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

Sunday, March 24, 2013

APA Talk Next Week -- Futurological Discourse and Posthuman Terrains

This is just a reminder that I'll be presenting a brief talk and participating in a panel discussion about posthumanism (fellow panelists include Natasha Vita-More, somewhat to my chagrin) at next week's meeting in San Francisco of the American Philosophical Association. I posted a mini-abstract for the talk on the blog quite a while ago when the event was still being organized, but here is a slightly more elaborated sketch of the talk, in which there are unlikely to be many surprises for those who read my work regularly:

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."

More specifically, my talk is structured by the project to propose and elaborate seven basic distinctions that seem to me key to grasping transhumanism as both a discursive and a subcultural phenomenon but are also helpful to anyone who would facilitate progressive technodevelopmental social struggle.

The seven distinctions are between:
1, technology and technologies -- a distinction between, on the one hand, the actual constellation of artifacts and techniques in the diversity of their stakes and specificities and also actual technoscientific research programs and developmental pathways in the diversity of their vicissitudes and inter-dynamisms and, on the other hand, technology as a de-politicizing myth disavowing these specificities, vicissitudes and stakes but also as a discursive site elaborating fantasies, fears, and possibilities of collective agency, adjudicating the resourceful from the companionate, the familiar from the unfamiliar;

2, progress and destiny -- a distinction between, on the one hand, technodevelopmental social struggles in the service of avowed political ends (equity, diversity, prosperity, reported satisfactions, and so on) in a material historical frame and, on the other hand, a paradoxical naturalization, a variation of Nietzschean ressentiment, usually via a rhetoric of determination, autonomy, convergence, and/or "accelerationalist" momentum, of disavowed, often transcendentalized, technoscientific ends (overcoming error, scarcity, mortality, finitude);

3, mainstream futurism and superlative futurism -- a distinction between, on the one hand, the speculative, reductive, denialist, unsustainable, hyperbolizing norms and forms that suffuse popular marketing, promotional, consumer discourses as well as the terms of authoritative neoliberal administrative, productivist, developmentalist discourses and, on the other hand, the futurological hyper-amplification of this speculativeness, reductiveness, denialism, and hyperbole into faith-based, techno-transcendental, figuratively scientific but in fact pseudo-scientific, quasi-theological assumptions and aspirations toward superintelligence, supercapacitation (often including immortality) and superabundance miming the omni-predication of judeochrislamic divinity;

4, superlativity and supernativity -- a distinction between what might be described as posthuman/transhuman and reactionary/bioconservative futurologies (or more broadly and conventionally, if not precisely correctly, as undercritically technophilic as against undercritically technophobic orientations), the analytic usefulness and force of which is to highlight unexpected continuities and inter-dependencies of the two, as distinguished in turn from legible democratizing technodevelopmental social struggle, progressive education, agitation, organization, policy making and reform, and consensus science and sustainable public investment;

5, posthumanism and transhumanism -- a distinction between, on the one hand, post-humanist discourse as variations of superlative futurology (eugenic transhumanism, apocalyptic singularitarianism, techno-immortalism, nano-cornucopism, digital-utopianism, geo-engineering technofixation) and, on the other hand, post-humanist discourse as variations of humanist criticism, utopian humanism, and the critique of humanism (whether feminist, anti-racist, post-colonial, economic, environmentalist, or what have you);

6, transhuman discourse and transhuman subcultures -- a recognition for scholarship of material differences in the objects and archives and demands of discursive as against subcultural formations, for example, the differences between genealogical relations among figures, problems, tropes, citational relations among published texts and conventions, and organizational relations among members, officers, funders, and so on;

7, futurity and "The Future" -- a distinction between the political openness inhering in the present in the presence of ineradicable stakeholder diversity and an instrumentalizing projection of parochial fears and fantasies and stakes that would disavow and so foreclose futurity -- a distinction between, on the one hand, coming to terms with the present, especially in grasping the meaning of what has taken us by surprise, through which we seek to understand and, better still, become understanding and, on the other hand, predicting the future, especially in proposing coinages that would work as spells to dispel being taken by surprise, through which we become ever more susceptible to fraud and, worse still, become frauds -- a distinction, where thinking is concerned, between investment and speculation, between thinking and betting.


Black guy from the future past said...

Will there be video so I can actually hear your voice? You certainly write like someone who teaches at Berkeley, but do you sound like someone who teaches at Berkeley? AHAHAA! I am sure the responses to your critiques will be very interesting. Oh dear the matriarch of transhumanism herself will be there (Vita-More). I wonder how she will respond to you? Unfortunately, I've actually heard her voice.

Dale Carrico said...

We were asked if we had any objections to a recording of the event -- I certainly had none myself -- and making it available for folks on YouTube was indeed mentioned. You can hear my voice here and assorted elsewheres, since students often record and circulate my lectures online. I am told that my lecturing style is unusually fast, and so that recording and listening to them again is helpful. Be warned, I tend to lecture entirely off the cuff, so there may be rambling. I daresay my writing and speaking are very similar, since they emerge from more or less the same sort of distracted state of mind. By the way, I was more or less kidding about Vita-More, I've been on panels with her before and everything was perfectly cordial and collegial, as far as it goes.

Black guy from the future past said...

Your lecture is indeed as complex as your writing. And your voice is...normal. I now can imagine the voice behind the writing.

Joseph Homer said...

Thanks for posting, Dale. I appreciate your work immensely, and I look forward to listening to the audio.

Dale Carrico said...

Thanks, Joseph. Hope all is well in your world these days.