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

Monday, March 31, 2014

After the Father and the Son Bush Presidential Trinity Has Ghost of a Chance

I know some Dems are ringing their hands about the prospects of Jeb Bush, now that Christie has, as it were, imploded, but I'm with Joan Walsh on this one:
So to summarize: Bush hasn’t run for office in 14 years; his wife, Columba, is known to be unenthusiastic about a presidential run; his own mother doesn’t think he should do it; and in a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll, 50 percent of registered voters say they “definitely would not” vote for him -- but the wise men of the party want to draft him anyway. This should all work out fine... [T]hey don’t quote any “conservative leaders” from the Tea Party wing of the GOP. Instead we get Henry Kissinger praising Bush’s foreign policy bona fides. “He is someone who is experienced, moderate and thoughtful,” Kissinger says, of a man who’s never held national office or made a foreign policy decision (besides kowtowing to Florida’s right-wing Cuban exile community). It’s clear Bush is being framed as the moderate alternative to the alarming isolationism of Sen. Rand Paul and the full-tilt anti-government crazy of Sen. Ted Cruz, two Tea Party favorites. I’m not a Tea Partyer, obviously, but I have some sympathy for the GOP base, as Republican money men try to find the next Mitt Romney: a pro-business rich guy with some formerly moderate positions that could conceivably appeal to swing voters, but who is too cowed by the GOP base to actually articulate any of those positions... “Last spring, Bush hosted a dozen high-profile conservatives, including writers for the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, at a dinner at Washington’s Willard InterContinental Hotel, where he defended Common Core standards.” That’s not exactly a Tea Party rally. Still, former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour gets credit for the dumbest statement in the Post piece. “The ‘Bush fatigue’ question is always there. If his name was Jeb Brown instead of Jeb Bush, he’d be the front-runner.” Um, no, Haley. If his name was Jeb Brown, he’d be selling used cars in Henderson, Nev., not dining privately with Sheldon Adelson in Las Vegas as Bush did last Thursday.
Ziiiiing! Crazy as it sounds (and it does sound pretty damn crazy), I really do think Rand Paul has a better chance making it through the upcoming Killer Clown College primary, personally. If he does, he'll be framed as the moderate, of course... as compared to Ted Cruz, I suppose. (Bwahahahahaha!) He would of course lose, thereupon, in a flabbergasting rout to Hillary Clinton of historic proportions amidst histrionic contortions. I'm not sure the big money people would be entirely unhappy at such a result, given the actual alternatives on offer, not least because they hate their base and would enjoy its ritual humiliation nearly as much as everybody else will. And hence, it's easy to see why Democrats prefer to contemplate so rosy a 2016 over the brutal math of 2014... but we must resist the temptation. Tout ACA and work the GOP to a draw on the only (non-)issue they have, and then energize women, people of color, young people by foregrounding the forced pregnancy zealotry and voter disenfranchisement efforts of the Republicans and making more noises about marijuana and college affordability. Quite apart from refusing to consign Obama to a lame duck for three quarters of his Presidency if there is any chance at all to facilitate instead comprehensive immigration reform, a stimulative Jobs Bill, raising the federal minimum wage, taking another bite at the apple of common sense gun safety, raising more taxes on the rich, protecting queer folks from workplace discrimination, getting chard check through to facilitate union organizing, and pushing through more environmental regulations and investment in renewables, making efforts to outperform expectations in the mid-terms will both cause the GOP primary to be crazier in response than it otherwise will anyway and will set the table for a Congress and Statehouse map more conducive to getting things done when Hillary does find her way to the White House anyway.

Ess Em Are Tee -- D'oh!

Sure to be Dumb: Anything marketed as "Smart."

More Fool Me Tee Vee here. Been a while since I added one.

Techbro Mantelligence

AI discourse is mostly an hilarious effort to mansplain intelligence to an indifferent reality.

More Futurological Brickbats here.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Kate O'Mara -- Forever 72

Actress Kate O'Mara, of Dynasty and Doctor Who fame, died today at a nursing home in Sussex, England. She was 74 years old. [sic! Everybody knows Jacks is forever seventy two!]

Fact Figure Fetish

In the past of every fact, a figure. At the heart of every fact, a fetish.

More Faulty Ivory Towers here.

Not incidentally, from the Course Description of my upcoming summer intensive at Berkeley surveying critical theory:
[T]heories of the fetish define the turn of the three threshold figures of critical theory from philosophy to post-philosophical discourse: Marx, Freud, Nietzsche (commodity, sexuality, ressentimentality). Fetishism recurs deliriously thereafter in contemporary critical accounts, feminist, queer, anti-racist, post-colonial, technoscientific, and we will survey many of these. Fetishism may be indispensable to the constitution of the social, the adjudications of the cultural and subcultural, and to representational practices both artistic and political. Is the devotion of the critical to the separation of facts from fancies itself fetishistic? Is fetishism a kind of figurative language, an anti-figurative mode, or a perverse kind of literalization? What are we to make of the way distinctions between fetishism, figuration, and fact can themselves always be drawn fetishistically, figuratively, and factually?

Tech Support!

Why oh why can I never get a "recent comments" widget to work on this blog -- or, at any rate, why can I never get any versions of the thing to work for long?

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Garamond Reprimand

Folks celebrating the ingenious young citizen who would deliver millions of cost-saving dollars to the Federal Budget through the thinness of the Garamond font should possibly consider, as he may not have done, the costs associated with less-readable multiply-copied government documents for older and differently-enabled people creating accessibility issues. The success of technofixes almost always depends as much on the complexities in the problem they ignore as the ones they address.

Speaking of dumb technofixated celebrants of solutionism, the libertopians at Reason Magazine are snidely sure Big Bro's drone army will be too entranced in their elite-effete-aesthete money-wasting petty-tyrannizing thick-headed thick-font fondness that they will ignore such a simple solution. Our libertechbrotarians might benefit from a look at a document from the bright sensible dedicated civic-minded good-government folks of Print Wise, who already propose that cost-savings can follow from changing fonts (Garamond being ONE option they recommend), but thoughtfully remind us all that there are other issues that should enter into such considerations. It is worth noting that Reason's Randroidal archetypes quoted someone in the Government Print Office to illustrate their point about Big Bad Gu'ment -- but anybody following their link would discover that the functionary against whom they fulminate himself directs our attention to the very PrintWise document I have mentioned (that's how I found it myself). Were our technofixated libertopians too lazy to read their own sources or were they counting on the laziness of their fellow libertopians not to expose the bankruptcy of their own premise? 

Suvir Mirchandani seems to be a creative and thoughtful young man, eager to address his intelligence to public problems. His ingenuity and civic-mindedness should indeed be encouraged. As he grows up, experience will show him how complicated our shared problems can be and how this complexity makes his creativity and intelligence that much more valuable. I hope he doesn't make the mistake of taking seriously simplistic libertopian technofixated profiteers just because they have taken him seriously for the wrong reasons.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Long Teaching Day

This morning in the City from nine to noon in my undergraduate Planetary Thinking and Environmental Justice course we will be talking about soil-destroying industrial energy-intensive petrochemical monocultural BigAg, and Zerzanian anti-civilizationism, seed-saving, and permaculture alternatives; and then from one to four in my graduate Introduction to Critical Theory lecture Althusserian interpellation, Arendt's gap between the past and future, and the usefulness to William Burroughs of paranoia in a magical universe, with Kafka parables popping up a few times along the way. It's exhausting just to think about it. So, the usual long Friday, and for blogging, I suspect, the usual low to no.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Climate Science VS Climate Politics

On the Latest Corporate Sponsored Singularitarian Robot Cult Agitprop at io9 (UPDATED)

(UPDATE: soon after some other folks commented on this, Hill's affiliation has shifted from Subaru to Singularity University, tho' Subaru is still credited with sponsorship at the end of the piece. Not sure what all that was about. Discussion of the article/ad is still closed -- one topic for such discussion might be how this so-called "ad-content" is imagined by Annalee Newitz and other io9ers substantially to differ from "articles/thought-pieces" making much the same assertions in much the same ways by transhumanist George Dvorsky on a regular basis at io9. All this corporate-militarist sponsored futurological agitprop is "less dastardly" than we might "imagine" declares an info link at the bottom of the advertorial. Well, that's a relief!)

David J. Hill, writing on behalf of Subaru (it's right there on the byline), has coughed up a hairball of the usual Robot Cult cliches for io9, this time called How Preparing for the Singularity in the Present Is Shaping the Future. In the face of urgent shared human problems like cancer, overpopulation, unequal access to basic healthcare, insecure networks, Hill proposes that what we really need to do is just trust in the "forward thinking entrepreneurship" of venture capitalists and X-Prize competitors to keep delivering better and better gizmos until we arrive at "the technological abundance of Star Trek [that] may only be a few decades away." "Preparing for the future" is a matter of pretending that celebrity tech CEOs are gods who deserve to be treated as such and that everybody else is a consumer with the responsibility to do nothing but buy buy buy our way to true fulfillment and eventual techno-transcendence.

Of course, libertechbrotarians of the SillyCon Valley are in fact mostly clueless assholes engaging in skim and scam con-artistry... Of course, the landfills our deeply anxious unhappy insecure gizmo-fetishizing consumers are piling up will never reach heaven and will only poison the only world we have to live in... Of course the futurology that fancies itself to be Thinking Big is really just indulging in the non-thought of marketing hype and deception... Of course the ultimate vision of "techno-transcendental" abundance Just! Twenty! Years! Away! being peddled in this piece as The Good News is exactly the same stale alchemical, neoliberal, transhumanoid vision it has always been, for far more than twenty years already, indeed, year after year after year: Never-changing but always accelerating, never-changing but always disrupting, never-changing but always extreme, always bleeding edge, never-changing but always enhancing, never-changing but always progressing...

Here it is again: the promise of eugenic assumptions and informercial aspirations. Here it is again: the infantile wish-fulfillment fantasy of LA, Vegas, Dubai burbclave craptopia. Here it is again: the libertechbrotarian digi-utopian lie of frictionless capital in Cyberspace, Home of Mind, where welfarestate-smashing digi-nets and digi-currencies would spontaneously disorder themselves into surveilled, marketed, targeted, Big Data framed, zero-commented, crypto-fascist, crypto-anarchic digi-democracies. Here it is again: irrational exuberance scooping the loot in tech-bubbles and financial bubbles and global developmental bubbles within that vast precarious petro-chemical bubble pampered parochial preschool white people like to call Modernity. Here it is again: the daydream of effortless techno-abundance on the cheap, rugged individualists on the make, archetypal Gatsby self-creatiors on the take, accentuating the positive for the marks, forgiving and forgetting and finding Jesus at the Megachurch, winning that lottery, local kid making good and making it big in Hollywood or on YouTube, catching the freeway to sprawling irrigated suburban paradises, getting juiced on clean coal and nuclear energy too cheap to meter, surfing the web in paperless offices, wallowing in plastic fantastic lifestyles of the rich and famous or better-than-real virtualities that never materialize, punching the on button of those 3D-printers and surfing that internet of things on the Royal Road to nanomagickal techno-Santas and genies-in-a-bottle, popping multivitamins and injecting botox and getting facelifts and swilling boner pills on the Royal Road to genetic miracles and cryonics and then, finally, ecstatically uploading your "info-soul" into Holodeck Heaven where you will be cared for by a history-ending sooper-intelligent sooper-parent Robot God of loving grace. Sure, it doesn't make sense! Sure, it's stupid! Sure, it's criminally irresponsible! Sure, everybody is miserable! Sure, we're destroying the world! But c'mon! C'mon! C'MON!

(Was all that too ranty and free associational for your tastes? May I recommend the comparatively more careful and patient stylings of this piece?)

Now, I quite agree with David J. Hill and the good people of Subaru and Singularity University and the X-Prize Foundation and the Oxford Future of Humanity Institute that spending your time "preparing" for techno-transcendence, having more faith in corporate-militarist elites and incumbent interests and devoting yourself to more conspicuous consumption instead of, say, educating, agitating, organizing, and participating in progressive legislation and reform toward sustainable equity-in-diversity is one very real way to go about "shaping The Future."

Futurity is always open, the diversity of peers to the present ensures that. But ignorance, complacency, terror, cruelty, greed can work to foreclose futurity. It is always possible to peddle in place of futurity pinched, parochial versions of "The Future" sponsored by elite-incumbent interests. You can always identify with elite-incumbent futurological variations on "The Future" instead of that open futurity of which you are actually a part and to which you are actually responsible. Good luck to you if you do, but I really do think you should know what it is that you are doing when that is what you are doing.

Make no mistake, io9 is publishing agitprop that peddles reaction as progress, consumption as citizenship, wish-fulfillment as consciousness, acquiescence as conscience, pseudo-science as science. I don't doubt that there is money in it for them, but for anybody with actual intellectual standards or real progressive convictions (as many of the contributors to io9 otherwise seem to have or seem to want to seem to have) there shouldn't be enough money in the world to buy their collaboration in such evil idiocy.

Yes, "The Future" would foreclose futurity: You will unsurprised to hear that when it comes to the article in question, "discussion is closed."

Reversing the Bush Legacy of Uninsured

As millions of Americans gain or maintain reasonably good and affordable insurance or healthcare coverage because of the provisions of Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act (especially the millions of lower-income folks -- at least those lucky enough not to live in cruel Republican-lead States -- now covered by the extension of Medicare benefits to them, but also so many young people who can remain on a parent's plan, people with what were deemed "pre-existing conditions" no longer excluded from affordable coverage, people shifting from junk insurance plans that provided little to no real coverage -- whether they knew it or not, and hence thought they "liked this" or not), it is worth remembering that when that number reaches eight million, Obama will have overcome the murderous legacy (yeah, another one) of the George W. Bush administration during which the number of uninsured Americans rose by 7.9 million.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Crap Transhumanoid Media Logrolling

Ooh, I see a Special Preview of the upcoming crap transhumanoid Lawnmower Man ripoff "Transcendence" will show on the next episode of the already cancelled crap transhumanoid TV show "Intelligence"! Must miss television flogging the feel-bored film of the season, how can they go wrong?

The Long Night of the Gun Nuts

When it comes to “domestic violence,” even pushing or grabbing can be sufficient to bar federal gun possession, the U.S. Supreme Court concluded in a unanimous ruling issued Wednesday morning.

A federal appeals court dealt a blow to the gun lobby on Tuesday by upholding two San Francisco gun laws requiring owners to securely store their weapons and regulating ammunition dealers. Handgun owners in San Francisco currently must use trigger locks or secure weapons in a safe inside their homes when they are not carrying them... to prevent unauthorized users and children from accessing guns. Additionally, the city forbids licensed ammunition dealers from selling hollow-point bullets... The National Rifle Association (NRA) and several other gun supporters objected... that gun locks burden Second Amendment rights.
Not the end. Not the beginning of the end. Perhaps the end of the beginning. Or something.

What Is Love?

Answer: How I feel about a new Janelle Monae single, even if it's on the Rio2 Soundtrack.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

"How New Mexico Is Paying For Richard Branson’s Space Tourism Fantasy"

One of the poorest states in the nation has invested nearly a quarter of a billion dollars and 10 years in creating a hub for Richard Branson’s space tourism company, Virgin Galactic. Some see it as the crown jewel of a new space age while others call it a carnival for the 1 percent — but with persistent delays and mounting financial strain, Spaceport America is just trying to avoid becoming New Mexico’s costliest, most futuristic ghost town.
Nobody could have predicted. Oh, wait, I did. Over and over and over and over and over and over and over again.


Downcast Eyes

More Futurological Brickbats here.

Robot Cultist Rebrands Torture And Dreams of Futuristic Prisons As Virtual Hells

The Telegraph:
Philosopher Rebecca Roache is in charge of a team of scholars focused upon the ways futuristic technologies might transform punishment. Dr Roache claims the prison sentence of serious criminals could be made worse by extending their lives... "There are a number of psychoactive drugs that distort people’s sense of time, so you could imagine developing a pill or a liquid that made someone feel like they were serving a 1,000-year sentence," she said. A second scenario would be to upload human minds to computers to speed up the rate at which the mind works... "If the speed-up were a factor of a million, a millennium of thinking would be accomplished in eight and a half hours... Uploading the mind of a convicted criminal and running it a million times faster than normal would enable the uploaded criminal to serve a 1,000 year sentence in eight-and-a-half hours. This would, obviously, be much cheaper for the taxpayer than extending criminals’ lifespans to enable them to serve 1,000 years in real time."
Of course, uploading a organismically incarnated human mind into a computer program is a profoundly biologically ignorant and conceptually incoherent notion. Although it would be a pity to interrupt the obvious enjoyments "philosopher" Rebecca Roache takes from her contemplation of the prospect of prisoners subject to centuries in virtual hells -- abandon hope all ye who enter here! and just think of the tax savings! -- one notes that the whole litany of techno-transcendental robo-cultic wish-fulfillment fantasies is unspooling in Dr. Roache's penal ruminations, from flogging software-expert/ amateur-genrontologist Aubrey deGrey's SENS elixer of life, to hawking nootropic and nutritional "enhancement" like a boner pill muscle powder krill-oil snake-oil salesman on a Vegas showroom floor, to cyberangel uploads in Holodeck Hell. There is absolutely nothing new in any of these stale futurological proposals -- although, as usual, we are expected to gasp at the audacity of such Big Thinking -- only the modest innovation of their punitive application to would-be criminals rather than the usual effort to seduce wannabe consumers.
"To me, these questions about technology are interesting because they force us to rethink the truisms we currently hold about punishment. When we ask ourselves whether it’s inhumane to inflict a certain technology on someone, we have to make sure it’s not just the unfamiliarity that spooks us," Dr Roache said. "Is it really OK to lock someone up for the best part of the only life they will ever have, or might it be more humane to tinker with their brains and set them free? When we ask that question, the goal isn’t simply to imagine a bunch of futuristic punishments -- the goal is to look at today’s punishments through the lens of the future."
Although Dr. Roache declares these to be "questions of technology," none of the "technologies-in-question" exist or are likely ever to do so -- not in the forms on which she would fixate our attention. Clearly, "the technological" is functioning here in the usual futurological way, as a placeholder for an amplified fantasy of efficacious agency -- an instrumentalization and hence implementation of individual will that dreams of breaking the impasse of lifeway diversity that yields the frustrations of stakeholder politics and ethical responsibility.

It isn't true that anybody is "spooked" by virtual hell prisons, because none do or will ever exist. But when Dr. Roache admonishes us to overcome the timidity we feel because her proposals are "unfamiliar," she is indulging in the all-TOO-familiar cadences of the entrepreneurial innovative disruptive novel fresh bleeding edge hot tech boosterism of the "thought leader" repackaging the same old stale useless shit as New! and Improved! I'm sorry to break it to Dr. Roache, but of course the "thought leaders" of the CIA beat the transhumanoids to the punch this time around. We are all already quite acquainted with "enhanced interrogation" and the use of "psychoactive drugs" "to tinker with... brains." As usual, looking at political and ethical dilemmas through "the lens of the future" tends to take us on a reactionary trip to authoritarian retro-futures bathed in pastels and promising magickal powers. Let's ask somebody who has spent time in the torturer's chair "whether it's inhumane to inflict a certain technology on someone." A certain technology... really, it's hard not to shake your head at the sheer obtuse obviousness of it all. Everything new is old again.

Now, nothing is more commonplace than futurologists rebranding their own rebranding projects (in the service of stale goods and incumbent interests) as "philosophical speculation." I ask my readers just what is presumably clarified by Dr. Roache's "thought experiments"-cum-wish-fulfillment fantasies here, apart from symptoms of what look to be some ugly desires... hey, maybe that's what she means by "spooky"? Although Dr. Roache comes by her philosophy title honestly, I cannot say that I think the business she is in really is better described as "philosophy" than as PR. I should point out that she is a Research Fellow at transhumanist Nick Bostrom's Oxford Future of Humanity Institute, a scarcely stealthed Robot Cult outfit. From its birth in peddling market futures with just-so stories futurism has been making bets (usually with other people's money) and calling the result thinking, and usually Thinking Big. I'm not a futurist, but I'll venture the prophesy that we'll be hearing more Big Thoughts from the likes of Dr. Roache in... the future!

Sharing Comes to Portlandia

Rent! It! Out!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

This Ain't No Truth Or Dare

Yeah, it's everywhere. Here, too.

Only Libertechbrotarians Are Real People to Libertechbrotarians, And Only Unreal Libertechbrotarian Aspirations Are Worthy To Libertechbrotarians

At any rate, that is the impression one gets from the news (via Vallywag's Sam Biddle) that Google libertechbrotarian billionaire Larry Page told Charlie Rose that he might just give all his money to PayPal libertechbrotarian billionaire Elon Musk -- because only "business is the best way to build his version of a better future" and because he thinks Musk will send humans to Mars "to back up humanity."

That the prevalence of the very same unsustainable and exploitative business practices he says are the "best way" for a "better future" are themselves the world destroying force that creates what he says is the need for an extraterrestrial "backup" plan for "humanity" seems not to have been entertained by his libertechbrotarian sooperbrain. But, hey, celebrity sci-tech thought leaders with all that entrepreneurial innovatorial zazz going for them aren't here to sweat the small stuff, I guess. Also, I hate to break it to all you Randroidal fountainheads, all you libertechbrotarian sooper-geniuses, but Mars will not be colonized in any policy-relevant timescale, and there is no escape hatch for humanity in outer space anyway.

Neither, if we're taking a moment to keep score, will the other idiotic futurological aspirations of libertechbrotarian soopermen come to fruition: no, they will not code a history-ending sooper-intelligent sooper-parental singularitarian Robot God to solve our problems for us, no, they will not "cure death" either by injecting us with a fountain of youth of programmable nanobots, or by scooping out our brains and putting them in imperishable shiny robot bodies or gengineered comic book sooper-bodies or "uploading" our info-souls as cyberangel avatars in Holodeck Heaven, no, they will not create genie-in-a-bottle desktop nanofactories that make everybody rich beyond the dreams of avarice with a penny's worth of sand, no, they will not construct megascale sooper-engineering wet-dreams like orbiting archipelagos of mirrors to redirect the Sun or fleets of airships to eat atmospheric carbon or cathedrals of vertical piping to cool the warming seas or engineered microbes to turn toxic landfill into sooper-nutritious but calorie-free Hershey's chocolate syrup.

I don't doubt that they can waste a lot of time giving duckface for interviews while saying otherwise and distract a lot of attention from real problems and real solutions and manage to scam lots more billions of dollars from credulous illiterates along the way, proving to them that they are Nature's gift to underhumanity while we all hurry off to whatever unspeakable dieback scenario hits first. But, no, sorry: Randroidal libertechbrotarians aren't saving anybody, they aren't more real or more worthy than anybody else, their upward-fail skim-and-scam enterprises don't model best or even remotely useful enterprise in any way.

I have an alternative proposal for Larry Page and his ilk: let's tax celebrity tech ceo narcissist blowhard billionaires back to the stone age and use the money to fund universal healthcare, education, renewable infrastructure, and medical and scientific research, including stuff like a real space program, to help build a sustainable, equitable, diverse, creative civilization worth living in, and meanwhile let's ridicule all the ignorant parochial sociopathic self-promoting libertechbrotarians into quiescent marginality before they manage to skim and scam their way into their useless fortunes in the first place (keep up the good work, Sam Biddle).

Friday, March 21, 2014

Better Late Than Never

UPDATE: Just to say a bit more about this image: I like about it that it appropriates the iconography of vacuous negative "liberty-movement" ideology in the service of good government advocacy of substantial investments and support. (Liberty isn't an empty space for solitary cyborg warriors to bulldoze through, liberty is an ongoing collaborative work of creating and maintaining as legible, as informed, as nonduressed a scene of consent to the terms of everyday intercourse as possible.) I also like that the image clarifies the sorts of connections that underlie Death Panelite howls about Keepin' Gu'ment Hands Off My Medicare! but then remobilizes them in the service of democratizing politics here and now instead. We need more images that short-circuit false associations (white welfare is earned, all other welfare is crime, corporate profiteering is an engine of progress, vulnerability is a sin to be punished, there is always money for more bombs and never money for fairness, and so on) and more images that create spaces in which alternatives can be contemplated and testimony to unnecessary suffering rendered legible. I am of course far from thinking that bumper stickers are a substitute for actual mass movement or that cafe press level merchandising signals substantial organizational commitments -- but this Gadsen Obamacare stuff does have the imprimatur of on it and I do like the thought that thought like this is happening in such precincts at all, at least some of the time. Obamacare, as I have said, is too big to ignore for the midterms, despite signs of yet another cycle of timorous wishy-washy Dems running for the hills over it, and Obamacare is working well enough that Democrats fighting back and fighting for it can at the least fight Republicans to a draw on what seems to be their only agreed-upon issue -- a confident agreement that has the deathwish-fulfillment of skewed Romney poll denialism all over it, if you ask me -- opening the door to mobilizing the Obama coalition on women's healthcare issues and voter suppression issues and foiling suavely robotic punditocrapic expectations about mid-term disaster on the way for the Democrats (and hence for every person in this country who works for a living).

Very Serious


Same goes for the con artists who deliver stock market tips on tee vee... Same goes for the con artists who tell us about The Future technologies that will arrive Twenty Years From Now... Same goes same goes same old same old.

"The Republican Party Is A Racist Organization"

Chauncey DeVega of the blog We Are Respectable Negroes, recapitulates the historical and rhetorical context in which Paul Ryan's recent racist comments about "lazy" people of the "inner city" find their place, the history and rhetoric through which "the GOP became the white supremacy party," in the words of the article's title, and "the country’s premier white identity organization." To this history I would just add that Paul Ryan, like Rand Paul, are both associated with the assertively market libertopian Randroid wing of Movement Conservatism and that, far from mitigating the white racism of their stance, it is crucial to recognize the forceful connection of market ideologues with white racism as a matter of substance. (For more on the racism of American-style libertarianism, read this.) The defense of racist hierarchies is the specific context in which free market arguments have been deployed most forcefully in American history. And though "market libertarians" and conservative "civil libertarians" often like to decry the bigotry and benightedness of the social and religious conservatives with whom they are otherwise electorally allied on the American right, to allow them this feel-good intellectual dis-association given the racist results they serially abet practically speaking is to make a profound mistake. It amounts to yet another variation of the facilitation of white-racism as an institutional reality by pretending the only racism that is real is the individualized racism of conscious and conspicuous racial animus.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Today's Random Wilde

Ultimately the bond of all companionship, whether in marriage or in friendship, is conversation.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Real Group -- Nature Boy

"Obamacare Is Too Big To Ignore"

Brian Beutler is trying to knock some sense into Democrats:
Obamacare still isn’t popular. It’s benefiting a lot of people, but it’s also inconveniencing others. By design it’s only going to affect a relatively small segment of the population, positively or negatively. It’s been the focal point of an endless and unopposed agit-prop campaign. There isn’t a strong constituency for repealing it, but there also isn’t a strong constituency enamored of it... What I see here is a fatal, and completely avoidable, combination of oversight, myopia and political cowardice... As unpopular as Obamacare is, if you run against it -- and thus for taking people’s insurance away -- without a persuasive claim to a better idea, you eventually arrive in a box canyon. That is, unless Democrats go silent about it and don’t make Republicans answer for the consequences of their opposition, in which case the way out is wide open. [Emphasis added --d] Democrats and their allies are making a huge blunder if they don’t internalize the new reality and put some of those people they talk about in their speeches on air. Political strategists are well trained to change the subject when the subject at hand isn’t a winner. But Obamacare is... too big to ignore [Emphasis added --d], and won’t easily be driven to second-tier status -- particularly given that all Republicans have to run on is that they didn’t vote for Obamacare. Which is not to say Dems can’t also run on the minimum wage, and immigration, and LGBT rights, and voting rights, and equal pay and the Koch brothers, and so on. But they can’t leave the Obamacare question unanswered... Democrats and allied groups would ultimately counter the ads with equal-but-opposite ads of their own. Play the issue to a draw. Make GOP candidates disown repeal. Or at least try.
He is right. And he is getting worried. And he is right to worry. 2014 comes before 2016, 2014 sets the table for 2016, and Obamacare is too big to ignore and successful enough that there is no earthly reason to ignore it anyway. Democrats cannot sleep through another midterm election.

"Beyond Neoliberal Miseducation"

Henry Giroux:
As universities turn toward corporate management models, they increasingly use and exploit cheap faculty labor while expanding the ranks of their managerial class... Debra Leigh Scott points out, "administrators now outnumber faculty on every campus across the country." ... colleges and universities are drawing more and more upon adjunct and nontenured faculty -- whose ranks now constitute 1 million out of 1.5 million faculty -- many of whom occupy the status of indentured servants who are overworked, lack benefits, receive little or no administrative support and are paid salaries that increasingly qualify them for food stamps.3 Many students increasingly fare no better... treated as consumers for whom education has become little more than a service. Too many students are buried under huge debts, [their] misery breeds a combination of contempt and source of profits for the banks and other financial industries... Workers, students, youths and the poor are all considered expendable this neoliberal global economy. Yet the one institution, education, that offers the opportunities for students to challenge these anti-democratic tendencies is under attack in ways that are unparalleled, at least in terms of the scope and intensity of the assault by the corporate elite and other economic fundamentalists. Casino capitalism does more than infuse market values into every aspect of higher education; it also wages a full-fledged assault on public goods, democratic public spheres, and the role of education in creating an informed and enlightened citizenry... Critical thinking and a literate public have become dangerous to those who want to celebrate orthodoxy over dialogue, emotion over reason and ideological certainty over thoughtfulness. Hannah Arendt's warning that "it was not stupidity but a curious, quite authentic inability to think" at the heart of authoritarian regimes is now embraced as a fundamental tenet of right-wing politicians and pundits and increasingly has become a matter of common sense for the entertainment industry and the dominant media, all primary modes of an education industry that produces consumers, smothers the country in the empty fog of celebrity culture and denounces democracy as tantamount to the enemy of free-market fundamentalism... The deficit argument and the austerity policies advocated in its name is a form of class warfare designed largely for the state to be able to redirect revenue in support of the commanding institutions of the corporate- military-industrial complex and away from funding higher education and other crucial public services... Of course, the burden of such reductions falls upon poor minority and other low-income students, who will not be able to afford the tuition increases that will compensate for the loss of state funding. As the political state is replaced by the corporate state, tuition rises, the ranks of the poor expand, more social problems are criminalized and the punishing state blooms as a default register for potential dissent. What has become clear in light of such assaults is that many universities and colleges have become unapologetic accomplices to corporate, interests, values and power, and in doing so increasingly regard social problems as either irrelevant or make them invisible. The transformation of higher education in the United States and abroad is evident in a number of registers. These include decreased support for programs of study that are not business-oriented; reduced funds for research that does not increase profit; the replacement of shared forms of governance with rigid business management models; the lessening of financial support for academic fields that promote critical thinking rather than an entrepreneurial culture; the ongoing exploitation of faculty labor; and the use of purchasing power as the vital measure of a student's identity, worth and access to higher education. In addition, many universities are now occupied by security forces whose central message is that dissent and protest, however peaceful, will be squelched through violence. Leftover weapons from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan have found a home on many college campuses that increasingly look as if they have become potential war zones. These weapons stand as a grim reminder that they could be used against all those students who question authority, imagine a more democratic role for the university, and connect learning to social change. Universities are increasingly becoming dead zones of the imagination, managed by a class of swelling bureaucrats, inhabited by faculty who constitute a new class of indentured, if not sometime willing, technicians, and students who are demeaned as customers and saddled with crippling debts.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Game of Thrownness

Charlie Jane Anders in io9 on the perfectly inescapable escapism of Game of Thrones:
[W]e know Westeros is on the brink of a zombie apocalypse from the very first moment of the story. And part of the genius of Martin's slow-as-soil-erosion storytelling is that the zombie threat never quite arrives, but we keep seeing it getting closer and closer on the horizon.... Game of Thrones captures the real anxiety at the root of our apocalyptic fascination -- the sense that disaster is coming closer at an almost imperceptible rate, and we can never really know when it will arrive. We all sense that our unsustainable economic system will collapse, and/or our biosphere will no longer support so many humans, but we don't know if the crunch will come next week or in 50 years. And the endless wars and scheming show how short-sighted people can overlook a looming disaster, due to political infighting and stupidity. You wonder why they don't look over their shoulder and see the ice zombies creeping closer -- until you realize that their denial is nothing compared to our own. And meanwhile... we see in horrible detail how entrenched power and wealth gives certain people the right to walk all over everybody else. And how this injustice forces people to reinvent themselves and become monstrous in their own right. But it's also messy, showing the internal conflicts among the ruling classes, and the conflicting and contradictory ideologies that underpin this inequality. This is a dystopia that's enough removed from our own world that we can see its faults clearly, but it remains recognizable. With its focus on the power dynamics of feudalism and the slow but inevitable collapse of everything, Game of Thrones is uniquely suited to tell the story of America in the 20-teens. It allows us to talk about enivronmental disaster and political corruption, without actually facing up to the world we live in.
The title of this blog post is a ruin, all that is left of something I was about to write before I read Anders' piece, the clarity of which obliterated mine before it began. My main disagreement with her piece (apart from the fact that she describes her ruminations as a rant, which I think they are not) is that she praises George R.R. Martin's execrable writing rather than his spiffy scene-setting and storytelling, both of which are incomparably better captured in the television scripts and by the studio art departments than they are in his own novels. I imagine Martin's acerbic intelligence could reel his stories off the cuff in front of a fire more rewardingly than he does in his novels as well, probably, I honestly don't mean his unreadability as a damning criticism of Martin or anything, but I think it is wrong to pretend otherwise -- it isn't really surprising that a writer/scenarist for television continues to write well for television. Be all that as it may, I think Anders is right about what matters though: Westeros threads the needle of our all-too-knowing denialism about the catastrophes we are collaborating in, the ideological knot in our stomachs we are not untying but indulging. About the pleasures of Game of Thrones who can forget the closing lines of Benjamin on art pour l'art: "Fascism... expects war to supply the artistic gratification of a sense perception that has been changed by technology... Mankind['s] self-alienation has reached such a degree that it can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order."

Monday, March 17, 2014

Commodifying Publicity

Jenny Davis has written a provocative short piece over at Cyborgology entitled Commodifying Privacy which I will summarize in the following terms:
[One]: Davis takes as her point of departure Irwin Altman's definition of privacy as “the selective control of access to the self.”

[Two]: She complicates this definition by declaring privacy violations situational, proposing: "[E]ach context contains its own set of privacy norms, or expectations about how much of the self will be accessible. From this perspective, a privacy violation is that which violates privacy norms. Or in other words, privacy is violated when the self is more accessible than one has agreed to."

[Three]: She assumes that "the empirical circumstances of the contemporary, highly connected, era" of networked cellphones and surveillance render this level of choice over the terms of accessibility inoperative. She goes on to describe this unprecedented access to self "the key privacy dilemma of the contemporary era."

[Four]: For those who are unsettled by the unprecedented access to selves immersed in digital networks there emerges a need, she says, to find ways to alter the terms of their exposure and regain some measure of control over the terms on which their selves are accessible.

[Five]: Davis proposes (and I suspect this proposal is the reason she wrote the article) that there is "a silent battle between privacy as a right and privacy as a commodity" being waged in the form of the private for-profit provision of services and commodities that create greater control over accessibility of networked selves competing against freely available applications that would do much the same thing.

[Six]: Davis is worried that the appearance and normalization of for-profit services providing control over access to self via exclusive commodities will render privacy a commodity in a way that erodes privacy as a right.
I hope that I have managed to do justice to Davis' arguments summarizing it in the form of just these serial points, but although I sympathize very much with the worry she expresses in [Six], my primary reason for recapitulating her argument in this way is that, perhaps somewhat to my own initial surprise, I think I disagree with all six of the separate points she makes in this argument as I have reconstructed it. Further, I think these disagreements get at deeper disagreements I have with much contemporary "privacy" and "technology" discourse.

Let me begin at the end, with her [Six], and say that if I agree a battle is being waged (and it seems to me a rather more noisy than silent battle) between privacy as a commodity and privacy as a right, I would have to declare skirmishes between freeware versus for-profit privacy tools a sideshow compared to the clashes of citizens with and through their governments over expanding and intensifying surveillance in the name of state security embodied especially in the erosion of citizen protections against unwarranted searches and seizures. I am supposing that the activism that drives both much provision of freeware privacy tools as well as efforts to re-impose legal protections and regain citizen-accountable Congressional oversight over government spying would lead Davis to array both of these against the commodified privacy-provision that worries her (and me, too). But given the way technology-focused theory often treats legality as more or less dispensable in the face of the play of autonomous technological forces one can never be entirely sure of such things. I mean, I would also like to suppose that activists would be as worried by the exposures to harm and fraud and harassment resulting from profitable private surveillance, but I am far from being able to assume that this attitude is widely shared even by those most worried over state surveillance.

I would add, and here I nudge backward toward her [Five], that for me the greater threat of commodified privacy provision is not its erosion of universal privacy intuitions, but the substitution of entertaining experiences of privacy theater for the substantial reality of privacy in the first place. This is a specific danger in the way she formulates the "need" to which these commodities are answerable, in her [Four], for a "sense of privacy" or a "sense of control" in response to a feeling of unsettlement demanding different sorts of feelings in its place. When it comes to it, I tend to agree with Davis' conclusion that the commodification of privacy as, at best, service-provision, at worst, a new species of mass-mediated infotainment, would be injurious to the political substance of privacy as a right, but for me this is largely because the privatization of public goods almost inevitably tends to result in their fraudulent exploitation by minorities as a general matter.

Before I am accused of quibbling with Davis here, let me insist again that of course I sympathize with her conclusions, or at least with her conclusive worries, while disagreeing with what I take to be her premises (about which I could be wrong). But when it comes to questions of privacy, these premises seem to me pretty urgent. To get at what I see as our more fundamental difference, let me continue moving backwards along her argument to her [Three]. While I do not deny what Davis calls "the empirical circumstances of the contemporary, highly connected, era" -- one need, after all, only count the cameras, count the GPS monitors in consumer devices, count the exabytes of surveillance data stored, count the selfies and cookies and profiles and drone heat signatures to know the score -- I do emphatically deny that this proliferation of devices has altered the fundamental terms on which the political substance of privacy is based or even, again fundamentally, experienced. Here, as so often happens in "technology" discourse, I fear that a certain gizmo-fetishization is distracting our attention from fundamental understanding in ways that facilitate the very threat and loss of privacy we would bemoan.

What seems to me indispensable for any understanding of privacy is that it is a political phenomenon and not an (or even the) anti-political one. While it may seem paradoxical to say so, privacy is not the opposite of publicity, it is not the removal from publicity, it is a mode of publicity. At least since feminism revealed the personal is political (and the point was and is made by others just as forcefully, of course) we are no longer afforded innocent complicity in liberalism's brute distinction of the private from the public -- if ever we were. Privacy is a set of political entitlements and experiences indispensably responsive to and imbricated in the terms on which we live our public lives. And at the root of the right to privacy, as at the root of every political right, is the rite: that is to say, the substance of political norms and forms and affordances are ritually, collectively materialized in public and in history.

The problem with conceptions in which privacy is thought to protect the self from public exposure as such or to enable the self to control the terms under which it is accessible in public -- conceptions such as the ones which Davis seems to take as her point of departure in her [One] -- is that the self which privacy is presumed in them to protect is in fact produced in public, and that a precondition for a public in which such selves can be produced is that one cannot control the terms of the self's exposure in advance in the way these conceptions demand. (I talked about a comparable conception of privacy in Paul Hughes' "A Cypherpunk's Manifesto" years ago in my dissertation.)

The trouble here is not ameliorated, I think, by the complexity introduced by declaring the terms of exposure and control situational as Davis does in her [Two]. Anybody who has ridden in an elevator on a long ascent which makes several stops along to the way to pick up passengers and has observed the way in which these passengers automatically and as it were intuitively relocate themselves to accommodate the crowd to protect the "private space" of each passenger in ways that seem endlessly to redefine what that private space substantially consists of, recognizes that enormously complex norms (freighted with an acute sense of violence, as witness what happens when any passenger refuses to follow the implicit rules and stubbornly refuses to move as the elevator crowd swells) govern such terms. But what is really at stake in this discussion of privacy, and what I fear the discussion of it as a privacy threatened by technologies in particular tends to foreclose -- is the substance and stakes of the publicity of which privacy is a part and on which privacy -- and so much else -- depends.

At the heart of conceptions of privacy as the control of the self's exposure is the fantasy of a pre-political pre-discursive selfhood the protection of which inevitably eventuates in paranoid projects of control identified with an autonomy aspiring in the direction of an omnipotence for which any qualification is experienced as the threat of catastrophic impotence. (I must say that privacy talk is especially prone to these logical excesses when it is yoked to technology-talk: "technology" as the quintessential discourse of human capacitation as at once a dream of powers and a nightmare of threatened impotence.) That the self is exposed to scrutiny by others, and as such is open to interpretations over which one has no control, is the condition on which we embark in the public lives in which the selves we would expose or protect on our terms are substantiated in the first place. What we seek to be deprived from by privacy in publicity, I submit, is the imposition or fixation of any one authoritative interpretation of or on the self so scrutinized -- yes, even if, and sometimes especially when, that interpretation is our own presently preferred one. As Davis points out, not everybody is "unsettled" by the sense of exposure accompanying participation in networked practices. One should add, while most everybody is occasionally unsettled by the results of our exposure to scrutiny (as when we are misunderstood or exposed in the wrong or unsure of ourselves or seeking the solitude necessary for reflection), this does not justify -- let alone render intelligible -- any unsettlement with or repudiation of publicity as such. (For more on the basic contours of this argument, I recommend my Twitter Privacy Treatise stunt, especially if you cheat and read the elaborations provided in the Moot to that post.)

As regular readers of the blog know, I do worry quite a lot about the panoptic sorts and data profiles and the storage of data traces on surveilled citizens in the midst of a terrorizing war on terror (just scroll to the topic heading "Surveillance" in the Superlative Summary for a taste). But for me the greater concern is not that citizens are exposed to scrutiny, since an ongoing exposure to scrutiny is constitutive of that citizenship. What worries me is that data profiles are coming to function as a fundamental re-narrativization of a citizen-selfhood intelligible only to computers misconstrued as peers: Where once the citizen was the one who educated, agitated, organized in collaboration with and struggle with her peers in history, who offered up works for judgment or offered up judgments herself to the scrutiny of others, citizenship is being re-framed by database aggregation as a state of being always already framable in advance as the target of an investigation, of a sales pitch, of a weapons system. It is not our exposure to such devastating interpretations that threatens our citizen-subjecthood so much as our reduction to these data-profiles by the amplification of just these interpretations to monologic authority. What is wanted most of all is the public expression and public assembly and public recourse to law without which the emerging prevalence of plutocratically profitable and parochially securitizing profiles cannot be arrested. The danger to our privacy is the reduction of interpretations to which and in which we are subjected and the consequent radical impoverishment of the publicity on which our citizen-subjecthood depends for its dignity, freedom, and pleasures. That this proposal is coming to seem paradoxical or even nonsensical given the terms in which privacy debates are increasingly conducted seems to me the greatest possible danger to our privacy as the rite it is and hence as the right it must remain.

Deep Waters Run Still

Roger Waters: Why I must speak out on Israel, Palestine and BDS

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Headlines For Assholes

Millions plan to stage mass "Skip It" demonstration of Phelps funeral as prelude to erecting permanent "Forget It" monument to his life.

Why So Many Transhumanists and Digital Utopians Are Incapable of Imagining There's No Heaven

Upgraded and adapted from an exchange in the Moot "JimF" commented:
You know, I had (or attempted to have) [an] argument (or "civilized discussion" ;-> ) with a very smart person (a computer programmer I've known for decades) and it was impossible for me to get the subtle distinction to register. In his view, saying "the brain is not a computer" is tantamount to being a mystic, or a vitalist -- equivalent to claiming that life, and intelligence, must have a supernatural or non-material basis. I could **not** get past that impasse. So it is, I would guess, with many naive Transhumanists, Singularitarians, and AI enthusiasts. And that's true at the highest levels of what passes as the intelligentsia. I suspect you might see the same misunderstandings spun out if you were to witness a conversation between, say, Gerald M. Edelman and, oh, Daniel Dennett.
Mind has been metaphorized as a cloud, as a mirror, as the inscription of a tablet, as a complex of steam-pipes, and on and on and on. Setting that platitude aside, it is also true that many GOFAI ("Good Old-Fashioned Artificial Intelligence")-deadenders and techno-immortalists of the uploading sect (subcultures with more than a little overlap, I might add) seem to reject supernaturalism about mind only to replace it with a kind of techno-transcendental sooper-naturalism of robotic-AI, in which the mind-body dualism of spiritualism is re-erected as an information-meat dualism invested with very specifically false, facile hopes for techo-transcendence.

Of course, any consistent materialism about mind will necessarily treat seriously the materialization of actually-existing minds in biological bodies, and will recall that all information is non-negligibly and non-dispensably instantiated in actually-existing material carriers. The non-negligible, non-dispensable material substantiation of intelligence and mind forcefully argues against the pseudo-science and bad poetry of Robot Cultists who depend instead on inapt metaphors of "translation" and "uploading" and "transfer" to wish away these material realities the better to indulge in infantile wish-fulfillment fantasies about invulnerability from error, contingency, disease, or mortality by techno-transcending the hated meat body as digital cyberangel avatars in Holodeck Heaven and then peddling that priestly con-artistry and New Age woo as science.

Anyway, it makes no kind of sense to pretend materialism justifies dualism but once that irrational leap has been made it becomes perfectly predictable that those for whom the denial of traditionally religious mind-body dualisms does justify robo-cultically religious info-meat dualisms will treat as an entailment of their sooper-naturalist anti-supernaturalism that those who reject their enabling incoherence must somehow be common or garden variety pro-supernaturalists. The "vitalist" charge is just a variation: for the robo-soopernaturalist any materialism that is a barrier rather than a prop for their wanted techno-immortalizing informationalism about mind must be some kind of stealthy supernaturalist luddism. The point to grasp is that for the futurological faithful, one is either a believer in spirit stuff that might live on in Heaven or a believer in info-stuff that might be uploaded in Holodeck Heaven: Actual, this-worldly, secular-progressive, technoscientifically-literate materialisms don't hold much interest for Robot Cultists, you know.

Who Cares?

Saturday, March 15, 2014

White Men March! (aka "Being Outside")

"The Transhuman Condition"

Comments On and Critiques Of Existenz Volume on Humanism, Posthumanism, Transhumanism, Futurism Solicited

Existenz itself has now linked to my Forum Page on its issue, "The Future of Humanity and the Question of Post-Humanity" to encourage further conversation there. Comments and critiques of the volume as a whole, or of individual contributions to the volume, whether sympathetic or unsympathetic are all welcome. If you write such a response or come upon one elsewhere, please let me know so that I can link to it. And I am also willing to publish substantial responses as guests posts here on Amor Mundi.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Long Teaching Day

This morning in the City from nine to noon in my undergraduate Planetary Thinking and Environmental Justice course we will be talking about the catastrophic ecology of slums and then about eco-cities/villages and guerrilla gardening, and then from one to four in my graduate Introduction to Critical Theory lecture it is an introduction to Freud and the psychoanalytic fetish, with a long dip into Schreber, homosociality, and patriarchy with Laura Mulvey at the end. The usual long Friday, then, and for the blog, the usual low to no.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Today's Random Wilde

Like all people who try to exhaust a subject, he exhausted his listeners.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

PZ Myers Laughs at the Retro-Futurist Libertechbrotarians of "The Dark Enlightenment"

In a post helpfully tagged with "Bad philosophy," "Bad Science," and "Stupidity," entitled More like the Dork Enlightenment, am I right? Pharyngula's PZ Myers edifyingly snarks:
I am told I’m supposed to take The Dark Enlightenment seriously. I can’t. I just can’t. What it is is mostly a bunch of pretentious white dudebro computer programmers with a fascist ideology who write tortuous long-winded screeds off the top of their heads, with most of their ‘data’ coming from pop culture movies like The Matrix, and a few similarly clueless nerds who think it’s neat-o. I take it seriously only in the same way I take Libertarianism seriously: it’s a nucleus for idiots to coalesce around.
Apart from thinking it unkind to dorks -- with whom I sympathize at least and identify in part -- to tar them with the brush of retro-futurological libertechbrotarian dead-enders like these, I quite agree with Myers' sentiments, as regular readers already know.

I also have to say that, like Myers apparently, I do have folks occasionally e-mailing me to comment on these jokers. Some who do so seem earnestly worried about this nonsense, while others seem to be trying to whomp up undeserved attention for this marginal movement for whatever reasons. Since I make fun of Robot Cultists of the transhumanoidal, singularitarian, techno-immortalist, nano-cornucopiast sects fairly regularly, it is fair enough that some would imagine I'd be up for skewering pretty much any brand of futurological foolishness and con-artistry crawling out of the clown car, I suppose. But as I have said repeatedly, it is mostly because transhumanoidal eugenists, singularitarian digitopians, nano-santa techno-boosters represent clarifying extremities of more prevailing and mainstream forms of neoliberal optimization, globalization, financialization, marketing deception, and promotional hyperbole that I critique Robot Cultists, hoping to expose underlying pathologies we have otherwise come catastrophically to take for granted.

In my judgment, the retro-futurists of the "New Reaction" don't seem to me to connect in a particularly interesting way to a more prevailing discourse -- they mostly just seem like dumb privileged white guys socialized in undereducated undercritical pop-tech subcultures indulging in paranoid defensive dead-ender white-racist techbro self-congratulation. Their go-to intellectuals seem dumb and pompous and more than a little embarrassing, to be honest. And I also just don't see any kind of relevant near-term future for this particular Robot Cult cul-de-sac. As an organizational subculture there is little growth potential for these poor fellows. I think muckraking temperaments and even conspiracists would be better employed attending to the historical and funding and membership and logrolling relations of the MIT Media Lab, OMNI, The Well, WIRED, TechCentralStation (defunct but still dynamistic!),, The Long Now Foundation, various awful TED-affiliated projects, the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, the Oxford Future of Humanity Institute, the Stanford Singularity Summits, Singularity University, co-reports by the National Science Foundation and Commerce Department like their futurological agitprop about NBIC "convergence" and "enhancement" medicine, DARPA, Google and other tech companies indulging in AI-deadender discourse and futurological blue-skying, various e-cash and e-security firms with roots in cryptoanarchist subcultures, the whole archipelago of corporate-military thinks tanks indulging in climate change denialism and toxic profiteering and bleeding over into movement Republican deregulatory and cronyist apologiae. Those organizational relations have some real stories to tell, and are having real world impacts here and now. The Dark Enlightenment, to the contrary, is like a very minor Bell Curve Star Wars Vladimir Putin fandom or something. If you want to go down a rabbit hole, start connecting dots between Stewart Brand, Ray Kurzweil, Nick Bostrom, and Peter Thiel: Enjoy! At most, these low rent Dark Enlightenment cosplayers and online manifesto pamphleteers rate a single scarcely attended panel at a third tier Con. And, frankly, even as a cultural symptom there are simply much more interesting and eerie forms the particular irrational fears and fantasies of these whiny white guys also take that are more worthy of our attention, from survivalist gun-nuttery to self-actualization PowerPoint presentations in Ramada Inns for start-up techbros and Vegas boner pill and nutritional supplement trade shows as well as the common or garden variety Obama derangements that yield the bananas bounty of Christianist know-nothingism and the Tea Party Neo-Confederacy.

Black Helicopters on Mars! Obama Drones on Mars! Amazon Drones Deliver Pizzas on Mars! Mark of the Beast on the Mars Face!

Shatteringly Apt

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Free Internet, The Free Market

There is no such thing as "the internet" apart from laws, norms, institutions, practices that are not "the internet." There is no natural, spontaneous, abiding, spatial reality that is either "the internet" or "the market" -- and it is no surprise that arguments presumably defending, saving, promoting "the free internet" are made so often by the same people who make arguments defending, saving, promoting "the free market" and so often in ways that re-enact the false, facile terms defending, saving, promoting "the free market."

More Futurological Brickbats here.

More Dispatches from Libertopia here.

For what it's worth, in the twitter conversation that ensued from the two tweets that became this "futurological brickbat/dispatch from libertopia" I went on to make this probably obscure, but to me still interesting, academic point: "The force of [Evgeny] Morozov's critique of net-centrism is importantly continuous with the force of critiques of market naturalism/spontaneism. So, too, solutionism beholden to a false net-centric substantial-internet figure re-enacts the gesture of reductive externalizing cost-benefit analyses beholden to market spontaneism."

Norquist's Big Union Big Lie

Via Salon:
On Saturday, anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist moderated a panel titled, “After Wisconsin and beyond right-to-work laws, what’s possible now to free workers and students from unionism?” While acknowledging that union membership has fallen to a historic low, Norquist opened the discussion by claiming that unions are the greatest political force in America at the moment. “They’re not dead yet -- they’re in decline,” Norquist said. “They raise maybe $7 billion a year in dues. Imagine how much they spend of that on politics. [You don't have to "imagine" it, you can observe it -- as we will in a moment -- but notice that Norquist prefers "imagination" over facts here precisely because this is about mobilizing fear in order to get majorities to vote against their own best interests so that the richest can get richer, the same old GOP song and dance as always. --d] They are the largest political player in American politics and will be for some time. What can we do about it?”
Unions are not in decline -- unions are being dismantled by Republicans, and have been for generations. And as union memberships have declined so too have the job conditions and job security and purchasing power of the majority of people in this country who work for a living also declined. It isn't an accident that wealth concentration has skyrocketed as unions have dwindled, nor that as the wealthiest have grown more wealthy they have spent more and more of their wealth to capture the regulatory agencies that would oversee them and the election processes that might provide a countervailing power to theirs for majorities. But setting all those deceptions aside, what about Norquist's conjuration of the specter of Big Bad Unions looming over the political landscape to scare plutocrats with and give working people someplace to pin their desperate hopes? Yeah, it's a lie:

Monday, March 10, 2014

My Upcoming Summer Intensives at Berkeley

Session A/RHET 103A: Are We Not Men? Patriarchal Convention and Conviction in Classical Antiquity

Rhetoric was conceived in antiquity as the art of speaking well. But the act of speaking, peer to peer, was always also a doing of deeds, and even well done it could do you in -- whether one was declaiming in the assemblies and courts of the radical democracies and anti-democracies of the Greek city-states, or drawing up ideal Republics in dreamy discourses among scholars, or engaging in the rough and tumble of state-craft and electioneering in the all too real and corrupt Republic of Rome, or circulating satires among snickers in the shadow of Emperors. In Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Quintilian especially, engagements with rhetoric delineated critical, deliberative, civic, pedagogical visions of human agencies fraught with inhumanity.

The societies of Greek, Roman, and Christian antiquity were also conspicuously patriarchal, in which Homeric heroes made history and conquered death with great words and deeds in an aspirational fantasy of masculine agency, horrific rape cultures in which women were conceived as beasts, slaves and dutiful wives, a patriarchy finding perhaps its quintessential expression in the Roman paterfamilias, the authoritarian male head of the household who held the power of life and death over his children, female relatives, and household slaves. But in philosophy and in poetry, in Greek tragedies and in Roman comedies we find glimpses of a considerably richer and more complicated world of gendered relations, erotic imagination, and human possibility, we encounter profound anxieties, ambivalences, and resistances to patriarchal practices and prejudices.

Although we will be reading texts in which philosophy declares its opposition to rhetoric's opportunism and deceit, we will read them as rhetorical skirmishes in the politics of truth-telling. Although we will read discourses on civic deliberation, we will read them as anxious testaments to ubiquitous corruption and violence. Although we will be reading orations aspiring to a world of Heroes and of Men, we will read them as brutal reflections on a world in which many were not heroes and many were not men. We will be reading works by Aristophanes, Aristotle, Augustine, Marcus and Quintus Cicero, Euripides, Gorgias, Herodotus, Homer, Juvenal, Libanus, Ovid, Petronius, Plato, Plautus, Quintilian, Sappho, Seneca, Suetonius, Terence, and Thucydides. All of the readings will be available either online or in a course reader.

Session D/RHET 20: Who Holds the Keys? Facts, Figures, and Fetishisms

To survey contemporary critical theory is to ask the question, "Who Holds the Keys?" Who are the ones who know how to decipher inscrutable texts, expose longstanding deceptions, illuminate complex social formations, unlock intractable histories? But when we ask just what it is to know these things, and how we know them, and how we know who knows them, we come to realize that our initial question contains within it troubling answers to other sorts of questions, questions about what we think it means to be a "who" and not a "what" in the first place. “Interpretation” derives from the Latin interpretatio, a term freighted with the sense not only of explication and explanation, but also translation. What are the vocabularies and conventions that govern intelligible acts of interpretation, translation, argumentation? What are the conventions through which we constitute the proper objects of interpretation? Who are the subjects empowered to offer up interpretations that compel our attention and change our convictions? Who holds these translation keys?

We will discover that for many of our conversational partners in these investigations, our questions will turn out to turn, astonishingly enough, on various construals of the phenomenon of the fetish. We will discover early that theories of the fetish define the turn of the three threshold figures of critical theory from philosophy to post-philosophical discourse: Marx, Freud, Nietzsche (commodity, sexuality, ressentiment). Fetishism recurs deliriously thereafter in contemporary critical accounts, feminist, queer, anti-racist, post-colonial, technoscientific, and we will survey many of these. Fetishism may be indispensable to the constitution of the social, the adjudications of the cultural and subcultural, and to representational practices both artistic and political. Is the devotion of the critical to the separation of facts from fancies itself fetishistic? Is fetishism a kind of figurative language, an anti-figurative mode, or a perverse kind of literalization? What are we to make of the way distinctions between fetishism, figuration, and facticity can themselves always be drawn fetishistically, figuratively, and factually? We will be reading texts by Carol Adams, Theodor Adorno, Louis Althusser, Hannah Arendt, Roland Barthes, William Burroughs, Judith Butler, Walter Benjamin, Guy Debord, Frantz Fanon, Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle, Michel Foucault, Sigmund Freud, Paul Gilroy, Stewart Hall, Donna Haraway, David Harvey, Franz Kafka, Naomi Klein, Bruno Latour, CS Lewis, Karl Marx, Laura Mulvey, Friedrich Nietzsche, Valerie Solanas, Gayatri Spivak, Oscar Wilde, Raymond Williams, and Slavoj Zizek. All of the readings will be available either online or in a course reader. Where we end up together will, of course, be very much a matter open to interpretation.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Forum on the Existenz Journal Issue, "The Future of Humanity and the Question of Post-Humanity"

The Journal Existenz has published an issue (Volume 8/2, Fall 2013 ISSN: 1932-1066) entitled The Future of Humanity and the Question of Post-Humanity. I contributed an essay to the volume, Futurological Discourse and Posthuman Terrains. On this page I mean to post critical discussions of and responses to the issue and the individuals essays included in it, both my own and substantive critiques by others. If you come upon any such discussions or write one yourself, please let me know and I will read it and link to it here. Existenz itself has linked to this page to encourage the conversation. I will be happy to publish substantial critiques here on Amor Mundi as guest posts and may upgrade forceful criticisms in comments from the Moot as entries here as well. Substantial critical engagements with my own arguments are especially welcome, of course.

Table of Contents

Index and Editor's Introduction

Discussions of and Responses to the Volume as a Whole:
Comment from Athena Andreadis and discussion.
Gregory J. Walters, Saint Paul University, Canada, Transhumanism, Post-Humanism, and Human Technological Enhancement: Whither Goes Humanitas? 1

Discussions and Responses:

Max More, Alcor Life Extension Foundation, Hyperagency as a Core Attraction and Repellant for Transhumanism, 14

Discussions and Responses:

Natasha Vita-More, Humanity+ Contested Culture: The Plausibility of Transhumanism, 19

Discussions and Responses:

Francesca Ferrando, Columbia University, Posthumanism, Transhumanism, Antihumanism, Metahumanism, and New Materialisms: Differences and Relations, 26

Discussions and Responses:

John P. Sullins, Sonoma State University, Transhuman Express: Are we Ethically Required to be Transhumanists?, 33

Discussions and Responses:

Stephen A. Erickson, Pomona College, Posthumanism, Technology, and Education, 40

Discussions and Responses:

Dale Carrico, University of California at Berkeley, San Francisco Art Institute, Futurological Discourses and Posthuman Terrains, 47

Discussions and Responses:
Comments from "jimf" and "JD Tuyes" with responses.

Richard Jones, Does Transhumanism Matter? April 17, 2017. I respond here.
Michael Hauskeller, University of Exeter, UK, Human Nature from a Transhumanist Perspective, 64

Discussions and Responses:

Here is a recording of the original panel discussion organized by the Karl Jaspers Society of North America that took place at the 87th Annual Meeting of the American Philosophical Society in San Francisco, in March 31, 2013.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Shut Up Sucky Internets

Who cares if Rand Paul won the CPAC straw poll that never means anything to real politics? Who cares what American political commentators have to say about a crashed airliner they don't know anything about? Everybody should be educating, agitating, and organizing to get more women and people of color than usual jazzed about voting for Democrats in the mid-terms so we don't have to spend two years watching Impeachment proceedings and tallying up the casualties from old straight white guy forced pregnancy and gun arsenal fantasies and dealing with the horrific reality of Paul Ryan kill the poors and crash the economy federal budgets. What the hell, stoopid internet, eyes on the ball!

tl;dr I Suppose

It is a bit demoralizing how "liked" and "retweeted" throwaway posts and snarky comments will be as compared to the vast indifference greeting something I actually worked on and feel proud of, like the Existenz piece. /grump

Act Surprised

Friday, March 07, 2014

Long Teaching Day

This morning in the City from nine to noon in my undergraduate Planetary Thinking and Environmental Justice course we tackle environmental racism as well as racism in environmentalism, and then from one to four in my graduate Introduction to Critical Theory lecture it is Guy Debord's Society of the Spectacle and then Naomi Klein's No Logo. A very long day, blogging low to no, and so the perfect occasion for you to chew on my Existenz piece Futurological Discourse and Posthuman Terrains.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

"Google, Please Solve Death!"

When I first saw this image I assumed it was a parodic skewering of corporate-militarist techno-utopianism in the spirit of the Yes Men, but at least some people seem to regard it as a legitimate "Street Action for Transhumanism." Not to put too fine a point on it, but picketing a corporate headquarters not to protest its crimes but to promise to buy more of its products in the hopes that they will eventually make you effortlessly rich, sexy, and immortal isn't exactly my idea of a "Street Action" in any emancipatory politics worthy of the name. I have long argued that transhumanoid, singularitarian, techno-immortalist, nano-cornucopian, digi-utopian futurisms always tend to support reactionary corporate-military politics, even when their advocates earnestly do not mean them to do so, by substituting passive gizmo-fetishizing consumer fandoms for political organization, by endorsing elite technocratic circumventions of democracy through proposals of social change primarily or even exclusively through profitable design interventions, by reducing to the terms of technical amplification any aspiration for progress for which political struggles among stakeholders in history in the direction of equity-in-diversity are always required in fact, and by celebrating current hierarchies through a paradoxical naturalization of them in which fantasies of status quo amplification are peddled as if they constitute "disruption" and "accelerating change" when they disrupt and change little that matters for real social justice.

Existenz Publishes "The Future of Humanity and the Question of Posthumanity"

Existenz has published its volume on The Future of Humanity and the Question of Post-Humanity, which includes what is probably my own most fully elaborated published critique of transhumanism Futurological Discourse and Posthuman Terrains. When I find the time -- probably over the week-end since I'll be preoccupied with teaching later today and all day tomorrow -- I will be creating a forum here linking to the original panel discussion from which the volume originated, linking to all the pieces themselves, as well as to various online responses to the essays (please let me know about any such responses and discussions you discover, and not only for responses to my own essay but to any and all of them) and facilitating such responses (the best of which I will consider publishing here as guest posts if you like), and eventually my own responses to each of the contributions as well.

Elizabeth Warren Proposes We Tax Millionaires To Lower Student Loan Debt

It's not the Jubilee solution I would prefer as I shoulder what remains a home-mortgage sized debt from grad school over a decade after I graduated, but Warren's question is the right one: “Do we invest in students or millionaires?”

Today's Random Wilde

Whenever people talk to me about the weather, I always feel certain that they mean something else.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

You Are Going To Die

I Don't Care "What Putin Wants"

Upgraded and adapted from an exchange in the Moot:

A reader prompts: "The hawks are cheerfully shrieking indeed, but at least some of them make good points: What Putin Wants Shouldn't the West finally get its act together and nip an emergent Ruso-Eurasian power bloc in the bud before Putin's despotism claims another mountain of skulls or a dozen?"

I reply:
Depends on what the "nipping" consists of. Too many variations on the "nipping" available seem to amount to building comparative skull piles. I think Russia should be marginalized economically and diplomatically for behaving badly, kicked out of talks and the G8, assets frozen, boycotts and so on -- moves that would be rendered more forceful the less badly we behave ourselves, by the way -- and encouraged to see how better behavior is better for everybody.
I must say I'm getting nervous about the foregrounding of Putin biography in the building narratives right and left about what is afoot -- I don't doubt that the overabundant majority of political leaders/celebrities are narcissistic to sociopathic (including our own, including our better ones), and hence rather monstrous, but I don't think history is ever properly grasped in terms of a pageant of monsters with superpowers.
Russia is a sprawling corrupt scarcely functional power dependent on ties with the notional representative democracies and seething with stakeholders the dynamics among which are the motor of its politics incomparably more that "what Putin wants." Part of the reason it is now tricky to marginalize Russia is that multilateral diplomacy over Syria, Iran, North Korea, the EU project are already entangled in Russian dynamism in tension with these pre-planetary nationalistic military moves Russia is making in the sphere of its one-time influence as the Soviet Union. That tension is real, and while it is tricky for us, as I said, it's even trickier for a Russia that needs to be more planetary in its politics and knows it even when it is acting otherwise for the cameras. That said, Putin seems to me like the KGB thug he was trained as. Is this news to anyone?
America has no legitimate interest entering into anything like another ruinously costly immoral conflict with a dysfunctional nuclear power because our own hawk thugs have comic book narratives to peddle to make us think their dicks are big. People offering vaguely ominous or heroic insinuations about strength that presumably translate to more than diplomatic and economic marginalizations need to put up or shut up.
I agree that the West needs to get its act together. And the West will finally get its act together when we/they marshal the will to make corporations pay taxes and penalties for their climate crimes and then invest the money in renewable infrastructure to afford a sustainable Western civilization. Eyes on the ball, people.

"Anissimov's Jolt to the Far Right"

Upgraded and adapted from an exchange in the Moot:
First, a generally useful point for context: I have always argued that futurisms conduce to reactionary corporate-military politics [1] in their acquiescent gizmo-fetishizing consumer fandoms and [2] in their daydreams of elite technocratic circumventions of democracy via design and [3] in their reduction to technical amplification of a progress for which political struggles among stakeholders in history in the direction of equity-in-diversity are always required in fact and [4] in their naturalization of the status quo through fantasies of status quo amplification peddled as "disruption" and "accelerating change" and so on.

Now, for years and years before what you call Anissimov's "jolt to the right" I have accused him of advocating a reactionary politics of plutocratic corporatism, fetishistic militarism, and anti-democratic eugenic and technocratic elitism. Check out the Superlative Summary and scroll to the pieces responding to him in particular -- under the handy heading "Michael Annisimov" -- over many years for a sense of what I am talking about. Of course, he whined and denied this as name calling but never responded to the substance of what I was saying. Now he lets his fascist freak flag fly, I can't say that I am at all surprised.

Second, a more gossipy and hypothetical point: Anissimov seems to me to have been somewhat left behind when the music stopped and many of the cultists he has hobnobbed with since he was a dumb conventionally-bright pampered white cluck of a kid ready to swallow a bunch of simplistic consoling self-congratulatory libertopian techbrotarian just-so stories online guru-wannabes told him to explain the complexities of the world for him and then they all grabbed chairs in better-funded more mainstream-sounding institutional perches with corporate (Google) and university affiliations (Stanford, Oxford). Rather than examining his enabling scientistic/ eugenic/ libertopian/ futurological assumptions he has doubled down on them. He's now opting for being a bigger freaky fish in an even smaller freaky pond in the Robot Cult archipelago because it suits his vanity and because he may be angling for one more round of the guru-wannabe grift so many he supported since he got brainwashed in high school have managed for themselves while he carefully and timidly stood by and watched. I don't think he's got the juice, poor thing, but we shall see how deep he goes down his hellish rabbit hole.