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

Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Graeber and Thiel Non-Debate on Technological Progress

Here is a link to a video of the (non-)debate that was the occasion for the following scattered sputterings on twitter late last night. Their talk is entitled "Where Did The Future Go?" and my response would be something like the question, "Why Won't The Futurists Just Go?"


jimf said...

> ...but it's hard to see either Thiel's Randroidal Great Man
> stifled by mehums or Graeber's bureaucratization thesis as
> serious proposals...

It's hard even to listen to them being proposed. ;->

> Graeber's initial framing of his disappointment in terms
> of a failure of tech to deliver light-speed, teleporters,
> magicmeds and so on may suggest that in his youth he
> accepted no small amount of that old time techno-transcendental
> religion himself when it comes to it.

Yeah, not even Arthur C. Clarke guzzled that much Kool-Aid
back in the 60s. I remember that _Profiles of the Future_
spends a few pages debunking the notion of "teleportation".

And for Vulcan's sake, people, _Star Trek_ was **entertainment**.
No less so than Middle-earth.

And we **are** living in "the future". At least relatively
affluent folks living in first-world countries are.
And yeah, that future, at least as it's experienced by
ordinary civilians, leans heavily on **entertainment** --
Watching a bazillion channels of streaming TV, and
then yakking it all up on social media.

And kids getting sex ed via internet porn! Hey -- increasingly blasé
attitudes among the young towards homosexuality may
owe in no small part to that!

Bernard Braden interviews Quentin Crisp (1968)
Braden: You also make a point of what many people are saying about
legislation in terms of racial tolerance -- that there is
very little point in legislation which doesn't carry people
along with it, in terms of persuasion. Are there methods you
can think of that would be helpful in this sense? I've
been trying to think of the name of Peter Wildblood's first book. . .

Crisp: _Outside the Law_

Braden: That book, which also struck me as being a very moving
document, and I think was partly responsible for a report
which helped, nevertheless didn't carry people with it.
Are there any methods that you can think of, are there people
you know of, who are prepared to try and persuade people,
heterosexual people, to the kind of welcome that you indicated
earlier should have been?

Crisp: No. You see, this is where we come to something
I think I mention in the book, which I call Brigid Brophy's
First Law: Enlightenment does not produce tolerance.
Tolerance is the result of boredom. The facts have to be
repeated over and over and over. And in the end people
say "All right, so you're queer. Just talk about something
else." And then the work is done. And this is of course
the work of time. Not of people. And not of legislation.
Legislation makes almost no difference. It is the **result**
of public opinion. You can't really force -- especially
in England -- a law upon a people who is totally against
it. Because they will get round it. The more laws you have
the more fixers and the more snoopers.

Braden: You're saying in effect that really you have to
bore people to death with the facts. . .

Crisp: With the facts. Then toleration sets in.

Elias Altvall said...

I am pretty sure Ellul would fall for it since he was under the impression that technology had a soul and was unstoppable.

And Murray Bookchin did not fall for it neither. I know you have this problem that as soon as an "left wing" anarchist mentions spontaneity and happens to debate somewhat cordially with an asshole, there must be massive similarities between right wing and left wing despite its superficiality.

(I put the scare quotes to the left wing part because as I have said before there is no historically shred of evidence of similarities between propertarians and anarchists. Except in the stupidity in anarchist but there is plenty of stupidity on the revolutionary left (especially among marxists)).

Dale Carrico said...

I know you have this problem that as soon as an 'left wing' anarchist mentions spontaneity and happens to debate somewhat cordially with an asshole, there must be massive similarities between right wing and left wing despite its superficiality.

The affinities were on display, I just documented and elaborated them. If you have a criticism of any particular observation above -- and since these were tweeted I'm sure there are plenty of occasions for imperfect communication of complex ideas in 120 characters or less! -- I do welcome honest disagreements and questions as always. For instance, your point about Ellul is well-taken: Tho' I still don't think he would have fallen for the particular line of techno-transcendental moonshine on display especially in Thiel's transhumanoidal singularitarianism and possibly Graeber's loose talk, too, you are quite right that Ellul had his own brand of techno theology to flog.

It is also true, of course, that I believe left-wing and right-wing anarchisms share more assumptions and argumentative tics and consequences than their advocates should be comfortable with -- we have argued these points in great depth many times by now and I am happy to admit you understand but are not convinced by my view and cordially agree to disagree with you on the topic by now. Hope all is well in your world!

jimf said...

Science Fiction Fandom #49 - Tom Shippey keynote speech at Boskone 47

Description from the pocket program: "Our Special Guest looks back
on 50 rewarding years of being a SF fan, and 40 much less rewarding
years of being a professor of English, and asks: what created SF?
And what made it so different, and so fascinating? It's no good asking
the professors. SF has produced a string of visions, shared and
developed by a host of authors, but some of these are now running
out of conviction (like NASA). What could give SF a boost? Are
we looking at 'Day Million' or 'The Dying Earth'?"
What triggered the appearance of science fiction?

In thinking about this, I'm considering essentially
my father's lifetime. Second, what visions has
science fiction produced in my lifetime? And third,
future -- why do I feel now as if I'm waiting for
something? As if I'm waiting for the other shoe to
drop, or waiting for the booster rocket to fire?
Because I do feel a certain lack at the moment. . .

I start off with what triggered the appearance
of science fiction. Which incidentally, ignoring. . .
Frankenstein and all that stuff, I date real
science fiction, the stuff you can actually read
with more than historical interest, back to the
1890s. . . [to] H. G. Wells. . .

I will now ask you a question. A question I've
never asked anybody before. Do you remember the moment
when you realized you were going to die, when
you became aware of your own mortality? I feel
we should all remember this, because it's obviously
a vital moment, and some say it's the thing that
distinguishes us from the animals. . . You know,
when you realized that all that stuff about death
applied to **you**, and there was a time when you
were not going to be there. Well I remember when
this happened to me. And I can remember where I
was, which gives me a dating on it. . .
I was in Calcutta, so that means I was 7 or under. . .
I don't know what I said to my father, but it was clear that
I said something about dying. But I remember what
he said to me. He said "I wouldn't worry about
that. By the time you're grown up, they'll probably
have found a cure for that." Now it may be that
he was just consoling a little boy. But I think,
actually, he probably meant it. And if I think what
happened to him in his life, I think he perhaps had
kind of a reason for saying that. If you think
of what happened in his life span, which was 1904
to 1962, and considering the nature of the changes
in that long 50 years, well, think of 'em. . .

so, all those things happened, and there was a kind
of expectation that this would continue to happen. . .
And it seems to me that in terms of life experience,
those 50+ years saw in more big changes, and more
sort of accelerated changes, than what's happened
since. If I compare, as it were, his life span, shall
we say 1900 to '55, and mine, shall we say 1955
to 2010, well what I've seen has been steady improvement,
don't deny that. . . but, in a way, improvement not
total change. . . And it seems to me that, in my father's
life span, this is when science fiction emerged.
It was set up and driven on by a unique experience of
change. . . It wasn't just change, it was this feeling,
going back to what I said about the moment you realized
you're going to die and what my father said, it wasn't
just change, it was **potential** change. My father
had a belief, really, in unlimited potential. And that
perhaps has eroded in the time since then, since
1950. . .

Elias Altvall said...

I believe that you are exaggerating the so called techno-transcendental ideas of David Graeber since his original article was more about stagnation and lack of innovation in techological research and science with a clear tongue in cheek use of old science fiction symbols. I feel this is what is in use during this debate (which is meaningless and they agree way less than either is admitting). Just look on Peter Thiel face everytime Graeber tried to talk about the inherent fault of capitalism or experiments in alternative democratic solutions. I mean one is arguing that the problem of the currently system is the fact that majorities have no avenue of expression or power of creativity towards solving collective problems that beset us as a species. I believe that Graeber massiva fault is having this ridiculous non event that i agree with says nothing of value on the Subject since the two people have absolutly incompatible ideas.

I mean David Graeber has an obession with new left bureaucracy ideas.

I might be late but is it just me who with the talk about immortality drugs makes me think about Bug Jack Barron.

My world is shit right now but that is personal problems and have nothing to do with this. Hope things are better for your world.

Dale Carrico said...

Fair enough, I agree there is a difference between Thiel's explicit techno-transcendentalism and the woolly techno-abundance/magickal framing Graeber deploys, perhaps as you say with tongue more in cheek. I tried to convey some sense of that asymmetry in the tweets themselves but perhaps that didn't come through. In any case, that we mobilize techno-transcendental tropes unconsciously is actually part of the larger problem I would diagnose in the ongoing dissemination of reactionary neoliberal futurology... but as I said you have a point.

Sorry to hear you have hit a rough patch -- if it's any consolation, this too shall pass. All good thoughts to you.

ennui said...

the most revealing of Graeber's books is his: 'Direct Action: An Ethnography' which is his earnest ethnographic diary of his involvement with the anti-globalization protests of the late 90s. It's meant as a sort of advertisement for 'unanimous consent' driven anarchist self-organizing familiar now from the later 'Occupy' events. But, in each of his case studies Graeber comes off as a sort of Don Quixote figure, completely earnest in his delusions and incapable of seeing the disastrous blunders resulting from lack of information, poor follow-through, disorganization and grueling intra-personal politics.

So, his blindness to bureaucracy as a social "technology" is not surprising. The irony is that "science" is exactly the territory where bureaucracy is the least useful, from the simple fact that, in science, knowing what to do is almost the same as doing it. Bureaucracy starts with a plan, and then breaks everything down, as in an assembly line, to a sequence of steps. but, scientific discovery is very difficult to plan, and having a sequence of steps is, in effect, the discovery; bureaucracy is then only useful if the discovery requires significant material resources to realize, or the process of self-organizing towards discovery needs laboratories and other facilities to maintain...

Dale Carrico said...

Excellent comments! (Also pleased you inadvertently reminded me of a line which never fails to make me smile: "N is for Neville who died of ennui.")

Elias Altvall said...

I feel a better exemplet is his democracy book which is good except for a few pages when he goes into a rant about how majotitarian decision making means militarism because gerilla forces and desperate military troops have used it. He has a tendency to sadly try to prove how things he doesn't like leads to bad things, therefore not really adhering to the experimentalism that exists in his other works. I mean in his a fragment of anarchist anthropology he makes the point that violent revolution does not work because Georg Sorel, that is it.

On the other hand i have to disagree with your point that Graeber doesn't have bureaucracy as a social technology since that is his entire point in his book the rules of utopia.