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

Monday, March 30, 2015

Click Clock

Everybody knows if you make a pile of abacuses high enough it will wake up and end history.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Watersports Into Waterdistorts

Trickle down has been pissing down our backs and saying it's raining for more than a generation.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Long Teaching Day

This morning my undergraduate course Digital Democracy, Digital Anti-Democracy should be fun, as we're screening and discussing "The Forbin Project." Later in the day in my graduate Introduction to Critical Theory lecture things will be hectic -- William Burroughs, Kafka, Althusser, and Arendt all make appearances. Expect low to no blogging the long day through.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Media Maven

Had a radio interview today on AI to prep for and then do -- managed not to get to any of the points I'd outlined in advance so meticulously, instead had an enjoyable conversation and made what feel to me to be preliminary points. The time went by in a lightning flash. I'll let you know more about it when I know more about it.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Way of the World

The term for an historical period in which most people are deliberately uninformed and misinformed is, apparently, an "Information Age."

More Futurological Brickbats here.

AI Piece Re-Appears

Thanks to David Golumbia who has shepherded my essay Artificial Intelligence As Alien Intelligence into publication over at boundary 2.

Empty Open

The "open" in Open Source is always open "for business."

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

I Me Mine

It is in our possessiveness that we are most dispossessed.

Team Katya!

In my view, these shorts are breelliant, xheelarious, sooblime. I xheartily rickomment. Zdravst.

Third Way!

Every single person who declares themselves "beyond left and right" is either a secret shill for the right or a perfect dupe for the right.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

On Mandatory Voting

I think it is a good idea that on Election Day, one day a year, all adult citizens should have what amounts to jury duty in a court of public opinion that puts their country on trial.

Part of what is appealing in Obama's recent floating of this idea is that a campaign for mandatory voting functions rhetorically and organizationally as push-back against the conspicuous anti-democratizing movements of mass voter disenfranchisement (mostly, let's face it, by Republicans who are either white racists or who depend on white-racism to gain and maintain the power they deploy in the service of plutocracy) and the increasing corruption of elections by plutocratic money (by those representatives in both parties who are beholden more to corporate patronage than to the majorities they are elected to represent) but, crucially unlike many of the more familiar and longstanding critiques of and campaigns against these anti-democratizing forces, the mandatory voting proposal is for now unexpected and aggressive, not defensive and reactive, transforming and seemingly simplifying the terms of that struggle, mobilizing new constituencies and provisional alliances, and redirecting the momentum of a stalled debate in the face of urgent dangers.

The hysterical reactions across the reactionary punditosphere and hate-talk archipelago exposes the force of the proposal as much as anything could. That those who are most precarious are also usually the least inclined to participate in a political system that excludes and exploits them even though their shared interests and sheer numbers imply that they would represent a formidable organized political force and would be the greatest possible beneficiaries of change in the direction of equity-in-diversity suggests the radical potential of such a massive mobilization.

Needless to say, as the actually mixed results of this practice in the Australian example to which the President alludes, this proposal is not a panacea, it is not immune to corruption and nonsense -- as if any political process in America could manage that feat. Mandatory voting should be seen in my view as an opportunistic proposal arising in a particular historical juncture, the ultimate impact of which would depend on the education, agitation, organization, legislation that emerged out of its implementation. This is true of any political outcome: politics is interminable and unleashes forces the consequences of which cannot ever be known in advance.

I do not necessarily prefer mandatory voting as a proposal to others that have long been on offer -- election day as a national holiday, same-day registration, automatic registration via the IRS, SSA, DMV, Postal Service, Department of Education, and so on, extensive early voting options, voting-by-mail, nonpartisan commissions for drawing voting districts, instant runoff voting/candidate ranking, exclusive public-financing of all campaigns, limiting the calendar term for election advertizing, nationwide replacement of the electoral college with the popular vote (not to be confused with partisan efforts to make this substitution only in selective states to skew national election outcomes), repair and expansion of the Voting Rights Act, and so on. I do not think one has to choose between these proposals but rather we should embrace the unexpected controversy of the mandatory voting proposal to shift alliances and arguments in ways that might enable other proposals as well. I suspect that the energy attracted by a mandatory voting campaign would re-invigorate these other long-standing proposals and that its implementation would be one of the few forces to break through the impasse and inertia that has long bedeviled these ideas.

I happen not to agree with those who approve of this idea and then insist on the caveat that mandatory voting must always offer a "none of the above" option. I think one of the virtues of mandatory voting should be the inculcation of the insight that voting for a candidate can almost never amount to an endorsement of all that candidate's positions nor should the choice of a representative be understood as a facile identification with that representative. I would like to think that if no-one could evade voting, fewer would indulge the superficial celebritization of politics and more would grasp that representatives are always only the best on offer and must be held accountable by the ongoing vigilance and activism of the citizens who elect them for a time. All of this is to say that mandatory voting seems to me far from a fetishism of voting as the supreme or even an adequate form of political activity (a vision that almost inevitably amounts to an consumerist acquiescence to the status quo) but an occasion precisely for a de-fetishization of voting, a recognition that agitation pushing with or against elected representatives is indispensable to representative politics, and the realization from the universal performance of voting that just as real majorities are competent to vote as citizens so too real majorities are likely competent to run for and hold office as citizens as well.

Green/Solar Roofs Mandated in France

Rooftops on new buildings built in commercial zones in France must either be partially covered in plants or solar panels, under a law approved on Thursday... The law approved by parliament was more limited in scope than initial calls by French environmental activists to make green roofs that cover the entire surface mandatory on all new buildings. The Socialist government convinced activists to limit the scope of the law to commercial buildings. The law was also made less onerous for businesses by requiring only part of the roof to be covered with plants, and giving them the choice of installing solar panels to generate electricity instead.
I rather approve the way the green roof mandate allows rooftop solar as a "less onerous" alternative, but I wonder just how much the restriction to "commercial" buildings and zones will provide ways to evade the mandate with definitional and micro-rezoning shenanigans. That would surely be the way of it here in the US. Even so, I can scarcely imagine how beneficial such a mandate would be in continent-scaled US context, especially if the mandate extended to both new construction and remodeled rental residential, restaurants, retail space and agricultural plant.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

"Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months." -- Oscar Wilde

It is instructive to observe the parallels between fashion experts and futurological experts "trend-spotting" as, essentially, advertizing activities.

Deep Debt

Indebtedness, like original sin, is a state of abiding existential insecurity enormously useful to the schemes of (market) faithful elites.

More Dispatches from Libertopia here.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

(Trickle-)Down and (Middle-)Out in US Bourgeois Political Economy

For anyone who really cares about either justice or prosperity, trickle down is a lie, middle-out is a fudge, and bottom up is an imperative. While it is undeniably true that neoliberal policies anchored by trickle-down pieties has presided over two generations of wealth concentration, plutocratic consolidation, burgeoning precarization, unsustainable exploitation it is never right to lionize the two generations of mid-century post-war American economic expansion in framing an alternative to neoliberalism given that epoch's structural exclusion and exploitation of Black Americans and immigrant labor and also given the undeniable unsustainability of its wasteful, polluting, demoralizing motor of mass consumption driven by the suffusion of public life with deceptive, hyperbolic, denialist marketing norms and forms.

"Bottom Up" political economy, to the contrary, must be grounded in the public investment for the provision of basic income, healthcare, education, and equal recourse to law and government which secure a legible scene of informed, nonduressed consent to the terms of everyday commerce as well as for the accountable administration of the commonwealth of public goods and common resources. When equity-in-diversity (of which sustainabillity is an indispensable part, since the costs and risks of unsustainable formations are always disproportionately borne by the marginalized and the poor) are secured via steeply progressive taxation and public investment -- via tax revenue, bond issues, countercyclical deficit spending, and so on -- a democratic bottom-up political economy of ramifying creative expressivity, civic participation, shared problem-solving, personal volunteerism, social services, organized labor, local entrepreneurship without fetishized mass consumption and plutocratic celebrities has a chance to emerge.

Only a bottom-up political economy is compatible with nonviolence (for those on the right who would howl about the "violence" of taxation, recall that all fortune is a collective accomplishment, that the progressive re-distribution of wealth by the state via taxation compensates a regressive pre-distribution of wealth by the state via legal/infrastructural affordances, and that from those to whom much is given much is rightly expected), and that only a system committed to nonviolence is compatible with democracy and universal law, even as interminable aspirational projects.

Quietly, Quietly

Ohio's Republican Governor John Kasich is the single potential candidate in the Republican Killer Clown Car who worries me for 2016. Walker is hilariously unimpressive whatever the gossip pundit fluffing he is getting at this moment and Rubio is brown in a racist party however the pundits try to pretend that doesn't matter and Randroid Paul is a nut like Dad (no wonder the nutty Base loves him so) even if the pundits want to call him a savvy Idea Man and Jeb has a name literally everybody hates and advocates immigration and education policies the Base running the GOP primary gauntlet hates and he comes off dumb as a stump on the stump however much the pundits declare him the gifted golden child of the satanic imbecilic Bush brood. But what if a Base-friendly union-bashing Medicare-expanding(-but-because-of-Jesus) blandly-electable key swing state governor were to appear out of nowhere to cut through the crap and give Hillary (against whom he is rarely polled in all the slick side-by-sides we've already been treated to for months though this thing is two years our) a run for her money?

Contrary to PoliticalWire's coy headline, this is NOT "flirtation":
Next week, Mr. Kasich will ratchet up his presidential guessing game with visits to the first primary state, New Hampshire, on Tuesday and to Manhattan on Wednesday to mingle at a dinner with Republican donors. In April, he will address the Detroit Economic Club, which recently hosted Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida.
Anybody who is not paying attention to Ohio is not paying attention.

Don't See Evil -- Google

Department of Corrections.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Amor Lectionis

What follows is a passage culled from the Moot of my recent, and I hope still ongoing, conversation with some left anarchists here. I was a bit surprised that at various points I found myself not defending particular claims I made in my critique of anarchism but defending the style and characterization of my argumentation as such, fending off accusations that it was frivolous (as if the incredible volume of writing and the hours it obviously took to write it didn't suggest, to the contrary, the obvious earnestness and seriousness of my effort) and that I am trying to impress people with incomprehensible complexity and vocabulary rather than communicate with them (as if I would confuse incomprehension with being impressed, as if I would seek to impress people who found my writing incomprehensible, as if I haven't noticed that people who are daunted by sentences and vocabulary more demanding than one find's in People magazine tend to respond to them not by being impressed but with defensiveness and hostility).

Anyway, strangely enough, I was drawn to re-post this passage from the Moot when I read (on a tweeted tip from David Golumbia) Nathan Hensley's recent recounting of the crisis in the late nineties of the star-spangled English Department at Duke helmed by Stanley Fish. At the time, the influential hermeneutic and political (feminist, queer, postcolonial, etc.) critical approaches to the reading of literature emerging from the department were caught up in the theory wars symptomized by the stupid Sokal affair and accusations that theory represented hostility to literature or an effort to "master" literature (in which I always heard the still-lingering whine of earlier multicultural battles over the canon, a rage at the dislodging via capacious criticism of the hegemonic mastery of western literature).

Needless to say, this critique implies that political engagement with literature violates it, and acceptance of the critique paved the way for essentially a-political anti-political forms of description amounting at their worst to promotional literature. Now, a generation later, in the epoch of the neoliberal informercial academy in which the humanities are treated as a fossil in a field slated to become a parking lot, it is not hard to see that millennial clash among academics as precedent for current clashes of precarious indentured academics with robotic administrators and managers ready to burn the academy down for the insurance money. As Hensley nicely puts the point, the debate seemed to depend on a facile distinction between criticism and fetishism of literature, a denial that criticism of literature could be a thinking-otherwise than philosophizing arising out of aesthetic experience and expressing a kind of love for the texts it engages. Eve Sedgwick -- one of the stars of Duke and an enormously beloved and formative influence for me -- becomes the exemplary figure of such an understanding of criticism in Hensley's account.

I received my PhD. from the Rhetoric Department at Berkeley in 2005 after a decade of study there, and I experienced the episode recounted by Hensley as a partisan who felt very much under attack, and who warned about the connections between anti-critical attacks and neoliberal ambitions (there were, of course, many many folks who knew what was going on). In my program I learned to read texts logically, tropologically, and topically (that is to say, as texts constituted by entailments, figurations, and citations), texts offered up by and released into the hearing of struggling situated subjects. This was a mode of reading that was deeply influenced by hermeneutics and was readily politicized in ways then under attack at Duke (and it felt like everywhere else), and for me at any rate it was connected to a teaching of critical theory in which I am still engaged to this day, critical theory as a post-philosophical discourse inaugurated by the anti-fetishistic critiques of Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud (commodity, ressentimentality, sexuality) and culminating in Spivak's planetarity (also, from 1999). Since so many of these strands comport with Hensley's it is no surprise his piece resonated for me. I realize that after all this preamble the actual snippet from the Moot will inevitably seem a bit anti-climactic, but at its heart is rhetoric as a mode of critical/political reading that is an expression of love for the text -- that in discerning an event as a text is already to be caught up in a responsiveness/responsibility between subjects mediated by the text that is a form that love takes -- and that expresses that deeper love to which my whole practice is dedicated (and after which this blog, originating in my last years in the program at Rhetoric), a love of the world/love of public worldliness, Arendtian amor mundi.
As someone trained in rhetoric, who teaches rhetoric, who is actually -- weird as this may sound -- devoted to rhetoric as a critical practice, it is very commonplace for me to see arguments as pitched in occasions that resonate in them after they have passed, as citing frames and conceits that render them apparently plausible and truly forceful, as dependent on figures that feel transparent or evidentiary when they strictly speaking are not, that indulge formal fallacies that bedevil them even while making them persuasive, and so on.

When one exposes a logical entailment, a topical citation, a pesky metaphorization one is rarely accusing its author of hypocrisy or laziness or stupidity or anything like that. One is trying to understand how an argument generates its persuasive force the better to understand the hopes and history out of which it emerged and to which it responds. No argument escapes such stratifications, they are far better understood as the way into an argument than as an excuse to dismiss it. They are my chief point of connection with the author as a fellow sufferer in struggling to make sense of the world and overcome its terrible demands. In arriving at my critique of anarchism both left and right I have actually found the resources with which to understand democratization in a more mature way, and also to recognize the work of democratization in the best anarchists in their best moments.

If I had a dime for every time a person told me I use rhetoric to "play games" when I pointed out logical, topical, tropological connections that an interlocutor found inconvenient I could pay off my student loans.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Maybe That's Significant?

You can get at everything good and important about democracy, rights, public goods, equity-in-diversity without ever mentioning anarchism.
You can't get at anything good and important about democracy, rights, public goods, equity-in-diversity by only mentioning anarchism.

Threat, Promise, Politics

State can name incumbent predation as order.
State can name interminable democratization as equity-in-diversity.

As In Beer Tab

Information wants to be fleeced.

Monday, March 16, 2015


Indispensable David Golumbia today:
[T]he wrong question is to ask what CIA and State and so on are doing to “mess” with the Tor Project. The right question is to ask: how does the development of Tor, and in a parallel fashion the promotion of “internet freedom,” align with the interests of CIA, the State Department, USAID, and so on? This is a question that it is very hard for cyberlibertarians even to put to themselves. They are so convinced of the righteousness of “internet freedom” and of Tor, so sure of its purpose and its politics that many of them appear not even to be able to bear to ask whether these beliefs might be fallacious. That “internet freedom,” a slogan without a clear referent, might be a policy the US promotes for specific geostrategic reasons, in part because so many people hop on board without understanding that the “internet freedom” agenda is not what it sounds like. That Tor serves some very specific US interests... [T]here is plenty of evidence of design flaws per se in the Tor network: they are found all the time, often by the Tor developers themselves. How did they get there? Who knows. But that is one reason why “is it compromised” is such a misguided question: we know Tor is compromised or has been compromised at times, and undoubtedly will be again. We don’t know who is responsible for its vulnerabilities: often they emerge from parts of the system nobody appears to have thought about... But these are questions about which we can’t do much more than speculate. They are outweighed in importance by the central question about the ideology behind Tor. If you are asking how government funding compromises Tor and “internet freedom,” you are asking the wrong question. The right question is: how do Tor and “internet freedom” serve the interests of those who fund them so generously? ... The critique we need to consider is not merely that major powers are “paying lip service” to the idea of internet freedom; it is that the idea itself is bankrupt: it is a propagandistic slogan in search of a meaning, a set of meaningful-sounding (but meaningless) words, like “right to work[.]”


Americans have been waiting for the federal government to come to a decision over the Keystone XL pipeline for more than six years, enduring countless protests, Congressional hearings and even a Presidential veto over the controversial project. But during that time, pipeline construction in the U.S. hasn’t slowed -- in fact, it’s surged. The U.S. has added 11,600 miles of oil pipeline in the last decade, increasing its network of pipelines shipping oil through the country by almost a quarter.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Luddite Is All Right!

One of many slogans only I think are a good idea.

New World Future Society Post Is Up

I just took the last two posts I wrote today and edited, elaborated, and punched them up into a longer, better, and if I may say so rather funnier post, Tools for Techno-Transcendental Tricksters: The Turing Con and the Reductionist Shell Game. I would much rather you read that than the two posts that follow this one here, but feel free to discuss it in the Moot here if you would rather not expose yourself to strangers.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

The Turing Con

Counting on general ignorance, insensitivity, and ineptitude to get away with the substitution of a counterfeit is, in plain terms, fraud. Turing with his famous Test as well as the futurological "Uploading" enthusiasts following in his footsteps who now propose a digital scan or profile of a person that could not be distinguished from that person would constitute the migration and possible immortalization of that person are all indulging in a long con. As I never tire of saying, you are not a picture of you, you are not a profile of you, you are not a scan of you, and really that should be the end of it. That the Turing Test requires an elaborately constrained scene for the Test is a sure sign of the staging of a con for anybody with the least sense, and of course we cannot even yet begin to stage the scene one would need in order to get away with the con of testing a putative "Uploaded" person. Since the sense of self is sustained by subjective, objective, intersubjective, and interospective dimensions few to none of even the most dedicated Uploading enthusiasts have begun to grapple with (probably because it hasn't occurred to any of them that they would have to) I don't expect even to be well entertained by the antics of would-be "Upload" con-artists for years to come. As for real AI-persons and personal-uploading, oh dear me, forget about it.

Techno-Transcendental Tool-Kit: Begging the Question Via Reductionist Scenario Spinning

I've noticed a recurring robocultic trick. Want to indulge in the wish-fulfillment fantasy that you can be prosthetically techno-immortalized by being roboticized? Want to indulge in the wish fulfillment fantasy that you or your consciousness can live, possibly forever, in an immersive better-than-real virtual reality?

There are many variations of this nonsense: say, you plan to keep accumulating "upgrading" attachments, or you expect to be genetically rewoven or nanobotically refurbished, or you plan to scoop your "brain-self" into an imperishable sooper-body or you expect to "migrate" or "upload" some digital scan or profile you treat as your "info-self" into an imperishable cyberspatial paradise.

In every variation, the dream depends on the mastery of techniques that neither exist nor are even remotely on offer. Typically, these are treated as inevitable eventualities nonetheless because they do not obviously clash logically (apart from the, you know, not existing at all part) with what we presently know about the relevant biology, brain science, computer science, robotics. Even though we do know that in each of the fields we do not know quite a lot of what we would need to know to get any closer to such aspirational techniques their aspirants just assume this logical possibility will remain even though there isn't really any good reason to think that what we would come to know that we must know will still be logically compatible with these daydreams when it comes to it. And of course all this sets aside such pesky realizations that we might destroy ourselves or incapacitate ourselves before we accomplished these outcomes even if they were logically possible in some remote logical sense, or we might decide to focus on different outcomes because of their expense, more urgent priorities, shifting values, historical complications, any number of things.

Absolutely we do know that we cannot now do what the techno-transcendentalists dream of doing, and absolutely we do know that the scientific state of the art provides few to no reasons to think we will plausibly master these techno-transcendental techniques any time soon enough, if ever, to justify dwelling on them in the face of other urgent problems.

Confronted with this rather discouraging state of affairs, I have noticed a robocultic recurrence to reductionist scenario-spinning ot thought-experiments: Since biological organisms are material systems aren't we already robots after all? How do we actually know we are not already living in a virtual reality and not the real world after all?

Setting aside the fact that most people don't spend a lot of time seriously worrying that they are brains in a vat or dreaming when they think they are awake for the pretty good reason that getting on with life seems to be premised on thinking otherwise -- strictly speaking, of course, if the lives we are now living are a matter of exploring a virtual reality program then that provides no reason to believe we could run an equally immersive and better let alone immortalizing virtuality on that virtuality, nor would this provide any reason to believe that who we have meant by who we are could continue what we have have meant by living otherwise than on that virtuality which is what we have meant by reality.

And setting aside the fact that there isn't much call for describing people as robots outside of futurological sub(cult)ures for the pretty good reason that actual people aren't like actual robots in the world in ways that matter to most people -- strictly speaking, of course, even if we do say that biological beings are a kind of robot after all that doesn't means that every kind of robot can do what every other robot can do, and just as both red apples and red wagons are red and yet few would confuse them, so too biological people robots and robots on automobile assembly lines and sentient humanoid robots in science fiction may all be robots and yet few would confuse them.

The whole point of this exercise on the part of the techno-transcendentalist is to get people to entertain as interesting and logically possible in the world here and now an outcome they pine for (we can become robots, we can live in virtualities) that cannot otherwise be made to seem reasonably plausible or even relevant in a world of actual problems demanding address. Even if we are robots in some since we are not robots of the kind Robot Cultists want to be, even if we are living in a simulation we are not living in a simulation of the kind Robots Cultists, equivocating on the differences they hope to invest their wish-fulfillment fantasies with a reality effect they cannot otherwise muster. It is a form of begging the question, enabled by the larger imposture of futurological scenario-spinning mistaken for scientific hypotheses or policy proposals.

Friday, March 13, 2015


"How do we make robots moral?" is a nonsensical question.
"How do we make roboticists moral?" is an indispensable question.

More Futurological Brickbats here.

Long Teaching Day

This morning in the City in my undergraduate Digital Democracy, Digital Anti-Democracy course it is Singularity Day: Lanier on Cybernetic Totalism, Vinge on Singularity, Kurzweil on acceleration, Bostrom on robocalypse, and Stiegler's dystopian utopia "The Gentle Seduction." Later in the afternoon in my graduate Introduction to Critical Theory we have arrived at Debord's Society of the Spectacle and Naomi Klein's No Logo. It is the Friday afternoon before Spring Break -- finishing early seems a swell prospect and it's not even 6AM yet so I have a feeling by mid-afternoon the allure will be well nigh irresistible. Be that as it may, as usual on Fridays, blogging here on out will likely be low to no.


Why is it futurologists gazing in a crystal ball always see consumers grazing in a crystal mall?

More Futurological Brickbats here.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Blogging Anarchism in the Moot

If you think I haven't been blogging today, it's because the hundreds of words and many hours of blogging happening today has all happened in the Moot to this post, continuing my poor efforts to criticize left anarchism. Propaganda of the Deed, spontaneism, naturalist de-politicization, Occupy, and charges of nefarious frivolous convoluted rhetorical shenanigans all have their moment in the sun. By all means, join in if you have something to add. I trust I can be forgiven the many embarrassing misspellings omitted words and grammatical offenses I have committed over the course of providing my responses -- as I promise to forgive them in others who join in s well.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Future Is A Fraud

Sometimes it seems that professional futurologists engage in two essential activities: making predictions and scolding people for expecting their predictions to come true.

It has gotten so bad that at least one "professional futurist" -- Jamais Cascio -- is now declaring that the value of futurism is in what it gets "usefully wrong." At this point Cascio has poked so many holes exposing the fraud of conventional futurism (many of which I quite agree with) he really risks exposing the fraud of his own ongoing demand for attention and paychecks as a professional futurist himself.

Of course it is true that we do learn from mistakes -- think how earnestly Popper took Wilde's quip that "Experience is the name we give our mistakes" -- but can you imagine any other legitimate empirical discipline demanding to be taken seriously by concerned citizens and policy makers that would claim its models are all wrong in "interesting" ways? Setting aside the fact that few futurists would admit that they are wrong about everything as Cascio does (or at any rate would be consistent about such an admission), why should we care about the way futurists of all people get things wrong than the ways actual scientists and scholars, say, get things wrong -- especially when at least they aspire and occasionally manage to get things right?

That is to say, Cascio does not seem to be making the useful pragmatic point that all true propositions are never more than the best but still falsifiable propositions on offer for warranted reasons. I would sympathize with such a point, but it would simply change our expectations about the force and security of models and methods that get things right by our lights. Such a recognition would hardly provide grounds to distinguish futurism as a legitimate discipline from other legitimate disciplines. Like Cascio I do also make such a distinction, of course, but for me it is the distinction of con-artistry from policy-making (I leave to the side futurology's occasional inept forays into cultural criticism or -- Angels and ministers of grace defend us! -- philosophy).

To elaborate my point a bit more: No doubt all disciplines along the road to getting things as right as they can for now do also get things wrong in ways the study of which is interesting and useful, but it is the effort to get things right that earns their keep and provides the context in which usefully to assess the ways they err. Every legitimate discipline has a foresight dimension: one solicits agreements from potential collaborators, one insists on accounting for certain expectations, one makes provisional plans in light of one's understanding of the relevant forces and stakeholders at hand on the basis of the warranted descriptions provided by disciplines devoted to understanding them.

The problem is that futurism, futurology, future studies, or what have you, seeks legitimacy as a professional and scholarly discipline while every single method and model and analytic mode it deploys in the service of this goal originates in and is deployed by other social sciences and humanities scholars in an incomparably more rigorous and accountable way. Few futurists have degrees in these legitimate disciplines or could pass muster within their ranks. Futurists proceed instead by pretending their superficial appropriations are an interdisciplinarity when they amount in fact to an anti-disciplinarity.

As for the "methods" that are more characteristic of futurists in particular, few stand up to sustained scrutiny. Not to put too fine a point on it: "The Future" futurists pretend to study does not exist, the openness inhering in diversity of stakeholders to the present is -- if anything -- foreclosed by the parochial projections futurists denominate "The Future." (Futurology's characteristic extrapolations from the necessarily partially imperfectly understood present onto radically contingent developmental dynamisms are just an obvious instance.) The "trends" futurists pretend to discern do not exist -- if anything these are narrative constructions imposed retroactively on contingent vicissitudes to conjure an apparent momentum that can be opportunistically exploited by incumbents for profits. The futurological trend-spotter and the fashion trend-spotter are revealed to be perfectly continuous, then: deceptive hype profitably peddled as objective discovery. The "technology" futurists pretend to be their focus does not exist, the constellation of historical, existing, imagined techniques and artifacts only some of which are corralled together under the heading of "technology" do not in fact share any one characteristic or capacity or developmental trajectory, and their costs, risks, and benefits will also be different to the diversity of their stakeholders -- if anything the futurological pretense that the technological names a dimension of historical change different or separate from social, cultural, or political struggles is a focus that performs an insistent obfuscation of the reality at hand.

The conspicuous embrace of brainstorming and free association by some futurists takes up exercises from acting improvisation workshops which do indeed seem to me to be useful for inculcating habits of creative and flexible thinking for students -- but this is hardly a critical or testable method on its own, and its connection in futurism to corporate workshop cultures of compulsory managerial optimism and self-esteem promotion for bored plutocratic functionaries is hard to miss. So too the frankly ludicrous penchant among futurists for the endless promotion of neologisms might indeed seem to connect to occasionally useful rhetorical and philosophical proposals of novel and useful distinctions to relieve intractable conceptual impasses -- but this practice is hardly the end in itself it seems in futurological circles forever buzzing with buzzwords, and its connection in futurism to corporate advertizing practices of repackaging stale goods as breathless novelties is, again, hard to miss.

In this, the professional patina of futurologists tracks closely the antics of so much contemporary pop-tech journalism, which indulges in technoscientifically illiterate hyperbole about technology That! Will! Change! Everything! and advertorial promotion of the latest crappy consumer goods and schlocky hagiography for clueless bazillionaire celebrity tech CEOs eager to be told they are the Protagonists of History. The common denominator here is the production of facile and falsifying discourse about technoscientific change paid for by plutocrats who are either flattered or profit by it. That many so-called "tech writers" indulge in this reactionary pseudo-science while congratulating themselves as champions of democracy (as vacuous "openness," predatory "sharing," indifferent "participation," and so on) and science (as unspecified "innovation," anti-democratic "technocracy," and unaccountable "design," and so on) just adds insult to injury. More of the same... but as "The Future"!

As I have said many times, futurology is the quintessential discourse of neoliberalism: a set of essentially promotional promises and rationalizations for plutocracy offered up in the form of science-like predictions. These forms suffuse global corporate-military developmental discourse, across think-tanks and corporatized academic departments and official media outlets, but also the promises of scientistic and techno-fetishistic advertizing imagery, and also the norms and forms of competitive individualism and self-help and relentless "positivity." As I wrote in Futurological Discourses and Posthuman Terrains:
Futurology is caught up in and constitutive of the logic of techno-fixated market futures, while futurisms are technoscience fandoms and sub(cult)ures materializing imagined futures in the fervency of shared belief. Successful mainstream futurology amplifies irrational consumption through marketing hyperbole and makes profitable short term predictions for the benefit of investors, the only finally reliable source for which is insider information. Successful superlative futurism [exemplary versions of which include transhumanism, singularitarianism, techno-immortalism, digital-utopianism, nano-cornucopianism which I often lampoon here and elsewhere] amplifies irrational terror of finitude and mortality through the conjuration of a techno-transcendent vision of The Future peddled as long-term predictions the faithful in which provide unearned attention and money for the benefit of gurus and pseudo-experts, the source for which is science fiction mistaken for science practice and science policy. Something suspiciously akin to fraud would appear to be the common denominator of futurology in both its mainstream and superlative modes. [Emphasis added --d] As against the dreary dream-engineering ad-men of mainstream futurology the adherents of superlative futurism are indulging in outright, and often organized, faith-based initiatives. More than consumers eating up the usual pastry-puff progress, they are infantile wish-fulfillment fantasists who fancy that they will quite literally arrive at a personally techno-transcendentalizing destination denominated The Future.
Although I am stressing the difference between extreme techno-transcendental subcultures of futurism and the more prevalent corporate-militarism of everyday advertizing and elite think-tank discourse, I think it is also right to discern a deranging transcendentalizing denialist aspiration suffusing neoliberal marketing imagery and neoliberal rationalizations for forced global development. One finds in both the same disdain for the aging vulnerable error-prone body of the privileged target of consumer advertizing and the precarious target of violent exploitation alike, certainly.

Of course, yet another way to look at futurism is to regard it is a rather inept genre of science fiction literature, in which plots, themes, characterizations, are all sacrificed for endless scene-setting descriptions (yes, scenery, and hence, the definitive futurological scenario which, even when -- especially when? -- it is offered up as "multiple menu options" is inevitably reductive, mostly distortive, and usually amounts to special pleading on behalf of sponsors) in which hackneyed conceits from the Gernsbackian Golden Age play out (AI, genetic supermen, immortality medicine, cheap gizmo-abundance, reality as a simulation, I'm sorry to say) which are then peddled as if they were Very Serious philosophical thought-experiments or even scientific hypotheses. Speculative fiction has stunningly rich antecedents and ramifying branches, of course, but there is something to be said for the suggestion that futurology and "hard" science fiction as these are currently construed are co-constitutive imaginaries originating in the work of H.G. Wells. I daresay the rampant mistreatment of literary science fiction by the corporate-military mindset as an exploitable prophetic glimpse of the future market/battlefield rather than a critical/figurative engagement with the present (as all literature actually is, very much including sf) was a factor in the emergence as much as a result of popular futurology as the saddest, most impoverished literary genre of all time.

"The Future" is tech bubbles all the way down.

That not just meant to be a bit of snark, by the way: I regard unsustainable extractive-industrial-consumer petrochemical Modernity as the tech meta-bubble within which all subsequent tech bubbles froth their serial variations of "The Future."

Techbro + Mansplaining = Techbro-it-alls.

We're coming for you.

The technofix is always in.

Ignore the hype, follow the money.

Tool Talk

Only tools talk of only tools.

More Futurological Brickbats here.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015


Hack Into Hacker

Most futurologists are hacks peddling themselves as hackers.

More Futurological Brickbats here.

Moot Musings: A Conversation About Left Anarchism

In the Moot to a post a few days back, I have had an interesting conversation about anarchism over the last few days with a smart and sympathetic reader, "Elias Atvall." I know from the blog's history that my criticisms of even left anarchisms are a subject that interests more than a few of you, and I wanted to draw attention to the conversation, especially since the title of the post that prompted the exchange doesn't really provide a clue to what it has provoked.

Monday, March 09, 2015

Funhouse Mirror Stage:

The future of the unconscious will be structured like Big Data.

The First 3D-Printer Was A Luddite At A Loom

With the open-source (naturally) PancakeBot, 3D-printing has arrived at its irrationally exuberant moment. Of course, when yours truly has a hankering for hotcakes I simply dispense my pancake pill from my utility belt like every other sensible person in my L5-torus here in The Future.

Dear futurists:

Everything changes something but nothing changes everything.

Please make a note of it.

More Futurological Brickbats here.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Very Serious Future! A Modest Recommendation

When a futurist predicts as imminent some incoherent or non-proximate outcome (superintelligent-AI, profitable geo-engineering techno-fixes, medical breakthroughs promising eternal youth, uploading info-souls into holodeck heaven, outer-space diaspora as an escape hatch, nano-abundance on the cheap, faster-than-light travel, and so on), the serious response is not to consider its consequences as if the outcome were plausible and proximate after all (what would the hidden costs be? who would benefit most?), but instead to consider what these nonsense predictions symptomize in the way of present fears and desires and to consider what present constituencies stand to benefit from the threats and promises these predictions imply.

Retro-Futurism/Open Futurity

"The Future" is essentially reactionary, the political imaginary of escapist status-quo acquiescence or of triumphalist status-quo amplification: It is the open futurity arising from the lived diversity and convivial creations in our shared present that is essentially emancipatory.

So I tweeted a moment ago, another variation on a theme to which I have recurred so often for years now. But this time writing it I had an unaccustomed twinge: I still mean what I say, but of course "openness" has been buzzword buzzsawed into the usual vacuity by techbro meme hustlers by now -- open is empty more often than not in the mouths of the open source open access open society openness brigand brigade -- and so I find I am less comfortable with my long-favored phrase "open futurity" than I once was.

I could take up another phrase, do my own meme-hustling number, try my hand at Luntzian-Lakoffian "re-framing," cough up a neologistic hairball to take personal credit for -- like "over-futurity," say. It has a nice Nietzschean coloration: the re-opening that resisted the reactionary foreclosures of "The Future" re-figured now as over-comings, tapping into the useful but also fashionable academic dance-number of "the future anterior" that builds the next out of the shared resourcefulness of the here and now. Over-futurity, too, nicely evokes the eyeroll of being "over" neoliberal futurological hype, as truly I am.

But over is just a hop skip and a jump from uber, after all, and the meme-hustlers have already grazed and pooped all over that figurative field. Of course, there is no word-magic that can make our arguments for us: a world suffused with marketing deceptions and re-packagings chews up every word and spits it out, leaving it a poorer thing with ugly associations in tow. I guess I'll stick to open futurity against retro-futurism for the time being.

Welcome to New Readers Interested in the Racism and Sexism of Transhumanist Movements (UPDATED: Now With More Anarchy!)

Welcome to those drawn here by a link to my old post Is Transhumanism Racist? To the extent that many techno-utopians are also neoliberals/market fundamentalists you may also find the post American Libertarianism Is Racist Through and Through to be of interest. Given their vulnerability to racism it probably is no great surprise to find a vulnerability to sexism in transhumanism as well, as I highlight (among other places) in "Post Gender" Or Gender Poets and Don't Be Too Quick to Identify Transhumanist Politics With Transsexual Politics. For the beginnings of a connection of these different criticisms (transhumanist racism, classism, sexism, cissexism) you might try Uploading As Reactionary Anti-Body Politics. If you are simply interested in my general critique of techbro VC capitalist and techno-utopian and futurological thinking, I write about those topics endlessly, but the most comprehensive and yet concise formulation remains the essay published in Existenz and available online, Futurological Discourses and Posthuman Terrains. Serious questions, comments, and criticisms are, as always, enormously welcome.

UPDATE: The Moot has unexpectedly but interestingly centered its comments on some claims I made about left anarchism in one of the links posted above. In honor of this surprising and delightful outcome I append, for context, a twitter left-anarchy mini-treatise I posted when I realized what was afoot:

And folks accuse I can't be concise. Mm-hm.

Denier Denial Denied

I wonder if Frank Luntz is more sad or proud that Florida's global-warming denialist Republican legislature has now banned the weasel phrase "climate change" Luntz introduced into public environmental discourse to muddy and so deny the growing catastrophic reality of human-caused global warming?

Friday, March 06, 2015

Long Teaching Day

This morning in my undergrad Digital Democracy, Digital Anti-Democracy class its Technopriests day with discussions of Noble's Religion of Technology, Morozov's "Meme Hustler," Buljewski's "Cult of Sharing," Purdy's "God of the Digirati" and Lanier on AI. That's nine to noon accounted for; then one to four it's my graduate Introduction to Critical Theory. Today we're reading Barthes' Mythologies with the usual digression into Saussure, then Williams' keyword "Culture." Expect low to no blogging as usual till the weekend, I'd say.

My Sondheim Top 5:

1 Sweeney Todd
2 Assassins
3 Follies
4 A Little Night Music
5 Pacific Overtures
Anybody else?

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Forever Making the Same Point About Human Agency Denied by Robot Discourse (Twitter Edition)

Pay attention in the following to the phrases "at risk from technology" and "draw its own conclusions" and then think for a moment, especially if you would otherwise read right over those passages and find them perfectly unproblematic otherwise: Are there political consequences in so doing? What might be obscured when those phrases are taken as straightforward descriptions of "forces" at play in human history?

Setting aside those who simply indulge in uncritical celebrations over the wholesomeness or inevitability of these techno-triumphalist narratives, what I find striking is that many who would otherwise engage in useful resistance to these developments by organizing labor or critically interrogating plutocratically-biased rationalizations are instead wringing their hands over phantoms of robocalypse that amount to an acquiescence no less reactionary in effect than the antics of the most facile celebrants. Again and again and again I insist: find the responsible humans who are coding and designing and funding and deploying techniques to accomplish violent or exploitative outcomes. Technology mediates and facilitates political relations among humans. Do not comply uncritically in the displacement of culpability from responsible actors onto "technological protagonists." There is no such thing as artificial intelligence or agentic robots, and pretending otherwise always deranges one's sense of human responsibilities. Always. Every time.

Mistaking the Cart for the Horse

Cyberlibertarians cheer that we just need to spread "the internet" to all the places that don't have it yet to achieve democracy everywhere. Quite apart from the fact that places that "have the internet" (whatever that is supposed to mean, finally), are prey to quite as many anti-democractizing dangers as they are democratizing promises, the whole argument is akin to saying we will achieve emancipation if we just build more streets since resistance comes from the streets. Change comes from human education, agitation, organization, legislation, in classrooms, assemblies, legislatures, streets, online... Its substance is human. The People do not arise from The Internet, what passes for the internet arises from the struggles of people.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015


Use of the smoking gun analogy is the smoking gun for ineptitude in the use of analogies.

Rule of Thumb:

Serious experts on global threats of climate change and wmds are NOT people who also talk about robocalypse and nanorunaways.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Hard and Soft SF

"Hard SF" gives techbros erections with a fetishism of gizmos and numbers, "Soft SF" causes techbro shrinkage with an awareness of social struggle and diversity.

More Futurological Brickbats here.

Coverage of National Adjunct Walkout Day at SFAI

My pal, the awesome Carolyn Duffey is a star!

To The Dogs

Free marketeers console themselves they may be dogs but at least they're dogs who are eating. When it's dog eats dog, every dog gets eaten.

More Dispatches from Libertopia here.

Monday, March 02, 2015


I really get it when Paul Krugman says he became an economist because he wanted to be a Foundation psychohistorian, since I'm pretty sure I became a rhetorician because I always wanted to be a Bene Gesserit witch.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Another Future Day Miracle!

Futurists tell me today is Future Day. The holiday's meaning is hard to distinguish from every commercial with the words New and Improved in it.

"Right To Work" Like A Serf

Don't call them "Right to Work" States, Call them "Right to Freeload on Unions Till They Die So You Are Forced to Work Like Serfs" States.

Sociopaths! In! Space!

First as tragedy (NASA), then as farce (SpaceX). A space program should be a collective adventure of discovery of the real, not sociopathic escapism from responsibilities into profiteering.

Banks First Is Always Banks Forever

The EU as a plutocratic/monetary project always depended on hyping while denying the EU as democratic/political project: Might as well face it, the EU as a democratizing project must smash the EU as plutocratic project. The seeming hopelessness of this aspiration is more than matched by the catastrophic failures of the alternate emphasis: Europe as a monetary but not political union is doomed to fail and has failed. If you are committed to trying the impossible why not try something impossible but also not evil this time around?