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

Friday, February 28, 2014

Long Teaching Day

This morning in the City from nine to noon in my undergraduate Planetary Thinking and Environmental Justice course it is eco-feminism day, and then from one to four in my graduate Introduction to Critical Theory lecture it is Roland Barthes and then Raymond Williams. I'm still tired from yesterday's late MA thesis workshop and a night spent tossing and turning. Looks like another day of much needed rain outside, though the prospect of BART trains stuffed with wet steaming sacks of rush-hour commuters, me included, isn't exactly alluring. A long day, then, and blogging low to no, I'm afraid.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Act Surprised


Although I am sure that some futurological wag will declare this the exhibition of the ready ironic wit of an aborning AI, I was highly amused that some news aggregator for paramedics frontpaged my latest excoriation of AI dead-enders since it assumed -- as a child of two might see through -- my references to Hanson's "ems" surely indicated emergency medical services. Far from ironic, if you ask me, the dumb dreary literalism is so literal it manages to be a performance and allegory of literality at once.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

GO FAI a Kite!

From my reply to a comment by my friend "JimF" in the Moot:
So, the "bottom-up" con-artists want us to take them seriously because they pretend they can deliver dead-ender GOFAI ["Good Old-Fashioned Artificial Intelligence"] without understanding intelligence as such, while the "top-down" con-artists want us to take them seriously because they pretend still to want to understand intelligence to deliver dead-ender GOFAI even though they don't understand it any more than they ever did and show little sign of doing anything substantially different about that?

Keep In Mind -- US Military Spending

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Virality Not Polity

Salon offers a vapid listicle of fourteen viral videos which supposedly changed the world -- none of which did, even if some of the videos document real protests that did. Quite apart from the fact that neither discourse nor politics are "viral" in the least -- and this crucially includes the politics of misframing discourse as viral in the first place -- I also think it is important to warn and remember that viral videos reducing citizens to entertainers edifying incumbent elites on screens always risks the reactionary politics of de-politicization.

Debating Denialists

Science educators always lose public debates with climate-science deniers and creationists, and they lose them even before they begin in conceding the topics debatable on such terms. Further, public debates on science with science denialists are best understood as circuses selling peanuts to the rubes, and the simple truth is that few if any minds are changed or informed in such contexts.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Em Butterfly: Robot Cultists George Dvorsky and Robin Hanson Go Overboard For Robo-Overlords Over At io9

"What will life be like when digital brains outnumber humans?" Of course, Dumb Dvorsky asks the question. Of course, he said "when" and not "if." Of course, the answer is that it will feel exactly like it feels now. Now there are no "digital brains," and we have no good reason to think that will change any time soon, if it ever changes. Sure, there is lots of loose marketing and promotional and advertising talk of computers being brains when they are not, and intelligent cars that are not, and smart homes that are not. Futurology, after all, is little more than marketing and promotional and advertising talk pretending to be a legitimate academic discipline, so we already know what it will be like to hear more of that sort of thing... in The Future.

"These days," writes Dvorsky, "people worry about robots stealing our jobs. But maybe we should be more concerned about massive populations of computerized human brains." Yes, declares the futurist, maybe we should worry less about real things -- like the displacement of jobs in the midst of an unemployment crisis caused by outsourcing and automation in the absence of collective bargaining -- and more about unreal things like digital avatar armies attacking us from cyberspace. Thank heavens we have futurologists to keep our eyes on the ball!

"Called 'ems,'" Dvorsky declares -- that's what the "experts" in the non-field focused on these non-things call "them" is it, George, "ems"? -- "these infinitely-reproducible brains could change the world." Well, duh. That's what bleeding edge futurology always does -- It. Changes. Everything. Everybody knows that. That's why Segways "changed the way we think of cities." That's why encryption shattered the nation-state. That's why buckytubes gave us desktop nano-anything machines.

"To learn more about this prospect, I spoke to economist and futurist Robin Hanson." Dvorsky does not add, as he usually does not when he plays this little game, that Robin Hanson is a long-time contributor to the list-serves and conferences and the rest of the sub(cult)ural life of the transhumanoid sects of the Robot Cult that George Dvorsky is also a member of and uses io9 to proselytize for. Neither does Dvorsky mention that "Oxford University's Future of Humanity Institute" for which Robin Hanson is a "Research Associate" was founded by Nick Bostrom who was also one of the founders of the World Transhumanist Association and then the stealth transhumanoid outfit the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies and that, the suave respectability of the Oxford moniker aside, the Future of Humanity Institute is thronged with Robot Cultists, transhumanism's first web celebrity Anders Sandberg, serially wrong nano-cornucopiast Eric Drexler, expert in extra-terrestrial biology (it helps that there isn't any we know of yet) and existential-risk management (why we should worry about robocalypse and nano-goo more than real problems) Milan Cirkovic and other transhumanoid eminences grises. (I ask yet again, io9, were Dvorsky a Scientologist flogging the so-called "independent credentials" of fellow Scientologists would you think that is okay without a disclosure of the real relationship involved?) Anyhow, Hanson is writing a book about "whole brain emulations -- or what he simply refers to as 'ems.'" ...Oh, there we have it. One of his fellow-faithful transhumanoids is calling these non-things "ems" in the futurological hairball he is coughing up for Dvorsky to promote in his io9 column. Very nice.

In any case, Dvorsky, channeling Hanson, helpfully explains that "A brain emulation can be thought of as a type of brain upload." That is to say "ems" are non-things that are a subset of other non-things futurologists talk about instead of talking about real things that matter. More to the point, "uploads" are a preoccupation of some techno-immortalist sects of the Robot Cult who have made the mistake of pretending that a picture of them would be the same thing as them if the picture were a "sufficiently detailed scan" which it obviously would not be (terminological hanky-panky over that weaselly "sufficiently" notwithstanding). Why such a scan would not only be them but be an immortal version of them when no picture ever has been -- not to mention that no computer ever has been and no software ever has been -- is anybody's guess, but my own guess if I had to guess would be that it has a lot to do with futurologists really seriously being scared of dying who prefer pseudo-scientific reassurances on that score rather than more conventionally religious versions already on offer. Hanson's "ems" don't seem to promise to upload people into eternal cyberangel avatars in Holodeck Heaven, however, but only to create super slavebots and sexy sexbots when they get stuffed into robot bodies of The Future.

Hanson admits his "em" idea comes on the heels of decade after decade after decade of cocksure pronouncements by "researchers" like him that they were on the verge of creating artificial intelligence even though they were always completely wrong about that and, indeed, after all this time look like they haven't progressed much toward this goal since they started out. In a surprise move that is a surprise to no one who grasps the essential identity of futurology with con-artistry, Hanson has decided to take the lemon of an AI-discourse characterized equally by ignorance, megalomania, and failure and make some lemonade. Maybe the intoxication of so many sociopathically logo-assertive techbros among the foremost AI-cheerleaders with disembodied, a-historical, computational fantasies of intelligence had something to do with the problem as well, but don't mind me, I'm no "expert." Sure, maybe AI has always failed because nobody really ever understood the phenomenon of "intelligence" the AI engineers were trying to mechanically reproduce, but why take a pause to better understand what you have so long ignored to the ruin of your project, why not just take it in stride? Who needs to understand stuff? Just take a really good picture, let the black box stay black -- try not to contemplate that the force of the "whole" in that evocative phrase "whole brain" actually requires understanding of the whole in question -- and plug that puppy into a big-boobied mannequin or Mars rover or whatever, and, hell, we're off to the races! Or at any rate, we're grinding out more pop-tech pulp for the credulous futurologist's shelf (or, more likely, another hour's eye-strain on some techbro's kindle).

Quoting Hanson:
"If the scan and cell models are good enough [the very question for those with questions you know, dispensed with at the outset --d], the whole model must [must! presto! problems solved! --d] have the same input-output behavior as the original brain... So if you add artificial eyes, ears, hands, and so on [don't think too much about whether we have any of these add-ons, and you really do have to love that futurological "and so on" --d], it could talk with you and do tasks as well as the original. It could also do as well at arguing that it's conscious and deserves moral consideration [and so those whom we presently regard as conscious or worthy of moral consideration have merely fooled us by arguing well? watch yourselves, people, around this Robin Hanson fellow! --d]... Ems would remake the world [no self-respecting futurologist can refrain from at least one declaration that total earth-shattering history-ending transformation is implied by their stunning insights --d]... We humans are made [by whom? of course, if we are already "made" then the making of our like has already been rhetorically opened for business --d] of meat, our brains run [is that what brains do, "run" --d] at the same speed, we take decades to build, and we must be trained [training is building, then, is it? --d] individually... Because ems are easily copied [because that wildly implausible ease was stipulated at the outset in order to have a reason to read the article at all --d], you could train one to be a good lawyer and then make a billion copies who are all good lawyers... That one initial em could come from the very best suited human [note the assumptions embedded in this formulation: the satisfaction of abstract and hence (supposedly) copyable criteria yields the "best lawyer" as if such considerations of worth aren't really usually the result of a host of contingencies of circumstance, appearance, interpersonal chemistry when it is indeed "humans" making these decisions in the scrum of human events --d]; the typical em would be as sharp and capable as the very best humans [note that the "sharpness" and "capability" of tools denotes "best"-ness in humans once the instrumentalized circumscription of imagination required by the whole thought-experiment is made, a result with real effects in the world, even if the appearance in the world of "ems" isn't among those real effects, even if the treatment of humans as something more like "ems" is the only tendency --d] in the world. The em economy would thus be much more competitive because small efficiency gains would lead to a bigger displacements [about the market fundamentalist faith expressed in this logic I will say a tad more at the very end --d] of behavior."
Heavens, what a lot of ifs! Now, complete failure and ignorance may seem a shaky foundation on which to erect so many confident assertions, but like last season's tragic AI-fashionista futurists handwaving about Big Data that would "scale" into the AI of artificial intelligence without anybody needing to understand the "ai" of actual intelligence Hanson's "ems" as snapshot black boxes that would "plug" into the AI of artificial intelligence without anybody needing to understand the "ai" of actual intelligence re-enacts the same desperate dead-ender gambit. Hey, techno-transcendent faith-based initiatives are a hell of a drug.

Just because it illustrates another point I often make about sub(cult)ural futurism, it is worth noting that Hanson isn't just an AI-deadender but a libertopian deadender, too. "[A] more competitive em economy will select more strongly against jurisdictions whose regulations create competitive disadvantages... For example, if most human-dominated jurisdictions are slow and cautious regarding the first ems, the em economy would blossom in the few places that allow quick adoption of em-friendly practices. Such places would soon dominate the world." It's been a while since I have seen somebody propose what James Boyle used to deride as the libertarian gotcha so baldly -- the argument that if a thing would be profitable were it to exist, then it must not only be possible but it must sweep the whole world irresistibly, all you pathetic nanny state luddite scum to the contrary notwithstanding! Obviously this is true, and it is the reason we all took a maglev-ramp jet this evening to our vacation homes in some L5 torus where we feasted on low-calorie super-nutritious cruelty-free cell-culture steaks wearing diamonds made dirt-cheap from dirt in our drextech desktops while gazing onto a planet without nation-states because of crypto-anarchists and without pollution because of highly profitable mega-industrial geo-engineering projects built by beneficent petro-chemical CEOs. It's all so obvious! Seriously, though, Hanson is famous for proposing "idea futures" markets that would presumably provide a greater financial stake in accuracy conducive to prediction than in gaming the system and profitably declaring the results accurate and also for proposing a rather biased conception of what it would mean to overcome bias and what such an overcoming would be good for, neither of which seem to me particularly attuned to human personality or history, but the reductionisms implied in which, I imagine, must be especially compelling to those market libertarian types who already like to indulge fantasies that there are no rational conflicts among people, that all contracts are noncoercive by fiat whatever terms of misinformation or duress articulate their terms, and that market orders arise spontaneously from natural forces of supply and demand wherever states do not hinder them rather than contingent parochialisms utterly dependent for their formation and maintenance on laws, treaties, norms, and infrastructural affordances usually dictated by incumbent elites to the detriment of majorities. Well, maybe you have to be an "em" to really get it.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Anarcho Derp from a Critic

A self-declared revolutionary anarchist lets me know in no uncertain terms that even though I incessantly advocate here and in my teaching for democratization and nonviolent civil disobedience in the service of sustainable equity-in-diversity what I am really doing is "the work of oppression" (because derp) and also lets everybody know that "most likely" I fancy I am "your master" and I would be fooling nobody if I were to say otherwise (also because derp). Also, the white racist stand your ground vigilantes and private arsenal gun-nuts who cry out that they hate government and hate taxes and hate all rights except gun rights and hate the black helicopter UN world state and on and on and on "can be read as… anarchists" as I do so read them, for obvious reasons, but it is "considerably more enlightening" to pretend that there is no difference between them and police officers (because derp).

While I am an uncompromising critic of police brutality, insensitivity, and corruption and decry the deeply racist stratification of policing and the justice system in the United States my criticisms, like most who share these concerns, is directed to the work of making justice more equitable and policing a matter of genuine protection and support of the communities they serve and of which they are a part. My anarchist revolutionary critic would no doubt declare such an aspiration nothing but a naïve enablement of oppression and covert expression of my desire to rule. (Because derp.)

For my views on the white-racism of American-style libertarianism do read this and for my views on white-racist gun-nut secessionism as anarchist in essence also read this and for my defense of the democratization rather than the smashing of the state as an advocate of non-violent revolution by all means read this. If you read these views and find in them evidence of naivete, oppressiveness, or fantasies of mastery I invite you to join my critic on the dance floor where you two can make pure freedom crystallize spontaneously across the world in the fullness of time by insisting over and over and over again that up is down. I believe the chant goes something like this: derp!

The Military-Industrial Complex Is Not A Deeper State Than Our State of Democratizing Capability

Bill Moyers' recent essay on the "Deep State" has attracted comment in several online precincts in which I like occasionally to dip my toe, and I have been a bit surprised to discover that in most of the comments sections where discussion of Moyers' piece is playing out, the talk has usually veered rather surreally into free-associative conspiracy theorizing. The surprise has been that the ones I am, possibly a bit unfairly, deeming seeming conspiracists here include many folks who usually seem to me instead rather pragmatic patient evidence-gathering sorts.

Not to put too fine a point on it, Moyers' "Deep State" is just the military-industrial complex (or security-industrial complex, if you like), revealing its ugly face again, as it does every decade -- an illegal unethical catastrophic war and occupation based on admitted lies in Iraq providing last decade's clearest object lesson, extrajudicial assassination via drone and ubiquitous spying providing this decade's clearest object lessons. The "depth" of the Deep State that is the military-industrial complex denotes the way unethical unpopular war-making (always in our names even when we don't want it, even when we only think we want it because we have been lied to, even when it is directed literally AT us) receives official approval and gets budget priorities over healthcare, education, infrastructure, and general welfare that would be far more ethical and far more popular. This happens not least because a "free market" society must by definition be unplanned because, in America at any rate, planned economies are unfree, and yet must nonetheless BE planned to function at all in a complex industrial extractive networked global economy, and by stealthing planning as "Defense" (the liberal/minarchist/libertopian's best friend) we can have enough of the planned economy we must have to function without having the planned economy we must not have because we are free. That doesn't make sense, you say? Quite so.

Now, I happen to disagree that the military-industrial complex is a "deeper" state than the notionally representative state is. I disagree that the abuses, crimes, and dysfunctions of the military-industrial complex are not susceptible of exposures, reforms, redresses by the press and legislators, even if a complete displacement of the military-industrial complex would no doubt require many lifetimes in an incredibly long process involving many scandals, outrages, and setbacks that is best understood to be already long ongoing. I disagree that the "depth" of the Deep State of the military-industrial complex such as it is, renders it so invisible or inscrutable as all that. When I speak of a planned economy "stealthed" as Defense, I mean by stealth something much better described as rhetoric than as conspiracy.

I have long recognized that one of the great benefits of studying (and teaching) critical theory is that it provides vocabularies and other tools for structural analyses of the interplay of social, cultural, political practices in the context of dynamic systems of signification, institutional norms and forms in history considered as interminable stakeholder struggle. In the absence of such vocabularies I think that even very intelligent and sensitive people struggling to make sense of the incomparably complex churn of public events find themselves turning to the profoundly distracting and disempowering mystifications of conspiracy theory. Sociologists, anthropologists, and political economists (at any rate the ones who took the Keynesian turn and actually believe in macroeconomics irreducible to microeconomic rationalizations) don't need conspiracy theories to account for historical events, and hence know how to concede the ineradicable unpredictability of the political without conceding the force of political education, agitation, organization, legislation.

Moyers' heart is definitely in the right place, and it is always urgently important to expose the secret crimes and pathologies to which the workings of security are permanently susceptible. Of course he is right to document the awful atrocities and authoritarian tendencies of rising militarism, the pathologies and pernicious incentives of metastasizing privateering military contractors, the frauds and distractions and abiding inter-dependency of neoliberal digi-utopian financialization and neoconservative robo-utopian carpet bombing. But Moyers' very appeal to our understanding and our conscience is premised on the recognition that those in whose names these crimes are undertaken and pathologies are nourished can indeed be educated, agitated, and organized to punish these crimes and reorient these pathologies. To the extent that he is right to make this appeal his essay performs an argument at odds with his stated argument: the visible government huddled around the Washington Mall where our compromised, corrupt, dedicated representatives and professional civil servants make and administer our laws and regulations and where we march in our millions to protest and to which we send our donations, letters, and elected representatives (among them some of us ourselves) is a State as quite as deep as, indeed I would insist quite a bit Deeper than, the "Deep State" of secretive security and military violence he demoralizingly describes. That Deep State of corporate-militarism, in all its lethal momentum and gurgling inertia, is indeed responsive to the visible state, responding to real needs and ugly wants, and remain imperfectly, ultimately unpredictably, but indispensably responsible to its dictates. And precisely the same responsiveness obtains in contrary directions, too.

We cannot know in advance just how changed the military-industrial complex might be when and if... ...present and eventual public outcry and conscientious legislation and judicial review undermines the capacity of surveillance to impose authoritative interpretations of profiling arising from pervasive information gathering... ...when and if strictures on torture and extrajudicial killing are reinforced... ...when the default defensive-aggressive ethos of masculine militarism is unmoored by the welcoming of queer service and the elimination of patriarchal rape culture and when the logic of multilateral diplomacy and openness comes to trump the muscular, unilateral and even pre-emptive linearity of force assumptions in our foreign policy... ...when more progressive taxation of wealth diminishes the seductions of amassing enormous extractive/industrial-epoch fortunes... ...when recognitions of the benefits of economic planning via public investment in public and common goods like renewable energy and transportation infrastructure and general health, education, and welfare renders the priority of Defense as a lever of state control over global developmental vicissitudes less necessary... ...when and if a universal basic income or a comparably rich consensualizing set of welfare entitlements is eventually instituted thus opening a window for millions and millions of citizens to take up voluntary public service in quests for personal meaning and fulfillment many of which preempt or transform available avenues in the currently constituted armed services... ...when and if the terrors of anthropogenic climate change reorient the mission of the military into the work of planetary infrastructural engineering, humanitarian assistance, and peacekeeping operations... ...and on and on and on... You know, politics!

Declaring the secretive blood-soaked military-industrial complex as a Deep State, as a more Real State than the State We the People are responsible to as well as responsible to change, is to absolve us of that responsibility, it is to indulge in the phony satisfaction of Illumination the better to rationalize the cheap satisfactions of the supposedly-ruggedly-individualist cynical consumer conformist acquiescence to what we know to be wrong and what we should work to make better. Comparatively isolated and incomparably resource rich Americans in our privilege and insulation have always had ample excuse to deny responsibility for our crimes and make others clean up our messes for us all the while congratulating ourselves on our splendid individual accomplishment and genius. Assured of our exceptionalism we endlessly indulge in spontaneist fancies of a stateless state of grace.

While Moyers would no doubt be the first to decry the false market libertarian ideology rationalizing the war-profiteering corporate-militarism of the military-industrial complex, I wonder if he recognizes that the metaphor of the military-industrial complex as the Deep State, the Deeper, Realer State than the debased compromised Visible State of We the People, re-enacts all too vividly the terms of that very ideology, or at any rate mobilizes widely disseminated figures, frames, and formulations congenial to its terms. While secrecy, secret ops, secret budgets surely suffuse the veins and joints of the security apparatus it is dangerously misguided to identify security with secrecy, and especially dangerous to identify analysis of the workings of present security operations, so-called, with the exposure of secrets -- or worse, Deep Secrets, or worst of all, The Secret.

The Secret is for conspiracists to ponder in smugly satisfied disaffected stasis; whereas bad policies, skewed budgets, false assumptions, wrongheaded aspirations, and ugly events are for citizens and activists and civil servants to expose and address and reform for the better. It is the ongoing democratization of citizens acting through and pushing against constituted governance who are the Deep State. Why on earth should we deliver our democratizing statehood over to war profiteers and belligerent sociopaths when we are in the very act of grasping and decrying their works?

Democracy may be slow, may be compromised, may be heartbreaking, but I insist on its Depth. I insist that its work will reveal the brittle superficiality of corporate-militarism and the military-industrial complex when democracy is armed with the conviction of majorities sustained by sensible, critical analysis. People of good will like Bill Moyers and those who read him should not give in to the despair of conspiracism nor give up their ownership of that state democracy invigorates to the good of all.

I refuse the plutocratic rationalizations of those anarchists devoted to the fanciful spontaneism of the Invisible Hand, I refuse the complacent paranoia of the anarchists devoted to the fanciful conspiracism of the Hidden Hand, I refuse the pampered loose talk of the anarchists devoted to the fanciful smashing of the Heavy Hand. We are the Deep State. We need to act like it, take up the long work of democratization in the service of sustainable equity-in-diversity and stop with the excuses already.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Dumb Dvorsky Understands the e-Cigarette Singularity So You Don't Have To

Dumb Dvorsky recently posted a dumb listicle of 22 Obsolete Technologies That People Thought Would Last Forever, almost none of which was really thought to be likely to last forever and many of which might as fairly be described as still with us rather than obsolete at all:

The fact that desktops long provided slots for floppy discs of more than one size and CD-ROMs and inputs for various external drives reflected the keen awareness of most consumers that data storage media were rapidly changing in real time and to pretend otherwise in retrospect is just a facile lie. Further, not only did nobody ever think dot-matrix printers would remain with us forever, but quite to the contrary literally everybody prayed for the earliest possible arrival of the day we all knew was coming when dot-matrix printers would die in a fire as soon enough they did exactly that. And whatever their differences is it really exactly right to declare typewriters vanished dinosaurs in a time of keyboards and monitors when that shift is scarcely more qualitative than the prior shift from manual to electric typewriters, say?

Before Dvorsky pronounces printed books, answering machines, and land-lines officially dead ducks he'll have to pry mine out of my cold dead hands. I must say it is a mark of truly tragically embarrassingly premature gizmo-fashionista nonsensicality to pooh-pooh the still enormously successful technology of printed books for the fragile, expensive, censorable, toxicity of fly-by-night kindles or for the bitter battle of trying to read novels on postage-stamp handheld screens. Boomers and Xers of the world, needlessly torturing yourselves like this isn't fooling anybody into really believing we live in the moonbase orbital hotel 2001 future the futurologists promised and it certainly isn't going to fool the kids into thinking you're cool, so get a grip. You've stuffed the landfills with enough poisonous shit already, don't you think?

Given that Dvorsky has preceded his idiotic dismissal of bound books with the even more flabbergastingly foolish declaration that a lame gimmick as palpably evanescent as e-cigarettes represents some sort of seismic historical shift I daresay I shouldn't have been surprised by it. Of course, to provide advertizing to rubes under the guise of prophesy for the latest shitty consumer crap is the single most essential job description of the "professional futurologist," after all. And needless to say, anxiously aging techbros like our Georgie are the radioactively white-hot target market for e-cigarettes just as much as they are for those indigo-toned e-z rock-n-roll Viagra commercials and as they once were for those loudly self-declared hipster swing dance clubs that pocked our cities for a season and as they still remain for Google glassholery (which no doubt Dvorsky has also fallen for), so it would probably be too much to expect him to assess e-cigarettes sensibly.

All of this is just easy ridicule, of course, so obvious it is scarcely worth the time it takes to tap it out into a post. But I do want to point out that the first line of Dvorsky's limp listicle is his assertion of one of the indispensable articles of faith of the reactionary pseudo-scienific techno-transcendental Robot Cult of which he is a member and which provides in its extremity the reductio ad absurdum of more prevailing futurological framings of techno-developmental questions that also conduce to reactionary political ends more generally: Dvorsky begins first of all with this transhumanoidal-singularitarian genuflection: "We live in an era of accelerating technological change."

As I will never tire of saying, some technoscientific research programmes and engineering implementations are accelerating, others are stalling, while still others are interacting unpredictably. The conjuration of a fantasy of generalized acceleration serves to render us insensitive to differences that make a difference in assessing technoscientific changes in a reasonable way while also creating an image of irresistible momentum that it is fruitless to try to intervene in while also suggesting a triumphalist progress that nobody would want to intervene in anyway. In every way each of these resulting impressions are at once obviously wrong and terribly dangerous and conspicuously reactionary in their effects. Of course, it is in part because Dvorsky's articles of futurological faith are so wrongheaded that he ends up saying such foolish things in the first place, as the obsolete technologies he means to illustrate his false faith demonstrate instead in their falsity and confusion that he is obviously on the wrong track.

But I am afraid that even in failing to make his case, pop-tech articles such as his dramatize and exacerbate confusions about technodevelopmental change in ways that render too many people all the more susceptible to facile futurological assertions of general technodevelopmental disruption and accelerating change anyway. By suffusing our thinking of changing artifice with nostalgia for gizmos we have since consigned to landfill and resentment at serially failed promises of consumer satisfactions dashed by consumer crap realities, Dvorsky's listicle succeeds in distracting its readers from any kind of actually critical engagement with the realities of technoscientific change in any case. The harpoon of "accelerating change" lodged in the reader's mind from the opening line may be the only take away from the piece even if he has done nothing to support it. What more really could Dvorsky hope for from such a throwaway click-bait offering, anyway... except, perhaps, to whomp up a momentary fandom for e-cigarettes?

And now a word from our sponsors.

Peter Thiel Is Still Winner-Whining and Tech-Evangelizing But People Just Aren't Buying It Anymore

Libertechbrotarian gAy-list bigot and Singularitarian Robot Cultist Peter Thiel is still winner-whining about how bad things are for the 1% and how gizmo-fetishizing popular culture isn't worshiping skim-scam celebrity tech-CEOs like him enough for all the shitty apps they keep repackaging as novelty for their own profit-taking and our own good, it seems. I dispensed with this nonsense at length already here, but I draw your attention to this latest lame retread of his evangelizing over at SFGate simply because the comments are so interesting. Of course, every one of the handful of dead-ender right-wingnuts who still live in the Bay Area do chime in to declare anybody who disagrees with Thiel must be a communist in love with Stalin because derp, but I was thrilled to see, as I have been seeing more and more lately, what I have been pining to see for years: a whole lot of people now see futurological flim-flammery as marketing hyperbole and now see libertopian pieties as rationalizations for authoritarian plutocracy and are even seeing connections between the the can-do bullshit of vacuous promises from incumbent elites of techno-transcendence and spontaneous market order.

I will add that I was a bit surprised to see Thiel declare Star Trek a possible exception to the general anti-technology bias he discerns in Hollywood's literally unending pageant of technicolor techno-pornographic advertorial drooling. Quite apart from the self-refuting hilarity of declaring as an "exception" to a science-fictional trend what happens to be the single greatest most abiding more or less definitive science fiction phenomenon presumably under discussion, it is well worth noting that it is the Federation's tolerant multicultural democratic socialism that has made technology more progressive than not in the Star Trek universe. Progress is a political phenomenon, not a technical one. It is only in the equitable distribution of costs, risks, and benefits of technoscientific change to all the stakeholders of that change that "technology" can be regarded as a progressive force. This is, of course, a recurring recognition and theme in Star Trek. Thiel himself is famously opposed to everything the Federation stands for, that is to say to all of the devotion to equity and diversity enabling technoscience in the hands of people devoted to the common good to be a force for good in the first place. It is true, of course, that the Federation often fails to live up to its own ideals in order to provide the villains and plot-twists that enable Star Trek to function as a critical comment on our own intolerance and greed and aggression and short-sightedness today (more or less the mission of all the shows and missions -- especially if we pretend Enterprise, the mercifully brief experiment in George W. Bush-accessible Trek fail never happened) -- but if in those moments Star Trek might seem to be a bit too "anti-technology" for Thiel's tastes it is only because Star Trek is, to speak bluntly, being anti-Thiel most of all, and hence most truly itself.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Long Teaching Day Today

In Planetary Thinking and Environmental Justice this morning we're taking up ecosocialism, preceded by an elaboration of economic goods (public, private, common, club), and then this afternoon I'll be staging a conversation between Benjamin's aura (as it appears in both Mechanical Reproducibility and the Short History of Photography) and Adorno's Culture Industry (as it appears in both the famous chapter from Dialectic of Enlightenment but also in his Culture Industry Revisited piece a generation later) offering up contending variations on the critique of the fetishized commodity introduced in the Marx reading last week. Again, on Fridays this term I'm on stage lecturing for nearly six hours with a short breath-catching gear-switching break in the middle, with a rush hour commute on public transportation as the aftermath: I'm usually wrecked when I get back, so blogging today, as usual for Fridays, will probably be low to no.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Google Requests Water Be Less Wet

Sam Biddle: Google Asks Glass Users To Please Stop Being So Fucking Creepy. Sorry, google, glassholes gonna asshole.

Pageant of Scandalous GOP Governors Sets the Table for 2014, Too, Not Just 2016

Remember when the GOP tried to distract us from their Congressional Clowns by pointing to their plucky, pragmatic Governors? Never forget that the scandal-plagued catastrophe Bob McDonnell who set the table in Virginia for the least likeable Democrat on earth Terry McCauliffe to win the governorship last year was not so very long ago the GOP's Favorite Patriarchal Prick with Presidential winds presumably at his back rather than a prison sentence looming. And now that their Great White Float Chris Christie is in the shit up to his neck, the moneyed-immoderates turned a panicky eye to Wisconsin's heavy-lidded dullard Governor Scott Walker only to realize in horror that they dragged with them a national spotlight onto a host of long festering scandals of his own, shaping up to render Walker a scumbag Laurel to Christie's scumbag Hardy. Fossil-fuel shill Pat McCrory, presiding over a state rendered a septic petrochemical stew by fossil-fuel company abuses while McCrory blew them kisses is now assuming his own place in this scoundrel pageant, just in time to remind voters that Florida's GOP governor Rick Scott twirled his baton at the head of that parade more or less from the day he assumed office. Almost every Governor's mansion that switches to Democratic occupancy tells a story of Medicare expansion and saved lives, and to the extent that these rogues provide a narrative of GOP malfeasance to parallel the narrative of Congressional Crazytown they provide an environment that looks much more like 2006 than 2010 -- however heartily smug punditocratic gossips pooh-pooh hopes for a Democratic wave that breaks the fever that has mucked Washington in regressive paralysis in the face of an ongoing unemployment crisis and the heavy weather warning us that catastrophic climate change is our Present now and not only our Future. That all of this sets the scene for another killer clown GOP Presidential primary that sets the scene in turn for an LBJ-scaled coronation for Hillary with Democratic Congressional supermajorities at her disposal is worth noting, but I am far more interested now in the more proximate possibilities that holding the Senate, gaining seats in the House, and turning Governors mansions in big states Blue can provide for the last quarter of Obama's Presidency while the silly season preoccupies the attention of the squawkers.

Today's Random Wilde

I only care to see doctors when I am in perfect health; then they comfort one, but when one is ill they are most depressing.

As Goes California...

Over 828,000 Californians have signed up for private coverage through the state’s online health care exchange... California announced Wednesday that it has beat its 2014 ObamaCare enrollment goals with roughly five weeks left before the first sign-up period closes. California’s exchange has been the most successful in the country since its launch last fall. Eighty percent of enrollees have paid their first premium, and about one quarter are 34 years old or younger, the system reported this week.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Siligone Tomorrow

One face of delusive digi-utopians declaring cyberspace some immaterial spirit-realm -- the "Home of Mind" -- is the dangerous denial of the unjust, unsustainable material reality of an internet fueled by dirty coal smoke, accessed on toxic devices destined all too soon for landfill, and made by wage-slaves toiling in overexploited regions of the world. But another face of that digi-utopian denial yields an ongoing obliviousness to the costs and demands of building and maintaining the material infrastructure on which ongoing online functionality absolutely depends.

America's internet is ridiculously overpriced underperforming shit compared to much of the world, and SillyCon Valley peddling shitty apps just piles the shit pile higher. Libertechbrotarians high-fiving each other hooting that "We're Number One!" or "No Limits!" or "Disruption, Extreme!" and circle-jerking futurologically about accelerating acceleration accelerating to acceleration to "...Thuh Footure!" is just lies, lies, lies, lies all the way down.

Drill, Baby, Drill! Spill, Baby, Spill! Fill, Baby, Fill! Shill, Baby, Shill!

Salt Lake Tribune:
Arguing that we need more carbon dioxide, not less, in the atmosphere, Rep. Jerry Anderson, R-Price, has proposed legislation that would limit the state’s ability to regulate emissions of the greenhouse gas. HB229 narrows the definition of the term "air contaminants," clarifying that "natural components of the atmosphere," including nitrogen, oxygen and other stable, or noble gases, are not pollution. Anderson’s bill would prevent the establishment of state standards for carbon dioxide below atmospheric concentrations of 500 parts per million. This is a level far above what is currently in the atmosphere, already padded with carbon thanks to two centuries of fossil-fuel burning. "We are short of carbon dioxide for the needs of the plants," Anderson, a retired science teacher, told the committee overseeing environmental programs in the the state on Tuesday. "Concentrations reached 600 parts per million at the time of the dinosaurs and they did quite well. I think we could double the carbon dioxide and not have any adverse effects."

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Why Now? What the Timing of the Plutocratic Pity-Party Tells Us About Our Prospects

There are lots of examples illustrating the loathsomeness of the Perkins-style whiner winners of American plutocracy for those who still need them in Joan Walsh's Filthy Rich But Secretly Terrified: Inside the One Percent’s Sore-Winner Backlash, but you should know going in that the substance of the article happens in the subtitle: "Why are the super-rich whining so much? They rigged the game for themselves, but are terrified of being discovered."

Walsh goes on to note that the timing for all this winner-whining is a bit strange given that there is no real chance that taxes are about to be made more progressive, that financial transactions are about to be taxed, that the carried interest loophole is about to be nixed, that urgently necessary environmental regulations will be put in place that actually dint the profitability of fossil fuel companies, or anything like that. Back when Ayn Rand wrote her idiotic screed, "America's Persecuted Minority: Big Business," at least she was responding in her predictably awful way to the real threat to the elite-incumbent status quo represented by still lingering Great Society programs and then-burgeoning environmentalist demands. And she was not the only one: from that time dates the organization of a host of deceptive and obfuscatory think-tanks pushing corporate deceptions competing with and then reshaping the research of the Academy, together with a mobilization of sexualized and racialized resentments and fears via the newly organized "religious right" to fracture and canalize the energies of working class majorities to enable plutocratic minorities in a notionally democratic government.

But why now?

Democrats have a near lock on the presidency (given the existing party duopoly, however, that is something we can never be complacent about), but the Republican strategy of total obstructionism has more or less locked the executive in the White House. The inherent rural against urban bias in Congressional representation exacerbated by gerrymandering and dienfranchisement schemes has ensured that Republicans can maintain a majority in the House even when millions more votes are cast for Democrats than Republicans. The dependence of all elected officials, of whatever party, on corporate donations and of legislation on the knowledge-base of corporate framings of public problems ensures that incumbent elites retain an outside and injurious influence on policy even when Republicans lose.

So, again, what is with the plutocratic pity-party? Why, specifically, now?

As I said, Walsh goes on to provide lots of evidence of gross sexism and intolerance and oblivious plutocratic narcissism in this weird Poor Billionaire pity-party, but no real answer to her own question. I believe that the answer to her quandary is that the unholy multi-generational Movement Republic bargain using white-racist and patriarchal anxieties to fool majorities into voting against their own best interests may still be working for now but looks like it isn't going to be working for long -- demographic realities no less than extreme weather and resource descent and infrastructure failure are exposing the fundamental imposture that has driven American partisan politics shaped first of all by Movement Republican priorities for nearly half a century.

While the dam of Republican Obstructionism is still holding back progress for now, the self-marginalizing extremity and madness of Movement Conservatism reveals its desperation. Self-congratulatory plutocratic defenses of wealth concentration and declarations that there are no problems (like climate catastrophe or inequitable racist legacies) demanding efficacious government redress are falling apart in the face of reality. The Republicans have lost the argument and are holding on to power by their fingernails instead. Of course, Republicans never really won the argument -- Keynesian macroeconomics, sustainable practices recommended by climate science, harm reduction policy models on drug abuse, gun safety, mass incarceration, sex education, abortion access, fair use of public airwaves and intellectual property always made more sense, were always supported by the evidence, and always benefited majorities. Incumbent elites lied about the results and the outcomes to preserve their parochial profit-taking, and they appealed to irrational greed, sloth, fears, and resentments to restrain majorities from organizing and getting in their way.

But if Movement Conservatism has always been a Big Lie and Satanic Pact (plutocratic minorities served by just enough duped white racist patriarchal theocratic paranoid greedheads to scrape a working majority in a generally demoralized and apathetic public), it hasn't always been so damn crazy that its face was Ted Cruz trying to blow up the government on a daily basis in evangelical cadences with that used car salesmen smile. I think the plutocrats are recoiling from the monster they made even if they know that monster is why they've got it made. Also, it may be that the specific timing of the freakout coincided with the moment after procedural shenanigans and then death panel mob scenes and then court challenges right up to the Supreme Court and then a re-election referendum and then the momentarily botched website roll-out all failed to kill Obamacare and millions signed up for a program that they will not relinquish and which finally if only problematically and unweildily establishes healthcare as a basic right and so begins to establish the basic security of health, education, and income as enabling conditions of the scene of legible consent to everyday commerce and hence drown libertarianism in its bloody trough for good and all.

It's been an ill season for social justice, this epoch of Movement Republicanism, but the assholes have lost and they know they have lost and they know that they maintain their position as winners despite their loss only by behaving more and more badly by the moment and they even know that the price of this bad behavior is likely to be a punishment more severe by the minute, but they just cannot help themselves anyway. And it is that fact, not only that they have lost and they are going to have to pay and that they deserve to pay that accounts for the timing of the plutocratic freakout.

Of course, the rich will still be much richer than they deserve to be even when we take away some of their stolen treasure pile to build a world that actually survives for them to live in as well as everybody else. In this, the panicky plutocrats are a lot like the white racist gun nuts foaming at the mouth about Standing Their Ground and Taking Back America: almost all of them will find that living in a more equitable diverse world doesn't actually require them to give up anything worth having. Most of the people destroying the world with their greed and bigotry won't be made less happy when they are made to stop destroying the world -- and no doubt many of them will simply let go of a lot of pointless misery and dumb fear and find their way to contentment instead. This is, of course, a little irritating to those of us who have been batting their evil idiocy all this time, but inequity, intolerance, and unsustainability are far worse and I daresay we would rest content in their amelioration whatever the contentment of our foes in a defeat that will cost them less than they expected, and in fact will cost many of them less than their struggle to defeat us all this time.

Bored Hence Boring

I am feeling a bit bored with blogging at the moment (this happens occasionally) and suspect that as a result my blogging is a bit boring.

The You in "Stand Your Ground" is White, the Ground is America, and the legal standing of White Fears over Black Lives is clearly the Stand

I still agree with what I said last year, namely:
"Stand Your Ground" Laws treat the simple attachment of a gun to your bodily person as a kind of en-castlement of the citizen-self into a permanent exception to the rule of law, a permanently prostheticized anarch and agency of a kind of counter-law or alter-law. Under the regime of "Stand Your Ground" the gun functions as a prosthetic augmentation of a paranoid-defensive sovereignty that substitutes itself for and so subverts the sovereignty of the state (a sovereignty no less prone to paranoid defensiveness whenever it is not accountable to enfranchised and educated citizens). Wherever "Stand Your Ground" laws are on the books, the ground on which a gun-toting self stands is transformed for as long as the gun-holder stands on it from the land of the country its law-abiding citizens share to mere ground occupied by those who would be laws-unto-themselves... "Stand Your Ground" laws are transforming gun-owners, whatever their own feelings on the matter, into nodes in a network of anti-civilizational lawlessness, into avatars of anarchy wherever they happen to stand with a gun at hand, into secessionists from the country of laws many of them profess so loudly to love and which at least some of them actually do.
But it also true that American Libertarianism Is Racist Through and Through, and I think that earlier piece of mine in de-emphasizing that racism and foregrounding a kind of formal anarchism of the irrational rationality of Stand Your Ground missed too much of the point. Anarchy as a real, living, effective force in American public life always drives Movement Republican organizing and policy-making in the service of elite-incumbency, even if a handful of anarcho-identified socialist, anti-racist, queer intellectuals declare themselves the "thought-leaders" of Occupy or noisily throng the comments sections of some lefty websites (mostly to complain about the impurity of Democrats actually striving imperfectly to accomplish things). And it is not only in the explicitness of the Southern Strategy that "liberty-loving" Movement Republicanism has been driven by white-racism: the reactionary imaginary of Republicanism, populated with Welfare Queens and Willy Hortons and Food Stamp Presidents and Makers Versus Takers (you know) is the white racist ignorance that enables ignoring and the white racist terror that rationalizes terrorism (Jim Crow and Stop and Frisk and Stand Your Ground represent a white racist terrorist continuum). The white racism of American reactionary libertarianism is blatant not only in its awful embeddedness in neo-confederate States Rights discourse but no less in its ecstatic embrace of the paranoid vigilantism of open-carry "warriors" (you know) of "Real America" (you know) who "want 'our' country back" (you know).

Monday, February 17, 2014

Biddle Tiddles SillyCon Friedmania

Hulk smash stale stache:
The first line in town idiot Thomas Friedman's latest column is maybe the most stupid part: "The most striking thing about visiting Silicon Valley these days is how many creative ideas you can hear in just 48 hours." ... If anything, one of the most striking things about tech today is the ear-popping dearth of creative, new ideas... Yes, if you take literally everything you hear from tech execs at face value, while applying no critical thinking, I can understand why it'd be easy to walk away amazed. The theme park version of any industry is compelling... The Will to Power is real. Friedman says that these software übermenschen... have one thing in common: "They're fixated on creating abundance, not redividing scarcity, and they respect no limits on imagination." ... Abundance of what exactly? ... Cars with pink mustaches on them? Apps? A generation of 20-something Stanford kids making toys for each other isn't the sort of abundance that would justify Friedman's headline -- "Start-Up America: Our Best Hope." ... Silicon Valley: where failure is worshiped, criticism is taboo, networking is done atop mechanical bulls, summer camp is for adults, and words have no meaning. There's plenty of dumb in DC, but only Silicon Valley is producing it in true abundance.
I'm pretty sure that "Our" in Our Best Hope is the, you know, economic royalist "we" -- and Friedman is probably right that the SillyCon Valley offers a plausible bolt-hole for his own ongoing silly con-artistry. When techbros (or worse: libertechbrotarians) start hyperventilating about their disrespect of any! limits! you know they are just reminding us that they fully expect there will always be plenty of underhumans around to clean up their messes for them. Of course, we all know that about them already. It's called, you're an asshole, guys.

Friday, February 14, 2014


I am really amazed at how many Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes are becoming unwatchable for me, especially given how warmly I felt about the show for so long. Captain Picard and Beverly Crusher remain strong for me (I can even forgive that business about the ghost for a character who utters the line, "If there's nothing wrong with me... maybe there's something wrong with the universe!"), but Riker, Geordi, Barclay are all too creepy stalky rapey grossly mansplainy all too often, Data's pinocchio schtick is unbearable, Guinan and Ro appear in too few episodes with too little screen time for the most part, plot holes and inconsistencies and pseudo-scientific woo abound. I find that TOS has aged far better than TNG, not least because what is insufferable in the latter is not leavened by camp.

It's Love Love Love!

From the original "Battlestar Galactica" pilot/film, some fracking Valentine's Day felgercarb.

Long Teaching Day Today

This morning in the City, in my undergraduate course Planetary Thinking and Environmental Justice we are taking up Deep Ecology, Naess and Sessions, of course, but also McKibben's Deep Economy elaboration, Schumacher's Small Is Beautiful anticipation, and Bookchin's criticism. Later in the afternoon, in my graduate Critical Theory lecture, I'm giving a whirlwind tour of Marx, materialism (from God is Dead to sociality to the camera obscura), re/production (organismic metabolism from day to day, species-being from generation to generation, worldly traces from the surplus in historical epochs), scientificity (Marx as the "Darwin of History"), and alienation, first as a general matter and thence to the commodity form and fetishism, Capital and Zombie movies. It's a long day, Friday, six hours spent blathering on and on, with a slow-going crowded commute at either end, and so, as usual on such days, expect blogging to be low to no.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Mary Sue Represents All Known Canonical Female Captains in the History of Star Trek

Oscar Wilde: Dignity of Work Edition

"Work is the curse of the drinking classes."

"Hard work is simply the refuge of people who have nothing whatever to do."

"I cannot help saying that a great deal of nonsense is being written and talked nowadays about the dignity of manual labour. There is nothing necessarily dignified about manual labour at all, and most of it is absolutely degrading. It is mentally and morally injurious to man to do anything in which he does not find pleasure, and many forms of labour are quite pleasureless activities, and should be regarded as such. To sweep a slushy crossing for eight hours, on a day when the east wind is blowing is a disgusting occupation. To sweep it with mental, moral, or physical dignity seems to me to be impossible. To sweep it with joy would be appalling. Man is made for something better than disturbing dirt. All work of that kind should be done by a machine."

"Cultivated idleness seems to me to be the proper occupation for man."

Wednesday, February 12, 2014


A society is failing when it is only by failing at life that can one succeed in society.

More Dispatches from Libertopia here.

Thought Leaders Without Thoughts

Creator! Innovator! Cerebrator! Yes, the Idea Man! What are his hopes and dreams, his desires and aspirations? Does he think all the time or does he set aside a certain portion of the day? How tall is he and what's his shoe size? Where does he sleep and what does he eat for breakfast? Does he put jam on his toast or doesn't he put jam on his toast, and if not why not and since when? -- The Hudsucker Proxy, Joel and Ethan Coen, and Sam Raimi

Sam Biddle has some good fun with SillyCon Valley "job descriptions." He declares AOL's "Digital Prophet" David Shingy the quintessence, a man whose "job is literally to make predictions about the future on behalf of AOL. They don't have to actually come true." But he documents many more, Account Managers who declare themselves "Fashion Evangelists," official "entrepreneurs" who aren't, official "curators" who don't, and official "hackers" who... what?

Of course it is true that our fatally delusive, predatory, unsustainable, self-congratulatory entrepreneurial culture forever celebrates the innovators... who endless re-package the same tired crap as though it constitutes "progress" or re-introduce serially failed products as though they constitute "novelty." We forever celebrate the risk takers... who externalize costs and risks onto the vulnerable while larding themselves with unearned benefits they scam and skim, and who rise ever upward on a tide of privilege and connections from failure to failure to failure.

Although I do agree that Shingy's "Prophet" post is the quintessential one, it is not only as a reductio ad absurdum of the usual megalomaniacal techbro job-title inflation, but because the explicit assumption of the Prophetic role -- although without any available credentials, standards, or checks on performance -- suggests the key source of the phenomenon Biddle is ridiculing, its connection to the suffusion of "technology" discourse with specifically futurological assumptions and aspirations.

Futurology is an anti-disciplinarity pretending to be inter-disciplinary (its partisans are forever making pronouncenents based on the most superficial and ultimately obfuscatory skimming of historical, anthropological, sociological, political science, and various other scientific and legibly constituted disciplines), it engages in advertorial faux-journalism combining the uncritical enthusiasm of consumer fandoms, ignorant pop-science aimed at ignoramuses, and amplifications of the norms and forms of marketing deception and promotional hyperbole -- amplifying these sometimes to the point of outright religiosity -- already found in breathless tech company press-releases, celebrity CEO hagiography, and life-coach huckster seminars.

Blathering stock-tip experts on financial cable shows don't have to be right to continue to be treated as experts because their real expertise has never been sound investment advice or accurate prediction but peddling crap compellingly to the rubes for the corporate sponsors. It is no less true that futurological prophets can always be wrong (or, in the classic futurological gesture, always declare The Future to be "Twenty Years Away," a horizon that never arrives to demand reckonings but remains... "Twenty Years Away") and yet remain Prophets because their predictions are really, substantially efforts to activate and console irrational passions in the storm-churn of technoscientific change in an era of environmental catastrophe and neoliberal precarity: desires for easy money, invulnerability, sexual satisfaction, fears of change, error, humiliation, aging, death.

Scandals of a Scandalmonger, Tears of a Clown

Tuesday, February 11, 2014


"Transparency" names official interpretations that target and frame you for the benefit of incumbent elites via traces they select from the ones you leave. "Transparency" is plutocracy's opacity.

More Futurological Brickbats here.


It is a great mistake to formulate privacy more via the Fourth Amendment right to security of persons, houses and effects from unreasonable search than via the First Amendment right to free expression, assembly, and petition of grievances. Privacy is ineradicable from publicity, security from assembly. For more of why I say so, read through the comments elaborating my Twitter Privacy Treatise or, angels and ministers of grace defend you, try my dissertation on the subject (some of which, I suppose, doesn't entirely mortify me). 


Occupy was and remains a mostly marvelous vicissitude in a longer process of democratization, one that gathers speed and stalls over generations, convulsively lurching forward sometimes, sometimes getting squashed for a few decades, but generally moving notionally-representative Americans in the direction of greater equity-in-diversity rather than less, and especially lately, actually, after the long dark night of frowny-faced Nixonian and smiley-faced Reaganomic movement conservatism, gathering from strength to strength.

I suppose some of the would-be "thought-leaders" of this would-be leaderless movement -- the ones who pretended Occupy was the kernel of an anarcho-socialism that would spontaneously expand and suffuse current psychic and institutional norms and forms, a free for all installing freedom for all -- would feel a little disillusioned when that didn't happen (again) and then the spotlight petered predictably out to make way for a Presidential election year. But I have never been a sucker for spontaneisms -- which seem to me usually to be apologiae for elite-incumbency, whatever the apparent or earnest radicalism of their advocates, since it is elites most of all who deem their privileges "only natural."

Of course, many Occupiers just ignored being ignored when the national spotlight turned elsewhere and turned themselves to specific activist campaigns about underwater mortgages and implementing campaign finance reform and engaged in useful forms of social support combining a little critique with a little charity, which is more or less the usual progressive reformism. That might seem a hopeless domestication of revolutionary energies to some, but to me that sort of thing is entirely expected and perfectly legitimate.

When the social populism of Occupy is compared invidiously to the reactionary populism of the Tea Party the chestnuts that are made to do battle to illustrate the point are usually that "Occupy changed the Conversation" while the Tea Party "Got People Elected to Office." What is odd about this ritual confrontation -- setting aside the oddness or outright wrongness of declaring the stealthily Koch organized and supported Tea Party spectacles as "populist" in the way Occupy was populist in the first place -- is that Occupy re-introduced a long censored or at any rate long submerged discussion of the injustice of inequality into election politics that changed the terms in which President Obama was elected and Mitt Romney rejected (the 47%... Makers Versus Takers... You Didn't Build That) and made Elizabeth Warren a superstar Senator in a growing progressive caucus: That is to say, Changing the Conversation and set the terms on the basis of which the next Democrats and others will be running to Get People Elected to Office as well. Meanwhile, the Tea Party got people elected into office by turning primaries into white-racist forced-pregnancy science-denialist plutocratic purity contests that pushed the Republicans so far to the right that they are no longer a nationally-viable party at all but a kind of neo-confederate rump which most of all has changed the conversation... about the GOP, about its future, about the impact of its crazy obstructionism on problem-solving governance and about the utter marginality of its bigoted opinions in a diversifying, secularizing, planetizing present. My point, of course, is that it is just as correct to say Occupy got people elected or at any rate changed the terms on which people get elected as it is to say the same (as is more usual) of the Tea Party, and that it is just as correct to say that the Tea Party kept people from getting elected and changed the National conversation about the viability of the GOP as it to say the same (as is more usual) of Occupy -- not least because there is a deeper relation between getting people elected and changing the conversation than people making this distinction seem to want to grant.

There is more to the political than running for and voting in elections, and there is more to the political than administering legal, healthcare, educational, police, and social support programs. There is education, agitation, and organization beyond legislation and pushing legislation. Also, to be sure, there are exquisitely political pleasures of expression, display, testimony, reconciliation, contestation, intrigue, promise that may or may not materialize in government, but only in assembly secured by government when it is not foreclosed by government. Nor should anybody be too quick to deny the extent to which the pleasures and dangers of free assembly yield unpredictable effects in historical struggles for equity-in-diversity -- even when one knows in so saying never to try to reduce the former to the latter since to do so is always to endorse the status quo (often while imagining oneself ferociously to battle it).

I never made the mistake of fancying that dance parties or freedom marches are either sustainable or scalable into good governments -- nor the mistake of dismissing them politically because they are not -- nor of dismissing the struggle for and toward good government because they are not. Freedom and justice are never the same thing, but nor are they separable. This complicates things, surely, this is one more reason history remains ineradicably unpredictable, but, I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden.

I have been a fan of and marginal participant in Occupy from its early days, and I remain so today. I also know that not all fans of Occupy are fans of my flavor of fandom -- as expressed, say, in this birthday message one year out. I never put any stock in anarcho-inflected theorizations of these movements -- the best of what Occupy's anarchists were talking about is better described in my view as democratization, the rest of what Occupy's anarchists were talking about is better described in my view as the idealism of privilege parading its purities. I disapprove lazy efforts either within or without Occupy to declare anarchists its "thought leaders." The only conclusion that could follow from a mis-identification of the rich, multivalent movements of Occupy with anarchism will be to declare Occupy a failure, the better to silence and demobilize its resources.

I think that most who are disillusioned with the way Occupation has gone were mischaracterizing its democratizing force, significance, and substance and their relations to government. I for one have never wanted to smash the state but to democratize it. I can't really understand how an Occupy preceded by the Wisconsin uprising and followed by Moral Mondays could possibly be the subject of disillusionment. I suspect such disillusion follows from anarchist fancies of dissolution that are pre-political pretenses at political thinking (which fortunately does not altogether impede those caught up in them from succeeding at political acting). I think we should regard disillusionment with Occupy as a rather useless PreOccupation.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Fair and Balanced at Sochi

The International Olympic Committee has said Russia was acting in accordance with its laws when police detained 14 protesters in Moscow and St Petersburg on the day of the Olympic opening ceremonies. Some of those held in Moscow report being beaten while in police custody... Emmanuelle Moreau, the IOC’s head of media relations, said... “As in many countries in the world, in Russia, you need permission before staging a protest. We understand this was the reason that they were temporarily detained.” Four LGBT activists were arrested Friday afternoon in St. Petersburg while taking a picture holding a banner that read, “Discrimination is incompatible with the Olympic Movement.” It was not even a real protest, said Anastasia Smirnova, one of those arrested... As the opening ceremonies began at 8 p.m. that evening, police descended on 10 LGBT activists in Moscow’s Red Square as they sang the national anthem while holding rainbow flags. Two Swedish nationals in the group were quickly released, but the rest were held for several hours during which some were reportedly kicked, choked, and threatened with sexual violence. The speed of the police response in both cases made organizers believe police may have been tapping their phones to monitor their movements.
Queer Nation has noted that there were other demonstrations taking place at the time, which have received a rather different reaction from the Russian police, whether they asked for permission or not, about which the IOC has not as yet, it would seem, commented.

Publish or Cherish

It's still a source of bemusement for me that the posts of mine that draw continued attention are more or less sloganizing riffs veering into incendiary rants, The Unbearable Stasis of "Accelerating Change" and An Open Letter to the Robot Cultists. A comment at io9 has sent a few hundred eyeballs to "Unbearable Stasis" just this weekend. One of the reasons I am so eager for the still-delayed-for-whatever-reason Existenz publication of Futurological Discourse and Posthuman Terrains is that it consists of a comparatively pithy but comprehensive delineation of the critique that is the submerged berg enabling the iceberg tip of the pyrotechnics of these more popular pieces. I'd really like to be able to refer people who find their way here through links to "Unbearable Stasis" or the "Open Letter" to the more substantial critique on which they depend, which otherwise is scattered throughout years of contributions to the Superlative Summary. The impressionistic irritation in a rant is a less reliable organizer than the sustained arguments of a critique. Come what may, I am working on a considerably expanded, more book-length version of the Existenz essay, which includes much more history and muckraking about the advocates and organizational life of the various sects of the Robot Cult than an essay pitched to philosophers could support, entitled, for now, The Future Is A Fraud: The Reactionary Worlds of Futurological Discourse and Futurist Sub(cult)ures. I don't have a publisher yet, but there seems to be some interest in the thing at least, so cross your fingers, and by all means suggest snippets from posts past that deserve inclusion in such a larger work. A separate work elaborating the specifically anti-environmentalist work of futurological ideology is also taking shape. We shall see, these things tend not to come to anything.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

"The Movement Is Growing": Democratic Grassroots Uprisings in North Carolina And Beyond

From the North Carolina NAACP Press Release:
Diverse North Carolina Coalition Kicks Off a Year of Nonviolent Direct Action, Popular Education, Litigation and Voter Engagement RALEIGH -- The Forward Together Moral Movement, a broad, multiracial coalition movement led by the North Carolina NAACP, has called for thousands of people to assemble at the NC state capitol on Feb. 8 for a Moral March to protest the extremist policies passed by the state government last year. The movement is made up of more than 160 partners from the civil rights, women's rights, faith-based, labor, LGBT, immigrant justice, student and environmental communities. Participants will help map out sustained direct-action campaigns for the rest of 2014, including grassroots voter engagement for the mid-term elections and beyond. It is expected that Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II, President of the NC NAACP and architect of the Moral Movement, will announce a number of actions in his major charge to the assembled around 11:45 am, including a five-point mobilization plan and a 21st century version of Freedom Summer in North Carolina. The Forward Together Moral Movement deepens and broadens the annual Historic Thousands on Jones Street People's Assembly (HKonJ), which, for the past seven years, gathered thousands of people in front of the state legislature in early February. After a year of more than 30 Moral Monday rallies and in the wake of an avalanche of cruel policies passed in the General Assembly last session, the coalition returns to Raleigh this year with renewed strength and a sense of urgency. There are five fundamental demands for this year's Moral March:
[1] Secure pro-labor, anti-poverty policies that insure economic sustainability;
[2] Provide well-funded, quality public education for all;
[3] Stand up for the health of every North Carolinian by promoting health care access and environmental justice across all the state's communities;
[4] Address the continuing inequalities in the criminal justice system and ensure equality under the law for every person, regardless of race, class, creed, documentation or sexual preference;
[5] Protect and expand voting rights for people of color, women, immigrants, the elderly and students to safeguard fair democratic representation.
Ari Berman blogging today at The Nation:
North Carolina’s Moral Monday movement held a massive “Moral March” in Raleigh today which began at Shaw University, exactly 54 years after North Carolina’s trailblazing role in the civil rights movement. Tens of thousands of activists... held an exuberant rally protesting the right-wing policies of the North Carolina government and commemorating the eight anniversary of the HKonJ coalition [the acronym stands for Historic Thousands on Jones Street, where the NC legislature sits.] The day began cold and cloudy, a fitting metaphor for politics in North Carolina last year. Since taking over the legislature in 2010 and the governor’s mansion in 2012, controlling state government for the first time in over a century, North Carolina Republicans eliminated the earned-income tax credit for 900,000 North Carolinians; refused Medicaid coverage for 500,000; ended federal unemployment benefits for 170,000; cut pre-K for 30,000 kids while shifting $90 million from public education to voucher schools; slashed taxes for the top 5 percent while raising taxes on the bottom 95 percent; axed public financing of judicial races; prohibited death row inmates from challenging racially discriminatory verdicts; passed one of the country’s most draconian anti-choice laws; and enacted the country’s worst voter suppression law, which mandates strict voter ID, cuts early voting and eliminates same-day registration, among other things. The fierce reaction against these policies led to the Moral Monday movement, when nearly 1,000 activists were arrested for non-violent civil disobedience inside the North Carolina General Assembly, rallies were held in over 30 cities across the state and the approval ratings of North Carolina Republicans fell into the toilet. Sample signs at today’s rally: “OMG, GOP, WTF. It’s 2014, not 1954!!!” “Welcome to North Carolina. Turn Your Watch Back 50 Years!” [See my Twitter feed for photos of the rally.] The Moral Monday protests transformed North Carolina politics in 2013, building a multiracial, multi-issue movement centered around social justice that the South hadn’t seen since the 1960s... If today’s rally was any indication, the Moral Monday movement will be bigger and broader in 2014. An estimated 15,000 activists attended the HKonJ rally last year, bringing thirty buses; this year, the NC NAACP estimated that 80-100,000 people rallied in Raleigh, with 100 buses converging from all over the state and country. It was the largest civil rights rally in the South since tens of thousands of voting rights activists marched from Selma to Montgomery in support of the Voting Rights Act... There will be a new wave of direct action protests when the North Carolina legislature returns in the spring, a new wave of activists doing voter mobilization and registration during the “Freedom Summer 2014,” and litigation challenging North Carolina’s voter suppression bill. The movement will be active in the streets, in the courtroom and at the ballot box. They will be focused not just on changing minds, but on changing outcomes.

Biosdrear, Too

Somehow I missed the Dumb Dvorsky io9 piece from a couple of summers ago in which he explained why he thinks We Should Reboot the Biosphere Projects. As he summarizes:
The failed Biosphere 2 project ended 18 years ago. That's right, our only real attempt to create an artificial, materially closed ecological system ended in complete failure. As it stands, we still do not know how to create a viable self-sustaining ecosystem -- a frightening prospect given the current state of our environment and considering our future plans in space.
A frightening prospect? I do not deny that creating a splashy stunt biosphere reality TV show before we know enough to construct a viable artificial ecosystem in a laboratory setting might indeed have accidentally yielded information to help us understand ecosystemic dynamisms a little or acquire some practical advice of eventual use to the construction of long-term space habitats or something. But I daresay part of the reason that researches are still learning more and more about ecosystemic dynamisms and engineers are still tinkering with human habitations for extreme situations like arctic research and long submarine missions and extended stays on the space station without seeming particularly interested in rebooting the biosphere projects is because the biosphere projects don't seem like the best way to do this sort of thing, unless perhaps you are a futurologist attracted to X-prize competitions and Mars One reality TV and techbro press releases for apps that Will. Change. Everything.

And so, I suspect that much of what seems "frightening" about the fact that nobody seems eager to waste money on more Biospheres right about now is simply Dumb Dvorsky being dumb, a futurist who has mistaken a rather tacky loosely science-fictional bit of drama and marketing hype for serious science and mistaken its end as the end of serious science in the relevant fields. But I think there is a bit more to Dvorsky's fright, and if I am right I must say I find that fright itself profoundly frightening myself. Because at another level I think that what Dvorsky means when he speaks of the significance of the failure of the biosphere projects given "the current state of our environment and considering our future plans in space" what he is signaling is a more prevailing and profoundly dangerous neoliberal futurological proposal that catastrophic anthropogenic climate change and resource descent are, in the words of Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson, merely "engineering problems," and also that, as Stephen Hawking and other futuristic public intellectuals have insisted, humans must escape the garbage dump we have made of the earth into space if we are to have any hope of survival -- greenwashing views congenial to all too many hokey Biosphere fandoms, I'm afraid.

I consider both of these futurological chestnuts profoundly wrongheaded and dangerous, of course, and you will find many critiques of both geo-engineering discourse and escape-hatch discourse collected under the heading Futurology Against Ecology at the sidebar. For a taste of those critiques, in which Dumb Dvorsky's cherished Biosphere actually makes a guest appearance, let me offer up some snippets from much larger pieces.

From "Geo-Engineering" Is A Declaration of War That Doesn't Care About Democracy:
Steve Benen recently posted this one-liner to his blog: “It was the warmest June on record. If only 60 senators cared.” The best of the “geo-engineering” enthusiasts... seem to me to be inspired by precisely this sort of frustration. But it is entirely beyond me why anybody would leap from this outrageous political reality to a suite of amorphously connected mega-engineering proposals of questionable scientific merit involving unspecified organizations and funding of questionable legality with troubling ethical implications -- when, for example, they might inquire instead, just how short of 60 Senators are we? How might we educate or pressure or primary them? What might it take in the way of filibuster reform to put those who do care in a position to actually vote to implement regulatory measures equal to our problems?

Are such political considerations really so unimaginable, so impractical that we would turn in frustration to a vantage on environmentalism premised on pretending that the earth on which we evolved, in which we are fit to flourish, is imagined instead as an alien world to be rebuilt by machines inspired by a science fiction novel? Writes Cascio: "A science-fiction parallel that might illuminate is to think of it as terraforming the Earth." I must say that this does not seem particularly illuminating to me at all of the environmental problems we earthlings face on this earth, anymore than do those futurologically-minded scientists and engineers who seriously propose mass migration into space as a "solution" to the climate crisis, anymore than did those futurologically-minded scientists and engineers who failed so disastrously to maintain an artificial "Biosphere 2" in which humans could live by means of cutting-edge techno-science, as if on the surface of an alien planet, but actually all the while in the living midst of the very Biosphere 1 (you know, the earth itself) being rendered at that moment through irresponsible artifice and technique a place in which humans might not long live anymore. If anything I think this thought-experiment illuminates the profoundly alienated vantage assumed in engineering and profit-taking and futurological rationalities that would reduce the good earth to a lifeless unearthly mineral-resource rock-scape.
And from Quick, Futurologal Escapists, to the Lifeboats!

[A]s a space enthusiast with my own measure of sensawunda... I firmly expect that should we be so lucky to explore and inhabit worlds beyond our own it will be the wonder and the work that drives us, not some hankering after an insurance policy. And to the extent that exploration is contemplated through the futurological discourse of "existential risk mitigation" it functions as a distraction and derangement of our deliberation about shared problems, whatever their depth and term. Nevertheless, it is to those futurologists who start handwaving about space migration when talk turns to serious environmental and social problems here and now that I mean to devote my attention in what remains of this post.

It should go without saying that such "serious" futurologists seem to have failed to notice that our deeply distressed ecosystem is nonetheless in incomparably better shape to support the human organisms who evolved after all to thrive precisely in that ecosystem than other planets actually on offer have to offer.

Also, they seem to have failed to notice that the intelligence and effort required to overcome the manifold technical difficulties to facilitate such a quixotic exodus would be incomparably better applied to the many well-understood technical and political difficulties required to ameliorate the climate problems that presumably provoke the desire for the exodus in the first place at less cost and with a much more reasonable chance of success.

Also, they seem to have failed to notice that the physical and organizational migration of the human race into inhospitable space would itself ensure the total and permanent destruction of the ecosystem more surely than any current practices of extractive-petrochemical industry is managing. This is assuming, of course, that these futurologists really mean by the terms "humanity" and "us" the billions of humans suffering now and sure to suffer more from extractive-industrial climate catastrophe rather than just a handful of the worst richest racist assholes whose irresponsibility and selfishness caused the problem and now mean to rocket off the shit-pile cinder they made in search of someplace else to loot and plunder and desolate just because they can.

Also, they seem to have failed to notice that the sorts of brute-force one-size-fits-all separatist-hierarchical reductive-instrumental rationalities that brought us all to our current distress would be migrating with the lucky few of us in our fiery treasure-stuffed rocket ships into outer-space dedicating us thereby to the same destructive destiny again and again. This is so not just because the same mammalian tendencies to hierarchy and aggression would go with us into the final frontier, futurological self-declared sooper-geniuses being monkeys all the same, but especially so to the extent that it is hard to imagine a more perfect and even flabbergastingly over-amplified application of this sort of self-blinding death-dealing irrational rationality than the very escapist futurological proposal presently under discussion itself should it happen to prevail.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Long Teaching Day

Hours of lecture in the City ahead -- three in the morning in the undergraduate Planetary Thinking and Environmental Justice course, precursors, transcendentalism, Muir, Leopold, Carson, and staging a confrontation between Curtis White and Bill McKibben; then another three in the afternoon in the Critical Theory graduate survey in which it's time for Nietzsche, the death of God, eternal return, ressentiment, affirmation, and On Truth and the Lie and Ecce Homo as bookends. Got home late last night and then slept fitfully, so I'll likely be an exhausted wreck by the end of the day. And it looks like cold wet rain for my trek to and from the train station. So, again, blogging today is probably a low to no affair, do talk amongst yourselves.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Teaching Day

Off to the City today to work with my MA Thesis cohort, so blogging will be low to no.

Today's Random Wilde

Life is terribly deficient in form. Its catastrophes happen in the wrong way and to the wrong people. There is a grotesque horror about its comedies, and its tragedies seem to culminate in farce.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Who Pays? All Of Us!

When reactionaries sneer and howl "Who Pays?" for the sustainable and equitable administration of public and common goods, and for the basic income, nutritious food, good housing, universal healthcare, lifelong education, and equal access to law and full participation in the maintenance and implementation of accountable governance and rights culture democrats demand for every citizen sharing our present and our planet in the name of a sustainable, consensual, equitable, diverse world, our answer must always be, "the very same who pay now to maintain plutocratic fortunes and armies: All Of Us!"

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Smugged Individualism

Seen on All In With Chris Hayes

io9 Publishes Another High Profile Robot Cultist

Dumb Dvorsky has been stinking up the place for a few years, and now another post has been promoted to the front page from Anders Sandberg. Sandberg was probably the most visible transhumanoid online in the early years of the Web.

In his latest io9 thought-for-naught piece he asks the literally earthshattering question, What Would the Earth Be Like If It Was the Shape of a Donut? The answer is "not Earth," obviously, but Sandberg only gets there by way of a whole hell of a lot of charts. Science! io9 helpfully catalogs the piece under the heading "Physics."

Now, I find more than my share of mirth from the stylings of The Journal of Irreproducible Results, quite as much as the next hopeless geek, at least, and I will say that Sandberg is one of the more affable, brighter bulbs of the Robot Cult milieu -- he hobnobs with the Oxonian transhumanoids, who are too N.I.C.E. by half. But this sort of thing bears watching.

I still think io9 is at its best when it offers up more than usually multicultural sf-literary fandom enthusiasm and critique and when it isn't indulging in reactionary pseudo-scientific futurological marketing hype. I wouldn't be surprised if Dvorsky himself was the one who nudged his cultic colleague into the light in a bit of logrolling (he often draws attention to fellow Robot Cultists, after all, describing them as "experts" rather than fellow faithful), but io9ites more generally do exhibit a vulnerability to transhumanoidal religiosity, so one never knows.

Ask yourself how you would respond if Dvorsky and his friends were Scientologists (which is, after all, what transhumanism wants to be when it grows up, just as Scientology wants to be Mormonism when it grows up, and Mormonism wants to be the Vatican) offering up quirky little trial balloons under a "physics" tag at io9, sprinkled here and there with unobtrusive classically robocultic gambits such as the following:

"It looks like a toroid planet is not forbidden by the laws of physics... So if we decide to assume it just is there, perhaps due to an advanced civilization with more aesthetics than sanity, what are its properties?" followed by reams and reams and reams of the science of angels dancing on pinheads (with computer simulations) culminating in the usual brave admonishment to techno-transcendence: "Torus-worlds are unlikely to exist naturally. But if they did, they would make awesome places for adventure. A large surface area. Regions with very different climate, seasons, gravity and ecosystems. Awesome skies on the interior surface. Dramatic weather. Moons in strange orbits. We better learn how to make them outside of simulations [emphasis added]."

Setting aside all the saucers spinning on polls there is a bit of ideological pleading there: Because toroid technoplanets would be cool if they were made they can therefore be made? Says who? "Physicists," apparently? Such roboworlds would be fun so "we better learn how to make them"? Or else what? No fun? Or worse, we'll have to admit and reckon with the fact that we are stuck on this earth we are poisoning with our profit-taking and our war-making?

In the absence of Banksian or Eganonic themes, characters, and plotting to invest this sort of blank scenery/scenario-spinning with an actual world to care about it in, these futurist hyperventilations always seem to me rather weirdly earnest little nothings, missed opportunities for literary worldbuilding or at least to make a good joke.