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

Friday, May 31, 2013

Paul Krugman Gets the Last Word

"A well-run modern welfare state is actually a pretty decent kind of society. And it can be done, and we have done it pretty well in various parts of the western world. And I think it's more a question of getting back to those ideals than it is about searching for some science fictional solution. We basically do know how to do this, we just have chosen not to."

Of course, one bridles a bit at that "western" and that "we" -- but Krugman would no doubt sympathize with that bridling and his point remains enormously important. While no one existing or historical welfare state has ever gotten everything right, enough have gotten enough right that we can tell what would work well enough to be incomparably better for everybody than what we have now. Just think about that for a moment, think about what it means! The plutocrats who are making key decisions in spite of the rest of us -- imposing austerity, deregulation, looting common and public goods -- aren't failing to do the right thing because they don't know better but because they are personally benefiting from doing the wrong thing and are insulated by those very benefits from the lived reality of those who suffer from the decisions they are making. The "science fictional solutions" that are proposed to solve problems of climate catastrophe, wealth concentration, social immobility are actually symptoms of the abstract distance of these problems as lived realities from the privileged celebrity CEOs and pundits and other pop-tech pseudo-intellectuals who indulge in them, and I am talking about Very Serious intellectuals and creative workers and decision makers across the public disursive range of prevailing neoliberal financial and innovation disourse to the successful collaborators in the now-dominant science fiction entertainment imaginary to the more extreme cheerleaders of eugenic-transhuman and digital-utopian futurology.

This talk did offer up more programmatic ideas, of introducing more steeply progressive taxes, with an upper bracket at between 60% and 73% depending on variables state to state, of an international governing body demanding global floors and basic regulations minimizing international tax avoidance, and of providing a global income guarantee for children, paid mostly to mothers, to end child poverty everywhere in the world. These ideas were all welcome, but I really do agree with Krugman's last word, quoted at the beginning of the post, that simply doing French style health care and American style social security and Finnish style public education and German style renewable energy investment around the world would save the world and bring us closer to a world that works for everybody than any software designer or future robotech, biotech, or nanotech innovation from a future celebrity CEO ever will. Just think how close we could be to saving the world and solving so many of our problems -- and the slick siren call of actually-reactionary pseudo-revolutionary techno-utopian futurological distraction and derangement instantly, irrevocably, and absolutely loses the least appeal to any sensible, decent person.

Just the Facts

Facts are made and not found, they are made to be found, and in being found, found to be founding.

I said this off-the-cuff yesterday in a lecture, and finding it euphonious (though hardly original) I'll file it under Faulty Ivory Towers here.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Yet Another Teaching Day -- Thucydides, Menexenus

Homer yesterday and already today it's Thucydides and the Homeric ambitiousness of the first eyewitness epic. We consider the politics and purchase of facticity among those traumatized by history, as well as the frame of "neutral" chronology as the pulse invigorating an ideology of the factually real. Thucydides' plutocratic celebration and debauchery of democracy in Pericles Funeral Oration and the Melian Dialogue provide an updated variation on Homer's before him. After break we make our first contact with Plato in an early, minor, some say spurious (Aristotle didn't think so, and he would know, is my view on that subject) dialogue, the Menexenus, introducing Socrates in a full array of humor, much of it not very nice, irony, mischief, slapstick, low ridicule, high satire -- of Pericles funeral oration, as it happens -- and an inkling of themes to come in the major dialogues. Socrates' misogynist treatment of the independent woman Aspasia, and his deployment of this misogyny to diminish the independent man Pericles are hard to stomach -- or to square with the figure of Diotima Aspasia paradoxically prefigures.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Another Teaching Day -- Homer's Iliad, Gorgias' Encomium

The Homeric universe opens up to my students today, the patriarchal rage that unmans, the interminable traffic in women by men (and the threat to patriarchy's traffic in women of the homosexualization of the homosociality of patriarchy), rhetoric of and as discord, the finally humanizing force of narrative, Achilles as the exceptional one and as everyone... then, the same day, mind you, Gorgias' Encomium to Helen, the praise of rhetoric through the praise of Helen, the self-promotion of Gorgias through the re-enactment of Helen's violation. Ah, summer intensives! Day Two and everything is already quite overwhelming.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

First Day -- Policies, Frames, Provocations, and a little Sappho

Opening moves on the Chess board this afternoon. Feeling my usual stage fright -- I've been teaching nearly twenty years now, non-stop, cozy seminars, overcrowded classrooms, spotlit auditoriums stuffed with hundreds, and still my first words must punch through a wall of electric fright. The first lecture should be a rather short affair: The syllabus. Contact information. My grading policies, including a brief speech in which I explain to Berkeley students that an "A" is an earned thing and not a birthright. Attendance, assignments. Explaining the demand for a day by day handwritten reading notebook that cannot be electronified -- what is this "writ-ing" while "read-ing" you speak of...? Then, a few initial throat-clearing gestures, inaugural themes -- Why are we pretending there was no rhetoric in Egypt, India, China? (What about, after all, Ptahhotep's Instructions? Vedic discourse? Debate in the Upanishads? Confucian theory and later legalisms?) Why was the plutocratic militaristic radical Greek cradle of democracy also anti-democratic (and why might we say the same for our own)? Why does beginning rhetoric -- including even simply calling it that, "rhetoric" from the probably Platonic coinage of rhetorike, derived from the institutionalized figure of the rhetor, as against logos, techne logon -- with the greeks means we're already deep in a skirmish over a terribly narrow construal of thought as a terribly narrow construal of theory as a terribly narrow construal of philosophy? How does the commonplace pretense that this is the "ancient" rhetoric survey course obscure the reality that for many Roman rhetoricians we will be reading the Greeks we will also be reading already were the ancients to their own modernity? And might this organization of ancients and moderns confuse in turn our understanding of our own modernity, post-modernity, late-modernity, a-modernity, post-post-modernity, in the post-war aftermath before planetarity? By the way, what is patriarchy more generally and doesn't it matter that Greeks and Romans sometimes did patriarchy differently than one another and we do our own? After that, I'll read them some Sappho, and then send them off to read Homer and Gorgias (not Plato on Gorgias, that comes later, but Gorgias' Encomium). I'm thinking that's about an hour...?

Monday, May 27, 2013

Summer Intensives Begin

If I seem suddenly quiescent, it because I've slammed into a wall of prep as my summer intensive courses are beginning this week at Berkeley. I'm teaching the same courses this summer as last, six weeks on rhetoric and patriarchy from Homer to Petronius, then six weeks on interpretation and fetishism from Wilde to Haraway. The classes meet for roughly three hours every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, and each meeting covers the material I would normally teach in a week in the regular term. The intensity level of prep, reading, grading is fairly bonkers, everybody gets a bit zany by the end. But all in all the courses are pedagogically more effective than you might think, there can simply be no shirking since to get the least bit behind is to hopelessly lose control over everything and Berkeley students are pretty dedicated as a rule. Also, in a well designed course texts read and discussed in this kind of proximity and relentless succession inevitably reverberate into one another thematically, conceptually, figurally and a kind of devastating momentum builds up that can yield beautiful transformative insights if you know what you are doing and you build a course that really is making a larger kind of argument that has somewhere it wants to go. It really is a whole lot of work, though, fairly shattering by the each week's end. Here I go!

Saturday, May 25, 2013


Always an ought and never an is, "coolness" is not in features themselves but in the investment of features with a narrative of transcendence. And the discourse of "innovation" now amounts mostly to skirmishes over this coolness.

More Futurological Brickbats here.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Tweet

My friend Jules Tuyes recently pondered on his blog Rendered Public a piece about twitter by Matt Buchanan in the New Yorker. Jules singles out this quote from that piece:
For all of the ways in which Twitter has evolved since its creation, in 2006, when it was known as "twttr," what has not changed is how profoundly Twitter relies on nowness. Nowness is not simply newness, or the new: the question Twitter used to ask of users when they went to compose a tweet, "What’s happening?" is a direct inquiry about the state of now.
From this Jules expounds:
Do we want to infuse the Now with a constant wave of Newness or rather settle into the present as it arises? ... Immediacy, the state of hurried experience, is not the same as the Present Moment which is simply there. I suppose both produce a "Wow!" but about different content. My experience of taking the bus home from work at the same time countless teenagers return from the pool across the street attests to an entire generation attached to fresh information and constant contact with others. It would seem for some it won't even be about a choice but rather a custom and a habit. We will see what this generation ultimately ends up doing with their Now... Being present is a life-long struggle so I only question instruments that pull us away from it, creates a habit of immediate demand and result... How can one get tired of the Now? Easily as you realize there really is nothing New in it at all.
Now, ahem, I think the Now is functioning in these critiques as a worry about an inherently alienating unreflectiveness or impressionism in microblogging practices like twitter and their resulting click and scroll. I emphasize alienation in this formulation, because it suggests that their worry might actually be a kindred worry to the one Jules has, that they are worried about an alienation from the rich presence in the Now via precisely a fixation on Now as a play of disparate decontextualized sensations. There's lots of now getting thrown around, and lots of now to go around here.

The whole reason I bring this up is that I am somebody who was a crusty critic of twitter for quite a while myself, I would now say wrongheadedly so, complaining then about its superficiality and impoverishment in more or less the same tones and terms as so many of its present critics do (as for example here and here). I guess it's no big surprise to discover that once I actually used and got used to twitter myself I found it capable of riches I was unaware of all the while so cocksure in my disliking of it.

I do think that in our own epoch the deceptive and hyperbolizing norms and forms of promotional discourse derange all mediated practices -- and this is as true of twitter as it is of journalism, literature, scholarly discourse. The mistake, possibly attributable to the novelty and conspicuousness of microblogging, is that this general suscpetibility is easily falsely identified with twitter as such. No doubt there is a bit a magickal thinking here, too -- the disavowal that all public deliberation has become unreflective through the foregrounding of its unreflective twitterized face.

I always conceded the value of twitter as a medium for reportage and subcultural signaling -- testifying forcefully to disseminated real-time observations of events like protests on the street or legislative wrangling on the floor or the shared enjoyment/resistance of mass-broadcast speeches or entertainments. But I will admit that I underestimated the force of critical intervention available in the long languishing and now twitter-revitalized genres of the aphorism and the epitome. I will also note that the twitter-link is just as enabling of deepening reflection as it is of promotional virality. Definitely I did not grasp the richer deliberative dynamisms that emerge out of successive tweets or responses or retweets that build on one another and complicate one another in ways that are the furthest thing from superficial or non-reflective.

Quandaries Not Identities

Just as I have always found it hard to sustain any interest in the interest others have in my queerness, and yet I remain utterly fascinated by the quandaries of the diversity of desire for politics, so too I have always found it hard to sustain any interest in the interest others have in my atheism, and yet I remain utterly fascinated by the quandaries of the diversity of secularity for politics.

Moberly on the Nostalgic Continuum of New Media and Digital Humanities

In answer to a question about the intersections and differences between the first digital generation's rather exuberant too-often promotional academic fad "new media studies" and this second digital generation's rather exuberant too-often self-promotional academic fad "the digital humanities," rhetorician Kevin Moberly answers: "I worry that the answer is nostalgia." There is more, follow the link for all of it:
Justified by the oft-repeated, but rarely substantiated claim that the humanities is undergoing a crisis, digital humanities constructs the high technology of the present moment in much the same way as [did] proponents of the now largely-forgotten field of new media -- as a shift in the means of production that is synonymous in its historical and cultural implications to the introduction of the printing press... [F]or proponents of new media, this technological determinism is almost always symptomatic of a larger positivism... society is in the throes of a far reaching "information revolution," [and] computers... a means of... transcending the inherent limitations of human subjectivity. By contrast, digital humanists imagine computers... as a means of... recovering... performances... they celebrate as embodying human subjectivity in the ideal. Fascinated with the potential of digital technologies to re-imagine... great or valuable works, they turn to e-editions and digital archives not as a means of remedying the limitations of human subjectivity but of perfecting it: of teaching a generation of born digital subjects how to appreciate the timeless values manifested in classic (analog) works of art and literature. Whether imagined as a means of transcending or perfecting human subjectivity, digital technology is constructed as the catalyst for a... rebirth into a new era and a recovery of the glories of one that had been lost. Implicit in this belief is a corollary belief in a... lack or loss, a primitivism from which we are anxious be reborn. I worry that this... is constructed, in part, in the image of media studies, especially the branch... rooted in cultural studies. Scholars working in cultural studies... tend to be more interested in mass culture... pedestrian forms... It is not that they eschew literature or art, but that they recognize that such designations are always already political and particular -- indications of what a particular culture values at a particular historical moment rather than transcendent human values... Rather than celebrating [technology] as... a force in and of itself that exists independently of the people who produce, use, and are otherwise affected by it -- they approach technology... the same way that they approach literature and art: as a material (and therefore political) manifestation of the struggles in which various individuals, communities, and institutions engage... Concerned primarily with the present tense rather than the past or the future, cultural studies thus understands scholarship as a political and interventionist practice... I worry that Digital Humanities is motivated by a desire to restore the humanities, and, in particular, literary studies, to a future that is imagined to have existed before cultural studies. For it strikes me that digital humanities is interested in the past for much of the same reason that new media is interested in the future: because both imagine that high technology can provide privileged access to a sense of higher purpose, a spirituality, that has presumably been lost. Or, put another way, both imagine high technology of a means of exorcizing, once and for all, the horrors of the present tense.
There is a lot to agree with in this insightful and nicely concise formulation.

I do wonder if Moberly is a bit sanguine about the extent to which facile variations on cultural studies actually enabled some of the undercritically promotional excesses of new media studies (which in turn set the stage for its targeting by some digital humanists, even if I agree with Moberly that this response is reactionary).

I wonder also if there are other ways of narrativizing the shift from the new media moment to the digital humanities moment in the straightforward terms of first the cohort of professionalizing academics anxiously/boastfully testifying to their ambivalence toward the irrational exuberance of Clintonian digitality versus the cohort of professionalizing academics anxiously/boastfully testifying to their ambivalence toward the serial failures of the Bush-era dot.bomb and what turned out to be vapid/violative social media.

That is to say, an important part of this story is probably a matter of generational churn in an ever more precarious privatized academy, and also part of it is simply the slightly more critical echo in current scholarship of the tropes and conceits of the pop-tech press of the day of which academic discourse is too often a mere expression or symptom itself.

I'm sure the immemorial charges of the drift of both these academic fashions in technoscience discourse into the usual determinisms and autonomisms will seem annoying or congenial to their partisans in roughly equal measure -- we all know these risks are well nigh irresistible when talk turns to tech and that it is urgent to resist these tendencies. I suspect that Moberly would propose that these susceptibilities in technoscience discourse are embedded in its temporal orientation -- hence his mapping of new media, digital humanities, and media cultures onto future, past, and present -- and I personally sympathize with such a proposal, even if that very interesting and important argument isn't his focus and hence we get just a genuflection toward it rather than a sustained reflection.

That both the past and future orientations he criticizes are marked by "nostalgia" is the key to where I hope Moberly would go in a sustained reflection. To this I would append that futurity inheres in the plural present, which leads to an insistence on the political dimension of tech-talk (hence my endlessly reiterated insistence that "technology" is a mystification of technodevelopmental social struggles over the costs, risks, and benefits of change to the ineradicable diversity of its stakeholders). It seems to me this is also where Moberly rests in his conception of politicized media cultures arrayed against the reactionary politics of de-politicization in his foils, via instrumentalism in new media studies and via moralism in the digital humanities.

That this quandary is yet another re-enactment of the grappling by Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud with the displacement by scientificity of European philosophy misconstrued as thought inaugurating critical theory is exactly to be expected and has its own nostalgia in tow doncha know?

Friday, May 24, 2013

MundiMuster! Help American Humanist Help Rebecca Vitsmun Rebuild


Coming out is never easy -- and Rebecca's grace in the face of catastrophe, in the face of the pressure of mass-mediated expectations, in her nonjudgmental embrace of so many who would judge her harshly makes her a role model, even if a momentary one, in a diversifying, secularizing, planetizing America.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Yay! Kiera Wilmot Is Going To Space Camp

ABC News:
In late April, the 16-year-old central Florida honor student was accused of igniting a chemical explosion on school grounds, leading to her arrest and suspension from school, but authorities dropped criminal charges last week... While school officials debate whether Kiera will return to Bartow High School, the Wilmot family received an unexpected surprise. The explosion struck a chord with 18-year NASA veteran Homer Hickam, a former lead astronaut training manager for Spacelab, and later for the International Space Station... "I couldn't let this go without doing something," Hickam said. "I'm not a lawyer, but I could give her something that would encourage her. I've worked closely with the U.S. Space Academy, and so I purchased a scholarship for her." ... Learning of her twin sister, Hickam raised enough money so Kiera and Kayla could attend space camp together. Hickam runs several scholarships for kids with potential, and hopes to create an ongoing Space Academy scholarship. The twins will attend in July.
Image from the CBS Filmation Saturday morning series Space Academy of my late 70s childhood.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Not Cutus

Google Glassholes all think they are Locutus of Borg. But we will not be assimilated.

More Futurological Brickbats here.

"This Is What Austerity Looks Like"

Futurologist Blurs Line Between Parody and Self-Parody

A brief piece entitled Coca Cola Blurs Line Between Virtual and Real was just posted over the World Future Society. It has to be seen to be believed.

My comment on the post itself (probably to be moderated away as merely insulting):
Are you being ironic? An "uplifting" ad? Actually followed by an exhortation to "click here"? You declare a soda vending machine "smart"? The real and virtual are "blending" somehow through purchasing? Mass consumption will end sectarian violence and war? "Techno-optimists" for Coca-Cola! Denialism and apathy isn't really the same thing as "optimism" for those of us who need a little substance with our hope! Either this piece is parody or it is an illustration of reactionary futurological ideology I criticize so condensed it makes my head explode. I mean, I'm glad you enjoyed the commercial and all, but honestly do you see how flabbergastingly uncritical and promotional this is? I know I'm the resident "unfuturist" and all, but surely those who affirm a substantial role for futurological discourse in understanding technoscientific change and policy analysis would want to pressure literally every assumption on which this little burst of enthusiasm is premised -- even if they happen to come to sunnier conclusions than I would myself after doing so.

MundiMuster! Peaceful Protestor Carmen Pittman Tasered Outside the Department of Justice

Demand that members of the Finance Committee condemn this completely unnecessary, violent, cruel police overreaction. Compare the number of bankers who have gone to jail for fraudulently destroying the economy and ruining the lives of millions of everyday citizens to the number of citizens who have gone to jail for engaging in constitutionally protected speech and assembly in protest of those crimes. Go ahead, even if you don't know the exact numbers in your head you know enough to know the story -- you've seen the images of the handcuffs and the police vans and the percussive bursts of crowd control ordinance -- you know that protestors have been tased and tear-gassed and manhandled and jailed in the countless thousands while the fraudsters and banksters whine about how President Obama hurt their feelings in some mildly worded speech. Rachel Maddow covered the outrageous tasing incident briefly last night:

Summer Fling

Beginning next week I'm teaching two summer intensives at Berkeley this summer, first my survey of key Greek and Roman works in and of rhetoric, "Are We Not Men? Patriarchal Convention and Conviction in Classical Antiquity" for six weeks and then my survey of key theory after Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, "The Rhetoric of Interpretation, 'Fetishes and Keys'" for another six weeks. It's a lot of work, but I've actually given myself quite a break this year by choosing to focus on Berkeley and passing on the additional teaching of my usual third critical theory survey course in the City as well. This makes all the difference in the world, and not just monetarily. Without my nine to noon course in the City my early mornings, commute times, office hours are all lightened enormously, and so I have time for the sorts of projects to which my summers used to be deliciously devoted. So, this year I've decided systematically to read all the writing available in English translation by Peter Sloterdijk -- whose very provocative and rich work I've only nibbled around the edges of up to now. I also mean to brush up on my Greek so that when I teach Greek and Roman rhetoric next summer I will have read all the work in the original before lecturing on it (I lecture from translations and secondaries now, and though few undergraduates give a fig about that, it bothers me). Reading Greek comedy and philosophy in the original has been a long-deferred desire, not least because I think it will deepen my connection to Arendt even further.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

AI Ideologues Cheer "Helpful" Watson

Artificial intelligence does not exist, but the ideologues of artificial intelligence continue to force the rest of the world to pay for their refusal to accept this obvious fact. As I never tire of repeating, "Computer science in its theological guise aims less at the ultimate creation of artificial intelligence than in the ubiquitous imposition of artificial imbecillence."

Writes Manoj Saxena, General Manager of IBM's Watson Solutions (what really are the problems to which Watson provides "solutions" -- believe me, you don't want to know):
Social and technological shifts are driving rapid change, altering ways in which individuals interact with one another, learn, and attend to their personal and business needs. These shifts offer the potential to strengthen the relationships between companies and their customers -- enabling more individual and directed communication and allowing organizations to cater to individual needs.
Notice that we begin with the usual facile futurological frame of "rapid" "disruptive" "accelerating" change. This article of futurological faith is now common sense, apparently it need not be argued for or even elaborated anymore, everybody already knows that we are on a rocketship to the unimaginable sooper-footure, whatever the impediments to and stasis of actual worldly infrastructural affordances, whatever the dearth of actual paradigm shattering research breakthroughs once we get past the press release hype, whatever the stratification in the distributions to their actual stakeholders of the actual costs, risks, and benefits of technoscientific change, whatever the real world impacts of catastrophic climate change, weapons proliferation, ramifying pandemic vectors, wealth-concentration, plummeting wellness and reported satisfaction indices, whatever, whatever, whatever.

Notice also that quite apart from the flabbergasting falseness of the accelerationalism frame, once accepted this frame creates the rhetorical opportunity to pretend any predictive claim, no matter its plausibility given the actually existing state of knowledge or available resources or political priorities, is just as plausible as any other -- after all, who knows where disruptive and accelerating change may lead from what is possible now? Once actual knowledge, resources, and political priorities are sublimed away as considerations for "foresight" deliberation what remain are the highly energetic and entertaining promptings of appetite, panic, resentment, denial. (I leave to the side the neoliberal companion ideology to futurological ideology in play here -- although this pairing is also usual -- here blithely recommending emancipatory "relationships" between consumers and corporations through brand-loyalty and logo-identification. Another thing I never tire of repeating: "Modern advertising began a century ago by deceiving us that there were substantial differences between mass-produced consumer goods according to the brands they bear, and has succeeded by now, a century later, in deceiving us that there are substantial differences between mass-produced consumers according to the brands we buy.") But let us return to our can-do will-do screw-you futurologist:

Yet, for many, today’s online customer experiences lack personalization, timeliness and trust. But what if companies could offer their customers the kind of personalized and knowledgeable assistance when they’re online or on the phone that people have come to expect from top-flight customer service delivered in person? We believe that a new generation of cognitive systems will do just that. They will provide individuals with intelligent personal digital assistants that interact with them, answer their questions, and help them make complex purchasing decisions or solve problems they’re having with products like cell phones, computers and consumer electronics devices.
The "yet" with which this formulation begins is very important, and we should dwell on it, because it marks a blink-brief and begrudging admission that online experiences in the actual world suck, after which you will notice that Saxena simply barrels on through to a "what if" that doesn't actually name any actually existing state of affairs, but which he proceeds to pretend is a more palpable reality than the actual reality testified to under that now-disavowed "yet."

Saxena's faith in a futurological world not seen is indeed just that, faith -- attested to by the literally faithful pronouncement that follows: "We believe that a new generation of cognitive systems will do just that." You would be wrong to assume that the "we" conjured here is only a reference to Saxena's collueagues in the firm, and not a broader conjuration of the community of AI-ideologues and futurologists who drive this now-prevalent corporate-military discourse. The faithly substance of that belief must remain in the forefront of the reader's attention as a litany of "predictions" about not-yet and yet "features" is then trotted out behind the advertorial "will" -- "intelligent personal digital assistants that interact with them, answer their questions, and help them make complex purchasing decisions or solve problems they’re having" and so on.

Again, it is crucial to grasp that computer programs are not "intelligent," they are not "individual," they are not "personal," they are not "knowledgeable," they do not "advise," they do not "solve problems" (though of course we may solve and create problems through our uses and misuses of them). Every claim Saxena makes premised on affirmations to the contrary is an absolute deception, and possibly also a self-deception. His just-so story continues on:
A first step in this journey happens this week, when IBM introduces the Watson Engagement Advisor. The technology underlying this service is based on IBM Watson, the computer that beat former grand-champions on the TV quiz show Jeopardy!. Our research and development staff has made Watson 75 percent smaller, 25 percent faster, and have been working hard to improve Watson’s ability to answer consumer-oriented questions. For the first time, with the engagement advisor, we’re bringing Watson to the masses.
I note in passing that the "first step in this journey" formulation is once again a completely faithly utterance, and we are being asked in fact to substitute for the contemplation of the actual qualities of the program in question and the actual problems its introduction will obviously bring for actual consumers, the contemplation instead of this program's appearance on the scene as a kind of Burning Bush, portending "The Future" of superintelligent Robot Gods ending history and solving all our problems for us... we are being diverted from the facts of Watson to the question of what Watson "represents" to AI-ideologues and other corporate-militarists who are bringing "The Future" to the masses, whether we like it or not.

Indeed, you may begin to grasp the actual stakes of this marketing appropriation of political language by comparing "the masses" to whom IBM is bringing their program to the "many" he grudgingly admitted early on have terrible, frustrating experiences online trying to access information or trying to solve their actual problems. Given the institutional sites in which Watson is presumably being introduced as the primary informational and problem-solving interface I think the terrible actual experiences well on the way for a whole lot of precarious mis-informed advertisement-harrassed time-scarce consumers constitute a rich field of political stakes and substance being altogether ignored in all this profitable techno-wizbangery.

Speaking of techno-wizbangery, I cannot help but draw your attention to the fact that Watson did not "beat" a grand-champion on Jeopardy! Watson mediated a scam in which a team of programmers cheated against a grand-champion through recourse to a vast database the champion did not have access to. Neither will Watson give consumer advice in the face of their perplexities, but it will mediate the diversion of frustrated consumers down parochially profitable channels of attention and decision pre-selected by "service-providers" and the programers working for them to achieve just these ends.
Consumers will be able to experience this new level of personalized service through the brands they already have relationships with -- their banks and investment advisors, their phone service providers, insurance companies, favorite stores and other trusted organizations. For instance, a bank might offer Watson directly to customers on Web sites and mobile devices to help give them insights regarding retirement and various types of savings instruments like 401K accounts.
Just imagine the "insightful" advertizing to which these consumers are sure to be subjected as they seek answers to their urgent questions about healthcare coverage and retirement planning! What could possibly go wrong? --h/t "JimF"

NRA's Hollywood Vision Thing

The bloodsoaked official NRA rag praises Top Ten Gun Movies in which white guys slaughter indiscriminately with their mean peen-substishoots. Really, what decent American wouldn't want to embrace the white racist patriarchal death cult vision of this fine paramilitary gun-manufacturer lobbying organization? Presumably, they didn't quite get the hilarity of the cold dead hand from which a gun was pried in the 80s camp classic Red Dawn. Well, nobody ever said those evil motherfuckers were smart. Hey, hey, NRA, how many kids ya kill today?

Inhofe's Perfectly Predictable Republican Demand For Big Gu'Ment Aid For Me But Not For Thee

In the wake of the devastating tornado in Oklahoma, Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) "rejected comparisons between federal aid for this disaster and the Hurricane Sandy relief package he voted against," the Washington Post reports.
Act surprised. By the way, neither should Inhofe's Tornado Alley constituents be surprised should their settlements be struck with historically unprecedented tornadoes and storms of ever greater intensity with ever greater frequency in the Greenhouse Present of catastrophic anthropogenic climate change their Senator still thinks it is cute to deride, as the title of his unspeakably stupid and evil book of last year would have it, The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Big Gu'Ment Twitterrant

Very Seriously Patriarchal

[T]he evident urge to make Someone Suffer -- Someone Else, of course -- reflects... [a l]ack of compassion, sure; an inability to imagine what it must be like for someone less fortunate than oneself and one’s friends, definitely.... It was obvious during the runup to the Iraq war that what was going on in the minds of many hawks -- and not just the neocons -- was not so much a deep desire to drop lots of bombs and kill lots of people (although they were OK with that) as a deep desire to be seen as people who were willing to Do What Has to be Done. Men who have never risked, well, anything relished the chance to look in the mirror and see Winston Churchill looking back. Actually, I suspect that even the torture thing had less to do with sadism than with the desire to look tough. And the austerian impulse is pretty much the same thing... Much of the problem in trying to stop the march to war was precisely the fear of many pundits that they would be seen as weak and, above all, not Serious if they objected. Austerity has been very much the same thing -- and again, it’s not just the right-wingers who are afflicted... [This is] the language of Very Serious People, talking about the need to make unpleasant decisions (which is always there, but if anything less so in a depression)... So if you like, the problem is Seriousness rather than sadism. On foreign policy, it’s always 1938; on economic policy, it’s always 1979. And the colossal muddle goes on.
Teaching about the concept of patriarchy to undergraduates in my critical theory survey courses, I always stress that patriarchy is a homosocial order that must disavow absolutely the homosexuality with which it is indispensably continuous. To the extent that patriarchy is the generational transmission of property -- and therefore authority -- between males, usually from fathers to sons, it requires that women be owned as property as well to ensure male control over female reproductive capacity. A possessive and controlling conception of the sex through which possessions are controlled by males threatens males with dispossession if males can then be sexualized as well. And yet patriarchy is suffused with primary relations of affection, esteem, respect, solidarity among males -- this is, indeed, the whole point of patriarchy. Patriarchy as aspirations to maintain solidarity among males is all about the expression of a form of same-sex desire, but patriarchy as practices of accomplished solidarity among males is all about the repudiation of a form of same-sex desire. Needless to say, the maintenance of this irrational rationality demands unspeakable violations, self-mutilations, absurd circumscriptions of possibility for everybody implicated in patriarchy. It is not the worst of patriarchy's crimes that Krugman is finding his way through to in his interesting observation, but he is indeed talking about patriarchy. "Seriousness" in Krugman's piece refers here, as elsewhere, to relations of credentialization and esteem out of which "common wisdom" is produced and policed through media and policy apparatuses. And in insisting that the "toughness" and "hard boiled realism" (the inevitable conjuration of "hardness" in these formulations is neither accidental nor incidental) of the serially failing Very Serious caucus of "experts" and "elites" for criminally and catastrophically bellicose foreign policy, for illegal ineffective torture advocacy, for macro-economically illiterate austerity measures and so on is best understood less as a problem of facile pathologized "sadists" as a structural problem embedding expertise and authority in systems of knowledge-production and policy-making that are also forms of painstaking/pain-making subject-production that are more cruel than concerned, more paranoid than practical. What I wonder is whether or not Krugman grasps the extent to which his analysis here is finally feminist.

More Freedoms Than One in the First Amendment

Gun zealots who think stockpiling weapons is first amendment free expression seem uninterested in first amendment peaceable assembly.

Products As Movements

Because of the futurological framing of history they buy, tech companies are forever confusing crap consumers buy with history.

More Futurological Brickbats here.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

MundiMuster! Stop the Prosecution of an 18 Year Old Girl In A Long-Term Same-Sex Relationship

Globalization Is Doubly Chimeric

If I may be permitted an observation standing in for a proper essay (it's my brief vacation between my spring term in the City just ended and my summer intensives at UC Berkeley beginning in a week, and I am feeling a little glib and a little glum): Globalization seems to me to be doubly chimeric, in the senses both of mirage and of assemblage. First, the postwar Washington Consensus is a dumb dream of Empire, at best an eyeblink empire, ephemeral, militarily inept, profoundly unaccomplished (characterized by the phony productivism of marketing and promotional forms presiding over the inflation of a catastrophic petrochemical bubble), one hopes the last and least of the patriarchal war machines. Hence, "late" capitalism, post-modernity, twilight of the idols, and the rest. Of course, the post-modern is supposed to consist in an incredulity toward metanarratives, and yet there is quite a metanarrative embedded in this very observation, as there cheerfully admittedly are in Lyotard's, too. Although I tend to disapprove of the corralling together of the disparate and contentious figures who tend be critiqued under the heading of the "post-modern," usually to provide excuses for not really reading them, I do think there is a real usefulness in describing "modernity" as the way of European encounter with itself by way of its enabling others inside and outside itself across the long world-shattering world-making epoch book-ended by the Thirty Years' War and the Second Thirty Years' War (in the Churchillian framing of the early twentieth century's two World Wars as a whole). It isn't accidental but essential to my way of looking at these things (if "things" they may be said to be) that the querelle des anciens et des modernes is inaugurated in the French ascendancy in the immediate aftermath of the Thirty Years' War by the legibly national intellectuals in the Académie française and was then taken up in the creation of self-consciously nationalist culture criticism in the English Restoration epoch. This leads to the second point, actually already underway, that globalization is chimeric as well in the Second sense of hybridity, functioning as a hinge between more significant social formations, on the one hand a tattered post-war vestige of European internationalism (the modern epoch of the nation-state system and colonial empires) and on the other an inking of the epoch of sustainable polycultural planetarity to come (if humans do not destroy themselves first through war, waste, pollution in this awful transitional epoch). Nation-state internationalism, UN/Washington Consensus globalism, and the polycultural planetarity to come are all toti-planetary formations, of course, as the Alexandrians, Chinese, Romans, Spanish definitely were NOT, the first predatory, the second illusory, the third provisory (defined at once by the values of sustainable provision and always provisional equity-in-diversity). As I said, an observation, not an essay.

Scandal Twitterrant

Autocorrect Is the New Oakland

There is no their they're.

More Faulty Ivory Towers here.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Friday, May 17, 2013

We Need A BBC Keynes Costume Miniseries! Twitterrant


Spending a day grading away before my deadline. One of my graduate students submitted a paper entirely in the wingding font which, upon translation, turns out to narrate misadventures with law enforcement officials to which he was subjected after tricking a person via Craigslist into giving him a stolen bike back as well as the extreme variations in temperature he is experiencing at the computer while writing the paper. Unexpected connections to the course's themes were explored. By way of conclusion, he provided a design for a tattoo commemorating the class in which a sickle pierces a skull amidst scrollwork. He passed.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Larry Page Endorses Clap Louder Theory of Progress

Here's Larry Page:
"I think we’re all here because we share a deep sense of optimism about the potential of technology to improve people’s lives and the world... Despite the faster change we have in the industry, we’re still moving slow relative to the opportunities that we have... We should be building great things that don’t exist. Being negative is not how we make progress."
Indulging in denialism about the catastrophic unsustainability, abiding inequity, and amplifying precarity of extractive-industrial-consumer corporate-militarist societies is not "optimistic." Hyping stasis as accelerating change is not "building great things." Being positive about what isn't positive is more negative than being negative. Crass opportunism and self-congratulation isn't particularly positive, actually. Externalizing costs and risks and looting common goods isn't how "we make progress." Things that don't exist (like immortal cyber-angel avatars of your info-self, like profitable megascale geo-engineering technofixes for climate change, like desktop nano-cornucopias and 3D-everything-printers, like perfectly efficacious robot armies or sooperhuman clone armies of liberty, and so on) still don't exist even if you make a cartoon of them for your TED talk or for the suits in your boardroom PowerPoint presentation. Things that do exist like the coal smoke that runs digital media and toxic landfill-destined devices built by wage-slaves in over-exploited regions of the world on which we access digital media all still exist even if you pretend they are "digital" "frictionless" "immaterial" "informational" "virtual" spirit-fluff. People are seeing through the bullshit and the scam. Probably that would seem a "negative" formulation to Larry Page, and there is nobody stopping him or the rest of the libertechian plutocrats from keeping on with the clapping louder and seeing how long that keeps working for them -- I daresay it will remain a winning strategy in some measure for as long as human history lasts. But I also believe education, criticism, and struggle over the equitable distribution of the actual costs, risks, and benefits of technoscientific changes to the actual diversity of their stakeholders is indispensable to the real positive substance of progress in the direction of a sustainable, equitable, planetary polyculture. Often what looks like negativity to elite incumbents is what looks like positivity to the rest of us.

Page went on to declare the Web was birthed in the belly of corporate competitiveness, about which, in the spirit of that competitiveness, he also had some rather "negative" things to say, all the while piously insisting on his positivity. In all that, Page conveniently forgot, in the usual manner, the contextualization of public education and indispensability of public investment which actually "birthed the web" -- not exactly my own preferred metaphor here, by the way -- before certain clever opportunists skimmed and scammed their way to the profitable appropriation of work of which they remain themselves mostly incapable. No doubt there is a way of spinning that story more positively, but I'd rather listen to Aretha instead.

Escapism Is Neither Progressive Nor Practical

My partner Eric fighting the good fight over on dKos, writes:
There is no "elsewhere" -- We can't live on any other known planet. To say that we'll find a suitable planet AND the means to reach it in mass AND the means to effectively colonize it within under 200 years is much more far-fetched than applying that effort to not destroying the one we have now.
When someone earlier in the thread very sensibly pointed out that pretending libertopian libertechian for-profit space escape hatches and geo-engineering boondoggles constitute any kind of serious environmentalist politics (rather than just another form of what I have called corporate-military greenwashing) is even more foolish than Elon Musk pretending high orbit low-gravity amusement park rides for the superrich constitute any kind of serious space program. This looked to me to be nothing more than a bit of modest but necessary corrective to the prevailing reactionary neoliberal techno-triumphalism such tech-inflected discussions of environmental issues tend to inspire in liberal spaces like dKos, TPM, HuffPo, and so on. I will add that this prevailing techno-triumphalism opens onto forms of techno-theology, pseudo-science, and plutocratic complacency to which liberals are now paradoxically more prone than many of them have become other variations of fundamentalist faith and plutocratic self-congratulation in part precisely because of their contemporary positioning as liberals against conservative anti-science religious fundamentalisms in education and drug policy contexts and pseudo-scientific corporate-spin doctoring in medical and environmental policy contexts. Anyway, in response to the sensible call to caution and skepticism of corporate-military cheerleaders a put-upon techno-progressive (who no doubt fancies himself a Brite Green techno-ecologist rather than a White-Greenwash techno-apologist) snarked: "Since mankind has < 200 years left to colonize elsewhere than a deliberately destroyed planet... what is your suggestion for survival? Go underground and survive in the dank bowels of the earth???? ... At what point in time do we begin the efforts to lift off in "personed spaceflight" as Stephen Hawking says and viably consider life elsewhere... with less than 200 years to go?" It was to this exercise in patent wish-fulfillment fantasizing and sad acquiescence to needless self-destruction masquerading as hard-boiled "realism" and transhumanoid "activism" that Eric offered his reminder that we must save ourselves and that this planet we are destroying is our indispensable partner in that effort. (Annalee Newitz would do well to remember this as well as she proposes in her new book the same sort of reactionary techno-escapism and hence suicidal capitulation as if it were some kind of daring progressive activism -- for shame!)


Also published at the World Future Society.

In a recent conference promoting not only their latest gizmos but their company's animating vision as well, Google executives declared they were working toward a future in which technology "disappears," "fades into the background," becomes more "intuitive and anticipatory." Commenting on this apparently "bizarre mission for a tech company," Bianca Bosker warns that their genial and enthusiastic promotional language masks Google's aspiration to omnipresence via invisibility, an effort to render us dependent and uncritical of their prevalence through its marketing as easy, intuitive, companionable. I agree that there is something to this worry, but it is important to be very clear about it.

There is, paradoxically, nothing more "natural" than for our artifacts and techniques to vanish as "technologies" from our view as they grow familiar. It is a commonplace to point out that most of the time we do not attend to the feeling of our clothes against our skin -- and that we might go a bit mad were to notice this sort of thing all the time -- but it is also true that through our utter habituation to seeing and wearing clothes we no longer think of them as the "technologies" they happen to be. Technique, artifice, and ritual artifice suffuse our lives and worlds, all culture is prosthetic just as all prostheses are culture. That we think of only a fraction of culture as "technology" when all of it can be so thought indicates that the discourse of "technology" as such is to an important extent a register of familiarization and defamiliarization, naturalization and denaturalization, attention and inattention.

To the extent that "technology" is a conceptual site marking our ongoing elaboration of collective agency -- our effort to do things that matter together and to say what we are doing in a way that makes sense to each other -- it is not so surprising to find that those techniques and artifacts among so many that we explicitly think of as "technological" tend to be those that resonate with fears and fantasies of agency in particular: devices to amplify our strengths, to deliver our deepest desires, to disrupt the assumptions on which we imagine we depend, to threaten catastrophes out of our control. Daydreams of wish-fulfillment and nightmares of apocalypse utterly prevail over the technological imaginary, in everyday talk of technical anxieties and consumer desires, in the popular tech press, in advertising imagery, in science fiction entertainments, in Very Serious think-tank position papers on global investment and development, and so on.

This insight about "the technological" points a definite political moral. Since nearly everything about our made world has been different than it is now, could be different than it is now, and surely will be different than it is now, then whenever we treat the furniture of this contingent and open now as natural, as inevitable, as necessary, as logical, as the best of all possible worlds, as the best that can be expected, as normal we invest the status quo with an irresistibility and force that it could never accomplish or maintain on its own. And when we invest the status quo with this force we do so at the cost of our own power (to change together the terms on which we live in the made world with one another). It goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway, that those who benefit from the naturalization of the status quo are always those who preferentially benefit from its customary arrangements, whatever their inequities or irrationalities may be.

There is, of course, a special force in those ritual and material artifacts that would function as a fundamental interface through which we explore the made world and so set the terms on the basis of which we form our sense of what is natural and what is artifactual in the first place. Bosker's particular worry is that Google's product is just such an interface, even a kind of ultimate interface, a framing of experience through a selective annotation and curation of our exploration of the world as such, through the satisfaction on their terms of our "search." Thought of this way, the unnamed ambition in Google's vision to "disappear" is that it would naturalize through prevalence the very terms on which nature and non-nature are produced as such, and on terms that preferentially benefit Google's interests. Put this way, as I say, Bosker's point is an important one.

But there is not, nor could there be, one interface imposing the will of any singular constituency unilaterally upon the made world, whatever Google's competitive ambitions may be, whatever any fundamentalist's moralizing conviction may demand. Indeed, the very language of competitive prevalence that drives Google's discourse attests to their own naturalization of social conventions that are contestable and actually under contest in ways that are as likely to bedevil their vision as implement it. For one thing, you cannot slap a Google logo on that which is invisible, and it is hard not to notice that Google's endless crowing about their ambition to ubiquity is somewhat at odds with the silence of realized ubiquity. Considered on such terms, Google's behavior is indeed rather "bizarre… for a tech company." But that hardly means this behavior is not also fairly typical. The prevalence through which Google would presumably disappear into nature attests paradoxically both to the wishful but usually disavowed tendency toward monopoly in market orders as well as to the competition in which "all that is solid melts into air" (and hence is de-naturalized). Also, more particularly, Google's repeated testament to the aspiration to prevalence through "intuitive" and "person[able]" interfaces in particular signals that, like so many tech companies, they are uncritically invested themselves in the serially failed and utterly facile ideology of artificial intelligence, with what consequences to their ambitions nobody can finally say.

All this is just to say that Google did not code and does not own the interface through which they interface with their interface. It is not just what we think of as our language, but also our laws, our pricing conventions, our ways of signaling subcultural identifications and dis-identifications through sartorial and other lifeway choices, our architectural environment and infrastructural affordances that all encode and enforce moral, esthetic, political judgments. Understanding this is key to grasping the force of Bosker's point, but it also reminds us of the ineradicable plurality of these frames, their irreducibility to one another, and hence the final impossibility of a foreclosure of the open futurity inhering in the present. Just as it is important critically to interrogate the specific values encoded in our laws and affordances with what specific impacts to which specific stakeholders, it is important to interrogate the values, impacts, stakes in criticizing them. Criticality, like science more generally, depends equally on an acceptance that any belief can be up for grabs, but also that all beliefs cannot be up for grabs at once and certainly not belief as such. There is political force both in the ways material and ritual norms and forms settle into "nature" as well as in the ways they can be unsettled into "artifice."

It is not an accident that Bosker turns in her article to the expertise of a representative of the transhumanist think-tank IEET for guidance in thinking through the ultimate significance of the Google interface. Transhumanism assumes an essentially theological narrative vantage over the vicissitudes of technoscientific change, but technoscientific progress toward sustainable equity-in-diversity insists on the diverse determination and equitable distribution of costs, risks, and benefits of such change to its plural stakeholders in an ongoing democratic process of technodevelopmental social struggle. There is undeniably a reactionary politics in our uncritical acceptance of the status quo of the owned interface (be it of faith, or of legislation, or of browsers or search engines) or indeed of any plutocratic prevalence over the made and shared world, but there is a reactionary politics as well in our uncritical acceptance of an alien author of disruption, transcendence, apocalypse. Acquiescence to the fantasy that Google -- or whatever passes for the avatar of a monolithicized "technology" of the moment, Ford, IBM, Microsoft, the Pentagon -- is authorized to deliver totalizing techno-transcendence or techno-apocalypse is to divest ourselves of our authority to contest and produce the uses and meanings investing that made, shared world. Fantasies of total techno-transformation by alien powers (the history-shattering Robot God of the singularitarian transhumanists is merely the most obvious variation on the theme) function as a techno-supernaturalization of human history no less reactionary than the more customary naturalization of the plutocratic status-quo in which tech companies also have their hand.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Driverless Car Not As Prophesy But Allegory

This image adorns the cover of a recent issue of The Economist.  Of course, Google's driverless cars are no more going to Change Everything than Google's Glass is going to do so. But whatever its failure as a would-be prophetic burning bush, the retro-futural nostalgia of this image of a fit pink pastel privileged heteronomative couple in a fifties gas-guzzler streaming down a prinstinely clean well maintained stretch of uncongested highway surrounded by fresh foliage with the cloudy suggestion of a fanciful skyline in the horizon is a rather apt conjuration of the futurological fantasizing through which corporate-military discourse has peddled ruinous unsustainable plutocracy to generations of ever more impoverished, precarious and poisoned majorities in the aftermath of World War II. I must say the image provides another layer of metaphorical aptness -- though one deeply implicated in the fanciful futurological story I've already mentioned -- speaking to the self-congratulatory deregulatory austerian elites among the periodical's subscribers, careening down a road to nowhere, napping in the backseat or faces glued myopically to screens, all the while obliviously unaware that there is no one fucking driving the car! About the dreary apologia for catastrophic car culture represented by the futurological enthusiasm for driverless cars, do let me direct your attention to this earlier piece of mine.

Are We Rejecting Car Culture Just in the Nick of Time?

[T]he latest report on declining driving trends -- released today by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund -- argues that a rejection of car culture is here to stay. “The Driving Boom is over,” it declares. In fact, the report calculates that “If the Millennial-led decline in per-capita driving continues for another dozen years … total vehicle travel in the United States could remain well below its 2007 peak through at least 2040 -- despite a 21 percent increase in population.”
Critics who attribute the ongoing documentation of millennial-cohort attitudes of disinterest in car-ownership to the enforced "lowered expectations" of the sustained economic downturn are obviously speaking from the belly of the beast of car culture, and so fail to realize that those who are not bamboozled into their own fantasies of the "romance" of car-ownership are likely to have noticed the obvious, as they have not themselves, that car culture never ever delivers on its many promises of providing eternal sexy youthfulness or rugged individual autonomy or signalling delicious affluence and success to envious strangers. Who in their right minds would ever identify car ownership with high expectations or standards, after all? Many young people who for whatever reasons have learned to live perfectly well outside of car culture are little likely to embrace its fictional attractions even if and when they can afford to do so, especially if they happen to have noticed that the actual realities of car ownership include the nightmare of traffic congestion, the headaches of maintenance and insurance, the costly demands of refueling, the reality of enormously expensive yet undistinguished and indistinguishable product, and the pollution and pointless destruction of the only the planet we happen have to live in...

"Geo-Engineering" Broken Record

An exchange of comments on an older piece of mine on the futurological greenwashing advocacy of "Geo-Engineering" over at the World Future Society reminds me that one simply replays the same points over and over and over again until, presumably, either we win or the petro-plutocrats destroy the world.

Arthur W declares:
Geo engineering is a way to control global warming by various process like carbon dioxide removal and solar radiation management. But it is not just gardening and needs a transparent and safe methods so that it can be implemented in a proper way. If the safety can not be ensured and the funds not maintained properly then it is a total waste of time and money.
I respond, possibly for the bazillionth time:
is a way to control global warming by various process[es]...
These are "various process[es]" that happen not to refer to anything in actual reality, and none of which are "demonstrated" to be "way[s] to control global warming" in the least. That matters.
If the safety can not be ensured and the funds not maintained properly then it is a total waste of time and money.
Of course, ensuring safety and maintaining funds requires political processes. And yet, the failure of precisely such political processes is inevitably the premise on which most geo-engineering discourse depends. Of course, present-day representative and legislative politics have been and sometimes seem permanently unequal to the problems of catastrophic anthropogenic climate change. What education, agitation, organization, legislation equal to environmental problems would look like would require both incredibly stringent regulations and penalties to re-internalize the environmental/public health costs of extractive-petrochemical production and wasteful consumption as well as serious public investment in renewable energy and clean transportation infrastructure: a million solar rooftops in every US state; investing in vast wind and tidal turbine farms and in a smart grid to store and distribute this energy; mandating energy-efficient appliances everywhere, incentivizing residential construction and remodeling with geothermal pumps, porches, and attic fans; introducing emergency soil conservation and reforestation programs; eliminating subsidies for high-energy input intensive petrochemical monoculture and factory farming; ending the public subsidization of unhealthy and environmentally catastrophic corn and corpse over-consumption and subsidizing organic, region-appropriate polyculture practices instead; building a continental network of high speed rail connecting every American city; accelerating the switch to electric cars, while subsidizing alternatives to car culture, providing access to urban bike shares, pedestrianizing urban spaces, transforming streets into pedestrian malls and bike lanes, transforming parking lots in food deserts into garden co-ops and organic farmers markets. All of these interventions and practices actually have been implemented and encourages elsewhere in the world and in piecemeal ways in places in the US as well, so even our failed politics can turn to successful models in reality. That matters, too, and it happens to be something "geo-engineering" wet-dreamers handwaving about orbital mirror archipelagos, and metalized aerosol airship fleets, and mountains of dumped iron filings in the sea, and vertical pipe cathedrals sucking icy water from the ocean floor to the warming surface, and comparable corporate-military boondoggles depicted as CGI-cartoons for blissed out TED audiences and celebrity-CEOs cannot do by the way.

That our politics remains frustratingly, indeed tragically, criminally, genocidally incompetent seems an especially hard nut to crack in the face of the dysfunction and obstructionism of mostly Republican know-nothings and profitably opportunistic climate change denialists. But failures often fail right up to the moment when they succeed. Tipping point possibilities are palpable and proliferating, education efforts can reach saturation, insurance companies can change cost-risk formulas in the face of infrastructure damage, the Movement Republican fever might break (probably not because of climate politics, but over austerity, immigration, anti-choice zealotry, anti-gay bigotry, but with the consequence of removing the chief political block to environmental legislation and investment anyway), many things can change to mobilize our politics in ways we can scarcely imagine in our present frustration and hopelessness and distress.

Rather than pretending that despair over the failure of democratic politics justifies yet another predictable libertechian libertopian fantasy -- hoping all the while nobody notices that the implementation of the high-tech fantasy presumes precisely the working of legible stakeholder politics they simultaneous denigrate in the form of this pretense of despair -- I propose that those who care about catastrophic anthropogenic climate change keep their eyes on the prize, keep struggling to educate, agitate, organize, legislate to encourage sustainable civilization in the longer term and to make unsustainability unprofitable in the shorter term.

End of Term

The Symposium for my MA Thesis cohort at SFAI went incredibly well, but there is still a mountain of neglected papers to be graded before a looming deadline, and so blogging may remain a bit sporadic for the next few days. Itching to write, however, so stay tuned.

Benghazi Talking Points! IRS Tea Party Pogroms! Lying to the AP!

Of course, there is no real scandal or substance in any of The Three Scandals, but I suppose the declaration they will derail Obama's agenda allows pundits the modest novelty of saying unprecedented irrational GOP obstructionism is still derailing Obama's agenda while using slightly different words.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Come See My Wonderful MA Students Present Their Projects in SFAI's Annual Symposium


Monday, May 13 and Tuesday, May 14, 2013
10:00 AM-4:00 PM, Chestnut Street Lecture Hall

Thesis Presentations
Graduating students in SFAI’s Master of Arts programs in Exhibition and Museum Studies, History and Theory of Contemporary Art, Urban Studies, and the MA/MFA Dual Degree will present selections of their completed Master’s theses in a two-day-long public event. Engaging a diverse and interdisciplinary range of topics across global contemporary art practices, the MA Thesis Symposium represents the capstone of a two-year process of research, critical inquiry, and writing.

MA Thesis Symposium Schedule

Monday, May 13

9:45-10:00 AM
Coffee/Light Breakfast

10:00-10:15 AM
Claire Daigle, Director of MA Programs
Opening Remarks and Introductions


Joël Frudden
The Grounds of War

Zach Mitlas
Performative Pictures: Experience in Still Life Painting as a Product of Bedeviled Temporality

Orlando Lacro
Structurally American, Foreign in Detail:  The Context of Contemporary Filipino-American Art

Saher Sohail
Chorr Dau Jidhwal:  Permeating the Boundaries of Pakistan through the Neo Miniature

12:00-1:00 PM

1:00-2:15 PM

Christina Elliott
Cracked Aura: The Delegation of Relics

Suzanne Minatra
The Articulated Book: Discovering a New Book Medium Based on the Interplay between Page- and Screen-Based Reading

Sarah Nantais
Thomas Kinkade and “The Village” in Vallejo, CA:  Revitalizing Contemporary Suburbs through Branding Strategies and the Visual Arts
2:15-2:30 PM

2:30-4:00 PM

Malic Amalya
Divine Abjection: Queer Bodily Tactics in Experimental Film, John Waters, George Kuchar, Jennifer Reeder, & Zackary Drucker

Ariel Zaccheo
In the Temple of the Screen: Religiosity and Ritual in Cult Cinema

Aimee Harlib
Incendiary Images: A Reading of Radical AIDS Activism through Punk Aesthetics, San Francisco, 1979-Present

Angelica Jardini
The Rhetorical Slut: Politics of Sexuality and Gender in Feminist Performance

Tuesday, May 14

9:45-10:00 AM
Coffee/Light Breakfast

10:00-12:00 PM

Regina Velasco
Mobile Mexico: Street Level Citizenship

Martin Strickland
The Conversation Continues:  Dialogue Created through Digital Technology and Media within Museums

Stephanie Tran
The Ubiquitous Apple Product: Negotiating Curatorial Strategies in Exhibitions of Architecture and Design

Carolyn Jean Martin
Negro Expositions:  Portrait Photography in the Nineteenth And Twenty-First Centuries

12:00-1:00 PM

1-2:30 PM

Zoe Martell
Brass Monkey Wrench in the Gears: Streampunk’s Trickster

Danielle Gravon
Playing with Text: Tactility and Wonder in The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer

Amy Mutza
Unruly Threads, Queer Handicrafts

2:30-3:00 PM

3:00-4:00 PM

Carlos Garcia-Montero
The Myth/The Ghost: The Spectral Presence of Tino Sehgal

Manuela Ochoa Ronderos
The Uninhabited Stages/Los Escenarios Inhabitados: Stepping into Feliza Bursztyn’s House

Kira Dralle
My Body Knows Unheard-of Songs: The Sexed Body in New Music Performance Practice

Reception in the Café Courtyard

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Tipling Point

Frank Tipler's crackpottery used to be a gateway drug into full-on transhumanoid woo, but techno-transcendental fashions do change and I'm not sure he's still urgently required reading for most Robot Cultists. Still, I enjoyed this Tipler roast by Sean Carroll, posted a few years back but just drawn to my attention by JimF.

Is This News?

Apart from the perennial sex and gore "News" now seems to do little more than endlessly document varieties of bigotry exhibited by Republicans and varieties of discomfiture exhibited by Democrats in the face of unpredictably nonsensical GOP antics.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Long Teaching Day

The last meeting of my Fact, Figure, Fetish seminar this morning in the City -- Arendt and Zizek are on the menu, we close from A to Z -- then meetings and more endgame workshopping for my MA thesis cohort all afternoon, so blogging will be low to no all the livelong day.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Polyculture Twitterchat

Although you can always read this, I still think one of the curious differences between my online intellectual life versus my teaching intellectual life is that sustainability and environmental justice politics are far more conspicuous in my teaching for some reason -- the alienation in blogging, possibly? Anyway, here's an exchange on twitter with a still-friendly one-time student that begins at any rate with environmental politics.

Corey Robin on Nietzsche and Austrian Economics

Corey Robin (of The Reactionary Mind fame) has published a wonderfully worthy read in the Nation magazine, delineating some rhetorical affinities and comparing the historical situations of Nietzsche's political writing and the Austrian economics of Menger, Hayek, et al. The essay is now being discussed over at Crooked Timber, to which discussion I offered up this comment (which may or may not pass muster), which summarizes my initial impression of the piece:
I can't say I'm impressed by Hayek's genuflections to the market as provocation to Nietzschean great men and Randroidal fountainheads -- this is just a very old, very dull tale of aristocrats congratulating themselves about what they take to be the neat identity in their time of enjoyable plutocracy and realized meritocracy, after all.

You summarize the more forceful Austrian point in the passage about how "we enter the market for the sake of... ends." You declare there that "[t]his claim, however, could just as easily be enlisted as an argument for socialism. In providing men and women with the means of life -- housing, food, healthcare -- the socialist state frees them to pursue the ends of life: beauty, knowledge, wisdom." But the symmetry of your phrasing conceals the greater disadvantage for democratic socialists (like me), one you reference later in the assertion that "[l]ong after economists had retired the labor theory of value, the welfare state remained lit by its afterglow."

The recognition that biological needs articulate the valu-able but do not determine valu-ing endorses the marketeers (and Spectacularists), as conceptions of brute life bleed always ineluctably into competing conceptions of flourishing. I don't think this disadvantage can be overcome on economistic terms at all, once we take the subjective turn and declare the valu-ed the valu-able and reframe democracy on these terms (smile for the camera Culture Industry critique).

The fly in the ointment is, rather: "For those choices to reveal our ends... our choice of ends unconstrained by external interference." We all know that libertopians insist contractual relations are non-coercive by fiat, and even frame non-violence insistently through contractarian figurations, but the plain fact remains that most and possibly all "voluntary arrangements" in plutocratic orders testify to disinformation and duress (insider knowledge deranging perfect markets, threats of penury and humiliation denigrating individual choice), which gives the lie to the whole moral(izing) edifice of capitalism in no time flat.

Democracy's ethical answer to plutocracy is more Kingian than Keynesian, finally, in that democracy provides for the non-violent adjudication of differences (including crucially for the democratic deliberation over the terms of democracy and violence themselves), in part by providing through general welfare for a scene of informed nonduressed consent to the terms of everyday commerce and an administrative circumvention of the structural violence of misuse of common and public goods. Democracy doesn't better answer to the ontic status of labor/life/value, but produces a scene of nonviolence in the absence of which the libertarian claims of both capitalists and socialists are fruitless.

To circle more explicitly back to your valuable article, the key figure trying to take up these perplexities and promises is one you did not invoke: Hannah Arendt. Her extensive work on violence/nonviolence remains underexplored in my view (unlike her work on politics/power more generally, even though she never said more about politics on her conception than when she said the phrase "nonviolent politics" is redundant nor about power on her conception than when she said power and violence are opposites), but she is especially relevant to your project when you realize that her political phenomenology was an answer to Nietzsche's revaluation, her Amor Mundi an answer to his Amor Fati, and grapples with the very knot you are foregrounding in comparing him to the Austrians.