurological acronym "AFs" (aka actual people) is an especially inspired touch.

Again, I think it's a delightful prank, made all the more funny (if sometimes a bit sad) for the earnestness of the commenters. Perhaps they are just collaborating in another elaborate layer of the parody?


Anne Corwin said...

Oh wow I HOPE that's a parody because it's hilarious. The Vonnegut reference would definitely seem to suggest satire. (And didn't Vonnegut himself engage in similar "punkings"? E.g., the story "Harrison Bergeron", which I admit for years I read as saying one thing when it was more than likely poking fun at people who actually believed that sort of future was likely.)

Anonymous said...

Dale's entire blog reads like an elaborate prank most of the time... Takes one to know one, I suppose!

Dale Carrico said...

Good one, Luke.