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

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Contextualizing My Anti-Futurological Critique for Theoryheads

This rather densely allusive sketch contextualizing my anti-futurological critique won't be everybody's cup of tea, but I've upgraded and adapted it from my response to a comment in the Moot for those readers who find this sort of thing useful but who would likely miss it otherwise. I still think probably the best, most concise and yet complete(-ish) formulation of my critique is the contrbution I published in the recent Existenz volume on posthumanism.
You accuse me of indulging in futurism while critiquing it. All the big boys make such moves, I don't think less of you for trying it. I have heard what you have to say so far, and I must say it seems to me you are baldly wrong to say this, and that believing it sends you off-track...

What I mean by futurism has its origins in specific institutional histories and discursive practices: namely, the emergence of fraudulent methodologies/ rationales of speculation in market futures and the extrapolative genre of the scenario in military think-tanks -- all taking place in the wider context of the suffusion of public deliberation and culture with the hyperbolic and deceptive techno-progressive norms and forms of consumer advertizing...
To give you a sense of where I am coming from and to give you a sense of what I am hearing when you say "modernity" and how I might try to take us elsewhere with futurity-against-futurology, I provide this handy sketch:

To the extent that post-modernity (late modernity, a-modernity, neoliberalism, whatever) is the post-WW1/2 inflation of the petrochemical bubble in which other postwar financial bubbles are blown, my anti-futurology is of a piece with Lyotard's (whatever my differences with him, of which I have many, he makes some of the same warnings).
To the extent that futurism markets elite-incumbency as progress, my anti-futurology is also of a piece with some of Debord's critique of the Spectacle, so-called (the parts about "enhanced survival" in particular), specifically to the extent that Debord's tale of "being degraded into having degraded into appearing" derives from Adorno's culture industri(alization) as formula-filling-mistaken-for-judgment and Benjamin's War Machine as the displacment of a revolutionary equity-in-diversity from the epilogue of Art in the Age.
Your emphasis seems more attuned to aesthetic modernities, so the larger context for me is the proposal that between the bookends of Thirty-Years' Wars from Westphalia to Bretton Woods European modernity indulged in a host of quarrels des anciens et des modernes, culture wars presiding over and rationalizing the ongoing organization of social militarization/ administration of nation-states and their competitive internationalism.

"The Future" of futurisms in my sense arises out of those discourses. Design discourses are especially provocative for my critical position, for example, since they are patently futurological -- at once doing and disavowing politics; peddling plutocracy qua meritocracy via the Merely Adequate Yet Advancement through their exemplary anti-democratzing Most Acceptable Yet Advanced MAYA principle -- but still quite modern in what I think is your sense of the term. This matters because futurological global/digital rationality is for me an importantly different phenomenon than the modern that constitutes itself in the repudiation of the ancient: the futurist for me is in between, at once a vestige of modern internationalism and a harbinger of post-nationalist planetarity.

Planetarity is a term I am taking from Spivak, and my sense of where we are headed -- if anywhere -- is informed by queer/critical race/post-colonial/environmental justice theories like hers. In my various theory courses I usually advocate in my final lecture (the one with the final warnings and visions in it) for a polycultural planetarity -- where the "polyculture" term resonates with Paul Gilroy's post-Fanonian convivial multiculturalism as well as with the repudiation of industrial monoculture for companion planting practices in the service of sustainability (but also synecdochic for sustainable political ecology), and then the "planetarity" term marks the failure/ eclipse of nation-state internationalism (say, UN-IMF-World Bank globalization) in digital financialization, fraud, marketing harassment, and surveillance and ecological catastrophe. Polycultural planetarity would build ethics and mobilize democratizations via contingent universalization (that's from my training with Judith Butler no doubt) in the future anterior (a Spivakian understanding of culture as interpretation practices toward practical conviviality). For me, that future anterior is the futurity inhering in the present in the diversity of stakeholders/peers to presence, very much opposed to the closures, reductions, extrapolations, instrumentalizations of "The Future."
Lots of name-dropping there, I know, but almost every phrase here can easily turn into a three-hour lecture, I'm afraid, in one of my contemporary critical theory survey courses. I suspect you might be tempted to assimilate all that feminist/queer/posthuman-criticalrace theoretical complex to the categories you already know -- forgive me if I have jumped to conclusions in so saying -- but I think that would be an error, more an effort to dismiss and hence not have to read the work than think what we are doing as Hannah Arendt enjoined, the call I hear every day that keeps me going.


Jay said...

Keep working on it. Eventually you'll get it down to something comprehensible.

Dale Carrico said...

Theoryhead frosting is already delicious to them as wants it.

D. Ghirlandaio said...

I've avoided this but why not.

You're digging yourself deeper into a hole; your erudition obscures. I'll use one reference to focus: "Behind the chiliasm of modem man, is the megalomania of self-infinitization." Daniel Bell
The bureaucratic infinite: the library and the card catalogue. The library's patron saint is Borges, a cloistered nihilist. He dug himself a hole and stayed there. He's not much help to the rest of us.

Post-modernism is modernity after idealism and after the backlash. You want to defend modernism, and it's dead. Modernity is still with us. The fantasies of what it meant are gone.

I matched your discussion of the idea of rhetoric, which was itself an example of a form of rhetoric, with a a few words by a man indulging it whole-heartedly. "Well, you know, I lie for a living, and sometimes I begin to believe my own lies, and that's not a good idea."
His writing was more subtle and charming than mine; also very specifically British.

Here's more American oratory, and another lawyer.

Mortimer and Jamail play a role more central to democracy than you could ever hope for. More important than John Rawls or any philosopher at Oxbridge or the Ecole Normale, no matter how superior they claim to be. What does that imply?

What does it mean to be worldly?

Dale Carrico said...

No need to cry for me digging deeper into my hole. I like it here. It's nice. It's a lot like not a hole at all as these things go. I don't know what it would even mean to defend modernity, but since I'm usually accused of defending post-modernity (which I don't think I do either), I guess the variety is nice. Borges is a better writer than you. Was that helpful? Thanks for all your advice about what I can hope for in the way of democracy, and we do all congratulate you on your forbearance in not writing all that before you did.