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

Thursday, August 30, 2012

"We Own This Country!"

Who You Gonna Believe -- Paul Ryan or Your Lying Eyes?

Yeah, that Janesville. Yeah, that plant closing. Yeah, that's the date.

Gaming the Refs in the Robot Cult

Upgraded and adapted from my continuing exchange with JimF, in which he said, among other worthy things:
**My** biggest beef with the >Hist crowd is that they are attempting to cloak a faith-based belief system in the authority of "science". That won't fly. BZZZT! The referee calls foul.
Of course this goes to the white hot center of the dispute in question.

More and Prisco are trying to game the refs when they bury the credulous in neologisms and phony distinctions (it's not immortality it's "indefinite lifespan"; it's not eugenicism it's "enhancement") and in-house publications with logrolling citations and so on.

I don't think you can actually engage in this sort of activity in a sustained way and still be treated with the kind of generosity you were inclined to extend to them about their con-artistry. Of course, I understand your inclination, knowing as I do and you do the extent to which a culture of criticism needs to be generous enough to let people explore and make mistakes and come clean and so on.

Of course, some of these Robot Cultists are just tragic techno-fetish fashionistas or sad True Believers looking for a guru and so on -- but when it comes to the high profile folks, and both Max More and Giulio Prisco qualify (tho' I doubt their "qualifications" would pass muster outside the Robot Cult) as high profile, well, they know what they are doing, deluded as they may be on so many questions as well, and we are wrong to pretend otherwise or facilitate their pretenses that they aren't doing what they are doing.

And another thing! (NOW you've got me started!) You know, Prisco just jumps on the trip wire about my "pre-emptive rejection" of all the in-house Alcor bullshit artistry More links to as though this just shows I am screaming na!na!na! in the face of their staid scientific seriousness. But if you actually read the post in which I answer More the fact is that although I clearly stand on the principle that one shouldn't allow charlatans the space to lower everybody's standards by treating their self-serving bloviating as worthy of the same consideration as real science, despite this, and despite being right about this, I actually DO go on to talk about the worthiness of research dollars to organ cryopreservation and so on.

The reason I brought that up is actually because despite myself I actually DID go and read More's crappy sciency dog and pony show, even though I had every reason not to do so. Temperate defense of intemperateness and all the rest aside, I actually DID give him the benefit of the doubt.

Why? Because I Can't Help Myself! I actually do give these clowns credit they never deserve and endlessly take advantage of precisely because I am not as much a hard ass as I say I am and have every right to be.

And if you do follow that link as More asks you to and as I did you get the impression that Brian Wowk is the only scientist in the world as far as these guys are concerned. Now, Brian Wowk may be the cat's meow, or not, but he isn't the only scientist in the world who is doing science relevant to the claims of techno-immortalists of the cryonics sect of the Robot Cult. He just isn't.

And how many of the pieces cited in this sales-pitch that actually pass muster as real science or at least mostly science are interesting to Robot Cultists in their actual science or instead in what Robot Cultists take them to justify in the way of their superlative aspirations? And how often do the actual scientists so deployed actually approve such deployments themselves? And how often do people outside the charmed circle of cryonicism and the Robot Cult cite these studies at all? Or cite them approvingly? Or use them in the service of actual research (rather than as examples of "some people say" in their general intro or concluding sections, for example)?

It's a goddamn scam and the actors involved are in on it, however they rationalize what they are doing.

We have to be able to call them out on this conduct, even when the people involved want us instead to debate the Robot God Odds on their terms or the salient informational selfhood retention in vitrified brain hamburgerization or whatever goddamn angels dancing on a pinhead they've decided is the Real Science here, as if Robot Cultists are the ones who make these decisions in front of the livid flickering of screens perched on their futons. We have to be able to critique the logical, topical, and tropological moves on which they depend (rhetorical and cultural analyses of the kind I'm trained in, for example) whether or not they themselves are fully aware of these operations or disapprove of such foci. We cannot allow these pseudo-scientists to circumscribe the terms on which we can critique them to their prejudicial benefit.

Even if it is true that Athena Andreadis and Richard Jones and PZ Myers and others like them (all of whom I cherish and respect more than I can say) really are able to demolish the would-be scientific claims made by superlative futurologists (transhumanoids, singularitarians, techno-immortalists, nano-cornucopiasts, and so on) on scientific grounds, I really do think there is also a vitally important sense in which such disputes themselves can perversely function to legitimize the pseudo-scientists, can yield for the true believers a kind of reality-effect that fuels and substantiates their fantasies.

In part this is because the Robot Cultists themselves are not qualified to grasp the scientific arguments on their merits anyway, awash as they are in pop-tech journalism, corporate think-tank futurological scenario-building, TED squawk self-promotional PowerPoints and cheesy computer animation treated as reality and so on, but it is also because "science" itself is not functioning scientifically for the faithful (as a public/published testing that warrants provisional but confident instrumental beliefs) but as a placeholder for a materiality generated by collective rituals of fervency better understood discursively and socioculturally when all is said and done.

My Intemperateness With Robot Cultists

Upgraded and adapted from the Moot, Long Time Friend of Blog "JimF" offers up a thoughtful critique:
I have to admit I cringe a bit when these exchanges devolve into accusations of "lying". And Prisco did it first, long ago, when he repeatedly, in comments here and elsewhere, accused Dale of "lying" about >Hism.

I'm willing to extend Prisco the courtesy of assuming he is **not** deliberately "lying". On the other hand, "lying" is a slippery term. If a little kid breaks Daddy's camera and then solemnly declares, when asked, that he never touched it, that's lying pure and simple. If a tobacco company executive in 1970 suppresses an internal study indicating that smoking may promote lung cancer, is he "lying" if he believes that **of course** cigarette smoking doesn't cause cancer, and it would be irresponsible to release studies with statistically uncertain conclusions (just like global warming studies, eh?) to scare a gullible and easily-frightened public and also to damage the company's bottom line. In retrospect, such a thing might look a lot like lying, but at the time? Where do you draw the lie between lying and **self** deception?

Prisco is caught up in a religious enthusiasm, which he thinks will be good for him personally come the Singularity, and which will save the world, too. He really really really doesn't want to contemplate evidence that the "Singularity", and other superlativities longed-for by contemporary >Hists -- SFnal artificial intelligence, SFnal nanorobotic assemblers, SFnal biological engineering -- including radical postponement or reversal of aging -- are **not** in the cards for anybody now living (if ever). (Which leaves the O'Connors and others hoping they can be frozen and thawed and **then** reap the benefits of these technical miracles.)

Prisco may not be a stupid man (though he clearly isn't the brightest character on the block either), but he, like many religious adherents, is capable of a kind of selective stupidity when it comes to defending himself (and his "tribe") against threats to his cherished beliefs.

Is that "lying"? Weeellll... It is if you're looking to insult somebody or provoke a fight, I guess.
Of course Prisco is caught up in religious enthusiasm. But as I have made repeatedly clear his religious enthusiasm may not be my cup of tea -- just as his aesthetic tastes may not be -- but I don't particularly think people's faiths or tastes are my business unless they brush up close enough to my own to trigger something I can talk about that says something more about me than them.

I ferociously disapprove the pretense that Robot Cultism is a scientific outlook, let alone a mode of serious science practice, or education, or engineering, or policy-making, or an actually progressive or democratizing political campaign or party or program or movement, including an "identity movement." I think it matters enormously not to confuse such things.

People of faith often object to such scrutiny, but of course they are never only people of faith when they engage or espouse their faiths, but in notionally democratic societies like ours, they are always also citizens with the same rights but no more than other citizens who offer up assertions to public scrutiny as well, including assertions about what are for others articles of faith or signals of subcultural membership and so on. Sometimes Prisco wants to pretend that my refusal to engage with him on his terms is a kind of bigotry or hate-speech, a disrespect for his faith, when in fact in democratic societies part of the way a person expresses political respect for a public discourse is indistinguishable from disrespect as it would be seen from the vantage of the specificially subcultural location in which the discourse under scrutiny is lodged. This is a quandary, it makes for theoretical paradoxes, but I don't agree that it is fatal dilemma, or even something that in everyday life we don't happen to overcome with practical conviviality all the time. Of course, it isn't very convivial to call an interlocutor a liar, is it?

But, again, to the extent that the various sects of the Robot Cult are just a fandom for one of the more inept and derivative sfnal genres (futurology) or a kind of cosplay subculture or even a full-blown faithly sub(cult)ure it would not draw my ire. Sure, I think the Raelians are kooky but I find in them a certain campy appeal rather like documentary traces of 70s church services at SF's GLIDE, I think Scientology is perfectly hilarious, I think Mormonism is flabbergastingly loony, I think the Catholicism in which I was raised is a bunch of crazytown bloodsoaked kitsch (and that was before I heard about the Spider Queen), I mean, hell, I'm an atheist, of course I think the Singularitarians are bonkers as far as their faith goes -- but, But, BUT I don't feel much compelled to talk about any of these sociocultural formations except to the extent that they interfere with practical policy outcomes in ways that derange rational public deliberation to the cost of democracy or efficacy, except to the extent that their organizational dynamisms exhibit or facilitate authoritarianism, exploitation, or misinformation to the cost of the scenes of rational deliberation or consent on which democratic politics depend.

All of these formations, Scientology, Catholicism, Robot Cultism do indeed impinge on these larger concerns at times and in significant ways that need to be understood and effectively resisted. To the extent that Robot Cultists are just geeks there is considerable overlap between them and me which is no doubt why I noticed them decades ago in the first place and remain fascinated by them and know so deeply so many of the texts on which they base their beliefs and understand them so well. This familiarity also helps account for the brusqueness of my exchange with Prisco. Do you realize how many YEARS he has been indulging in these squabbles with me? You've been around for a whole hell of a lot of them yourself -- as a much more sympathetic participant observer I might add -- and part of what I am responding to is my awareness that Prisco is himself simply going through the ritual motions of insulting or provoking a fight to what purpose I no longer completely quite understand.

I don't expect to change Prisco's mind anymore and I see no reason to extend him the courtesies on which such projects of conviction or reconciliation depend for their maintenance. Fool me once, and so on. In my view, Prisco needs to be ridiculed in the hope that his discomfiture will undercut his expectation of a positive hearing in general audiences and so limit the kind of damage he can do, or he can function as an exemplary object, something of a reductio ad absurdum, illustrating in readily intelligible ways deep structural tendencies to religiosity, incoherence, pseudo-science, and True Belief in futurological discourse that other adherents mask more effectively than he does but who are tarred by the brush of his extremity in ways that are wholesome for general audiences that may observe our exchanges and who may be susceptible to futurology but still skeptical enough or teachable enough to reject it to the benefit of us all.

Prisco knows very well what I take to be the indices of legitimate science to which rational laypersons must make recourse in assessing the merits of technoscientific topics for their attention, opinion, and the public resources they have a hand in distributing as citizens -- he knows this from discussions about GOFAI, drextech, uploading, geo-engineering, and, yes, cryonics in the past with me, often over and over again -- and whether he is tsk tsking what he calls my "typical" so-called "anti-scientificity" for rejecting the ways in which his pseudo-scientificity (in my view) fails to pass muster as science, because he is just yanking my chain to waste my time, or trying to undercut my project with deliberate misinformation for the peanut gallery, the simple fact is that he is indeed being mischievous in a way that must be called out and stopped in its tracks in my view.

Realize how crucial the general problem exhibited here really is: my judgment that the Robot Cult is a pseudo-scientific faith-based initiative best grasped in its discursive and cultural performance is asserted on my part from the vitally important because so general position of a literate non-scientist who respects the role of proper science, against people who occupy positions more similar to me than not but who are claiming to be scientific in ways that I do not -- nor should they -- while also seeking to leverage their misunderstanding or deliberate mystifications on this score precisely against the position from which I am offering up my critique both as a person actually trained in discourse analysis of the kind most relevant to what they are doing (though not by their lights) and also as a literate concerned democratically-minded citizen quite aware of the extent to which technodevelopmental social struggle is a (possibly, nowadays, the) key register of historical conflict and possible progress in our moment.

Prisco and many like him are lying to themselves, and in ways that make them ridiculous, and I am willing to lampoon them in such moment in ways that render them less attractive to general audiences vulnerable to their moonshine because of the utter prevalence in the societies in which they have been raised of deceptive and hyperbolic promotional and marketing norms and forms, techno-triumphalism masking brutal exploitation, scientific reductionism enabling infantile narcissisms and denialism, and techno-fetishisms deranging our sense of history and social struggle. But I am more interested in exposing as a skeptic the misinformation and pseudo-science and fraud in which the Robot Cultists are indulging -- and in ways that have to be conscious at least some of the time -- to the extent that they are whomping up phony experts and think-tanks and "universities" and power conferences and terminological hanky-panky and citational log-rolling that are clearly working to circumvent legitimate objections, insulate themselves from criticism, augment the status and egos and fortunes of key movement players, and so on.

Deception is slippery, as you say, but so can be self-deception, and in ways that push us away in some cases from the generally wholesome liberality you are advocating toward greater skepticism. Never forget that True Believers will sometimes lie by their own lights in the service of the deeper truths to which they are committed. Even the corporate executive lying about "safe cigarettes" for money may think to undermine shareholder profits by telling truths is violating a truth deeper than those truths and so is himself most a truth-teller when he is telling those lies, especially if he also thinks that part of the truth is that everybody is lying about this sort of thing all of the time anyway (as indeed they may be in his awful milieu) and that it would be hypocritical to pretend otherwise. Never underestimate the capacity of people to retroactively rationalize ANY deception, any bad behavior, even any crime. What little lies will Robot Cultists tell mehum sheeple who are not intelligent enough even to grasp the Truth in an effort, they think, to tell that Truth, in service to the coding of the Robot God who will end history, deliver immortality, provide superabundance, reveal the secrets of the universe... or just to stroke the tender ego of a dumb luck celebrity tech CEO who stumbled onto unearned billions... or just to reassure a defensive True Believer in a marginal sub(cult)ure who senses even while disavowing its ridiculousness... or just to keep the lights on at a fly-by-night cryonics outfit or marginal but big-talking bio-nano-coding campus... or just to attract enough sustained attention for a fourth tier intellectual who once told herself she was gifted and has devoted her life to a marginal concern that she doesn't become suicidal?

I see the point of your critique -- and of course I agree in general with the force of it -- but I think this concern can be misplaced in certain contexts, when one is engaging with bad faith interlocutors like Movement Republicans and Robot Cultists who actually depend for their mischief both on the pretense that rational standards are met even as they actively undermine them and then treat and accuse the exposure of this destruction as if it were itself the destruction in which they themselves are engaged. In so saying I discern interesting parallels between the rhetorical and subcultural forms of Superlative Futurology and Movement Republicanism (though close historical reading reveals different specificities that are actually more interesting), which is not doubt part of the reason they are the twin objects of this blog's critical focus.

Anyway, yes, I do think Prisco is lying about what he is doing here, at any rate when he is talking to me, because this is a game that has had many innings by now and at this point it would only be my pretending he is engaging in a good faith exchange that gives him any power to do here the kind of damage I disapprove of. And doing just this damage is, after all, consciously and explicitly the cause to which he has devoted his life, flogging for the Robot Cult in ways that actively admit of its religiosity and yet still incoherently and vociferously insist on its scientificity and progressivity -- in the face of my endlessly reiterated critique of the error and the danger of precisely this conjuncture -- and in ways most of its adherents deny altogether.

YMMV, still, of course, and probably for good reasons, too. But those, at any rate, are mine. A temperate rationale for intemperateness is inherently weird, I'll give you that. Thanks as always, it was an interesting criticism to work my way through.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Rice Delivers the RNC Speech Which Will Be Remembered

One after another we have heard the pundits' expectant intakes of breath, waiting to see who on the convention floor will give the speech that provides a glimpse of where the Republican Party will be in 2016 when it actually has a chance to pick up the pieces and find some kind of national relevance again (except as a wrecking crew). Chris Christie's inept bullying didn't cut it, Mike Huckabee's lame maundering didn't cut it, doll-eyed dolt Paul Ryan's petulant whining voice-changing Eddie Haskell impersonation definitely didn't cut it (modern media era VPs in losing tickets never get to the White House anyway). Quite unexpectedly, at any rate to me, was the realization that, whatever its errors and limitations, the speech providing the path out of the wilderness to the GOP would be the one delivered by Condoleezza Rice. Sure, it contained the necessary bullshit pretending Barack Obama doesn't support entrepreneurship or doesn't have a sufficiently tough foreign policy, but the overall tenor of Rice's speech was something like a Republican-approved hopey changey. Listening to the GOP howl in ecstasy over Rice's speech I can't help but feel that even the Republicans know they are completely out of touch with the reality of a secular multicultural America and they want some way to stop the merry-go-round they set in motion and find some way back into relevance. They are too infantile to actually concede their mistakes and engage as partners with our President in the good faith effort he endlessly welcomes to help solve our problems together, that would be too humiliating apparently, but they will cheer paeans to education and small business and diversity and immigration the substance of every idea of which is championed by our President in the face of their monolithic obstructionism now showered in adoration just because it is coming from the mouth of one of their own. The cries of "we love you, Condi!" coming from the hall finally seemed spontaneous and real. I personally find it hard to imagine Rice could really fail upward from her responsibility for some of the most unprecedented policy catastrophes of the history of our nation, but I suppose it is too much to hope that Republicans could ever change so much as to actually punish incumbent elites for their failures, and I must say I would welcome a 2016 Presidential contest pitting Hilary Clinton against Condoleezza Rice. You better believe I would be campaigning for Hilary, but I would be well pleased in general that the contest for the American Presidency actually looked so much like America does for once whatever the outcome.

My Exchange With Max More Continues

Again, upgraded and adapted from the Moot, Max More (now verified) responds:
We have provided evidence for the reasonableness of cryonics (and always acknowledge the considerable uncertainties). You will find much of it here:

Neuroscientist Sebastian Seung thinks cryonics worth testing for its ability to preserve the connectome. He discussed this in the last chapter of his recent book, and will engage in dialogue at the Alcor-40 conference in October. There are published papers, and we have several lines of evidence that cryonics through vitrification, under reasonably good conditions, is probably preserving identity-critical information.

It’s irrelevant that my dissertation was not written for a biology department. I was responding to your ignorant view of death being absolute and simple. It’s convenient for you to position all cryonicists as scared of our mortality, but that doesn’t make it true. I’m not scared of dying. I am scared of the dying process if it involves intense, prolonged pain or cognitive decline. But being dead is like nothing at all. I want to avoid death not because it terrifies me, but because I like living and want to do more of it.

It’s a cheap shot to say “the mistake you are making -- and making for a living, I'm afraid, which is pretty bad I must say”. I have supported cryonics for well over 25 years. I’ve been paid for working in cryonics for 1.5 years.

I said to you that extraordinary claims require extraordinary support and then you refer me to Alcor promotional materials, apparently forgetting that I have pre-emptively repudiated the usual Robot Cultic diversion of attention from the marginality of their assumptions and aspirations onto what I called "the noisy circle-jerk of True Believers whomping up glossy brochures for the rubes."

I cheerfully agree that, say, organ cryopreservation to facilitate transplantation, exploring methods of organismic suspension (including medically induced therapeutic comas), and so on are worthy of medical research dollars. One doesn't need to start handwaving about magical drextechian nanobots or cyberspatial soul-migration or any of that nonsense to grasp that sort of thing.

My utter rejection of such foolishness certainly provides no justification for you to declare my "view of death" to be an ignorant or simplistic one. Even on terms that would interest you, I have long maintained that medical techniques and monitoring devices have befuddled long orthodox conceptions of the beginning and end of life, properly so-called. To be honest, I think transhumanists share with anti-abortionists an opportunistic recourse to such befuddlement to flog their (different) marginal and counter-intuitive aspirations (as when anti-abortionists exploit sonogram imagery to render more apparently plausible pseudo-scientific "partial birth abortion" or when techno-immortalists exploit revival from once-fatal heart attacks to render more apparently plausible pseudo-scientific "uploading"). Nobody who declares my recognition of human mortality an error or a matter of choice has any business deriding my view of death as "ignorant."

You say you are not scared of dying and I truly hope that is true, since I have known too many people who are obsessed with techno-immortalism who not only never manage to overcome their mortality (since everybody, including every Robot Cultist, is indeed going to die) but do manage to become a little less alive in life for their fear of dying.

Like many others, I do share your distaste for disease and decline. Of course, one doesn't have to join a Robot Cult to see the good sense of defending, you know, actual medical science or access to healthcare... which is why so many more people defend actual medical science or access to healthcare than belong to your Robot Cult no doubt. But I definitely disapprove of the ways in which techno-transcendentalizing frames derange our sense of what legitimate medical research actually consists and displaces at least some dollars onto snake-oil scams that might have gone instead into actual medical research and the support of more sensible healthcare policy.

It’s a cheap shot to say “the mistake you are making -- and making for a living, I'm afraid, which is pretty bad I must say”. I have supported cryonics for well over 25 years. I’ve been paid for working in cryonics for 1.5 years.
Everything you are and everything you have as a public figure is connected to your flogging of techno-transcendental wish-fulfillment fantasies like cryonics, nano-santa, GOFAI, and so on as a so-called transhumanoid eminence of twenty-years' standing (I think that's about when I became aware of you at any rate). I don't know to what you refer when you say you have been "working in cryonics for 1.5 years" presumably in some more official capacity as a bottle washer or whatever, I don't exactly breathlessly follow the vicissitudes of your career as a futurological flim-flam artist on a blow by blow basis, but I do know you've long flogged this crapola in something like a professional capacity. No doubt you'll still think that is a cheap shot -- more than one I daresay -- but it isn't quite the one you seem to think I'm making.

Scroll down to read the earlier turns this conversation has taken. Ridiculous though I find his views, I do appreciate that Max More (it really is hard not to laugh every time I write that) is exposing his views to scrutiny in this fashion, even if he is using it as an occasion for a little judicious spamming, too.


Cryonics isn't a more grisly way to treat a corpse than embalming is, but cryonics isn't a more scientific way to ensure the resurrection of a corpse than mummification is either.

More Futurological Brickbats here.

Ayn Raelian Robot Cultist Max More Responds

Upgraded and adapted from the Moot, "Max More" (conceivably, after all, an online impersonator) said:
Predictably you throw around "faith" and other lying terms, rather than attempting to address the actual evidence that cryonics has a reasonable chance of working and that you are not dead in any final sense at the point of "clinical death" -- as I argued in a chapter of my doctoral dissertation. I know my comment is a waste of time and that you are only preaching to your "minions".

Predictably you throw around "faith" and other lying terms... you are only preaching to your "minions". Once again, I notice, you make recourse to the old standby, "I know you are but what am I," and in the space of a single paragraph! Most impressive, if also rather embarrassing.

Although you are eager to assume the high ground of "reasonableness" and "respect for evidence" here, actually reasonable people who respect evidence know well that it is the one who makes the extraordinary claim who has the responsibility to provide the extraordinary support.

The marginality of the claims of cryonics charlatans from consensus science is abundantly clear from the publication record (outside the noisy circle-jerk of True Believers whomping up glossy brochures for the rubes, natch), not to mention from a glance at the proportion of actual scientists in relevant fields who have signed up for your techno-transcendental resurrection scheme.

I seem to recall that your dissertation was not written for a biology department -- any more than mine was, but then I don't pretend to speak as a scientific expert now, do I?

Look, believe whatever you need to about your scary mortality if it gets you through the night, but don't expect me to condone the pretense that your faith is scientific, a proper basis for policy or practical conduct, or more "reasonable" than any other faith-based utterance one hears in the public square. I'm an atheist myself, but I don't much care about the private perfections (theological, aesthetic, or otherwise) others pursue so long as they don't misapply their beliefs in scientific or political domains to the cost of good sense more generally, which is the mistake you are making -- and making for a living, I'm afraid, which is pretty bad I must say.

Good luck to you.

Romney and Ryan: Throwback Attack

New World Future Society Column Is Up

Futurological Defenses of Automation, Outsourcing, Crowdsourcing, and Precarizing Labor, updating a post that I wrote here earlier in the month, has now appeared over at WFS. It's been republished by the good folks at the Foundation for Peer to Peer Alternatives as well. Thanks, Michel!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Ann Romney: "I Love You Women..." To Death!

What awesome incubators we women make, hey? Hey?

My favorite part was when she said "you" -- not "we" even though she is a woman too, but you know, different, because you know, "you people" who want to look at our taxes like those of every other Presidential candidate as a matter of course, "you people" who aren't multimillionaires who can overcome breast cancer and thrive with MS without social support like she did and does -- "you" You YOU "know what it’s like to work a little harder during the day to earn the respect you deserve at work and then come home to help with that book report, which just has to be done.” Yes, Ann, and women also know which party wants to make it a little easier to do the necessary work of sustaining civilization rather than making it harder because it really is work that has to be done and it really is work from which everybody benefits. And that party is not the anti-science, anti-healthcare, anti-equity, anti-diversity, anti-women, anti-civilizational, "We Bilk It!" Republican Party.

Can-Do Robot Cultist Max More "Chooses" Immortality, Remains Mortal Anyway

Apparently Ayn Raelian "Extropian" transhumanoid Max More ("Max More," Very Serious!) was offended when Adam Smith concluded his recent New Humanist synopsis of some of the chief sects of the Robot Cult with the quotation of a statement of mine deriding Natasha Vita-More (she's an artist!) thusly, "I hate to break it to Natasha Vita-More. It doesn’t matter how enthusiastic she is about it, she’s going to die."

In reaction, Max More sputtered: "I hate to break it to Dale Carrico, but HE is going to die. And it will be his choice. Those of us who have gone to the effort of making arrangements for cryopreservation (and who take additional measures) have some significant chance of returning from today's criterion of death." Get that? Everybody dies only because they "choose" to die, because they lack Max More's "can do" gumption to "choose immortality"! Mm hm.

Max More is, of course, completely deluded when he speaks of his "significant chance" of "returning" from the grave because of what he imagines to be the, er, Very Serious Very Sciency "measures" he has "taken" that skeptics, you know, basically sane people like me don't sign onto. Just to be clear here, what More is professing as a matter of faith is that when he dies -- and he will, as will every Robot Cultist, as will everybody else, as so will I (which isn't exactly news to me, or particularly upsetting to me as news goes, and certainly isn't something a death denialist of all people is needed to "break it" to me) -- again, when he dies More intends to have his head chopped off and plopped into a mist-shrouded dewar for hamburgerization the better to be rebuilt in "The Future" by swarms of nanobotic genies-in-a-bottle and thereupon scooped into a shiny imperishable robot body or "scanned" and somehow "therefore" "migrated" into an angelic eternal "info-self" in cyberspatial heaven all under the loving ministrations of a sooper-intelligent sooper-parental history-ending Robot God. That is to say, Max More believes, or is willing to pretend to believe for cash, like any fulminating fundamentalist, that he won't really be dead when he dies, all appearances to the contrary notwithstanding. And in so saying Max More is being palpably, laughably idiotic, repeatedly and in public, is indulging in a perfectly ridiculous pseudo-scientific fraud, and is possibly engaged in some sort of elaborate cry for help.

Max More is an adherent (hell, the adherent, Founder and High Priest) of the specifically "Extropian" sect of the Robot Cult, and so is a denialist both about death and about taxes, that is to say is both a market-fundamentalist and techno-transcendendalist, that is to say More advocates eating civilization and having it too but also preaches that if only we clap louder "technology" will gratify every infantile wish-fulfillment fantasy we have for free. As I said, Very Serious!

Of course, all the Robot Cultists believe this sort of flabbergasting nonsense, and it attests to the lack of standards in a society in which deceptive promotional norms, hyperbolic marketing forms, scientistic reductionism coupled with New Age narcissism and consumer techno-fetishism so utterly prevail that techno-transcendentalizing guru-wannabes like Max More and Ray Kurzweil can say this sort of thing and then get paid cushy salaries as "futurological experts" and "corporate consultants" rather than being meritocratically trundled off to sponge urinals or gather up roadside rubbish with sharpened sticks (then again maybe that's not such a good idea either). So, too, most of the Robot Cultists can be expected in conversation with critics of stunning rhetorical masterstrokes like More's "I know you are but what am I?" gambit. Nevertheless, I do think it is important to draw my readers' attention to the fact that this is one the most respected and influential intellectuals (as it were) of the transhumanist "movement," founder and prominent member of any number of transhumanoid organizations. The Robot Cult, ladies and gentlemen.

"You Didn't Build That, You Destroyed It"

"Futurological Discourse and Posthuman Terrains"

I'll be presenting a paper in a session on "Humanity and Post-Humanity" at the American Philosophical Association Pacific Division Annual Meeting being held in San Francisco, March 27 - 31, 2013.

Futurological Discourse and Posthuman Terrains

I distinguish post-humanist politics of planetarity (environmental crises, global diaspora, panurban convivialities, imbrication in media, financial, surveillance, activist networks) from the futurological politics of post-human advocacy, of either superlative transhumanism's "enhanced" homo superior or supernative bio-conservatism's "posited" homo naturalis. I distinguish in turn post-philosophical discourses of critical theory from futurological discourses (originating in speculative market futures and culminating in science fictional think-tank scenarios authorizing neoliberal developmentalism), promising prophesy rather than understanding, confusing making bets with having thoughts, diverting attention from the open futurity inhering in the diversity of stakeholders in/to the present with "The Future" as a screen on which parochial fears and fantasies are projected, deranging power from the experience of potential, peer-to-peer, into a brute amplification of instrumental capacities, the consummation of what Hannah Arendt described as "earth alienation."

Monday, August 27, 2012

Must Read: Athena's "Charlatan Haunted World"

Absolutely must read piece -- as is so much written by Athena Andreadis -- summarizing incredibly pithily and forcefully many of the key dogmas and fallacies and false analogies on which the eugenicism, dualism, pseudo-science, and techno-transcendental flim-flam artistry of the Robot Cult depends. Even the comments generated by the piece are mostly a pleasure to read.

New Humanists Clarify Your Thinking About the Robot Cult

Adam Smith has provided a concise synopsis of transhumanoid views and organizations and key figures for the New Humanist. His summary includes a sampling of skeptics like, "Dale Carrico [who] writes a consistently cutting critique on his Amor Mundi blog about how transhumanists’ denial of mortality is a symptom of our society’s pathological desires." He seems to think my relation to the Robot Cult is something like a lapsed Catholic's to the Vatican, which doesn't exactly thrill me, but I suppose it serves me right for the politeness of my earlier criticisms back in the day when James Hughes was publishing me as the "official opposition" to prove how tolerant and non-culty "democratic transhumanists" (so-called) were as compared to the extropians. These days I'm much less polite and the transhumanoids seem to have given up on that whole sanewashing we welcome criticism line, opting instead to peddle themselves as a curious chimerical creation half neoliberal think-tank and half techno-transcendental New Age church. Good luck with that guys. Anyway, the piece is pretty good and it's nice to have my contrarian efforts recognized. He quotes me reminding Natasha Vita More that she is going to die. That alone would be worth the click in my view. As you know, there is not a lot I enjoy more than reminding Robot Cultists that they are all going to die.

Robot Cultists Need Luddite Cultists But Technoscientific Progress Needs Neither

Upgraded and adapted from the Moot, an exchange with JimF elaborating an important point. In yesterday's post, Are Techno-Immortalist Robot Cultists the Real "Deathists"? I wrote:
Contra Pellissier, I think it is fair to say that not everybody would want to spend 10,000 years living what passes for the lives they are now living, when the reality of suicide demonstrates that not everybody wants to live even the Biblical allotment of three score and ten.
To which point JimF applies some useful pressure:
And if you **could** live for hundreds or thousands of years (barring accidents), suicide might then become the commonest way out. This is a separate issue from the current **plausibility** of the whole >Hist "longevity" project, and discussing the **desirability** of the indefinite prolongation of "the life we are now living" only plays into the hands of those who scream "deathist" even at those who merely express skepticism at the **scientific** legitimacy of the project.
Oh, yes, I quite agree with you and I agree that this is actually also an important point. That is why I begin the post with this barb: "Robot Cultist Hank Pellissier argues that magic would be cool if it were real as a way of distracting your attention from the fact that magic is not real."

There is no question that the transhumanoids much prefer arguing with folks who think the techno-transcendental sooperpowers that obsess them are dangerous or bad to those who point out instead that these obsessions of theirs are conceptually incoherent, pseudo-scientific, pathologically symptomatic, and politically reactionary as I do.

Bioconservatives who wring their hands about AI and singularity and clone armies and post-humanoidal soopermen and so on are engaging in "a supernative futurology" that perfectly supplements and supports the superlative futurology of the Robot Cultists, just as the bioconservative championing of homo naturalis and the transhumanoid championing of homo superior are co-supportive supplements sustaining eugenicism.

While these hyperbolic discursive formations battle it out as eternal foes they also succeed in delineating the terms of technodevelopmental contestation in public discourse in ways that divert attention and concern away from the actual vicissitudes of funding, regulation, discovery, publication, production, distribution, education, marketing, cost, risk, benefit to the actual diversity of actual stakeholders in actual history onto eschatological narratives of progress, destiny, transcendence, apocalypse and activating irrational pathologies of dread and desire that already tend to freight technoscience discourse.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Romney The Blockbuster

Another stale re-make, what a stinker!

Are Techno-Immortalist Robot Cultists the Real "Deathists"?

In Wake Up, Deathist! You DO Want to Live 10,000 Years!, Robot Cultist Hank Pellissier argues that magic would be cool if it were real as a way of distracting your attention from the fact that magic is not real. My first working title for this piece was the judiciously worded, "Robot Cultist Battles Deathist Menace From Glitter-Farting Unicorn in Space." From all this, the discerning reader of Amor Mundi will understand that the piece under discussion is the latest Very Serious work of futurology published by the White Guys of "The Future" at the stealth Robot Cult "think-tank" IEET, the Institute for Ethics (where ethics are rarely actually discussed) and Emerging Technologies (where the technologies are rarely actually emerging).

Contra Pellissier, I think it is fair to say that not everybody would want to spend 10,000 years living what passes for the lives they are now living, when the reality of suicide demonstrates that not everybody wants to live even the Biblical allotment of three score and ten. More seriously still, I think it is fair to wonder if what we even mean by "living a life" as a narrative and otherwise coherent structural matter when we talk about such things now is enough like what might arise with such a prolongation that it makes a lot of sense to glibly apply the term to such projections, just as I think it is fair to wonder the same about the propriety of applying intuitions of present "selfhood" to such presumably transformed conditions, about the propriety of applying the word "living" to so differently prostheticized and therapized a process and so on.

Of course, Pellisier doesn't care about such things very much, he just wants to pretend that "technology" in some general construal that makes no sense will "provide" through mechanisms that have no real specification "health" and "capacities" and "lives" and "selves" that are and legibly remain everything they already are now, except, you know, that they will be more More MORE! As always with futurologists, the Robot Cultists confuse more with better, confuse more with change: it is an essentially unimaginative temper promoting itself as imagination, it is an essentially incurious consumerism advertising itself as wonder, it is an essentially reactionary fear marketing itself as an embrace of transformation. It's all very boring and very conventional advertising strategy -- more Skittles in the bag peddled as progress! a new color coating added to the Skittles rainbow peddled as change! Robot Cultists just pump up this sort of volume by orders of magnitude more than conventional crappy consumer marketing does -- indeed they amplify advertising hyperbole so much that their discourse takes on the coloration of theological discourse, the fraudulent promises of consumer satisfaction become promises of outright techno-transcendence.

Pellissier and his fellow Robot Cultists are just circus barkers selling a mirage and promoting a brand, at once indulging in wish-fulfillment fantasizing as well as trying to enlist as many others in this fantasizing as may be, either to make the fantasy seem more real in the fervency of shared belief or, more cynically and opportunistically, to attract attention and the power that follows from such attention by making noise. For instance:

"Many researchers suggest that Death will soon be annihilated," writes Pellissier. This is, of course, to speak plainly, a lie. I doubt that very "many" actually reputable researchers suggest anything of the sort even on the most idiosyncratic construal of that word "many," but even if a few folks who aren't laughingstocks in every aspect of their lives otherwise do say such things you can be sure that there are incomparably "many" more who do not for every one who does, and in any case no-one who takes things like citation indexes or reproducible results seriously would ever say or take seriously anything of the kind.

To raise questions, as I do, about the coherence and legibility of terms like "life" and "self" and "health" as they are used by futurologists when they seek at once radically to change the referents for these terms, sometimes beyond recognition, is to risk being derided by Robot Cultists as what they call a "Deathist." To recognize, as I do, and to insist on the recognition, as I do, of the absolutely and irrefutably true facts that human beings are and have always been and are always going to remain mortal to the extent that life is a biological process and intelligence remains incarnated in biological brains and social struggle in a living and finite world is, again, to risk being derided by Robot Cultists as what they call a "Deathist." And to testify, as I do, to the reality of the record in which literally all of the meaning and beauty and pleasure and wonder and power in which humanity has had a part in the world has been both perfectly possible and indeed exclusively available to always only mortal beings is, once again, to risk being derided by Robot Cultists as what they call a "Deathist."

What is wanted, writes Pellissier, "is to promote the Value of Life. Exalting human existence as the extraordinary experience that it is, redefines the Longevity Party movement. Maxim Maximus indicates this on the Longevity Party website; we want to be known as the 'Party for Life.' Conversely, all other groups can be castigated as a 'Party for Death.' Praising and promoting Life EverLasting gives transhumanists a powerful role, as ecstatic clairvoyants and scientific messiahs." You know, Science! (Also, "Maxim Maximus"? Very Serious!) You know, one needn't exactly be thrilled at the prospect of death or displeased by the great progressive of work of therapy and care and support through which illness is ameliorated (outside of the Robot Cult this is known as the rather commonsense appreciation of, you know, healthcare) to also deny utterly that mortality spoils everything for everybody or even counts as the worst evil in a world of inequities and troubles. Of course, we are all familiar enough with the uses to which phrases like "the Party of Life" can be put by political movements to have some healthy skepticism about declarations by people claiming not only to speak for "Life" but claiming that everybody who disagrees with them is dealing in death. There are many people in today's America who fancy themselves Life's great champions while at once treating women as incapable of making decisions concerning their own bodies, indifferent to the conditions of support that would define the quality of life of a child born of an unwanted pregnancy they would eagerly force a woman to bring to term against her will under threat of violence, all the while cheering the prospect of the execution of criminals (including, for some, doctors who perform abortions and women who would seek them) even knowing that at least sometimes this irrevocable punishment will be unjust, championing the unchecked proliferation of deadly weapons on our streets, denigrating the regulation of pollution and toxic substances, and denying the consensus of scientists that humans are contributing to redressable climate change that threatens all life on earth. Beyond the sensible skepticism born of such experience, just looking at Pellissier's specific proposal here, does it really make sense to declare oneself a brave and solitary promoter of the value of "Life" at all while at once denigrating so thoroughly so many of the terms on which it has always been lived?

Again, it is obviously stupid to deny that all humans have always been mortal and obviously stupid to pretend that the elimination of so universal a dimension of the human condition would not raise questions as to the humanity of beings so transformed -- at least insofar as that "humanity" had hitherto been reckoned. It is just as obviously stupid to pretend that there is anything in actual or even remotely developing medical science or technical expertise that makes the contemplation of such transformations matters of anything like practical concern, even if they remain relevant as ways to illuminate philosophical questions (after all, death denialism and wish-fulfillment fantasizing about eternal youth are among the earliest and most endlessly reiterated themes in the literary archive). The first kind of stupidity is just sloppy and lazy thinking, unworthy of intelligent assertion and demonstrative of fatal unseriousness, but the second connects more often than not to actual fraud.

If you think I jest or exaggerate when I deride Robot Cultists who act as though if only everybody could be convinced to clap louder suddenly we would unleash the spontaneous magical soopertech "forces of immortalization" that remain shackled by the weight of pessimists who keep on noticing that people age and die, you need only read Pellissier himself: "Obliterating Death requires a two-pronged attack. Science has to conquer the scourge, but, unfortunately, science is impeded by a stubborn obstacle that’s historically stone-walls progress: the narrow, anxiety-ridden, change-adverse conservatism of most human minds." Do recall Pellissier's talk of "ecstatic clairvoyants and scientific messiahs" before you would relinquish to him even momentarily the keys to the science car. Be that as it may, it still remains one thing to act as if the only reason people are mortal is because sane people recognize the fact of our mortality, and another thing to actually go on to peddle anti-aging kremes and boner-herbs and head-freezing schemes and nanobotic respirocyte animations for money among the rubes.

But it is not enough just to point out how stupid Robot Cultists are being when they fling the "Deathist" term around as they do -- and believe me, this is far from the only stupid thing Robot Cultists spend their limited time on earth doing -- I think it is important to note the extent to which this idiotic "Deathist" term of theirs, if it had any substantial reference to speak of, might more aptly be directed at them.

I say this because it is also fair to say that IF human life expectancy were actually to improve in any kind of substantial way in the actual world, it will almost certainly be because progressive citizens, activists, and administrators educate, agitate, and organize to provide more access to clean water, nutritious food, prenatal care, available but unprofitable treatments for neglected diseases to more people in the world, especially among the most vulnerable people in overexploited regions and populations in the world.

While some Robot Cultists may have notional commitments to such efforts it is crucial to grasp that there is nothing that they contribute from the vantage of their futurology to those commitments and that so long as they are speaking futurologically they are not contributing to these efforts, and indeed they are distracting attention away from these efforts and often actively undermining these efforts through the proposal of imaginary techno-fixes that promote complacency and deny the relevance of actually-available reforms and strategies that are ready-to-hand. Even to the extent that life expectancy might rise in general through the development of new genetic or prosthetic medical techniques it is crucial to note how rarely Robot Cultists are actual participants either in the scientific research and publication, the technical implementation and distribution, or even in the real-world political organizing to increase scientific research spending, improve science education, overcome proprietary circumscriptions of technoscientific innovation and access through elite-incumbent intellectual property regimes, and so on.

This point acquires special resonance in reference to this particular piece by Pellissier, because as we have seen he is not only making the usual nonsensical "anti-deathist" noises of the Robot Cultists in this piece but is doing so in the context of promoting a new "movement" calling itself the Longevity Party. Of course, Robot Cultists are forever re-packaging their stale devotions as Brave New Movements, starting political parties and phony movements that have no real constituencies responding to no real problems, fighting for libertopian asteroid belt colonies that nobody now alive will ever live to see or fighting for the rights of artificial intelligent software that don't exist, writing online manifestos whomping up the same lame digital utopianism with disposable neologisms and pretending that all this represents serious political activity even though it is more or less the same handful of guru wannabes in charge every time and an endlessly revolving and yet never really changing cast of True Believer wannabes who sign on every time.

Just as they claim to be doing politics when they are really indulging in shabby self-promotion, so too they claim to be interested in more medical research even though they are not aligned with legible healthcare advocacy in any way but want to agitate for more money for what they call "radical longevity research," in other words for public money diverted from legitimate medicine and for public legitimacy conferred on the usual futurological snake oil salesmen and software coders who think they are biologists who throng the New Age and nutritional supplement convention circuit with the cryonics cranks and "uploading" enthusiasts who think materialism somehow justifies "soul migration" fantasies and that a picture of you is the same thing as you, except, somehow also immortal.

While Robot Cultists traffic in the fear of death their discourse and their organizations do nothing to improve actual lives in any practical way while they distract attention and derange effort from such practical work at every turn. If their pet term of abuse were not so patently ridiculous in the first place the question might be well asked of them, just who, after all, are the real "Deathists"?

Friday, August 24, 2012

Racist Romney Campaign Goes Birther

"No one has ever asked to see my birth certificate -- they know that this was the place we were born and raised."
Had he stopped at the hyphen, Romney's comment might (generously) be read as a comment on and criticism of the default racism that drives so much Republican discourse about Obama, but it is plain as he goes on that he is simply opportunistically expressing and amplifying that racism instead. Time for another pious declamation that Obama "take your campaign of hate and division back to Chicago" no doubt, time for more endless whining about how "negative" the Obama campaign is being for asking Romney to provide the same access to his tax records that other modern presidential campaigns have always done as a matter of course or because Democrats dare to point out the serial obviously demonstrable lies about Obama's record Romney has made the centerpiece of his campaign.

Given the extent to which one can discern an ugly racist undercurrent in most of those lies already -- white people, "you didn't build that" ... "raiding" white retirees' "Medicare to pay for" Kenyan Muslim Socialist "Obamacare" ... "ending the work requirement for" lazy "welfare" queens eating bon bons in front of their wide screen tee vees ... even the charges of negativism themselves, so flabbergasting in the aftermath of the radioactive negativity with which Romney slogged through the swamp of the GOP primary contest, are redolent with ugly and familiar insinuations about the "uppityness" of an "angry black man" which seem especially surreal when they are meant to attach to the consummately accomplished unflappable affable all too conciliatory Obama -- I can't say that it is really surprising to find Romney dipping into Birther well as well.

Listening to the ugly irrational howl of the Republican id that greets Romney's disgusting remark, it is clear that he knows as well as anybody the exact nature of the voters he needs to excite to win the power he covets to fill the vacuum where his principles should be, and it is also clear that he will not hesitate to whomp up his terrified terrorizing infinitely mean know nothing white racist patriarchal gun-nut mob to get what he wants, the country be damned. I suppose it is encouraging after a fashion to realize that Romney still needs to throw raw meat to these zealots who should be in the bag already as he pivots to scoop enough moderates to actually plausibly make a bid to win the Presidency of a diverse continent-scaled industrial nation in which such zealotry does not more generally prevail, but such pragmatic considerations aside it is still a truly awful and demoralizing spectacle to be sure. And, not that anybody is counting or cares or anything, but not only was it an awful thing to say, it happens to be yet another lie, since as a straightforward matter of fact, journalists have asked to see Romney's birth certificate. But, you know, whatever.

One For the Devastating Onion Updates File

August 23, 2012, Nation Celebrates Full Week Without Deadly Mass Shooting; August 24, 2012, UPDATE: Never Mind

Older -- An Amor Mundi Birthday Ritual

This time it's forty-seven.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Video Clips and Throwaway Posts

If you're wondering what's up, it's simple. I handed in grades last week and start teaching again next week. I'm kinda sorta on vacation, without, you know, vacating.

Romney Girl

I wish she had rhymed taxless with "fantastisch" instead. Still, of the two parody ads that are circulating most energetically right now I strongly prefer this one to the bad lipsynching twink underwear models one.

President Clinton: "This Election Is A Clear Choice"

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

NASA Makes Us All Taller

Ray Bradbury died two months before Curiosity arrived so spectacularly on the Martian surface. On what would have been Bradbury's 92nd birthday, NASA held a news conference today, which has officially been designated as "Space Day," to discuss the Curiosity Rover's progress on the Mars. But first, the Curiosity team played footage of Bradbury reciting his poem "If Only We Had Taller Been" back in 1971. The lead scientist of the Mars Exploration Program Michael Meyer announced that, "In his honor, we declared the place that Curiosity touched down to be forever known as Bradbury Landing."

Obama Says "Don't Boo, Vote!"

"It's Good To Be Curious"

"No, it isn't!" cries Mitt Romney (the artificial man) and the eeeeeevil Republicans!

via MaddowBlog:

Mitt Romney announces his evil plans for PBS and anything else that makes the world a better place: "So first there are programs I would eliminate. Obamacare being one of them but also various subsidy programs -- the Amtrak subsidy, the PBS subsidy, the subsidy for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities."

PBS chief Paula Kerger puts that in perspective: "Federal investment in public broadcasting equals about one one-hundredth of one percent of the federal budget. Elimination of funding would have almost no impact on the nation’s debt. Yet the loss to the American public would be devastating."
God, how I loved Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood as a kid! God, how I hate what Republicans want to do to this country!

Obama Bringing It Home in Vegas

Better Terms for Affinity on Social Networks

It's time to find a better words to name our affinities online, and the crucial differences that make a difference between them, especially to the extent that more and more of our affinities are organized online. "Friends" who are not friends is bad enough, but "Followers" is downright creepy, whether it is meant to construe us as guru-wannabes or as fanatics. As Hannah Arendt worried on a related matter: "It is, I think, a rather sad reflection on the present state of political science that our language does not distinguish between such key terms... all of which refer to distinct phenomena. To use them as synonyms not only indicates a certain deafness to linguistic meanings, which would be serious enough, but has resulted in a kind of blindness with respect to the realities they correspond to."

Commerce, entertainment, education, agitation, organization, identification, dis-identification are facilitated and transformed by online formations in ongoing ways and these affiliative modes function on the basis of different (if interwoven) assumptions and aspirations, the relations they produce differ in substance, in weight, in consequence from one another as well as from the experiences to which they are analogized when we name them "friendship" and "following" and "association" and so on.

Especially material to affiliation are differences in the responsibilities that accrue in them, responsibilities that are not finally reducible to matters of the responsiveness occasioned by them. This is why I am troubled more generally by the way "liking" is now meant to attach promiscuously and indifferently to people, places, things, moments, sensations and how "attachments" are presumed somehow to follow from this bland attentional affect, how a kind of career of "liking" in producing a target-marketable profile comes to stand as well for current personhood.

I joked in Fool Me Tee Vee (more or less summarizing in a sentence my perennial potted lecture for undergraduates on Naomi Klein's NO LOGO) that "Modern advertising began a century ago by deceiving us that there were substantial differences between mass-produced consumer goods according to the brands they bear, and has succeeded by now, a century later, in deceiving us that there are substantial differences between mass-produced consumers according to the brands we buy." Of course, "liking" is not even purchasing, but attentional eddies in the stream of consciousness, an augury of trend, an exploitable data-point, suggestions of suggestability that might yield a purchase, a vote, a workable spin. Whatever else such informational vectors in networked attentional and administrative economies may be, they don't look much like citizens.

A Vote Wrongly Denied Is Exactly As Unjust As A Vote Wrongly Cast

The reason Republicans cannot properly retreat to an abstract justificatory principle like the "integrity of the voting process" when they disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters in order to address the non-problem of voter fraud of which there are at most hundreds of documentable cases for millions upon millions upon millions of votes cast, is because the very principle used to justify "Voter ID reform" is always being violated a hundred fold by the reform itself.

Hurricane Seamus Bearing Down on Tampa for GOP Convention...

...also, possibly, something about a Hurricane Isaac? Mean Muscular White-Skinned Baby Jeebus protect your killer clowns down there on America's wang!

What Akin Said Legitimizes Sexual Assault

The politics (which has nothing to do with principles) of the GOP throwing Todd Akin under the bus over his evil idiotic misogyny, and all the Romney/Ryan double talk and spin squirting like squid ink to obscure the long record of doll-eyed dolt Paul Ryan's long legislative collaboration with Todd Akin's evil idiotic misogyny, and now the predictable wingnut jeremiads against "liberal media bias" are all starting to warp the discursive field. Now, Todd Akin really seems to think that people were outraged because he "said one word wrong" with the consequence that many thought he was approving of some rapists as "legitimate" when he used the used the words "legitimate rape" in an interview. He almost certainly was alluding in so saying to the phrase "forcible rape" as he has subsequently said, which is a phrase he has actually used in legislation for which he was an original co-sponsor with vice-presidential candidate Republican Paul Ryan. It is easy to see why he might in an off the cuff setting substitute the term "legitimate" for "forcible" since the rhetorical project of distinguishing "forcible" from nonsensical "non-forcible" rape is to introduce ambiguity into the scene of sexual assault the better to legitimate the Republican effort to focus not on violence against actual women but the imaginary violence of abortion against the cellular gum-wads that are fetal non-persons, which they want to outlaw, and often in ways that actively require sustained sexual assaults of women (forcing a woman to carry an unwanted demanding and even dangerous pregnancy to term against her will under threat of precisely the conspicuous government coercion Republicans claim to dislike when in fact they love coercion like a glutton loves lunch). And so, of course, the truth is that people were and remain outraged because Akin said what he really thinks with the words he used, and they know that he meant to suggest that some women who are raped have no legitimate right to say so because they are either lying or don't understand the reality of the experience of their own rape as well as he does, which means more specifically, whatever his protestations to the contrary, that he is indeed approving of some rapists not as "legitimate rapists" but as "legitimate non-rapists" even though they are rapists, because he is an evil idiotic misogynist pig.

Akin -- GOP Platform -- Romney/Ryan

Ryan and Romney are dancing their little dance for the tee vee cameras, they're making with the double-talk and the hair-splitting and the distractions, but there is a record and the record is clear, there is no difference that makes a difference in the assumptions and aspirations of Todd Akin, Paul Ryan, the official GOP platform, and a future (heaven help us all) Romney/Ryan  administration when it comes to access to healthcare and the right to make choices about one's own body for actual women and for anybody who cares about the lives and health and independence of the women with whom we all share our lives and our world. Patriarchal Republicans are still fighting a War on Women and only through their utter repudiation will they be defeated in that War.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Phyllis Diller, July 17, 1917 - August 20, 2012

"Rape Is Rape"

MundiMuster! Sign DCCC Petition to Remove Akin From the Science Committee

Click to sign.

PETITION: Remove Todd Akin from the Science Committee

Sign your name to call on Speaker John Boehner to remove Rep. Todd Akin from the House Science and Technology Committee.

Republican Congressman Todd Akin told a Missouri news station:
"First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare... If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."
Someone who believes nonsense like this has no part overseeing science policy.

Tell Speaker Boehner to immediately remove Rep. Akin from the House Science and Technology Committee.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Todd Akin As Republican Paragon of Science

I assume you have already read about Republican Todd Akin's appalling insistence that women who are raped should be forced to carry any resulting pregnancy to term, because a few cells little distinguishable from a wad of chewed gum is a person but an adult pregnant woman is not a person but an incubator. I assume you have already read about Todd Akin's utterly ridiculous "theory" that women who are being "legitimately raped" cannot conceive because of unspecified magical powers they possess against such an eventuality. I assume you have already read that just last year Akin joined with Republican Mitt Romney's vice presidential running mate Paul Ryan as original co-sponsors of the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act," a bill which, among other things, proposed the notion of "forcible rape," which in implying that there can be such a thing as "non-forcible rape" amply demonstrated long ago the misogyny and lunacy of Akin's views on the matter and also that they are widely shared and absolutely the Republican party line (Ryan was vetted and still approved, after all). I wanted also to be sure that you know that Todd Akin was chosen by congressional Republicans as an apt person, indeed as one of the most apt people in their caucus, to sit on the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.

Rep. Todd Akin, the Republican nominee for Senate in Missouri who is running against Sen. Claire McCaskill, justified his opposition to abortion rights even in case of rape with a claim that victims of “legitimate rape” have unnamed biological defenses that prevent pregnancy. “First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare,” Akin told KTVI-TV in an interview posted Sunday. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” Akin said that even… when the supposed natural protections against unwanted pregnancy fail… abortion should still not be a legal option for the rape victim. “Let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work, or something,” Akin said. “I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child.”

Robot Cultism In the Name of Diversity

Upgraded and adapted from the Moot, "citrakayah" asks:
And what of the transhumanists, such as myself, who do not invision a 'perfected human' but the use of transhumanist technologies to allow for a more diverse human population?
There is no such thing as special "transhumanist" technologies, any more than there is such a thing as "technology in general" to which we can ascribe general properties like "liberating" "dehumanizing" "accelerating" "advancing" and so on. What there are, are always only actually-existing actually-emerging technoscientific knowledges and techniques and artifacts, what there are, are interminable ultimately unpredictable technodevelopmental changes with costs, risks, and benefits that can be more or can be less equitably distributed to the diversity of their stakeholders. To say otherwise is to traffic in error, misinformation, deception, self-deception, and sometimes outright fraud.

I've written endlessly many words on these topics, but it really is very simple.

If you really, truly care as you say you do about diversity and about equity-in-diversity (the second is harder, and more important), then fight for that by fighting for more democracy, for more progressive taxation to fund general welfare that renders the scene of consent more legible and to fund public investment in sustainable civilizational infrastructure without which we will soon be reduced (to the extent that we are not already) to the most brutal imaginable inequities.

Technodevelopmental struggle is of course a great gaudy player in those democratizing, secularizing, consensualizing, planetizing struggles right now, there is no denying it, but technodevelopmental struggle is still social struggle, it is subsumed nonetheless under the terms of larger, older, quite familiar social struggles in fact and contributes nothing of its own to the key principles driving that struggle. Nothing. Those who tell you otherwise are making a fool of you -- still true even if they are also making fools of themselves. (I've made the error myself, so I know what I'm talking about.)

If you really, truly do not envision an "enhanced" "perfected" "post-human" techno-transcendentalized via techno-theological omni/sooper-predication into a omniscient/sooper-intelligent omnipotent/sooper-powered omnibenevolent/sooper-abundant techno-demigod with whom you identify at the expense of identification with your fellow humans/earthlings sharing this problematic planet with you here and now, as you say you do not, then you need to take a hard look at the company you are keeping, because you have gone seriously astray.

"Stop Repeating the 716 Billion Dollar Lie...

Obamacare cuts fraud and waste from Medicare and uses the savings to expand benefits. Romney-Ryan turns Medicare into a voucher program, cuts benefits, and uses the savings to give tax breaks to billionaires."

Repeat this, word for word. Repeat it a hundred times a day, aloud, in print, in e-mails, on the phone. Repeat it everywhere you can. Repeat it every time you get a stupid GOP word salad from your parents or from some benighted "friend" on a social network. Repeat it in your head with a mordant smile when you hear somebody else repeating it and realize that it's working.

And don't say more than that. Just repeat it again. Repeat it word for word, if they come back with their nonsense. Don't worry if it doesn't work at first. Repeat it anyway. It's like exercise, reps get results. This particular business isn't a battle of ideas, this is a jackhammer on a sheer cliff face opening a space for facts to get through so that ideas can be discussed in the first place. This is a vaccination campaign to stave off an epidemic of world-destroying right-wing talking points that are already infecting millions of brains but hasn't yet taken hold.

Every word in this mantra comes from sound-bites I've heard from administration and campaign folks. They are not mine. Mine might have been different, but that doesn't matter AT ALL. These words are plenty good enough and they are the words we seem to have, so repeat them. Others are already repeating them. You don't have to re-invent the wheel. The point now is to endlessly re-circulate them. Know that many others remote from you in space in time are also repeating them. You are not alone.

Also, be sure to include whenever possible that first bit: "Stop Repeating the 716 Billion Dollar Lie." This is a phrase that can obliterate the lie itself very straightforwardly.

Stop despairing. Stop pulling your hair out. Stop trying to come up with cleverer and cleverer ways of making these points. Just repeat these words, over and over and over again. Make this particular GOP marketing gambit fail, by confronting it with a contrary marketing gambit. It's simple. Do it.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Robot Cultists Polled on Preferred Techno-Immortalist "Options"

Quite apart from quibbling about the use of the word "option" to describe a wish-fulfilment fantasy, it really is amazing how much this is like polling religious people about their preferred afterlives. Fluffy cloud with lyre? Front row seat to observe torture of bad people in Hell? Forty hot pliant sluts? Gold-plated McMansion with jewel-encrusted driveway? White-noise bliss out? Let's "crunch the numbers." Science!

Only twelve percent of those polled find "very appealing" the prospect of having their heads chopped off and frozen while awaiting getting scooped up and resurrected in a shiny robot body, but the numbers rise by ten percent when the whole body is hamburgerized instead. Hey, it's just plain horse sense.

Although it makes no sense for so-called "materialists" to pretend an organically materialized consciousness can be "migrated" without loss to a different material substrate and although any child of two can tell you that a picture of you isn't actually you, over half of the Robot Cultists polled expressed enthusiasm for something called "mindfiling," perhaps fancying that something exists once there is a word for it.

Alas, no.

I guess it is encouraging that fewer futurologists seem to be falling for the Cryonics scam, but the shift into outright New Age mystic crystal revelation of uploading techno-transcendence isn't exactly edifying to behold. Seriously, here is the "data."

Futurological Gauntlet Thrown

I posted the following comment to a post by professional futurist Thomas Frey, entitled Building Remarkable Communities in the Future at the World Future Society. It actually isn't the worst post by any means that I've read there, but I think it typifies mainstream futurological discourse in a way. This Frey fellow is clearly quite connected to industry muckety-mucks and perfectly immune to harm from anything I might say, so his post seemed a worthy site for intervention. As I said, I don't think it's the worst thing you would likely read over at WFS, it isn't even worst thing Frey has written since he is not averse to blithering in Robotically Cultic tonalities about uploading and sooper-AI when he is not doing this sort of cocktail weenie circuit stuff for stuffed shirts at the Chamber of Commerce I'm responding to here. Anyway, believe it or not, part of what I'm doing in this cantankerous little growl is testifying to my unexpected enjoyment of publishing for the folks at WFS who have turned out to be more interesting and sensible than I expected, since I thought them more or less a more timid sect of the Robot Cult or a kind of low-rent arm of the pop-tech publishing crap empire. There is too much of that there, but there is more going on there, too, and I think that whatever that more is should become more conscious of how it differs from the rest in a bid to become potentially more useful in the world. Hence, my intervention. You should read the piece to which I am responding here and to which I may not be entirely fair by way of making my point, which goes a little something like this:
So, Futurism Really Is Just Shilling Product?

Things can be remarkably bad or remarkably good. If futurology wants to make a contribution as a discourse and a project it needs to show how its interdisciplinary vantage and empirical standards and historical awareness make a unique contribution to progress -- which I would define as sustainability, democratization, and an ever more equitable distribution of the costs, risks, and benefits of technodevelopmental change to the actual diversity of stakeholders to that change. One can debate those criteria for progress, but at least that is a discussion about substance. What is it to be "remarkable," finally -- to make noise, to grab attention, to hobnob with the movers and shakers and gurus of the moment? To what end, exactly?

I came to The Futurist as a critic of the more extreme sub(cult)ural futurologists in the transhumanoid, singularitarian, nano-cornucopiast, and techno-immortalist sects of the Robot Cult. These absurd formations function as a kind of reductio ad absurdum of prevailing deceptive and hyperbolic marketing and promotional norms and forms that suffuse our catastrophically unsustainable, extractive, exploitative, consumer-fetishistic society -- and I always assumed that futurology simply arose as a byproduct of the emergence of speculative futures markets inter-woven with the development and then prevalence of the techno-utopian science fiction conceits of the US post-war plastic-atomic-petrochemical-computational imaginary. This piece is exactly what my prejudices would lead me to expect, one in which even those outcomes you name which I would agree are positive are highlighted because they presumably have "buzz" or "edge" whatever else they accomplish. You rightly deride the one who attracts attention by running naked in the street, but how are you really proposing anything to put us in a position to distinguish such spectacles from actual accomplishments? People actually live in cities, people overcome problems in cities (and create new ones), cities are not properly stage sets in which egomaniacs can make bigger splashes through deliberately exacerbated instability, insecurity, precarity.

The ruinously costly, never practical, never actually profitable, taxpayer subsidized boondoggle of environmentally catastrophic, air polluting, noise polluting, fuel guzzling, local ecosystem obliterating, concrete moonscape Airports with pharaohnic monumental terminal buildings and the fraud of convenient cheap air travel is something every futurist should be condemning as a matter of course. High speed transcontinental passenger rail and a turn to low energy-input local organic permaculture would not only be "remarkable" but good for reasons futurists should be uniquely able to communicate and attainable by means that futurists should be uniquely qualified to explain to policymakers and taxpayers. This won't let you indulge the fantasy that you are a bleeding-edge gizmo-fashionista on the Royal Road to cyborg sooper-powers, but it has the benefit of good sense and civic-mindedness.

I have been pleased to discover a measure of skepticism here for Robot Cultism, far more than I expected, a respect for actually warranted consensus science as a recourse for the solution of actually shared problems, a belief in policy outcomes accountable to expertise and stakeholders and long-term impacts. There is a difference between being a visionary and making a spectacle of yourself. The Futurist has roots that lead back to Kennedy's splendid New Frontier but also to the irrational exuberance of the dot.bomb and fraudulent Long Boom. I came here expecting to find everything was wrong but found instead a conflict of visions that needs naming and a real struggle to overcome.

Well, THERE'S An Hour of My Life I'll Never Get Back

The exchange in the Moot of the last post was a highly predictable disappointment.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Pussy Riot Lights Up A Fire of Their Own

Three members of the Russian feminist punk collective Pussy Riot -- Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 23, Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, and Maria Alyokhina, 24 -- were convicted earlier today and sentenced to two years in prison for "hooliganism" of all things in connection with a protest in March against Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church. Their response to this incredibly harsh sentence so far has been splendidly defiant. Members are reported to have laughed out loud as the sentencing judge referred piously to the rights of Russians to freedom of speech and religion, and supporters of the collective chanted "Shame! Shame! Shame!" as word of the sentence spread outside the courthouse. That chorus of supporters has quickly expanded as artists and political figures (even the often disappointing US State Department expressed "disappointment" about the verdict and sentence) around the world have leaped to the defense of Pussy Riot. But the voice of protest and joyful defiance that began with righteous laughter before the Eye of Power has already been amplified to reach Power's Ear, as the group has also released a new single and video, "Putin Lights Up The Fires" depicting the performance art and protest prayer that has so threatened the fragile sensitivities of the Big Bad Russian Bear.

Romney and Ryan -- Both Soldiers in the Republican War On Women

"Paul Ryan Is the Embodiment of the Machine Our Music Rages Against"

Rage guitarist Tom Morello in Rolling Stone
Paul Ryan's love of Rage Against the Machine is amusing, because he is the embodiment of the machine that our music has been raging against for two decades. Charles Manson loved the Beatles but didn't understand them. Governor Chris Christie loves Bruce Springsteen but doesn't understand him. And Paul Ryan is clueless about his favorite band, Rage Against the Machine. Ryan claims that he likes Rage's sound, but not the lyrics. Well, I don't care for Paul Ryan's sound or his lyrics. He can like whatever bands he wants, but his guiding vision of shifting revenue more radically to the one percent is antithetical to the message of Rage. I wonder what Ryan's favorite Rage song is? Is it the one where we condemn the genocide of Native Americans? The one lambasting American imperialism? Our cover of "Fuck the Police"? Or is it the one where we call on the people to seize the means of production? So many excellent choices to jam out to at Young Republican meetings! Don't mistake me, I clearly see that Ryan has a whole lotta "rage" in him: A rage against women, a rage against immigrants, a rage against workers, a rage against gays, a rage against the poor, a rage against the environment. Basically the only thing he's not raging against is the privileged elite he's groveling in front of for campaign contributions. You see, the super rich must rationalize having more than they could ever spend while millions of children in the U.S. go to bed hungry every night. So, when they look themselves in the mirror, they convince themselves that "Those people are undeserving. They're... lesser." Some of these guys on the extreme right are more cynical than Paul Ryan, but he seems to really believe in this stuff. This unbridled rage against those who have the least is a cornerstone of the Romney-Ryan ticket.

Contra Lakoff's Moral(izing) Politics

In a secularizing, racially and otherwise morphologically diversifying culture like ours -- with differing ages in our workplaces, conspicuous prostheses like wheelchairs in the streets, ubiquitous sartorial signals of ethnicity, and so on -- a culture becoming more and more colloquially diverse and yet convivial all the time, in which interracial and other multicultural relations are commonplace both in everyday life and in media representations, it seems to me it will be harder to ignore the extent to which we simultaneously are members in multiple and open-ended communities while at once always only partial members of most/any of the communities with which we presently identify.

I would expect that under such circumstances politics would become more and more a matter of shifting alliances among affinity groups and comparably positioned stakeholders from issue to issue, or to the extent that politics remains a partisan affair in respect to higher layers of governance, national and planetary, involving partial identification with party programs and the like, this will tend to be an ever more explicitly propositional matter rather than one of subcultural signaling and moralizing.

I actually wonder whether one sees this kind of difference already reflected somewhat in the fledgling difference between US policy-oriented Democratic diversifying coalition politics as against US Republican homogenizing culture-war politics? Part of the exasperation expressed by Democrats about Republicans being welcome to have their own arguments but not their own facts is the exasperation of secular multiculturals disapproving the reframing of arguable issues into matters of subcultural signaling -- eg, scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate change is the most urgent frustration on this score at present, but it looms large as well in squabbles over public instruction in evolutionary biology, Keynesian macroeconomic literacy for economic policymakers, harm-reduction models for drug policy, access to healthcare, childhood sex education, for gun regulation, and against capital punishment, and on and on.

You may note that this puts me at odds with George Lakoff's popular "moral politics" thesis. I do not agree that "we" are animals more suited to moral/subcultural framing of political questions as Lakoff repeatedly insists is the case. I think we are animals whose politics are re-constituted in culture, and that ubiquitous planetary p2p-networks transform on the one hand moral/subcultural practices of identification and dis-identification as well as the contingent modes of association and solidarity in which we engage as stakeholders -- as awareness of our imbrication in global forces of exploitation or planetary environmental processes changes our sense of collective agency, for example.

I believe these changes render our politics more ethical -- matters, in my view, of contingent universalization against the grain of our identifications, dependent as they are on constitutive outsides, the thems making us uses, solicitations of agreement in unimaginable difference that render us comparatively indifferent to differences that otherwise make differences to us in our moral/subcultural lives.

Where Lakoff's rhetorical recommendations make sense (and I really do wish he would cease endlessly trying to shore up his sooper-science cognitive credentials, which make him sound like next season's sad phrenologist, and just admit he is offering up reminders from the many centuries old humanistic discipline of rhetoric) is in his proposal that there are substantial vestiges of political moralizing playing out in the political terrain -- and at war with more secular-cosmopolitan tendencies in many human hearts -- that make effective politics in our own fraught moment a matter of delicate translation more often than not, efforts to appeal at once both to subcultural moralizers and to contingent ethicians.

Even in making this practical recommendation it seems to me Lakoff tends to go off the rails a bit -- suggesting there is something deeply and essentially wrong with liberal policy-oriented issue discourse that needs to be re-canalized in toto into a subcultural signaling effort more like that in which our US conservatives still indulge, one more suited to his sense of "human nature." That liberals who prefer fact based policy and stakeholder negotiation while demonstrably remaining human is more than enough to expose the error in Lakoff's reactionary assertion of a universal moralizing human nature, however desperately he seeks to demonstrate this nature through his glib generalizations from results in the disorderly and fledgling cognitive sciences.

That Lakoff goes on to graft his "essential" human nature, and its resulting political landscape, onto a laughable North Atlantic and insistently heteronormative dyad between the "strict father" and the "nurturing parent" that cannnot accommodate historical or already existing forms of affinity let alone all logical possible ones only adds insult to injury and lets you know that I used the word "reactionary" in respect to Lakoff advisedly, however committed he may be to what pass for liberal policy outcomes in this historical moment.

To the extent that so much of liberalism in the last thirty years has been a matter of struggling to preserve welfare entitlements and international norms in the face of a global counter-revolutionary neoliberal corporate-financial developmentalism backed by neoconservative militarism, the organized left has often taken on the character of a defensiveness that renders it more congenial to conservative frames than the progressive ones more typical of its assumptions and aspirations (while the rest of the left has often settled into the unsettlement of the usual disorganized anarchisms).

Again, it seems to me far more relevant to ascribe these complexities to a moment of transition requiring an emphasis on translation rather than to the reactionary black box of "nature" and its pathologies, especially when another, better name for this "moment of translation" might well be "threshold into planetary polyculture."