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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Futurological Circle Jerk -- "Geo-Engineering" Edition

Upgraded and adapted from the Moot:

It's interesting. I posted this content [the post What's "Futurism" Got To Do With Foresight?] as a comment on Jamais Cascio's blog and it has yet to appear. He moderates his comments (as do I, there are good reasons to do so!) and he may simply be away from his blog or something, but it may also be that this post fails to "pass muster" according to his moderating criteria.

He provides those criteria here: "Comments telling me that global warming isn't real, that evolution isn't real, that I really need to follow [insert religion here], that the world is flat, or similar bits of inanity are more likely to be deleted than approved. Yes, it's unfair. Deal. It's my blog, I make the rules, and I really don't have time to hand-hold people unwilling to face reality."

Nothing I said in my post or my comment even remotely approached the kind of anti-evolutionary, climate-change denialism, or religious proselytizing he derides and so I can't help but wonder if he's still in a snit about my disagreements with him last summer on geo-engineering as a kind of greenwashing. If that's what is going on here, it certainly is an awfully reasonable position for him to take.

After all, Cascio thinks the answer to catastrophic anthropogenic climate change is for hyper-industrial mega-corporations and military contractors to save the world with non-existing mega-engineering projects intervening into complex ill-understood geophysical dynamics at unprecedented levels for profit. Sure, such parochial profit-taking by such industrial concerns caused and continues to cause that climate change -- and, sure, in order to stay profitable many of these very concerns lard PR firms and corrupt congress-critters with cash to engage in climate change denialism and public misinformation schemes that stand in the way of sane environmental regulation and government education programs and public investments in energy efficiency, mass transit, sustainable agriculture, and renewable energy infrastructure. But all that is neither here nor there.

Of course, when one day very soon all this non-existing sooper-profitable techno-futurological mega-engineering actually does come to exist in a form more tangible than the CGI-renderings of which futurologists are so fond, we can be sure it will be regulated by legitimate political processes to ensure it is safe, effective, not corrupt, impacts the vulnerable no more harmfully than the powerful and so on... Cascio is always very insistent on that point, even if many other geo-engineering enthusiasts are not, and even though all the would-be geo-engineering Power Rangers, including Cascio, always begin their advocacy by pointing out that such politics has and must utterly fail, which presumably is why they advocate geo-engineering techno-magick instead of the government regulation, education, public programs, and renewable energy investments more conventional environmentalists do in the first place.

Raising concerns about such views is exactly like claiming the world is flat. It's only reasonable that Cascio would refuse to provide a forum for such patent inanities.

Sometimes I think these think-tank intellectuals really wouldn't last a second in the contentious give-and-take that plays out in the seminars and talks and hallways of the actual Academy.

5 comments:

Impertinent Weasel said...

Professional futurologists are essentially talentless fiction writers. Cascio's website shows he was involved in the creation of a Transhumanist role-playing game. This is the perfect job for a professional futurologist. You can make up bland future worlds all day long without having to bother with the actual hard, real work of telling an interesting, illustrative story.

Martin said...

Don't feel too bad. I was apparently muted from Accelerating Future because of my rants on Kurzweil. I'm still right, though.

Dale Carrico said...

I'm far more disappointed if Jamais has decided to reject my comments because of his thin skin than I am disappointed that he happens to advocate the wrongheaded and dangerous notion of Geo-Engineering. Everybody believes or has believed foolish things, and we all benefit even from those who expose our foolishness in ways that hurt our feelings. No, we don't have to like it, yes, sometimes things could have played out more cordially, but for those who actually give a shit about their beliefs these things get heated, why pretend become a public intellectual if you have to drag out the smelling salts just because somebody impugns your motives or calls you a name -- especially if there is some substance amidst the vituperation? Heaven only knows how often I've changed my mind when humiliated by those who knew better than me. It is silly to pretend that the give and take of debate either is or even should be an endless indulgence of the fee fees pampered people who are in the wrong by your lights. I teach Karl Rogers' mode of mediative-facilitative argument, and well know there are contexts in which it provides the best chance for reconciliation as an outcome. But reconciliation is not the only rhetorical outcome that impels us into contestation and debate. And I strongly encourage those who decry falling standards to read the marvelously acerbic and acrimonious exchanges Cicero or Machiavelli or the Founders engaged in. What pathetic lightweights Robot Cultists are, in addition to being utter cranks for the most part. Honestly!

Martin said...

Lightweights, indeed. I have publicly criticized Kurzweil numerous times on numerous forums and never received a direct defense of the man. In fact, the only response I ever got was the feeble acknowledgement that "even many transhumanists don't agree with everything he says."

Which would be fine if he wasn't the recurring keynote speaker at all their events.

Just a month ago I posted this criticism on G+, where I knew some transhumanists would read it, because inexplicably they started following me, but once again it was met with silence (I have since deleted my G+ account).

I agree with you that it's far more edifying, and certainly more interesting, to engage in heated and sometimes acrimonious debate than to adhere to some faux standard of civility all the time. Ridiculous ideas deserve ridicule, and you're not doing me (or anyone else) a favor by coddling my delusions.

It seems to me that transhumanists are on the defensive, because in recent years more people (with scientific expertise) have finally noticed and are publicly criticizing them. It's something that simply didn't happen when I was part of the "movement" in 2003-5. We were insulated in our own little circlejerk, but now it's different. Intelligent people who spend their professional lives studying biology, gerontology, materials science, computer science, etc., are publicly criticizing their claims.

Remember the Technology Review / SENS Challenge? The professional opinion of real scientists was that SENS was too speculative to draw a conclusion one way or another -- which is exactly what a scientifically rigorous conclusion demands. With little or no evidence either way, you claim agnosticism. It's what I've maintained for years now. I don't know that smarter-than-human general intelligence will never obtain, but I can clearly reject any one person's predictions for lack of evidence.

Transhumanism has always depended on the veneer of science to give it authenticity, but now the scientific establishment doubts their claims. The problem is they have a lot of human (and emotional, and actual) capital invested in these ideas. It's not surprising they are so defensive.

Dale Carrico said...

It seems to me that transhumanists are on the defensive, because in recent years more people (with scientific expertise) have finally noticed and are publicly criticizing them. It's something that simply didn't happen when I was part of the "movement" in 2003-5. We were insulated in our own little circlejerk, but now it's different. Intelligent people who spend their professional lives studying biology, gerontology, materials science, computer science, etc., are publicly criticizing their claims.

I've noticed this too, also I've noticed that futurological claims are met with more often than hitherto with eye-rolling and skepticism, especially when advertorials are pretending to be news items. All this makes me happy. Of course, I still have my worries and I still think there is so very much serious work to be done to build a more sustainable, equitable, diversifying and democratizing mode of technodevelopmental social struggle that is embraced by the mainstream left. Eyes on the Prize!