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

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Monday, August 29, 2016

Insomnia Is Not The Best Way To Start My First Full Week Back Teaching

...but here we go!

Syllabi for This Fall

San Francisco Art Institute | Fall 2016 | CS 500V-01 Fetish, Figure, Fact

"Artists inhabit the magical universe." -- William Burroughs

Instructor: Dale Carrico, e-mail:, blog:
Seminar, Mondays 9-11.45; Third Street, Room 3LH

Course Description: We think of facts as found not made, but facts are made to be found and, once found, made to be foundational. Let us pursue together the propositions that fetishes are figures we take to yield false facts, while facts are figures we have fetishized to yield truths...

In this course we will explore the relations and distinctions in critical conceptions of fetishism, figuration, and facticity. 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, ressentimentality). Fetishism recurs deliriously thereafter in contemporary critical theory, feminist, queer, anti-racist, post-colonial, technoscientific, and we will survey many of these. Fetishism, it turns out, may be indispensable to the delineation of the aesthetic, 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? What if fetishism is just another kind of figurative language, or just another kind of literalization after all? What are we to make of the way distinctions between fetishism, figuration, and fact can themselves always be drawn fetishistically, figuratively, and factually? Our answers may well take us to the heart of making itself.

Notebook 15%, 10-min Report/Co-Facilitation 15%, Symposium Presentation 30%, Final Paper (12-15pp.) 40%

Week One | August 29 -- Introductions

Week Two | September 5 -- Labor Day Holiday

Week Three | September 12 -- Friedrich Nietzsche: On Truth and the Lie in an Extramoral Sense; Selections from The Gay Science and Ecce Homo on the Eternal Return and ressentiment.

Week Four | September 19 -- Sigmund Freud: Fetishism; Selections from Psychopathology of Everyday Life, Beyond the Pleasure Principle, and Schreber.  

Week Five | September 26 -- Karl Marx: The Fetishism of Commodities and the Secret Thereof from CapitalVolume One; Selections from The German Ideology

Week Six | October 3 -- Screening and discussion of Max Ophuls, dir.: Earrings of Madame de…

Week Seven | October 10 -- Walter Benjamin: Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproducibility; Naomi Klein, Logo: No Logo, One and Two

Week Eight | October 17 -- Frantz Fanon: "The Fact of Blackness" & other selections from Black Skin, White Masks

Week Nine | October 24 -- Laura Mulvey: "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema"; Kobena Mercer: "Reading Racial Fetishism: The Photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe" 

Week Ten | October 31 -- William Burroughs: "On Coincidence"; Elizabeth Grosz: "Lesbian Fetishism"; Charity Scribner: "Object, Relic, Fetish, Thing: Joseph Beuys and the Museum"

Week Eleven | November 7 -- Screening and discussion of Alfred Hitchcock, dir.: North by Northwest; Michael Taussig: "State Fetishism"

Week Twelve | November 14 -- David Harvey: The Fetish of Technology; Bruno Latour: Selections from The Modern Cult of the Factish Gods

Week Thirteen | November 21 -- Symposium (first panels)

Week Fourteen | November 28 -- Symposium (second panels)

Week Fifteen | December 5 -- Closing Remarks, Hand in Final Papers and Notebooks.

Syllabus for my undergraduate Critical Theory survey course, still coming up (I don't expect it to be much changed from the earlier versions I've been teaching for over a decade, however)....

Department of Rhetoric, University of California at Berkeley
Rhet 103A: Approaches and Paradigms in the History of Rhetorical Theory:
Patriarchal Publicities: Rhetoric, Philosophy, and Satire in Greek and Roman Antiquity

Instructor: Dale Carrico,,
Course Blog:
August 25-December 8, 2016, Tuesdays and Thursdays, 3.30-5pm, LeConte Hall, Room 2

Participation/Attendance/In-Class Activities, 20%; Reading Notebook, 20%; Precis, 2-3pp., 15%; Figurative Reading, 2-3pp., 15%; Final Paper, 6pp., 30%. (Rough Basis for Final Grade, subject to contingencies.)

Provisional Schedule of Meetings
                Week One
Thursday, August 25 | Introduction
                Week Two
Tuesday, August 30 | Homer, Books I, II, IX, and XXIV from the Iliad
Thursday, September 1 | Selection of poems by Sappho
                Week Three
Tuesday, September 6 | Gorgias, "Encomium of Helen"
Thursday, September 8 | Thucydides, Books I, II & The Melian Dialogue from History of the Peloponnesian War
                Week Four
Tuesday, September 13 | Euripides, Hecuba
Thursday, September 15 | Plato, Apology
                Week Five
Tuesday, September 20 | Plato, Protagorus
Thursday, September 22 | Plato, Gorgias
                Week Six
Tuesday, September 27 | Plato, Phaedrus
Thursday, September 29 | Plato, Symposium
                Week Seven
Tuesday, October 4 | Plato, Republic Book V and Book VII
Thursday, October 6 | Aristophanes, Wasps 
You should have posted your first short piece, whether your precis or figurative analysis by now.
                Week Eight
Tuesday, October 11 | Aristotle, Rhetoric, Book I and Book II and from Topics
Thursday, October 13 | Aristotle, Rhetoric, Book III and from Poetics
                Week Nine
Tuesday, October 18 | Marcus Tullius Cicero, Against Verres, Against Cataline, Against Antony
Thursday, October 20 | Marcus Tullius Cicero, On the Ideal Orator
                Week Ten
Tuesday, October 25 | Terence, Eunuchus
Thursday, October 27 | A selection of poems by Ovid
                Week Eleven
Tuesday, November 1 | Seneca, Apocolocyntosis (divi) Claudii
Thursday, November 3 | Suetonius, Caligula
                Week Twelve
Tuesday, November 8 | Quintus Tullius Cicero, Commentariolum Petitionis
Thursday, November 10 | Juvenal, Satires I, II, III
                Week Thirteen
Tuesday, November  15 | Hortensia's Forum Oration to the Second Triumvirate. Quintilian, from Institutio Oratoria: Book I -- Preface, Chapters 1-3; Book III -- Chapters 1-5; Book VI -- Chapter 1; Book VII -- Chapters 8-10; Book VIII -- Chapter 1-3, and also Chapter 6; Book IX -- Chapter 1; Book XII -- Chapter 1
Thursday, November 17 | Libanius, "The Silence of Socrates"
                Week Fourteen
Tuesday, November 22 | Gaius Petronius, Satyricon
Thursday, November 24 | Thanksgiving Day Holiday
You should have posted your second short piece, whether your precis or figurative analysis by now.
                Week Fifteen
Tuesday, November 29 | Augustine, from City of God, Read as much as you like but Books I and XI are the crucial ones for us.
Thursday, December 1 | In-Class Workshop for Final Paper
                Week Sixteen/RRR & Final Paper Due
Tuesday, December 6 | Optional Marathon Office Hour Availability
Monday, December 12 | You should have handed in your final paper to the GSI of your discussion section by now.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Reactionary Futurology In the Democratic Party

As I declared a couple of days ago in what I thought was a throwaway tweet, I personally worry much Much MUCH more about Democratic credulity and seduction with Silicon Valley ideology than with Wall Street ideology.

For the reasons why I say so, you might like to re-visit a post from five years ago: Against the Seduction of the Left by Reactionary Futurology. In a nutshell, the vulnerability of leaders in the Democratic Party, the only party that really can matter to progressives in the United States, to reactionary futurological formulations -- whether of "artificial intelligence" as rationalization for unaccountability,  of "accelerating change" as rationalization for status-quo amplification, of "culture fit" as rationalization for discriminatory practices, of "global development" as rationalization for corporate-military exploitation, of "digitization" as rationalization for fraud, of "disruption" as rationalization for deregulation, of "efficiency" as rationalization for looting public goods, of "enhancement" as rationalization for eugenics, of "flexibility" as rationalization for precarity, of "geo-engineering" as rationalization for pollution, of "innovation" as rationalization for plutocratic upward failure, of "resilience" as rationalization for insecurity, of "sharing" as rationalization for feudalism, of "technocracy" as rationalization for plutocracy -- derives I think from recent partisan polarization on questions of science-based policy (Republican repudiations of climate science, Keynesian macroeconomics, harm-reduction policy models on questions of sex education, gun safety regulation, drug prohibition, healthcare access, benefits of basic research funding, coming on the heels of longstanding anti-evolutionary dogmatism and christianist nationalism, and so on) in which the Democrats come to think themselves the "fact-based" party even if their grasp on the relevant facts is not always that much better than that of Republicans and come to associate progressive politics with the long-prevalent techno-reductionist understanding of progress as an accumulating pile of toys rather than an ongoing social struggle over the equitable distribution of costs, risks, and benefits of technoscientific change to the diversity of its stakeholders.

Given America's longstanding self-congratulatory anti-intellectualism and the bubble of privilege and insulation from consequence that nurtures it... given our susceptibility to instrumental over political rationality in our parochially preferred narratives of progress and freedom... given our history of eager willingness to treat native Americans, enslaved African-Americans, waves of American immigrants and undocumented workers as if they were robots existing to enable our own robotic conspicuous consumption... given our toxic masculinist rugged individualism and the cyborg shells of guns and cars and snake-oil we apply to keep that dream alive until we die... given our postwar dependency on an economy fluffed by military industrialism and stealthily planned (despite an ideology committed to market spontaneity) under the exception of "Defense"... given our widespread technoscientific illiteracy and our media devoted to wish-fulfillment fantasies, disasterbatory drama, and advertorial content over education... given all this and so much more it is little wonder that even well-meaning Democrats would be vulnerable in their progressivism and pragmatism to the facile scientisms, reductionisms, determinisms, triumphalisms, and techno-transcendentalisms of futurological discourse, however reactionary in substance their aspirations and assumptions turn out to be upon even the least critical scrutiny. That so many leaders in the Democratic Party -- also true, and if anything more so, of leaders of other parties -- occupy social and cultural positions of privilege that ally them to the conspicuous beneficiaries of plutocratic futurological frames is also, obviously, an important part of this story.

Those I have enraged for more than a year by now with my strong support of Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders (and certainly over the utterly execrable Donald Trump, and useless also-rans like the embarrassing Jill Stein and warmed-over Republican doofus Gary Johnson) may be surprised to see the specific application of my "futurology as reactionary point of entry for partisan Democratic neoliberalism" thesis in this brief excoriation of Clintonian futurological formulations. Never forget, Al Gore has actually written at least one book that is unquestionably a work of outright futurism (arguably more than one). Bill Clinton and Barack Obama both make recourse to futurological tech-talk nonsense, peddling accelerationalism and ed-tech pieties, uncritically crowing about innovation and efficiencies and change in ways which conduce to the dismantling of public goods they would and do, mostly, otherwise rightly decry.

(WARNING: Sanders supporters may want to skip the rest of this post) I didn't forget or change my mind about any of that stuff in choosing to support Hillary Clinton, of course. As a democratic eco-socialist feminist multiculturalist queer vegetarian atheist aesthete supporting a candidate for president is always, in part, a matter of choosing which sociopath to my right I will be protesting for the next four years.

Partisan politics are utterly inadequate but absolutely indispensable to making and maintaining progress -- education, agitation, organization, imagination, expression, protest around ideal outcomes outside of, in spite of, in conversation with partisan stakeholder politics is also absolutely indispensable (and also utterly inadequate) to change the terrain of the possible and the important in which reform plays out in its compromised heartbreaking way.

Politics requires no small amount of walking and chewing gum at the same time. In choosing to support Hillary Clinton I simply chose -- as I always have done and always will do -- the best and most electable Democratic candidate among those actually on offer, the one with the best published policy positions and what seemed to me the greatest intelligence, competence, and character both to take make ongoing decisions to solve urgent shared problems in real time and to mobilize  constituencies and coalitions to implement reforms that protect and make further progressive accomplishments in the direction of sustainable equity-in-diversity. As I have repeatedly insisted, such accomplishments seem to me much more a matter of doing relentless thankless work than agreeing with me about ideal outcomes. Election campaigns, properly so-called, are job interviews for real jobs, not occasions for indulging in escapist fantasies about dream-dates or dream-parents.

If anything, the suffusion of public discourse with the deceptive and hyperbolic norms and forms of advertising discourse that I decry when I declare futurology the quintessential discourse of neoliberal/neoconservative corporate-militarism seems to me quite as palpable in the insistent anti-pragmatism and insubstantial celebrity fandom and symbolic political indulgences and Purity Cabaret of both Sanders and Trump movements, and as a student of revolutionary history and champion for Revolutions of Conscience advocated by the best and most radical democratic trajectory of nonviolent politics I am pretty much equally disgusted by fauxvolutionary appropriations of radicalism on the part of tech-talkers peddling status quo amplification and consumer acquiescence as "revolution" and on the part of those who would treat a party primary contest for a minor candidate or the subsequent creation by that loser of a dysfunctional PAC as "revolution."

Whatever you think of revolution, those aren't.

Friday, August 26, 2016

My Problem With Anarchist/Libertarian Politics -- Right and "Left" -- Is That They Aren't Even Political

Teaching has resumed and since I've got three courses underway, undergraduate and graduate, intimate and thronged, on both sides of Bay, I'm a bit swamped for the moment. So, here is a post upgraded and expanded from an exchange in the Moot with my friend Jim in which I trotted out some of my usual political boilerplate...
I was at a diner this past Saturday with some of the New York Skeptics, and (even though "politics" is an officially-banned topic), libertarianism came up. And I trotted out the usual dismissal -- that in my experience, "libertarianism" usually means somebody who takes the attitude "I've got mine, screw you." or "As soon as I **get** mine, screw you." And a staunch defender of libertarianism (and long-time Ayn Rand admirer -- her "philosophy", you understand, not necessarily the lady herself ;-> ) and, ironically enough, the usual wielder of the "no politics!" ban-hammer, remonstrated vociferously with me. "No, Jim, that is **not** what libertarianism is. That is a straw man, a vicious distortion. Libertarianism is simply the principle that altruism must always be an act of free will, it must never be **extorted** from people using government force."[*] And then he went on to describe acts of voluntary altruism he had witnessed. I'm afraid neither of us managed to convince the other of much of anything, "rational discussion" notwithstanding. ;-> 
[*] In a way, that's a charming fantasy -- the idea that people could be taught to "do the right thing" without anybody ever having to be **forced** to do so. It reminds me of B. F. Skinner's fantasy that the whole world might be run on "positive reinforcement" without either "negative reinforcement" or "punishment" ever having to be used. Only in (some people's idea of) Heaven, I'm afraid. And with libertarianism, some pretty nasty characters get to hide behind that fantasy.
Oh, how I find myself wishing I were there to put my two cents in!

As if it would be a person of the liberal left who would be oblivious to the good works done through charitable giving! As if the libertarian utopia of private contracts, duressed by unequal and mis-information, crony corruption, and the threat of starvation in a world without ongoing tax-supported public investments in education, consumer and worker protection, equal recourse to law, safety regulation, unemployment insurance and social security, nutritional assistance, and the rest would be in any real sense "voluntary""non-coercive" or "free"! The very concept of "extortion" applied by your libertarian colleague to taxes, depends for its legibility and force on the working context of laws, institutions, professional practices, all of which depend on educations, buildings, professionals supported by.... wait for it... taxes.

Of course, taxes aren't extorted charitable giving, but the price we the people pay for the public investments that maintain the material (energy, transportation, education, healthcare, police, ecosystem support) and normative (accountable and equitable recourse to law, rights culture, assembly and protest, predictable prices, credentialed professionalism) infrastructure alone within which voluntary and contractual relations can proceed in the informed, nonduressed consensual way libertarians claim to prioritize. (For a more concise yet elaborated formulation see my Ten Theses on Taxes and Democracy.)

Lots of people who have more or expect to have more (in your phrase, the "I've got mine" crowd) like to think they acquired and maintained it all on their own, when in fact they are extraordinary beneficiaries of a collective inheritance and shared maintained world of values that precede and exceed them. Your interlocutor decided to treat your recognition of this basic fact as an ad hominem attack and the conversation was probably already over before it began. It's rather like trying to talk about the impacts of structural racism with someone who thinks this must mean you are accusing them of racist animus.

It's funny, but I can't even say the fantasy that everybody could "do the right thing" without some feeling pressured or "forced" in some measure at least some of the time to do so (because of the enforcement of laws, peer pressure, material limits, all of which are, remember, artifactual and contingent) seems to me charming even as a daydream, really, since it tends to be premised on the idea that there is just one right thing to do in the first place, when the point of departure for politics properly so-called is the recognition that people who share the world are different from one another, see things differently, want different things from life, and so on.

I think the very same denial or possibly incomprehension of this pluralist point of departure for the political drives the endless  libertarian daydreams of spontaneous orders -- whether fantasies of an optimally efficient and ethical "market" hampered in its mechanisms by violent government interference or of a mutualist, generous, nonviolent human nature hampered in its free expressions by social or more specifically plutocratic artifice -- "spontaneous orders," sometimes described as such explicitly and sometimes instead implied by anarchic faiths, both right and left (and as you know, I perhaps controversially contend that "left" anarchisms often and even inevitably conduce to the right in spite of themselves).

The denial (via "natural law" and the usual kinda-sorta-evolutionary or fetishitically-mathematical reductionisms, and so on) of the artificiality of normative affordances -- equity, consent, freedom, dignity -- and the ineradicability of stakeholder plurality (via faith in no "rational" conflicts of interest, utilitarian optimality, market efficiencies, righteous moralism, and so on) enables libertarian/anarchic formulations, it seems to me, and one finds oneself trying to talk "politics" with people who haven't even grasped what defines the domain of the political in the first place. Needless to say, those are hard conversations to have.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Clinton Winning, White Guys Whining

Honestly, if you really want a more just and less corrupt world you should be organizing to get people in office who will raise taxes on the rich and invest in social support for the precarious... leave the fixation on boring predictable rich and famous people hobnobbing together on the charity circuit to the gossip columnists where they belong.

ADDED: Of course, it is the Clinton Foundation non-story that inspired this reaction, but it is truly amazing how much campaign narrative is given over to gossiping over pseudo-celebrity antics. Meanwhile, dead-ender Bernie-or-Busters and Jill SteiNader-ites are acting as though declaring what amounts to an old episode of "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" on YouTube is tacky constitutes some kind of radical activism or organizational activity. Hell, that is scarcely even critique.

Dance Unto Death

Christ, 51.

Monday, August 22, 2016

One. Wrong. Move.

Oh, dear. And it's not even September yet.


Sunday, August 21, 2016

How Many Likes Does It Take To Get To The Summit of Techno-Pop?

The way tech-talkers follow me on twitter when I use their favorite words and then unfollow me a day later when they realize I use their favorite words critically is actually quite hilarious.

Fraudsters Aren't Fabulous

Tech billionaires like Thiel, Musk and Branson hawking immortality, robot gods and Martian escape hatches aren't glamorous Bond Villains, people, they're tacky techno-televangelists.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Let The Horse Race Commence!

Trump didn't apologize for ANYTHING and so, of course, pundits are acting as if he apologized for EVERYTHING.

The Utopium Conceit

Friday, August 19, 2016

Body Shaming Trump Is Trumpian Not Anti-Trumpian Politics

I admit with some shame that yesterday I had an initial guffaw at the naked Trump statues... but it didn't take long for me to feel uneasy and then gross and then frankly enraged about them. "Humiliating" Trump because he has an aging flabby body is hardly a relevant critique of him and policing unrealistic bodily norms through proliferating "unflattering" public Trump monuments seems obviously more damaging and constraining than liberating. I am disgusted by Trump's body shaming of other people, and I am disgusted by sexist attacks on HRC's appearance in particular... I don't think this is a matter of turnabout is fair play, I think it is about exacerbating an American disgust with the aging vulnerable "imperfect" body. This disgust is about self-hate and denial, and it is compensated by cruelty, conspicuous consumption, and acquiescence, all of which enable Trumpian politics. Leave it to self-described anarchists to imagine it is some radical intervention to notice that boastfulness is an expression of insecurity rather than confidence and then use that commonplace to police body norms in ways that fuel fascism.

Trump has all the best horcruxes.

Watch out for that one.

You aren't bold just because you're loud.

You hear that, Dale?

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Bunkers Without Their Guns

Upgraded and adapted from an exchange with Jim in the Moot:

He begins by quoting from the recent post, then goes down memory lane a bit:
Democracy's definitive insistence on accountable authority. . . is. . . misunderstood. . . by [those]. . who mis*identify* state forms with a violence that precedes and exceeds them. . .

You wrote, more than 7 years ago,
Look, people, we know all this already. The Moral Majority was never a majority. Multiculturalists won the culture wars. . . America is becoming day by day by day an ever more diverse, secular, urban, pragmatic, convivial multiculture. Please make a note of it, get used to it, and act accordingly.

(via )
That may be true (particularly trend-wise), but unfortunately it seems that **most** of the folks in this country who are officially charged with pointing and discharging the state-sanctioned puff-bangs[*] against targets both domestic and foreign, puff-bangs ranging in size from hand-guns all the way up to nukes -- i.e., the cops and the military, are anything but "convivial multiculturalists".

As always, Jim's a good no-nonsense critic with a finely honed bullshit-detector, and with a dauntingly good memory! I replied:

"My point about those who mis-identify the state with violence was directed at anarchists. I am far from denying the vulnerability of law and policing to violence, abuse, and organized exploitation. I just think there is nothing anarchists add to such critiques that liberalism hasn't understood for centuries at this point, and that by focusing their ire at the state itself as the indispensable site of the most organized violence they fail to grasp that the state is also the indispensable site of the most organized non-violence.

"Nor am I unaware nor would I diminish the fact that there are bigots and dangerous characters in the military and in our police forces. How could anyone fail to grasp the reality of that problem at this point?

"But the visibility of abuses and the wide circulation of long-understood reform proposals to ameliorate these abuses are going to turn the tide. De-militarization of the police, community policing models, representative policing, continued de-patriarchization of the military (women and queers rising in the armed forces, recognition of and crackdowns on rape culture, etc.), ending the drug war, getting commonsense gun safety regulations, banning military style weapons and private arsenals, eliminating for-profit prisons, shifting budgetary priorities from jails to education and housing... all of this is in the wind now.

"Far from seeing a worsening here, I am hopeful. In part, demographic diversification and secularizing is the driver here (and of backlash-formations needless to say, as well) but the phenomenon I addressed years back in my posts about winning the culture wars is also connected to this. I still think I was right and think with every passing year the evidence and the resulting force of the American left's victories in the Culture Wars are more palpable.

"Of course, assholes will always be among us and assholes will asshole in their variously catastrophic ways. I just see this as a more hopeful than dreadful story. At any rate, it is something where there is work to be done where the work can make a difference for the better, and that is all anyone can really ask for. New problems will raise their ugly heads soon enough. Environmental racism and climate disruption is a big and growing worry for our remaining years, but the Archie Bunkers with guns are dying off into a more or less manageable marginality in the diversifying, secularizing, planetizing REAL Real America."

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Tim Kaine and a Star Trek Enterprise Made of Butter

Seen on Politico. You're welcome.

Readerly Confessions

My whole life long, from raw youth right up to my present half-century, I have experienced freedom most giddily in moments when I ignored a deadline to read or re-read a book entirely for pleasure.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Way We Live Now

The robot vacuum cleaner that spread dog shit over an entire apartment feels like the go-to metaphor for just about everything.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Democracy, Civitas, and the Rite To Have Rights; Or, Why I Will Not Relinquish Democratization To The Tech-Talkers Or Other Fauxvolutionaries