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

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Yeah, You Do That Mitt

"If you're looking for something to go after in a political sense, just listen to the Vice President. He's got plenty of material for us." At least, that's what Mitt Romney says. That's gonna go down real well with so-called white working-class independent voters, the fatally inauthentic richy-rich stuffed shirt making fun of the palpably authentic cadences and concerns of white working-class Joe Biden. Also, too, Mitt do keep talking up your support for Paul Ryan's couponization of Medicare and explaining to American women why Planned Parenthood's healthcare services are a menace to be destroyed. You're right, there's "plenty of material" out there for you.

Robot Cultist George Dvorsky Is Building a Dyson Sphere in His Basement

George Dvorsky is one of the White Guys of the Future who roost among the Very Serious Futurologists at IEET, the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies (where "ethics" mostly seems to mean pretending magic is real and where the "technologies" in question are mostly "emerging" out of futurological mouths but nowhere else).

Dvorsky has published an article there about how we can and should seriously get started on building a Dyson Sphere, which he defines as a "hypothetical megastructure, as envisaged by [Freeman] Dyson… the size of a planetary orbit and consist[ing] of a shell of solar collectors (or habitats) around the star." Dvorsky proposes that "such structures would be the logical consequence of the long-term survival and escalating energy needs of a technological civilization."

Of course, actual technoscientific development arises out of the vicissitudes of historical struggles among actually-existing stakeholders and almost never in ways that can be described in exclusively logical terms, especially not in advance or from any other kind of abstract distance. This is one of the reasons that futurological pronouncements arising out of logical extrapolations from parochial stipulations of initial conditions and hosts of assumptions about probable intermediary outcomes indifferent to unintended consequence, unknowable eventualities, actually involved stakeholders with the diversity of their actual stakes should always seem absolutely implausible to anybody with the least sense. What amounts to a flabbergastingly facile disregard for many of the factors most relevant to technodevelopmental struggle as it actually plays out in the actual world becomes, among the futurological faithful, the very sign of their superior "realism" and "scientificity."

Robotically predictably true to form, as literally only a faith-based futurologist ever could, Dvorsky declares of the actual building, by us, of a Dyson Sphere right here, right now in our solar system:
Implausible you say? Something for our distant descendants to consider? Think again: We are closer to being able to build a Dyson Sphere than we think. In fact, we could conceivably get going on the project in about 25 to 50 years, with completion of the first phase requiring only a few decades. Yes, really.
No, George. Not, really. Really NOT. Not at all. Not even conceivably, where "conceivable" refers to something other than the sorts of fancies that arise unbidden in the mind while one is masturbating.

In the real world where the United States no longer has a space program with its own shuttles and where we cannot even get solar panels onto residential rooftops even though we actually really do have the means to do so and we might actually help save the conspicuously dying world on which we depend for our survival and flourishing by doing so, we simply are not, not remotely, not at all, NOT going to create a "shell consist[ing] of independently orbiting structures, around a million kilometres thick and containing more than 1x105 objects… solar captors in any number of possible configurations… a myriad of solar panels situated in various orbits… [or a] bubble in which solar sails, as well as solar panels, would be put into place and balanced by gravity and the solar wind pushing against it." This is not happening and not going to happen, and not only because, as even Dvorsky lamely admits himself "we will need advanced materials (which we still do not possess, but will likely develop in the coming decades thanks to nanotechnology), and autonomous robots to mine for materials and build the panels in space."

Yes, boys and girls, futurologists are still promising magic materials from "nanotechnology" (usually conceived not as a matter of real-world nanoscale biochemistry, but a matter of reliable robust dry room-temperature self-replicating flexibly programmable cheap-as-dust molecular assembler fabricator genies-in-a-bottle) are right on the horizon. They are still pretending asteroid mining facilities and autonomous robots are going to build magic mega-scale infrastructure in "25-50 years." Yes, really. Yes, they are really still saying these sorts of things. No, none of these are being said by actually serious people who know much of anything at all about the actual science, actual techniques, actual logistics, actual stakeholder politics even remotely connected to anything remotely relevant to any of these nonsensical non-existing non-topics about non-objects.

Hell, I for one will be pleased if we earthlings manage in 25-50 years to seem in any way more technologically advanced than we did 25-50 years ago. So far, I have little reason to think we will, all the breathless empty talk from futurologists about the "acceleration of accelerating change" and all the pastel-toned pseudo-scientific futuristic imagery from pharmaceutical and car companies on my tee vee notwithstanding.

At one point Dvorsky describes as a "simple plan for doing so [building our very own Dyson Sphere]… almost within humanity's collective skill-set" (you really do have to adore that "almost," that modest little futurological concession to at least a pretense at something like sanity), the following list: "1. Get energy 2. Mine Mercury 3. Get materials into orbit 4. Make solar collectors 5. Extract energy." (Step One: Steal underpants. Step Two: ??? Step Three: Profit!) While I quite agree with Dvorsky that this "plan" he is endorsing -– and which he attributes to "Oxford University physicist Stuart Armstrong" (who I very much doubt does or could actually earn his salary by saying or teaching only such things unless he decided he wanted to be a science fiction author instead of an Oxford University physicist) deserves to be called "simple" I am unsure that it really deserves to be called "a plan." Quite apart from the fact that we are told that Step Two –- "mine Mercury" -– is actually calling for the dismantlement of a planet –- about which Dvorsky seems to have fewer ethical, aesthetical, let alone engineering-related qualms than one might expect from someone pretending to be sane, one might entertain worries about what happens when we get to some of the nitty-gritty involved in verbs like "get" and "make" and "extract" in this plan, when we are talking about doing whole lots of stuff we show absolutely no sign of, you know, actually knowing anything about actually doing them.

For a futurologist this is what it means to do science or to propose public policy. This is because these words do not mean what futurologists think they mean. What it is absolutely crucial to insist upon is that the actual practice of science and the actual work of policy never come to be shaped by the norms and forms of futurological discourse pretending to be them, all the while appealing as they do to so many ignorant, impressionable, irrational people (or to people who do know better but who would cynically, opportunistically exploit such people to the parochial benefit of corporate-military incumbent elites) who really do have enormous influence on actually existing technoscience politics and technodevelopmental policy.

In the conclusion of Dvorsky's piece he writes:
[T]he idea of constructing a Dyson sphere should no longer be relegated to science fiction or our dreams of the deep future. Like other speculative projects, like the space elevator or terraforming Mars, we should seriously consider putting this alongside our other near-term plans for space exploration and work. And given the progressively worsening condition of Earth and our ever-growing demand for living space and resources, we may have no other choice.
Of course, it is reality itself which relegates the construction of a Dyson sphere or terraforming Mars in the near term to science fiction entertainments. It is reality itself which relegates such speculation to utter irrelevance to serious policy consideration. It is not just silly, not just wrongheaded, but actually profoundly dishonest and irresponsible to pretend otherwise, and especially so for anybody who is aware, as Dvorsky claims to be, of the crises of resource descent and pollution and catastrophic anthropogenic climate change. To pretend the indulgence in this sort of futurological circle-jerk constitutes a serious effort to address these imminent planetary crises from which this indulgence actually absolutely distracts our attention and deranges our concern is of course quite as hilarious as it is pathetic, but I really do think it is important as well to call out this sort of nonsense -- which really is a more commonplace preoccupation of many of our so-called technological elites than anybody should feel comfortable about -- as potentially dangerous and frankly indecent.

Now We Know: Common Sense Is A "Liberal Bubble" That We Should Always Expect Movement Conservatism to Assault to the Death

Saturday's Up! With Chris Hayes always ends with a quick circuit around the discussion table in which each guest offers up some tidbit of argument or information "we know now" that presumably we didn't know before the week began. This week's token conservative panelist Tim Carney of the Washington Examiner offered up a fairly stunning contribution, and I hope we really all do know now the truth of what he is saying and let the implications truly sink in (this transcript is mine and any accidental inaccuracies are mine alone, the snippet moves pretty quickly, you can hear it yourself here):
We now know that the liberal bubble can be a harmful thing and the, I mean, you saw the articles roll out, a Linda Greenhouse, Dahlia Lithwick, saying it's just absurd to argue that this, the Constitution doesn't allow you to do this unprecedented thing of requiring you to engage in interstate commerce and while, what's the evidence, well, the Administration hasn't even had to argue for it, and Nancy Pelosi said, what, are you joking? that was literally I forget if that was Greenhouse or Lithwick who laid that out, and I think one of the ways the bubble showed its harm to the left could have been Donald Verrilli going up there and not being able to answer the question that we on the right have constantly been asking, "if you can mandate this, what can you not mandate us to do, if you can make us do this, is there anything the government can't force us to do, is there any sphere of individual liberty left?" That has been our fundamental question, we’ve been asking it, the left hasn't been listening because we're a bunch of tea party kooks and when Donald Verrilli was asked that, now, I'm speculating on what the cause is, but that could have been a result of him living in the Greenhouse bubble.
Of course, the reason Greenhouse, Lithwick, Pelosi and others (among them, possibly Verrilli too, precisely as Carney implies) have expressed such contempt for the hand-waving hysteria of a bunch of tea party kooks -- screaming, for the moment, about liberty as they will be screaming again in another moment about all the liberties they want to take from those they happen irrationally to dislike and fear -- is because the sphere of liberty is in fact indispensably produced and delineated and maintained by the very government they so despise, solving shared problems through legislation and administration. In this effort, the United States government in particular is guided in key respects by a little document called the Constitution (which is more than the parchment colored background and calligraphic font featured on Movement Republican and Tea Party websites devoted to greed-head white racist misogynist anti-science theocratic fulminations) which includes a Commerce Clause that actually says what it does and clearly applies in so saying to the implications of individual decisions to be insured or not as one travels from state to state, or is impacted by those who do, as a person prone to accident and illness in a country where enormous healthcare costs are mediated by for-profit insurance companies but where emergency rooms are mandated to serve all as a last resort at public expense in what typically amounts to the least effective most expensive possible way.

Of course, strictly speaking, any state in assuming a legal monopoly on the legitimate recourse to force can in principle mandate anything, including that all its citizens eat broccoli or whatever other fantastically stupid paranoid hairball the Right coughs up next, but not many democratically accountable states that respect documents like our Constitution will tolerate for long an administration seeking to impose such a mandate. In pretending that the Affordable Care Act is essentially just trying to make everybody eat broccoli whether they want to or need to or not, Movement Republicans -– the tea party kooks Time Carney has taken the side of whether he admits that or not, whether he is willing to accept the righteous consequences to his reputation of that profoundly irresponsible act of his or not -- are declaring that all the acute problems addressed by the Affordable Care Act (for the first time, however imperfectly largely as a result of necessary concession to the complex stakeholder politics of our diverse actually existing institutions and constituencies) are not problems they care about even though they obviously are catastrophic problems in fact and for us all, Movement Republicans included. It's just that Republicans don't give a damn about solving these problems anymore.

This is the substance of What Tim Carney Now Knows (although his smug smile in declaring it suggests he little knows or cares what it means): Movement Republicanism is simply a straightforwardly anti-civilizational force, not only capable of but eager to tell any lie, to whomp up any panic, to exacerbate any division, to trumpet any diversion to keep reasonable people of good will from seeking to solve shared problems through the indispensable recourse to accountable equitable legitimate governance. And to expect anything more, ever, from any person of the right, in this day and age, in this consummating moment of Movement Republicanism, is to inhabit what he calls "the liberal bubble." To inhabit "the liberal bubble" is to be Out of Touch with just how demonstrably criminal and crazy Republican "Out of Touchness" has become, to fail to grasp the reality of Republican hostility to real problems and real solutions and even warrantable consensus descriptions of reality itself.

Greenhouse, Lithwisk, and Pelosi were treating tea part kook objections as preposterous because they are preposterous, and what Carney is calling "the liberal bubble" is the now-foolish belief on the part of some serious reasonable conscientious people that there really are some non-arguments so preposterous that Supreme Court justices won't descend to considering them. It is a hard thing for an actually serious legal scholar or an actually serious problem-solving policy wonk to devote a whole lot of their time not to the actual problems and precedents at hand, but to the possibility that partisan Republican Supreme Court justices will re-enact the worst kind of content free Fox News shenanigans from the Bench. It is a hard thing to remain sane while treating insanity seriously "on the merits." It is a hard, if not impossible, thing to anticipate the objections of interlocutors for whom no objection is too preposterous to raise. As I said a few days ago upon reading precisely such arguments as Lithwick's, I could easily see their sense but as someone who lived through the partisan Republican Supreme Court enabled putsch that made George W. Bush President of the United States in 2000 I had a bad feeling about this. It really isn't easy to allow yourself to grasp the full implications of the fact that one of the only two actually-existing political parties with the agency to shape legislation and assign representatives to governance in the most resource-rich militarily-powerful nation on the planet has become a completely anti-civilizational force (one of the consequences of which is that any effort to address this problem by multiplying such parties and agencies will likewise be articulated, which is to say fatally undermined from the start, by the dysfunction it would hope to redress, whether you like that or not). And yet, here we are.

On an interestingly related note Chris Hayes comments, in his own initial extended "Now We Know" riff, on a study documenting a pronounced rise of conservative-identified people becoming "dramatically more skeptical of science" and "turning away from science" (it would seem a flabbergasting two thirds of conservatives now lack confidence in the warrants of consensus science), and because this abandonment of science is steepest among "college-educated conservative" Hayes declares that this means "we cannot chalk this up to ignorance." I wonder how many of these "college educated conservatives" got their degrees in business? In my view, business school is more or less an indoctrination in sociopathy coupled with an extended networking opportunity among like-minded sociopaths, and far from alleviating ignorance in fact inculcates and insists on a systematic ignoring of ethical values, moral qualms, long-term consequences, economic externalities, and aesthetic considerations. The self-congratulatory hard-nosed "realists" churned out by these brutalizing mis-education mills become precisely the anti-civilizational marauders who then go on gleefully to assault "the bubble" of common sense common good common-wealth common cause problem-solving they disdain as "liberal" dictatorial do-gooder meddling.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Long Work Day Ahead

Off to Dogpatch, dark and damp. In the graduate seminar this morning, it's Barthes and Debord, then an hour given over to another MA Review, which looks to be one of the more fraught ones, and then it's time for more MA Thesis workshopping with this year's cohort. Back later.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

This Week's WFS Post Is Up

My third post is up at the World Future Society today. I have decided to confine myself more or less to a single post a week, published on Thursdays, the better not to wear out my welcome or become easily disregarded white noise. This week's post, "Ten Futurological Admonitions" is the third one that is mostly just straightforwardly re-posted from material first appearing here, but this one is more adapted than earlier ones have been and I am thinking about making the posts more like original columns in the future. Next week I mean to summarize some key points in my critique of Geo-Engineering. I must admit that so far I can't say whether these posts are any kind of success. They have not attracted much in the way of comment, and so I don't know if the futurologists there are interested, indifferent, indignant, insulted by my interventions or what. We'll see, I suppose.

The Ambivalence of Investment/Speculation As the Kernel of Reactionary Futurology

Yesterday I wrote a post deriding
Robot Cultists [who] like to paint themselves as brave for devoting their adult lives to daydreaming about how awesome it would be if magic were real, . . . then they like to rail against phantom armies of supremely powerful mortality-loving disease-loving luddites who presumably stand in the way of the spontaneous emergence of all the magic.
In the Moot, longtime Friend of Blog "JimF" quoted that passage and inserted between "luddites" and "who stand in the way" the additional phrase "and non-libertarians (especially Democrats)," which I think is interesting and important, but actually quite complicated. I am promoting the scattered speculations of my response to a post of its own.

"That's a tricky connection -- the one identifying Robot Cultism, usually but not always through some variation on libertopianism, with reactionary politics -- but I do agree with you about it when all is said and done. As you know one of my futurological brickbats more or less baldly asserts "every futurism is finally a retro-futurism," but I do think the critique is a bit more complicated than that pithy assertion suggests. Of course, with some sects of the Robot Cult, like the Extropians, the case is cut and dried, since they mostly affirm (affirmed?) the connection outright, and their slogans (no death, no taxes!), their attraction to explicitly libertopian sf like early Vinge and campy Wright and others, their curious attachment to gun-nuts and Bell Curve apologists and crypto-anarchists and so on, are all available for anybody to see who can use the google, and of course I haven't forgotten Tech Central Station, the fraudulent "think tank" celebrating high tech and free markets in ways that were characteristic of the whole futurological archipelago but got exposed as corporate-militarist right wing tools -- this is why I often deride an Ayn Raelian spirit in so much futurology.

"But things get trickier with the futurologists who claim liberal and democratic socialist and even anarcho-socialist roots. I happen to think even futurists with good intentions and earnest progressive assumptions are incredibly vulnerable to right-wing appropriation but also structurally tend to advocate variations of progressivism that are more authoritarian than not (eg, technocratically elitist policy wonk circle-jerks and ultimately anti-democratizing design discourses) or only vacuously democratic (eg, digital utopians mistaking surfing of packaged advertorial content in highly surveilled contexts as "open access" and superficial tweeting as "deliberation" and self-promotional deception as "free expression").

"There is a real sense in which the progressive developmentalist investment of Dewitt Clinton (who shepherded the Erie Canal and en-gridded Manhattan in a way that fostered both democracy and eventually progressive infrastructure services there) is hard to separate from the more fraudulent speculative mindsets that yielded vast periodic economic panics (including Depressions) in the name of exorbitant wealth-capture. That progressive-reactionary investment/speculation ambivalence in developmentalism is already there in Alexander Hamilton and still there in FDR -- and I personally see this as a prefiguration of the uniquely American varieties of futurological discourse (arising out of the ferment of the Second Thirty Years' War, that is to say the two twentieth century World Wars that concluded Westphalian European internationalsm and then implemented post-war globalism).

"I suspect that sustainable urban planning and progressive macroeconomics and democratizing planetary developmentalism (and I do not mean by this Washington Consensus globalization in its complementary neoliberal and neoconservative faces/fasces, but technodevelopmental social struggle of a kind informed by environmental justice critique and social democracy/democratic socialism) provide the sensible substantial kernel out of which much well-intentioned futurology finds the foothold it goes on to derange out of too superficial popular scientific understandings, too privileged penchants for undercritical enthusiasms, and common or garden varieties of greed for easy profit and a fairly widespread death-denialism (more usually in the form of mid-life crises, but in futurology, as you know, sometimes taking far more extreme forms taking us into the territory of organized religiosity and un(der)critical True Belief)."

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

I Guess For Republicans Freedom IS Free, Really

Since they get to enjoy it, too, once everybody else fights against them to actually achieve it for all.

Honey-Come-Lately Republicans Demand Their Pride Parade

Once upon a time, way back in the 1990s, in my Queer Nation days, I advocated the involuntary exposure or "Outing" of closeted queer folks who were otherwise visible public figures, whenever they used their public influence actively to advocate against the interests of other queers or even in cases in which they refrained from advocating for other queers in ways that were conspicuous and rendered them complicit in anti-gay injustice. But now, the proliferating examples of long time right wing anti-gay tools coming out and elbowing their way into the Pride Parade they all fought and derided for so long makes me want to advocate for some new strategy like involuntary "In-ing" or "Cast-Outing" in which such folks are so shamed or shunned by decent queers that they find themselves in a subcultural closet quite as confining as the one they luxuriated in before.

Of course, the immediate prompt for this useless hair-tearing diatribe of mine is the news that Kathryn Lehman, the Republican who helped craft the odious "Defense of Marriage Act," now wants to come out as a lesbian and play activist hero in fighting against DOMA. Lehman justifies her anti-gay activism before by explaining,
"There was nobody married, it wasn’t allowed anywhere," Lehman recalls. "The view of gay people ... it wasn't Ellen [DeGeneres]. It wasn't Neil Patrick Harris. It was kinky sex and women riding around on motorcycles without shirts on. That was sort of the view that the community projected as well…. It wasn't people that you know, people that you work with, people just like everybody else."
It wasn't people you know. "You know." People "like everybody else." You know. YOU KNOW. Yes, Kathryn, I do know. Hi! Fuck you.

You know, I'm all for people changing their minds and having changes of heart and all that, but this recent apparently interminable spectacle of all these dead-eyed thick-walleted predatory GOP closetcases who lived lush and long in their posh pocket universes and who now want in on the action in the wider world now that they find the pickings are even richer in the more tolerant field of freedom other people struggled to build without them and often in spite of them makes me seriously want to ralph, lauren. You know?

Thank Heavens Romney Isn't Running to be America's Godparent

"I can tell you one thing. If I'm the godfather of this thing, then it gives me the right to kill it."

Not Necessarily Abnormal, But Certainly Stupid

Living Infomercial and Very Serious Futurologist Natasha Vita More crayon-scribbles a bit of her usual zany nonsense for the Robot Cultists over at IEET. She begins by posing this question:
Would a person whose immune system starts declining after puberty, and finally gives up before 123, be normal? This statement largely sums up my transhumanist view that “normal” is misunderstood. The physiological (cognitive and the somatic) state of human existence “normality” ought to be a state of enhancement.
Depending on how many years before 123 (which is a higher life expectancy by far than even the richest, most silly supplement popping, most can-do futurologist can presently actually hope for) the obviously true answer to this question is: "yes." Of course it is normal for human beings to die before they arrive at 120.

And yet, in stirring defiance of actually existing actuarial life tables, not to mention actually existing dictionary definitions, Vita More (whose life is so much more than yours she changed her name to become a permanent advertisement of the fact) exhorts her fellow transhumanoid Robot Cultists to act as if what is "normal" for humans is a state of "enhancement" which actually doesn't exist. I should add, by the way, that in my opinion all culture is prosthetic and all prostheses are cultural and hence that using language, cultivating food crops, living in cities, not to mention most of the common or garden variety healthcare practices that actually exist that cure diseases and ease suffering, strictly speaking, constitute an acculturating prosthetic "enhancement" (and no doubt in other ways a circumscription or frustration) of human lifeways – which would mean that it is indeed already perfectly "normal" for human beings to be in some respects enhanced or articulated by culture while at once exactly as disease prone and vulnerable and mortal as we also actually are. But, of course, by "enhancement" what Vita More means to conjure is a human being genetically re-woven and awash with nanoscale robots and the usual futurological dog and pony show she and the other Robot Cultists have been monotonously riffing on for decades.

Needless to say, should medical science eventually advance to invent respirocytes and genetic sooper-immunity and foot long robot schlongs for everybody who wants them then human beings will indeed make recourse to these interventions the moment they are shown to be reliable and safe and affordable and all the rest, whereupon they will indeed become normal in the way things actually do become normal in the actual world. None of this puts us in any kind of position to say whether any of these outcomes are actually possible, or whether, possible in principle, they are outcomes anybody now living has any reason to fancy are sufficiently proximate to waste a single second of their actually-existing lifespan daydreaming about, not to mention whether or not possible and possibly proximate they would also be safe enough to be legal let alone affordable.

While transhumanists like to pretend that the real reason we don't live in the science fiction fantasy land they pine for is because there are sinister forces abroad in the land who worship disease or are terrified of the idea of living for centuries in sexy model bodies wallowing around in piles of treasure, the truth is that almost nobody on earth doesn't think it would be swell, caeteris paribus, to live in paradise but few people are idiotic enough to pretend that if they only clap louder this paradise will blossom into spontaneous existence, or, I must add, idiotic enough to join a Robot Cult and pretend that indulging in this kind of wish fulfillment fantasizing but then calling it Science! is somehow not idiotic anymore. Robot Cultists like to paint themselves as brave for devoting their adult lives to daydreaming about how awesome it would be if magic were real, then they like to paint themselves as progressive activists for pretending this daydreaming constitutes some kind of efficacious force for making daydreams real, then they like to rail against phantom armies of supremely powerful mortality-loving disease-loving luddites who presumably stand in the way of the spontaneous emergence of all the magic. Not to put too fine [a point -- thanks, TNA!] on it, all of this is quite palpably stupid.

Of course, there is plenty of greed and intolerance and superstition and fear holding back progress and there is plenty of work to be done solving our shared problems through scientific research and democratic reform, but none of that has anything to do with the magical thinking the Robot Cultists are peddling.

The Republicans Are Why We Can't Have Nice Things

I've been immersed in school work and paying only peripheral attention to public affairs and blogging this week. But I must say it strikes me as typical,all too typical, to hear the endless reiteration by judge after judge, commentator after commentator, and now Justice after Justice, that the implementation of a single-payer health care system would have posed none of the Constitutional quandaries (such as they are) that attend the current Supreme Court deliberations about the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act and all the rest. For all I know everything will pass muster in any case (my reading of the transcripts and analyses of the arguments so far don't leave me feeling as pessimistic or panic stricken as they have some progressive folks), and for all I know everything would be challenged just as hysterically if health care reform had been closer to a straightforward single-payer system or at least had provided a real public option or early Medicare buy in or what have you as so many of us had wanted, including the President. But, qualifications aside, it is hard to shake the rueful suspicion that Republicans in a pettily partisanized Supreme Court are jonesing to topple healthcare reform that is making life better for millions upon millions of otherwise exploited vulnerable American citizens, and they are doing so by attacking the elements of reform that were Republican ideas introduced for no other reason than the effort to appease Republicans – none of which we actually wanted, when what we wanted would have worked better and would have been incomparably fairer and which Republicans are affirming would pose none of the Constitutional difficulties they are now in an uproar about. Of course, none of this is to say Democrats should have ignored the Republicans or worked around them or proposed uncompromising ideal versions of the system we wanted, again precisely because Republicans existed as a monolithically pre-emptively obstructive force to anything like the sensible decency of a single-payer health system, making such an outcome never even remotely an option, in part by giving least progressive Democrats in the caucus undue power to shape the actual legislation. All in all, as in so much else, indeed as in almost everything else these days, the Republicans manage every day in every way to make everything worse for almost every American, including majorities who vote Republican.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Teaching Day

Off to the City again... this morning it's William Burroughs and Valerie Solanas in Critical Theory, and then yet another Final Review for an MA Thesis student later in the afternoon. And then, at long last, I'll drag my tired ass home on the train as the sun sets. Low blogging day yet again.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Experts Agree (And Yet)

I know all the reliable Court watchers expect the Supremes to uphold the Affordable Care Act, and it's not that I disagree with them. Still, I'll be glad when this is over because…

Maybe it's just an acid Bush v Gore flashback, or Citizens United rumbling around in my membrane?

Off to the City...

...for another MA Thesis Final Review.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

"Stand Your Ground" As Secessionist Treason

When the democratic left spinelessly abandoned the struggle for sensible gun control regulations in the aftermath of the 2000 election, when his support of some gun control measures was interpreted as a chief cause of Al Gore's defeat in his home state of Tennessee and, hence, of his defeat in the general election (an election Al Gore actually won, one should never tire of pointing out, and in which partisan Republican members of the Supreme Court outrageously irresponsibly selected the loser of that election, George W. Bush, as President in what amounted to a bloodless putsch that would eventuate in an orgy of bloodletting around the world and in a host of crises of institutional illegitimacy from which the nation has yet to recover), the space opened up by that abandonment of common sense and common decency was quickly filled with still deliriously proliferating "Stand Your Ground" and "Castle Laws" lobbied for and often literally crafted by right-wing anti-civilizational organizations like ALEC and the NRA. These are laws endorsing lawlessness, inevitably advocated by means of a rhetoric precisely as inverted as their result: peddled as defenses of a right to self-defense, a self-defense usually falsely and even paranoiacally portrayed as under attack, these laws function in fact as licenses to unaccountable individual vigilantism.

The way the intuition that every person has a right to defend themselves from bodily harm bleeds apparently so seamlessly into the intuition that every person's home is their castle to be likewise defended is in fact an expression of the fraught vulnerable permeable boundary of bodily selfhood. The defensive shell of self can expand into the space of the domestic zone or retreat into the theatrum philosophicum of the mind in the skull at will or under threat as circumstances demand or allow, a passive-aggressive permeability figuratively exploited by laws extending this selfhood as a kind of missile into the wider world through the en-castlement of cars on the road, from within which prosthetically enshelled selves can continue aggressively to defend themselves, or contracting inward into the individual genius of the romantic author the sweat of whose thinking brow presumably mixes with its original works to own them, however indispensably they arise from the living archive of culture in fact.

Of course, what is crucial in the state endorsement of self-defense is that it seems to provide for an exception to what is normally the state's jealously guarded monopoly on the legitimate recourse to violence. In tyrannical states this monopoly is functionally a sanction of state violence and crimes (eg, murder becomes execution, gangs becomes armies, exploitation becomes occupation and structural adjustment, and so on) suffered either because of the perceived hopelessness of rebellion or tolerated because it is accompanied by the maintenance of an order from which people consider themselves comparatively more likely to benefit than they are to be abused. This endorsement of self-defense is different but no less fraught in democratic states, for which the legitimacy of their monopoly recourse to violence depends precisely on a state's maintenance of nonviolent alternatives for the transfer of authority, for the adjudication of disputes, for the redress of grievances and violations, and support of a scene of informed, nonduressed consent (for which the provision of extensive welfare entitlements is indispensable) to the terms on which we relate to one another in our interpersonal affairs.

In cases of self-defense, whether what is defended is the bodily person or the prosthetically-extended person of their "castle," the self defending itself is usually at once marginalized and, crucially, immobilized from access to the state-sanctioned violence on which it normally depends for its security, and is hence defending itself in an exceptional state that can easily be accommodated as an exception or even as an expression (via a kind of momentary deputization) of the state's monopoly. But when the self-space of this defensive appropriation of violence is expanded via the en-castlement of cars in motion and so on into a near co-extensivity with the whole territory of the state as such this once exceptional state becomes curiously competitive with the universality of the state in ways that render the making of an exception for it increasingly coincident with calling itself into crisis. I suppose I should add right away that I do not happen to think it is wrong to treat cars as quasi-castles from which we have the same right to defend ourselves as we do from our homes, but I am simply saying that this and other extensions may have contributed to some unanticipated consequences or to have facilitated some dangerous developments.

Together with a host of laws insisting that people have the right to carry arms in visible and even conspicuous ways in ever more public place –- in churches, in bars (what could possibly go wrong?), nearer and nearer schools, and so on –- "Stand Your Ground" Laws treat the simple attachment of a gun to your bodily person as a kind of en-castlement of the citizen-self into a permanent exception to the rule of law, a permanently prostheticized anarch and agency of a kind of counter-law or alter-law. Under the regime of "Stand Your Ground" the gun functions as a prosthetic augmentation of a paranoid-defensive sovereignty that substitutes itself for and so subverts the sovereignty of the state (a sovereignty no less prone to paranoid defensiveness whenever it is not accountable to enfranchised and educated citizens). Wherever "Stand Your Ground" laws are on the books, the ground on which a gun-toting self stands is transformed for as long as the gun-holder stands on it from the land of the country its law-abiding citizens share to mere ground occupied by those who would be laws-unto-themselves. This is especially so in states where "Stand Your Ground" circumscribes the action or rationalizes the inaction of legitimate law enforcement that should arrest people or at least question them or at the very least divest them of their guns and other potential evidence in the aftermath of lethally violent exchanges simply because they invoke the right of self-defense in its newly capacious and aggressive sense.

There is no question at all that United States citizens have a second amendment right to bear arms (a right that was qualified and regulated before, during, and long after the birth of the republic and certainly should be far more circumscribed and regulated today in a time of readily and cheaply available massively-murderous assault weapons). And there is no question that plenty of perfectly good and sensible people like to hunt and to shoot guns for sport (and I say this as a life-long vegetarian and a person trained in nonviolence by the King Center who would never want a gun in my home) and that all United States citizens have a right to do so. The aggressive advocacy of ALEC and the NRA these days has nothing at all to do with the support of such practices and citizens' rights to them, but is conjuring up phony crises as pretexts to implement a profound dismantlement of lawful civilization (in this, these organizations are functioning precisely in the way that right-wing efforts to combat non-existing "voter fraud" are the pretext for widespread voter disenfranchisement and the dismantlement of voting rights), indeed, far from supporting everyday law-abiding gun ownership and uses, "Stand Your Ground" laws are transforming gun-owners, whatever their own feelings on the matter, into nodes in a network of anti-civilizational lawlessness, into avatars of anarchy wherever they happen to stand with a gun at hand, into secessionists from the country of laws many of them profess so loudly to love and which at least some of them actually do. All decent law abiding citizens, whether they own guns or not, should abhor "Stand Your Ground" lawlessness and should forcefully and permanently renounce organizations like ALEC and the NRA which are using law abiding gun owners as pawns in an effort to dismantle the rule of law.

Obama and the Really Real America

Let us begin with the statements:

There were real questions whether President Obama would directly speak to either of these situations. Given the profound sickness and ugliness of the right wing in this moment of their hysterical recognition of the imminent rejection of their failed guiding assumptions and the demographic marginalization of their effective coalition, it has come to be the case that any situation the President involves himself in tends to be attended by a loud and profound and, frankly, truly crazy polarization that exacerbates whatever pain already freights the situation for those most personally involved in it, while at the same time also often utterly deranging the terms in which the situation is being discussed and dealt with to the detriment of a sensible resolution of its problems.

And so, even those of us who would take the side of a courageous truth-teller or of a victim of a hate-crime and would like to look to a President we believe to be on our side to take a public stand with us, to lend the weight of the Executive to our righteous cause, the truth is we also have come to dread what might come of a public registration of sympathy and support, come to dread the way in which a kind and commonsense declaration from President Obama seems to be like an incantation opening a Hellmouth of the most surreal horrific white racist woman hating queer bashing war mongering know nothing intolerant bigotry, making everything seem worse and more hopeless.

I will admit that before I actually heard President Obama speak out in support of Sandra Fluke and Treyvon Martin I would probably have said –- had I actually thought about it enough to put it into words –- that I would just as soon not hear him say anything at all, that whatever he said could do little good and could so easily make things even worse. But I must say that I am thrilled now that President Obama spoke out in both cases. I am happy that he said what he said. I am impressed by the deftness and dignity he brought to both occasions. And I am glad that in neither case has the President's comment been the occasion for quite the horror show I had feared, although, of course, there has been some appalling ugliness, from the usual suspects, the Rushes and the Becks and so on. Still, I think it is worth pondering why it is that the hurricane of hate I expected to demoralize and paralyze and drown out the righteous defenders of women's health and demanders of justice for Treyvon Martin did not visit itself upon the nation as I had feared.

I have already said that the ugly polarizing hate-speech that tends to attach on the right to the President's utterances is a symptom of the intense distress of the right's correct diagnosis that they have lost the culture wars (about which more here and here) in a wholesomely secularizing, diversifying, planetizing America, and that the deregulatory, privatizing, anti-tax experiments implemented by their movement have failed the test of reality. I think that the President's statements about Sandra Fluke and Treyvon Martin -- in both cases framed from his position as a parent, in both cases framed as matters of common decency about which he assumes most people agree with him rather than solicits their agreement -– reflect the flip side of that right wing distress, the comfort of a liberal in an actually like-minded fair-minded secular multiculture more on his side than not.

It is easy to see the defensive hysteria that drives dot-eyed Republican bigots to declare themselves "Real Americans," but it is feels less familiar and a little new still to observe our President speak as and to the reality of Really Real Americans the Republicans are so terrified of and hostile to. But as we see support for queer folks rocketing up, and support for the GOP plummeting among Hispanics and women, among many other indicators, we must realize –- as I believe the President has done and is confidently and gracefully attesting to in statements like these –- that what has been a turning tide toward sanity, sustainability, and fairness, is becoming instead a tipping point, an unprecedented occasion for radical change for the better.

Jon Corzine Is A Scumbag

I don't have anything more sophisticated than that to say, but I will add that the defensive rationalizations I am seeing for Corzine in some online liberal precincts (dKos for one) look to me like perfectly ridiculous absolutely unprincipled utterly demoralizing lowest common denominator rank partisanship. If Corzine knew less than enough to be culpable on this crap (which I don't believe for a second) then he knew less than enough to "deserve" his bloodsoaked CEO moneybags, which is exactly as bad and as symptomatic of the vile dysfunction of the corporate plutocracy as the more likely straightforward sociopathy and predation he indulged with the rest of them.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Afro Blue -- Nature Boy

Live a little, for eight minutes.

Long Teaching Day

Off to Dogpatch... Arendt, Althusser, and Kafka this morning... MA thesis drafts this afternoon... Couch, remote, booze this evening.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Robot Cultist Thinks Legally Fictitious Corporate Persons Are In A Battle to the Death With Science Fictional Robot Gods

It was bad enough when Mitt Romney declared that "corporations are people, my friend." It is bad enough after generations of serial failure that there are still dead-ender defenders of Good Old Fashioned Artificial Intelligence still insisting that software is intelligent or is going to be intelligent any minute now, and sooper-intelligent soon after. But it is, well, special to say the least to hear a Very Serious Futurologist proposing that legally-fictitious corporate personages are secretly struggling to abort science-fictional sooper-intelligent software personages in their womb-labs in some kind of cosmic struggle for supremacy for real.

You should definitely read the Comments on this one.

Rachel Maddow Loads the Liar Cannon Against Mitt Romney (UPDATED)

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Hard hitting and must-see.

UPDATE: Maddow reloads the liar cannon tonight.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Rick Santorum Endorses President Obama

Romney, Santorum declares, is too risky. I daresay he may be wishing for his own etch-a-sketch before long.
"You win by giving people the opportunity to see a different vision for our country, not someone who's just going to be a little different than the person in there. If you're going to be a little different, we might as well stay with what we have instead of taking a risk with what may be the Etch A Sketch candidate of the future."
I must say it is pretty flabbergasting that once Romney emerges from the bruising and bloodying slog through this nomination process he now confronts, mostly as a consequence of unforced errors on the part of his own campaign, either being saddled with unelectable GOP crazytown (tax cuts for billionaires, endorsement of Ryan's Medicare coupon-privatization scam, Planned Parenthood woman-bashing, the whole nine yards) or being saddled as he strives to tack back in the direction of sanity with a string of "etch-a-sketch moments" cementing the worst Romney unelectable unfavorables, his perceived fecklessness and crass opportunism.

Zombie Futurist Wants Bra-a-a-a-a-ins!

I have an exchange with Robot Cultist "Luke" – an occasional visitor hereabouts – at the bottom of the Moot for this post. "Luke" is annoyed by these two sentences from that post: "No, futurologists, you are not a picture of you. No, futurologists, you cannot pretend to be a strict materialist about consciousness all the while proceeding as if the actual materialization of consciousness in organismic brains is somehow irrelevant." By all means, do go spar with him if you are so inclined. I'm prepping for a long teaching day tomorrow, and fear I'll be too scarce to keep up conversationally.

Is There A Polite Way To Throw A Brick Through The Window?

I've published a nice selection of my Futurological Brickbats for the good folks at the World Future Society. Will they provoke stares? yawns? raised fists? Wait and see.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Back from Break, Back to Breaking

Spring break is already over, and I'm off to the City to teach again. Today won't be so bad, we're screening John Carpenter's "They Live" and discussing it as an effort at popular ideology-critique that interestingly fails because it doesn't critique the enabling racist-misogynist-aggressivist ideology of the action film genre it is always also exemplifying. That is always a romp. My MA Thesis students are scheduling final reviews as they head into the home stretch for submitting their texts -- and I'm sitting in on at least four of them, all taking place in addition to my usually scheduled lectures over this and next week, and that makes the return to work a bit more frenetic than the normal slog. To think this time last week I was taking in a whole season of Game of Thrones in my sweats, munching a burrito and gulping a beer without a care in the world!

Kafka's "Give It Up!"

It was very early in the morning, the streets clean and deserted, I was on my way to the railroad station. As I compared the tower clock with my watch I realized it was already much later than I had thought, I had to hurry, the shock of this discovery made me feel uncertain of the way, I was not very well acquainted with the town yet, fortunately there was a policeman nearby, I ran to him and breathlessly asked him the way. He smiled and said: 'from me you want to learn the way?' 'Yes,' I said, 'since I cannot find it myself.' 'Give it up, give it up,' said he, and turned away with a great sweep, like someone who wants to be alone with his laughter.
This is my favorite variation of the scene of interpellation, the one that prefigures most perfectly and painfully in its apparent inversion the actual scene that would play out for Althusser the murderer in the streets of Paris rather differently than it did in his imagination for Althusser the theorist. When hails ring out from the crowd in all directions, echoing off the walls and in our imaginations, we turn and turn and turn and find ourselves more dizzy than docile... Kafka gives us Althusserian ideological apparatuses as a funhouse mirror stage. And, yes, it's much later than you think.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Bride of Ayn Rand

Doll eyed dolt Paul Ryan is still dreaming his dream of Medicare voucherization, just in case the transvaginal probing and white-racism hadn't trampolined enough of the GOP off the cliff yet.

WTF Willam WTF

But what did she do-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o!

The official statement on Logo was as completely unhelpful and unsatisfying as the tease then go to commercial every two minutes atrocity of the Untucked aftershow, and no, Phi Phi, making you all eat up with jealousy is not breaking any rules, there must be more afoot here, but this thin gruel is all we are served:
“During the filming of the fourth season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, it was brought to the producers attention that Willam had not complied with the rules as set forth in his competition contract. As a result, and in fairness to the other contestants, Willam was forced to leave the show. This issue will be addressed in the upcoming reunion special.”

I'm assuming unauthorized outside communication, or possibly sleeping with somebody tangentially involved in judging or producing are likeliest, but who the hell can say? Serious behind the music scenes with hypos and bloody wigs are always an option. For goddess sake Michael K or somebody help the children out, how can I be expected to teach critical theory to my undergraduates with all this on my mind?

I'll bet they put Willam back on the All Stars show next time anyway -- scandalous, burp. Now, at least, we know why Willam released this video earlier today in a bid to get some advance purchase on the gossip churn  -- like Sarah Palin, queen knows to harvest every scrap of attention that comes her way, even when it is terrible for our wonderful country.

Futurologists Are Mortal, But Faith-Based Futurology Is A Zombie That Cannot Be Killed

One of the first things I noticed when I took a look at the World Future Society website where I have been invited to post occasional critical pieces of mine was this kicky little number, When Death Becomes Optional by Thomas Frey ("Google's top rated futurist!" he tells me), hyperventilating about how immortality is around the corner via the usual futurological magicks.

It is all bleakly familiar. "It is the year 2032" intones the usual dead-pan omniscient narrator to set the scene. "You" are invited into "The Future." (The "Amazing" Criswell: "We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives"!) Miracle cures abound for every disease, cloned replacement bodies are in the icebox awaiting every contingency, even that recent futurological fetish the 3D printer makes an appearance, "printing" up bones and arteries in a jiff should you need them. Frey literally proposes, with perfectly robotic predictability, that all this will be yours, wait for it… in three… two… one… "in just 20 years." Twenty years, of course! You honestly cannot parody these people. Yesterday, Alex Knapp pointed out a few of the reasons why this particular bit of techno-immortalist moonshine isn't remotely in the cards: "This is simply absurd," exclaims an exasperated Knapp, earnestly trying to introduce a little sense into this wish-fulfillment fantasy. "Thinking that in 20 years, the technology will exist to 'switch bodies' into a younger clone will be a possibility is to completely ignore the state of technology today…. [and t]hat’s the easy part."

Knapp should thank his stars the techno-immortalist in question didn't go on to enthuse about "uploading" his "self" – misconstrued as "data" "encoded" in his brain in a way that can be "migrated" (that's a metaphor not a hypothesis, fellows) without loss onto some other material substrate and thereby (why? who knows?) "immortalized" in a shiny comic book robot body or in a virtual reality sex cave or some other presumably somehow non-buggy non-spammy non-finite cyber-heaven. No, futurologists, you are not a picture of you. No, futurologists, you cannot pretend to be a strict materialist about consciousness all the while proceeding as if the actual materialization of consciousness in organismic brains is somehow irrelevant. As Knapp is keenly aware, that's where futurologists tend to go when they get in a real techno-immortalist lather.

As is, Knapp's modest demurral against the techno-immortalist nonsense already in evidence in the piece in question has the futurological knitting circle in a snit -– shaking their fists at Knapp's "deathism," grr! One of the Big Guns of Very Serious Superlative Futurology (big, you know, in a big fish small pond kinda sorta way), Ben Goertzel, accuses Knapp of not having the sooper-brain to interpret the "evidence" as objectively as futurologists do, and then accuses Knapp of pseudo-science and phony journalism because he won't get in the techno-immortalist clown car with Aubrey de Grey and Raymond Kurzweil and the other Usual Suspects who deny with him what might amount to one of the most overabundantly tested and perfectly consensus attaining scientific conclusions we have, namely that human beings are mortal and that there is nothing remotely in evidence to suggest that anybody now living will not die. Goertzel has the nerve to decry as "bombastic" Knapp's acceptance of human mortality, the denial of which in defiance of evidence, history, sense, scientific consensus has to be one of the most flabbergastingly overblown exercises in bombast imaginable. (You may remember Mr. Goertzel, by the way, from the rather hilarious Nauru Needs Futurologists! episode a couple of years ago.)

When I say that Frey's little exercise in techno-immortalist futurology is bleakly familiar, I do not mean though simply to point out the hackneyed futurological furniture in his sad scenario. It is true that one of the many paradoxes of futurological discourse is that while futurologists seem forever to imagine themselves to be conjuring up breathtaking vistas and offering up to an astonished world shattering possibilities of unprecedented disruption and accelerating change, oddly enough the specific claims they make and the shiny gizmos they twirl before our eyes to seduce the rubes haven't really changed much in decades, the same tired genetic digital virtual cybernetic robotic sexbotic nanobotic promises and visions get re-packaged again and again and again and trotted out for the cameras, a sleepwalking pseudo-imaginary for the unimaginative. (Indeed, for writing this bad one really should look not to literature -- not even to the crappiest kitsch with literary pretensions -- but to advertising and PR practices.) The endless surprises of real scientific practice are incomparably more dramatic, the endless inventions of real science fiction are incomparably more provocative than the stale stasis of the futurological fraudsters.

Again, it is not only this which makes Frey's piece so predictable, nor the hysterical reaction of futurologists to a critic so predictable. I think what makes Frey's piece worthy of contemplation is the way in which it exhibits so many of the generic conventions of futurology otherwise. I already pointed out some of that when I snickered at the kitschy drama of the opening sequence, the futurological citation of the worst kind of hackneyed science fiction to whomp up a little drama. But there are other characteristic gestures in evidence throughout the piece. Frey begins by declaring imminent what is not even remotely plausible, then distracting from this obvious implausibility by indulging in wish-fulfillment fantasising the fervency of which yields a "reality-effect" that substitutes for plausibility (wouldn't it be awesome if magic was real!), then immediately throwing the reader into a rapid fire laundry list of scattered concerns (how would immortality change the face of criminal justice? poverty? war? religious faith?) all of which take as their point of departure the treatment of the implausible futurological pronouncement with which we began (twenty years to immortality!) as precisely the accepted datum it absolutely is not, and then insisting in conclusion: "These may seem like distant concerns. But change is coming – this time, at lightning speed. We don’t have the luxury of mulling such matters for decades." Notice that this move first seems to concede the implausibility of techno-immortality ("distant concerns") but then utterly denies it (it's "coming… at lightning speed"), concluding that it would be the most frivolous unserious unscientific attitude imaginable to "luxuriate" in the belief that we may be mortal for "decades." Decades! Pause, do, for a moment and contemplate, I mean really drink in, just how batshit crazy, just how idiotic, just how flagrantly fraudulent this utterance from "Google's top rated futurist" really is.

Let us make it plain. Thomas Frey is going to die. Ben Goertzel is going to die. Ray Kurzweil is going to die. Aubrey de Grey is going to die. Every techno-immortalist is going to die, every futurist is going to die. There is nothing happening in any laboratory anywhere to suggest anything remotely to contrary. There is nothing efficacious about the fervency of death-denialism that will stave off mortality. There is nothing scientific about cleaving to the pseudo-scientific margins of scientific consensus in field after field after field in a quest for superpowers, superabundance, superintelligence that looks like nothing so much as faithly transcendence. The hysterical death-denialism of techno-immortalists does not derive from the maverick courage of their convictions but from the crass, craven opportunism of hucksters -- whether they are hawking anti-aging skin creams, life-extension treatments, cryonics scams, priestly promises of heaven to True Believers in techno- or the various judeochrislamic heavens. It comes from the ignorance and credulity of rubes, of scared, scarred, stupid people, people made marks by the most imbecilic sort of sloth, greed, and appetite. It comes from the desperation of people who have not come to terms with mortality and who, in consequence, are not only still going to die but already a little more dead in life than they have to be even before they die.

We are not rocketing toward immortality. To call techno-immortality a "distant concern" is like calling the colonization of extrasolar planets via traversable wormholes and terraforming robot armies a "distant concern." Tragically, or perhaps farcically, many futurologists would agree with me, and then declare the latter an urgent and immediate concern as well, in utter defiance of sense. You know, there is nothing wrong with daydreaming: Stringing some interesting plot twists and characters along such conceits sometimes provides for swell entertainments and even provocatively skewed allegorical takes on real human quandaries. But there is everything wrong with pretending that daydreaming, on its own, is a scientific activity or provides the occasion for serious policy making or even literature that sustains our attention. Every second privileged educated citizens waste in indulgent techno-immortalist death denialism is another second denied to the shared problem solving demanded of and by billions of vulnerable mortal beings constrained by injustice, violated by exploitation, dying in educable ignorance and of treatable diseases without recourse to law in a shared world convulsed by problems susceptible of collaborative redress.

Ultimately, futurologists like Frey are taking us to an imaginary "The Future" the better to lodge us more deeply and helplessly into a parochial and problematic Present, offering at best vapid hackneyed escapist entertainments and at worst providing marketing rationalizations for the perpetual rule of elite incumbent corporate-militarist powers on familiar, and usually amplified, terms. Futurology is serious -– as a heart attack. But it is the farthest thing from serious science, serious policy making, or serious imaginative literature.

Of course, this ain't my first or even my thousandth trip to the techno-immortalism rodeo, as witness, practically at random: Mortality, All Humans Are Mortal, Rebel Rebel: Death Denialism As "Utopian Politics", Why Can't More People Just Indulge in Insane Denialism About The Fact of Their Mortality Like the Robot Cultists Do?, Loss, Connection, Transformation, Follow the Bouncing Ball, Techno-Immortalism in a Nutshell, Jim, He's Dead, Take Your Vitamins and You'll Meet the Robot God, Cyborg Angels Live Forever And Never Have to Poop. As you can see, though futurologists are all mortal, faith-based futurology is a zombie that cannot be killed.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

"High Tech" Racism

SXSW generated the usual smattering of stories this year about lingering racism in the geek subculture of American "high tech" as well as the usual compensatory smattering of digital utopians handwaving about how online networks and social software will make racism a thing of the past. I have little patience for the sort of boutique anti-racism the first sort of story tends to settle for and even less patience for the celebrations of passive net-surfing and targeted surveillance that the second sort of story tends to settle for, but what I find more frustrating still about all of these discussions is that so long as this is the sort of thing we are talking about when (very occasionally if at all) we talk about racism and "high tech" what we are NOT talking about are the ways in which "high-tech" is functioning as a catch-all term diverting attention from the complex realities of, say, communication, transportation, automation developments facilitating an outsourcing of jobs that have disproportionately impacted nonwhite labor and purchasing power and quality of life in the United States, developments that have created gulags of toxic, dangerous, stressful, stultifying manufacturing plants on the US-Mexico border and in Asia (a truth more important in its truth than the truth that Mike Daisey's embellishments provided the narrative through which many came first, and inexcusably late, to grasp the horror of that truth) in which, again, nonwhite populations are disproportionately suffering hells of exploitation and despair, and industrial-extractive-petrochemical developments that contribute their substantial and ongoing measure to catastrophic climate change yielding disruption, drought, flooding, water spoilage, changed insect-vector pandemics, and already mass refugee movements that, again, disproportionately impact women, children, nonwhite populations in over-exploited regions of Africa, the Indian subcontinent, Southest Asia. While it is interesting and important to talk about the racist impacts of digital divides in gadget usage, tech investment, or help-desk hiring and to do online ethnographies of hip-hop fandoms among grandmas of color on social networks and all the rest, it is important to grasp both the urgent reality and larger technodevelopmental forces rendering the "high-tech" picture actually catastrophically racist through and through.

Trump Windmill PuhDUM pum

Donald Trump, tool, quoted on Think Progress bloviating on Fox News against renewable energy:
People are going crazy over the horrible, noisy, disgusting windmills. And they are horrible and a horrible intrusion, ruining communities, and solar is weak and has not been effective and is very, very expensive.
It is true, some windmills are rather appalling to behold. Cue the obvious photo.

Keeping Up

Ezra Klein guest-hosted Up! this weekend. I found the discussion each day a less chaotic scrum when facilitated by Klein than it often has seemed to become with Hayes lately (maybe one of the reasons, especially with a newborn baby in his world, he decided on a vacation). To be completely honest, I think Hayes sometimes allows his crankier and (comparatively) more reactionary guests to behave badly at the table, diverting topics onto abstract tangents, interrupting others (which is especially annoying when it is a badly behaved man interrupting a women who knows more than he does, which is usually how these things play out) and so on. Klein's ship seemed to run more smoothly this weekend -– and perhaps lacked both the lows but also some of the serendipities that spark up on your usual Up! Hayes still beats Klein hands down when it comes to the quilting point solo editorials with which Hayes punctuates the chaos. Klein was a bit stumbly-mouthed and lacked altogether the righteous clarifying poetry Hayes brings to these moments. When Klein played his editorials in the mode of flat-flooted nerd humor, though, it was hard not to root for him. I thought Alexis Goldstein and Antonia Juhasz were great guests to day and Rajiv Chandrasekaran was good yesterday. On a different note, it is still an incredible relief to watch MSNBC on Sunday mornings, which alone among the Sunday squawkers has women talking about politics at a time when politics is incessantly dictating to women in the most obnoxious horrifying manner imaginable (Melissa Harris-Perry has been an even more conspicuous and welcome corrective on this score), and which alone among the Sunday squawkers isn't just an incessant monologue of Republicans congratulating themselves to another even when they aren't in office. On another different note, and an altogether gratuitous one at that, I still think Ezra Klein looks eerily like Emma Goldman when he purses his mouth with his little round spectacles on.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Friday, March 16, 2012

Drill-Con and Tax-Con Hucksters of the GOP Are Peddling Miracle Cures to the Rubes

To be a modern Republican in good standing, you have to believe -- or pretend to believe -- in two miracle cures for whatever ails the economy: more tax cuts for the rich and more drilling for oil.
Once again, he patients explains why they are completely wrong.

Senate's Top Denialist Inhofe Admits That When It Comes to Climate Change the Truth Is Whatever Seems Most Profitable At the Moment

via Climate Progress:
[L]ast night [on] MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow [Show]… James Inhofe (R-OK)… mostly just repeated his well-worn falseshoods about global warming, which Maddow shot down. But there was one remarkable admission from the former Chair of the Senate Environment Committee: “I was actually on your side of this issue when I was chairing that committee and I first heard about this. I thought it must be true until I found out what it cost.” In short, learning about the (supposed) high cost of the solution is what turned him from a believer in climate science to a denier.
Of course, what matters to Inhofe are not costs in general, but costs to specific stakeholders, especially to the extractive-petrochemical corporate interests who profit from waste and pollution and who pay well for Republican collaboration and misinformation. Inhofe's opportunistic elasticity about matters of fact might seem to hold out the wan upside that a confrontation with the costs of his own denialism in terms of world devastation might nudge Inhofe sooner rather than later make into the camp of concession to the scientific consensus on the catastrophe of anthropogenic climate change.

But I fear Inhofe may share in the elite-incumbent delusive daydream that the richest of the rich and their pet enablers will retreat to bubble-dome paradises safe from harm behind robot soldier moats as the planet is reduced to a toxic sewer roiled by starving millions and greenhouse storms. This is, after all, more or less what pampered Americans are already doing who deride ecologists past for predicting climate catastrophe, willfully ignorant or insulated as we are from the world-ending devastation suffered in overexploited regions of the world right now of instability, famine, drought, flood, pandemic wrought by the realities of already ongoing climate change as we waste and pollute and deny away.

Quiet Rooms Deep Underground

You will recall that when Matt Lauer asked Romney if he believed questions about wealth inequality should ever be part of a serious political discussion, Mitt Romney allowed that perhaps such conversations could happen "in quiet rooms" among the elites. Lauer's question was triggered by Romney's declaration that protests sweeping the country against economic injustice were really all about "envy."

According to the Wall Street Journal, there is a "trophy basement movement" among the rich (I love that people are actually calling it "a movement") who seek to hide the extent of their mansions by tunneling their compounds underground like hobbits or comic book sooper-villains. Needless to say, opportunities abound underground for bomb-shelters and hidey-holes and clean-rooms should it ever come to biowar or revolution, not to mention home theaters and bowling alleys to insulate elites from unphotogenic slave personages beyond the walls.

It is little surprise to discover that Mitt Romney is busy quadrupling his oceanfront California mansion by delving deep into the turf. Nothing could be clearer from his performance on the campaign trail that Mitt needs a retreat from the excruciating demands of HU-mon customs. And when it comes to the construction of Quiet Rooms in which our sooper-elites deliberate about how many crumbs should flutter to the envious masses, what could be quieter than a vault deep inside the earth?

Mitt Romney: Wrong for Women

GOP Loses Majority in Wisconsin

Pam Galloway is resigning from the Wisconsin State Senate as of midnight, citing a family health situation discovered almost immediately after it became clear that she would indeed be one of the incumbent Republican State Senators challenged in an upcoming recall election along with Governor Scott Walker and Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and other Republicans whose austerity budgets, tax cuts for the rich, and egregious union busting prompted a populist uprising last winter that set the scene for Occupy protests across the country. With this resignation the GOP loses its one seat edge in the Senate, and since in Wisconsin the lieutenant governor does not have a tie-breaking vote, the GOP has indeed lost its control over the Senate and so lost an enormous amount of mischief-making power in the run-up to the recall elections and Presidential election. GOP overreach has been restrained by the people of Wisconsin, who now will seek to wrest control from the Republicans thoroughly this summer. Movement Republicanism is dying before our eyes in the crazytown Presidential primary and in the populist uprisings against GOP overreach in the States. It remains to be seen just how progressive the diversifying, secularizing, planetizing epoch now emerging will become.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Road We've Traveled

More, And Better, Democrats! -- My Periodic Reminder, and Tribute to Michael Harrington

From now on, through the struggle month to month toward what I fervently hope will be a second Obama term, through to a retaking and keeping of the House of Representatives by Democrats, through to a Democratic Senate majority without a filibuster and other rules effectively demanding a supermajority to govern at all, I will continue to re-post this quote by American democratic socialist hero Michael Harrington:
The best liberalism leads toward socialism. I’m a radical, but I want to be on the left wing of the possible.
I may be to the left even of many of the best Democrats in office, but they are the best available allies in office with whom we must struggle if we would push the United States in the direction of sustainable consensual equity-in-diversity, peer to peer. I never forget this, and I don't want my readers to forget it or deceive themselves or others about it either.

What Should I Share With the Folks at the World Futurist Society?

I have had an interesting and still-ongoing exchange with futurologist Patrick Tucker (it's here, should you want to put in your own two cents) which has now yielded the rather unexpected result that Tucker has created a blog-perch at the World Future Society on which I have been welcomed (for now) to re-post occasional material. I actually subscribed to the "The Futurist" a while back, and although it has more than its share of Superlative Futurologists on hand it also features a substantial dose of more mainstream futurology and pop-tech as well. Of course, I'm a critic of all varieties of futurological discourse, but I do wonder what writings of mine would be most interesting and useful to its readership. Tucker started the ball rolling by re-posting my Ten Reasons to Take Seriously the Transhumanists, Singularitarians, Techno-Immortalists, Nano-Cornucopiasts and Other Assorted Robot Cultists and White Guys of "The Future", which I found an interesting choice, maybe more in-your-face than I would have chosen to introduce myself with (you all know what a retiring tremulous flower I am, after all), but attention-grabbing and not bad as a synoptic view of the sorts of connections I make in a snarky concise sort of way. I plan to post there no more than once or twice a week, since I don't want to wear out my welcome or saturation bomb them in a way that provokes dismissal, and I'm wondering what regular readers here think would be prime material for re-posting or re-working. My inclination is to post critiques of "geo-engineering," maybe stuff exposing the eugenicism of both enhancement advocacy and its naturalist opposition, and maybe some critiques of animal uplift stuff? I'm unsure. Help me out with recommendations, won't you?

Boys, Boys, Don't Fight, You're ALL Awful, And You'll ALL Lose to Obama

Kindly advice from Amor Mundi to Frothy, Newt, and the Richie the Robot.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Enough With the Magical 3D Printers Already!

The only reason futurologists and pop-tech handwavers will not be embarrassed to death six years from now by all the transparently magical thinking they are indulging in now in reference to 3-D printing is because they will all be too busy indulging in exactly equally transparently magical thinking about some other goddamn gizmo in six years.

Defending Naomi Klein on Grist

Over at Grist, Gernot Wagner has responded critically to a Naomi Klein piece I already elaborated on here Monday. Wagner's critique is here. My response (which was sympathetic to Klein but connected her argument, predictably enough, to anti-futurological concerns) is "Geo-Engineering" As Right Wing War and Revolution. Today, I also posted the following comment on Wagner's criticism there:
Wagner claims that Klein proposes only one substantive solution, "taxing the rich and filthy," but then accuses Klein not only of demanding a wholesale abandonment of capitalism but also of evading "human nature." Is it really true that calling for more taxes on the rich is the same thing as radical anti-capitalism, despite the endlessly many folks who call for this who are not anti-capitalist (whether or not Klein happens to be anti-capitalist for other reasons)? Also, if one wants to propose that capitalism is to be identified with "human nature" then the fact that many systems that look little like contemporary capitalism have thrived suggests that probably Wagner needs a more elastic definition of what might be in the neighborhood of capitalism.

Heck, maybe even societies with considerably higher welfare entitlements than ours and agriculture and economic policy oriented to sustainability paid for by steeply progressive taxes might still be recognizably "capitalist," even if Naomi Klein was willing to struggle toward attaining this outcome?

In insisting that we not tax the rich but only the filthy, Wagner is of course dismissing the threatening possibility that few can arrive at riches without becoming filthy in the process. I fear the truth is that market norms and forms pretending infinite growth is possible in a finite world, that brute productivity can bulldoze away all stakeholder differences over the long haul, that make the commodity form ubiquitous even over public and common goods to which it does not apply and which it destroys, that privilege short-term profitability over long-term deliberation, that encourage consumption, pollution, and waste in the service of apparent GDP health are simply unsustainable. This does indeed imply, precisely as Klein argues, that serious environmentalism inevitably will demand changes that will look absolutely radical if not outright revolutionary from the vantage of the current parochial winners in our corporate-militarist industrial-extractive-petrochemical consumer-financial capitalist order. Whether we decide to call the result "capitalism" still is a matter on which I am personally indifferent.

I Predict That In Twenty Years Futurological Predictions Will Still Inevitably Begin "I Predict That In Twenty Years"

Look, Ma, I'm a futurologist! Let's ask this scientician...

More Futurological Brickbats here.

Added, to put some meat on the bones of this very easy bit of snark: The near irresistability to the common or garden variety futurologist of the "twenty-year prophecy horizon" is more than just a ritual intonation demanded by adherents of the genre (though there is a little of that involved, no doubt) but is also supremely pragmatic. "Twenty Years From Now" is located, as it were, on a "sweet spot": on the one hand, just far enough in the future to evade accountability for failure (when the prophecy straightforwardly does not come to pass, or when, coming to pass, it fails to Change Everything, or indeed much of anything, in the context of the technodevelopmental complexities in which the costs, risks, and benefits to the diversity of stakeholders in the richness of their lived situations are actually impacted by technoscientific change), and, on the other hand, just proximate enough still to seem worthy of attention and wishful identification, even by many who are likely to be dead in twenty years' time, all things equal.

It isn't too hard to imagine a snarky futurological interlocutor riposting that "I predict that in twenty years facile anti-futurologists will still be pointing to the failure of such twenty-year predictions to dismiss futurology despite the fact that futurology is much more than that." I would imagine a futurologesque figure like Jamais Cascio or Paul Raven might say something interesting along such lines. I think they would still have to come to grips with the actual undeniable reality of the phenomenon in question even while claiming there is something "more" to futurology than this.

But I must say I would also like to know why futurologists who disdain much of what goes on futurologically still identify -- even if ambivalently or critically -- with the futurological term? And why are so many of their preoccupations so drearily predictably futurological still -- AI, nano-genies, bio-enhancement, geo-engineering, blah blah blah?

If you are a "green futurologist," say, why not just be an environmental scientist? Or, if you cannot be an environmental scientist because you lack or cannot be bothered to actually get the training required for that, why pretend that your futurology makes you more "sciency" than any other environmental journalist or activist? Why not just be an activist, after all? If you think your trend spotting makes you a commentator on history, events, social forms -- why not become a historian, political scientist, economist, sociologist, anthropologist? Want to hold forth on health questions? Even if you aren't a physician you can get training in healthcare policy and become a journalist or expert for real. Even if you want to focus on technological development questions, there actually are academic disciplines devoted to science and technology studies (STS), history or philosophy of technology, environmental justice critique which take up these complexities in rigorous ways.

I mean, I get it that you might find my own accusation that futurological discourses amount to deceptive corporate-military marketing hyperbole and pseudo-scientific self-promotional fraud (and in certain extreme cases priestly guru-wannabe Robot Cultism) personally uncongenial, but I never get a real sense of what futurology brings to the table that actual already existing disciplines concerned with its scattered preoccupations lack. Again, if futurology is just a fandom for the sf subgenre of scenario-spinning, where scenarios are kinda sorta like sf settings without the addition of characterization, plots, integrated themes, stylistic innovations, and so on, well, it's hard for me to see the draw but let a bazillion flowers bloom! And, also, too, stop calling that science or policy-making then, embrace the fandom and let your freak flag fly at the con. Even here, there are lots of enormously interesting literary and cultural critics who will be competing with you on this terrain, along with a fantastic proliferating explosion of online fandom, so it's not clear to me if futurology on such terms would make much noise. Anyway, if there is still "futurology" happening in twenty years, I suspect it still won't have come clean on any of this, because I think the disinterest in and disavowal of such facts is probably an enabling condition of the ongoing existence of this pseudo-discipline. That this bit of false consciousness incubated so much phony twenty years from now prophecy drag show falsity in turn is really not so surprising as all that when all is said and done.

Romney Another Footsoldier In the Republican War on Women

One more clip for the general, when weasel-robo-richie-rich tries to walk back the crazytown primary.

Let's Find Ten Terminally Awful Ideas in One Futurological Sentence

via KurzweilAI:
"X-Prize chairman Peter Diamandis plans to launch an Education X Prize to help fix the U.S. educational system, such as coming up with better ways to crowd-source education, or rewarding the creation of a 'powerful, addictive game' that promotes education."
Here are my Ten, perhaps you can come up with others in the Moot?
"…Prize to help fix the U.S. educational system…"

That the progressive reform and proper support of the U.S. educational system can be described as a “fix” is Terminally Awful Idea One.

That offering up a “prize” will yield this "fix" is Terminally Awful Idea Two.
"…such as coming up with better ways to crowd-source education…"

I have to wonder about this phrase "crowd sourcing education." Is this the way a corporate tool "Thought Leader" stumbles onto and thinks he has invented what everybody else already thinks of as class discussion or in-class workshopping or peer editing and the like? That there might be anything helpful about introducing pointless self-promotional futurological neologisms into a discussion of education is Terminally Awful Idea Three.

If, by the way, "crowd sourcing education" is instead meant, as the term usually is, to describe the idea of replacing professionals with fandoms as yet one more way owners don't have to pay as much or even anything for the labor on which they depend for their profits, then this phrase may actually be about replacing teachers and having, say, groups of students themselves or possibly random passers-by teach classes simply by whomping up sufficient can-do enthusiasm for the subject on somebody's part, or perhaps even replacing both teachers and classrooms with meet-ups or chatrooms and still more crappy and fraudulent digital diploma mills, in which case, well, then that has to be Terminally Awful Idea Four.

Given that this is the X Foundation we are talking about here, one is very tempted to presume the sort of "fix" on which Diamandis will be fixated will be a "technofix" –- you know, like pretending low earth orbit momentary gravity-free amusement park rides constitute a Space Program, or pretending an unaffordable electric luxury sports car will solve global warning, or pretending airdropping snazzy would-be "tricorders" across the planet will cause planetary universal basic healthcare to exist –- especially a "technofix" that, like crowdsourcing, also tends to assume the less rich elites have to depend on skilled labor to make profits the more "we" all benefit -- you know, for kids! -- one has to wonder if the idea of replacing teachers with tee vee monitors or mannequins with .mp3 players embedded in their jaws or even X-boxes (no, they couldn't mean that? just stick around my dears) may be what is in mind here. I won't actually list this as another Terminally Awful Idea since it is inferred rather than explicit, but the idea is quite typically corporate-tool futurological and is well worth castigating all the same. Now, back to our list!

"…or rewarding the creation of a 'powerful, addictive game' that promotes education."

That education needs "promotion" –- classic futurological move by the way -- rather than reform and support is Terminally Awful Idea Five.

That education can or needs to become a game or even series of games (you thought I might be kidding about the let's replace teachers with glorified X-boxes proposal?) is Terminally Awful Idea Six.

That the improvement of knowledge or even the inculcation of habits of attention, discipline, and critical scrutiny is usefully construed as a form of addiction is Terminally Awful Idea Seven. That a game that is addictive is therefore "powerful" is an idea I'd also want to pressure on, but I will leave aside for the moment whether it is a Terminally Awful one, so we are still at Seven.

That the way in which games can be powerful is the same as the way in which education should be powerful is Terminally Awful Idea Eight.

Man, that's the end of the sentence. Only Eight Terminally Awful Ideas. But wait! Returning now to the beginning of the sentence I daresay we have justified a couple more.

"X-Prize chairman Peter Diamandis plans to launch an Education X Prize…"

That the world needs another X Prize is Terminally Awful Idea Nine.

And… (drumroll…) Paying earnest attention to anything Peter Diamandis plans or has to say is this futurological sentence's Terminally Awful Idea Ten.

Thanks for playing ladies, gentlemen, and germs!