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

Monday, January 14, 2013

Amor Mundi on Disinfo

Disinfo has republished a hefty excerpt of my Open Letter to the Robot Cultists. It has generated a pretty extensive discussion, most of it pretty good. I noticed a few familiar themes in the criticism, however.

A few techno-utopian types dismissed my views as "luddite" -- which is doubly wrong: It's wrong, first, because it mischaracterizes the historical Luddites who organized to resist not "technology in general" (which doesn't exist to be "pro" or "con" about in the first place) but to resist plutocratic deployment of technology to destroy their precarious lives (about which, surely it matters that they were right). It's wrong, second, because the term implies an uncritical hostility to technological change which is far from my position, since the whole point of my criticism is to expose pseudo-science and corporate-military PR peddled as science policy in order to facilitate education, agitation, and organization to facilitate a more equitable distribution of the costs, risks, and benefits of technoscientific change to the actual diversity of its stakeholders.

Others were annoyed by the tone of my piece, some complaining that my rant was too ranty, some complaining that I am "elitist" because my writing isn't like People magazine. To these I will point out that I don't write only rants, though I have noticed the pieces that most people pay attention to are the more satirical and castigatory ones, but for those who want substance there are plenty of more analytic elaborations available on the sidebar, although those more substantial pieces are probably going to seem more "elitist" to the critics who think I'm "elitist" already because I am an elite effete aesthete with book larnin' and such and so my writing isn't everybody's cup of tea (which I accept cheerfully, let a bazillion flowers bloom).

Some would-be foes seemed to think making fun of faith-based techno-transcendentalists means that I shouldn't be publishing on the internet or going to the doctor for checkups or use elevators and so on, as if advocating for science education, medical research, access to healthcare, public investment in renewable energy, or harm based policy models on drug regulation, sex education, gun safety, and so on a person needs to join a Robot Cult where the faithful pray for the Singularity when the Robot God ends history and solves all our problems for us, or daydream about "The Future!" when consumers will be able to buy their way to techno-immortality as "uploaded" cyber-angels in Holodeck Heaven or genetically/ robotically enhanced sooper-bodies in nanotech Treasure Cave Heaven and corporations will profitably "geo-engineer" us out of climate catastrophe without requiring any change in the status quo.

To put it mildly, I disagree. I am not sorry if that sounds "elitist" to ignoramuses or True Believers or corporate-military apologists.


Black guy from the future past said...

Hey Dale I know this is a bit off topic but here is your dose of dumb Dvorsky

BTW what is your stance on free will vs determinism debate? In my opinion the science is solid suggesting we are deterministic creatures in a deterministic universe. Since science does seep into politics however, I still want to be viewed as an autonomous agent and be respected as such. Viewing human beings as biological robot seems like a pretty convenient and devastating death trap, political wise.

Dale Carrico said...

"Scientific" exposes of the non-reality of freedom confuse an "ought" discussion with an "is" discussion. This confusion is not proof of fearless intellectual genius, but of, you know, confusion.

jollyspaniard said...

I think any neuroscientists would balk at the idea that you shouldn't be treated as an autonomous person just because your making your descisions with a meat brain as opposed to an immortal soul. And identifying factors which influence a decision isn't the same as identify why the decision was made. In complex systems events often don't have singular causes.

You can reduce all of human behvour down to the laws of physics. This has no bearing on ethics or how we choose to conduct ourselves unless you think we need the threat of divine punishment to keep us in check.

Zed Saldanha said...


I followed the link at the Disinfo post here and I'm really enjoying having a browse through your blog. I have quite a few friends who are quite enthusiastic about the singularity hypothesis and have uncritical assumptions of an inevitable happy ending for all. They seemed mesmerized at the prospect of digital immortality, robot limbs, technotopia etc. It always felt wrong and unlikely to me given my view of human nature but I couldn't put an argument together that would persuade them that even if it worked they (as average working joe types) would probably not stand to benefit. "Just, Imagine American Psycho's Patrick Bateman with an IQ of 3000 and the ability to control the structure of matter with his mind. How is that going to be a good thing for you?" type rhetorical tricks didn't cut but I'm pleased to find you have done a lot of the heavy lifting for me. Indeed, you've actually exposed the elitist misanthropy at its core. I'll be sharing your links with them going forward.

Keep up the good work and good luck with your studies.

jimf said...

> I have quite a few friends who are quite enthusiastic about
> the singularity hypothesis and have uncritical assumptions
> of an inevitable happy ending for all.

The "inevitable happy ending for all" elevator pitch is quite
seductive, isn't it? (Or at least, an inevitable happy ending
for **me**, for those folks who fancy themselves made in the
image of John Galt.)

It's even more seductive (at least, at first blush) when it's
repackaged as Scientific and Rational, and free from the
superstitious baggage of traditional religion (or, for that
matter, from the superstitious baggage of yesterday's,
or day-before-yesterday's New and Improved religions, like
Scientology and Mormonism).

Unfortunately, holding on to that claimed support from
Science and Rationality takes an awful lot of mental gerrymandering,
and its continued persistence eventually calls one's own
common sense and sanity (not to mention Rationality) into