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

Friday, January 31, 2014

Long Teaching Day

We'll be screening and then assessing the rhetoric and impact of "An Inconvenient Truth" (a topic yielding many inconvenient truths) nearly a decade after its release in Planetary Thinking and Environmental Justice this morning, then in my graduate Introduction to Critical Theory a discussion of wit and its relation to the Quarrel of the Ancients and Moderns sets the scene for Oscar Wilde's "Soul of Man Under Socialism" and an extended exposition on paradox.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Kasich's Turn on the Tire Swing

As the Christie flameout continues apace, Villagers are already desperately fishing for another phony moderate governor to save their precious horse race narrative and it looks to me like Ohio governor John Kasich is next up. So I hope the archives from Kasich's six years at Fox News are diligently being combed right now for the inevitable inanities, insanities and me-too Hannities to sandbag him with devastating 60-second spots from the get-go.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Today's Random Wilde

Humanity will always love Rousseau for having confessed his sins, not to a priest, but to the world.

Meetings in the City Today

Early term administrivial throat-clearing, so blogging low to no for a while.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Let A Million GOP Responses to the State of the Union Blossom Like Turds

How many separate wacky amateur-hour responses from these thugged-individualists do we have to get before the GOP doesn't even seem like a real party anymore? Getting Republicans to agree on strategy these days really is like herding clowns. The technocolor dissolution of the crazytown/plutocrat coalition continues apace, another white-racist sexist science-denialist neo-confederate primary season beckons. It will take more than Reince Priebus tinkering with the rules to straightjacket the loon posse hoping to cash in on the primary to raise their profiles to sell more books or that reality TV show they've got in their pocket. Even the Koch Brothers don't have enough money to fool all the people all the time. All this is excellent news for Republicans. Just ask Chuck Todd.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

More Or Less

Even though more government doesn't always mean more democracy, less government always means less democracy.

More Dispatches from Libertopia here.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

"Progressive Krystallnacht"

I will leave to others -- already thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands of others -- the obvious and necessary repudiation of Tom Perkins' idiotic and vile identification of Occupy's nonviolent resistance to the anti-democratizing profit-taking of the one-percent with Nazi violence, but I do want to say again (as I have before, when plutocratic reactionary assholes like Mitt Romney said more or less the same thing) that "When you criticize a successful thief it is not 'success' that you are attacking, but thievery."

Botch Watch!

At what point do ongoing successes of the Obamacare rollout stop the ongoing media references to "the botched Obamacare rollout"? Anytime soon? Anyone care to make any bets?

After all, pundits still refer to the "fecklessness" and "failure" of Obama's foreign policy toward Syria... you know, the policy which by leaving open opportunities for diplomacy kept American bombing nobody wanted but pundits described as inevitable anyway from happening and actually managed not only to get Syria to admit it had chemical weapons it had always denied but then to voluntarily begin to destroy its caches of chemical weapons under international supervision.

And, again, after all, pundits still refer -- or allow references to go unchallenged -- to the Fast and Furious "scandal" that is not a scandal (and would be a Bush scandal if anything), and to the IRS or Postal "scandal" that is not a scandal either. At this point there is little to separate the knee-jerk howls of "Benghazi!" (an attack on Americans not by Americans, you know) from the knee-jerk howls for the "Birth Certificate!" or the "College Transcript!" Even so, still pundits regularly allow the former sort of nonsense a legitimacy they no longer allow the latter nonsense, without any reason I can see to distinguish them as nonsense goes.

Hell, it is actually a commonplace of punditocrappic prognostication that "the botched rollout" of "hated" Obamacare gives the GOP an edge in the upcoming mid-terms. I personally think there is little reason to agree with that assumption -- any more than comparably assumption about a polling skew concealing the inevitability of the Romney Presidency -- but it is even more striking to me that those who do propose this observation don't experience it as such an indictment of their own work that they do not either correct the record or retire in shame immediately upon making it.

Obamacare Was "Doomed" ...And Then Enrollments Mushroomed

Gizmuddle: Or, Why the Futuristic Is Always Only Perverse

In his marvelous essay on the subject, Daniel Harris identified "the futuristic" with the perverse. While this insight may not be an immediately evident or intuitively obvious one, it is easy enough to grasp why this must be so: Any effort to materialize future forms in the present must fail as such quite simply because the present is never the future. The future is not a destination, Bruce Sterling famously warned us, but of course "the futuristic" vernacular always takes place.

The more important insight here is that "the futuristic" is always a placeholder for a host of fraught ideological assumptions about the likelihood and desirability of progress construed as a matter of amplifying capacities, greater freedoms, richer pleasures, fewer insecurities -- inevitably some and not others, almost inevitably some at the expense of others. And yet in a present lacking these capacities, riches, securities their evocation in that present will always amount most of all to a repudiation of the present as it is. The reason the Harris essay eventually meanders its way to a discussion of the so-called MAYA principle -- that designers are always forced to settle for the Most Advanced Yet Acceptable designs -- is because the principle expresses a quintessentially futuristic ideology that always perversely serves elite-incumbency: The principle manages to invest designers with an avant-gardist superiority even when their designs are merely mediocre, or as I put the point in a Futurological Brickbat, "Design ideology's self-congratulatory MAYA Principle declares "Most Advanced Yet Acceptable" what is usually Merely Adequate Yet Acclaimed."

In Harris's reading, if a round window seems more futuristic than a square one, it is not so much because a round window is a better sort of window than a square one -- even if what one means to evoke through its roundness is a futuristic world of greater efficiency and delight to which we may hope we are heading -- but only because most windows in the present are not round and so the encounter with a round one is a "disruption" with which we invest our sense of "the future" in its relation to our sense of "the present." Likewise, if a smooth door wooshing sideways to disappear into a wall seem more futuristic than a door with a knob that swoops into space on a hinge, it is not so much because the smooth sideways door is a better sort of door than a knobbed hinged one -- even if what one means to evoke through its whoosh is a futuristic world of greater efficiency and delight to which we may hope we are heading -- but only because most doors in the present swoop and so the encounter with a wooshing one is a "disruption" with which we invest our sense of "the future" in its relation to our sense of "the present."

If the curvilinear forms and lilypad supports of Frank Lloyd Wright's Johnson Wax building seem futuristic, it is not so much because these thin supports are more efficient in any sense at supporting a roof or because the massive masonry hulk of a corporate headquarters needs to be more aerodynamic than corporate headquarters usually manage to be in the event that such buildings will ever be required to take flight -- but only because these idiosyncrasies of form in the present cite, without realizing, hopeful associations of the future to which some want to be heading in which air flight is ubiquitous and life on low-gravity extraterrestrial planets and in outer space is commonplace. It is not surprising, given the latter example, how often the futuristic has become by now a conspicuously nostalgic rather than aspirational evocation -- think of molecule-shaped formica table tops and chrome atomic starburst wall clocks and Esquivel-inflected dance-mixes and post-millennial tourists in Disney's Tomorrowland -- of past hopes lost and ironized rather than hopes for the future at all, through the stylistic citation of these sorts of superannuated cynically-uperceded associations with which futuristic progress was once perversely performed in presents past: William Gibson's early story The Gernsback Continuum inaugurated a whole genre of retro-futurist science fiction (of which his work still remains the most vividly virtuosic) forever navigating the ruins of the futuristic.

Today over on Gizmodo (and then predictably, instantly, breathlessly endorsed over at io9), Robert Sorokanich pens a paean to the RYNO which set these thoughts in motion. Let's start with a picture of the thing:

Of this perverse futuristic object, Sorokanich writes,
This sci-fi electric unicycle is the RYNO, a future-badass alternative to the Segway that looks like it got beamed down from the year 2114. But it's here, and it's real, and I got to ride it.
Needless to say, and as my partner Eric did say when he drew my attention to the piece this afternoon, it is far more likely that someone, even many someones, have acted on the rather pointlessly perverse (and probably mostly harmless) inclination to saw a motorcycle in half any number of times over the past half century rather than making forcing humanity to wait until the year 2114 to make this arrant silliness happen. I cannot say it seems to me particularly surprising that this thing is real and really ridable (-ish), though I very much doubt the fact that it's here means it's here to stay. You will forgive my pedantry if I point out this hereness of the thing and all means that it is not fictive and, strictly speaking, therefore not science fictional either. But of course such confusions of science and science-fiction are the enabling sleight-of-hand on which the whole futurological genre of marketing and promotion always depends as such, and one doesn't exactly feel surprise at them anymore even when one still has to shake one's head at them just the same. No doubt it is mostly because this particular perversity still manages to evoke a motorcycle despite its mutilation that it would occur anyone to try to describe the thing as "badass" in the first place -- since for whatever reason many people do unaccountably seem to think motorcycles are badass, I guess, at any rate far more certainly than think Segways are. I daresay the RYNO now does indeed approximate the Segway enough that people will choose the same actual if not exactly "badass" alternatives to it as they already have chosen for the stupid Segway -- another bit of perverse futurological hype, after all: "It will change the way we think of cities!" -- that is to say, they will choose to avoid it at any cost, sticking to the demonstrably better available technologies of walking shoes, bicycles, subway trains, hell, even a clown car would be better than making a spectacle of themselves in a crazily unwieldy motorized unicycle unless you happen to be the sort of person who thinks taking a shower selfie with google glasses on makes you seem cool. Indeed, you need only do an image search on "motorized unicycle" to have sober second thoughts whether the futuristic RYNO has a future -- or whether, like so many futurological novelties, it even manages to be anything but old hat.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Long Teaching Day

Lecturing in the City most of the day today so, again, blogging is sure to be low to no.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Teaching Day

It's a teaching day in the City today, I'm meeting up again with my MA thesis cohort, so blogging will be low to no. Here is the syllabus for my Planetary Thinking and Environmental Justice course, and here is the syllabus for my graduate introductory survey of Critical Theory, both of which I'll be teaching on Fridays starting tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Liberal Knee-Jerk Anti-Scientificity?

More from the Moot:
Haidt glosses over the political left's justified suspicion of supposedly scientific narratives that reassure incumbent elites that their power and privilege are part of the natural order. At the same time, it's certainly true that politically-sensitive questions -- Are there inherent differences between the sexes, or between distinguishable popululations of humans? What are the origins of sexual preference? -- are a minefield for would-be objective investigators, even if their motives are beyond reproach (as if that could ever be established beyond doubt). Maybe that's as it should be; I don't know. I am not enough of a knee-jerk leftist to assume that arguments and framings of reality that happen to be congenial to leftists are ipso facto correct. To that extent, I'm in sympathy with Haidt. I would be drummed out of any "serious" left-wing organization as quickly as I'd be drummed out of any "serious" right-wing organization.
I've been in loosely default-left academic settings and among activists all my life -- and as you say there is no question that viewpoints across the political spectrum provide hooks for intolerant assholes and zealots to hang their hats on -- but depending a bit on what you mean by "serious," the knee-jerk liberal characterization seems to me to largely a matter of folk mythology.

I mean, would-be theocratic religionists often pretend they are being crucified simply by being confronted by the existence of atheists and agnostics and secularists, however nonjudgmental and cheerful and welcoming the latter are trying to be, you know? And so, too, some assholes wail about "political correctness!" and "thought policing!" just because they discover themselves in settings where the norms are not defined by white middle class heteronormativity or even when people different from them report that their prospects are dimmed or even simply that their feelings are hurt when issues are framed from that normative vantage.

Again, I agree that there are self-righteous folks and conversation-stoppers to be found in every ideological precinct. But my experience is that once someone reveals themselves to be open to discussion the progressive polycultural left really tends to give folks the benefit of the doubt and to treat folks as generally open to change of conviction to the better through argument. Such conviviality seems to me an entailment of the left's animating premises, not that this would stop your common or garden variety jerk particularly.

Too many complaints of left humorlessness and intolerance to the contrary seem to me to arise out of the efforts of boors to crash what are in effect private parties among marginal folks looking for safe spaces to relax in or among wonks with highly specialized jargons not really ready for prime time. Or, again, too often they really do seem to amount to expressions of incumbent outrage at having pet pieties challenged.

The long and the short of it is, I really do think you are little likely to be drummed out of any serious lefty assemblage worthy of the name when someone as prickly as me finds welcome in such places -- and did even back when I was much more of an oaf and ignoramus than I have managed to become later in life.

As for the specific issues you raise, it seems to me that sexual orientation arises from historically and situationally contingent articulations of material propensities. Some flower seeds germinate quite visibly different morphologies depending on the altitude at which they are planted. The reason these issues are so fraught tends to be the result of moral and political judgments that inevitably freight what are often framed as neutral observations. Even if one makes a defensible case for a more exhaustively genetic account of sexual orientation than I would advocate myself, it seems to me important to find a way to account for the experience of sexuality as importantly unchosen by straight folks as much as by queer ones, as well as to account for the extreme variation of sexuality (butch/femme, top/bottom, eroticization of morphological differences and so on) that seem conspicuously underdetermined by genetics and yet quite as foundational in their individuating sexed/gendered force. People who are marginalized in their differences also tend to be more sensitive to the ways in which animus is articulated in what bills itself as objective description -- as when physical differences are described not as differences but as deficiencies, excesses, imbalances, and so on.

As for differences among "the races" or "the sexes" (even pretending for a moment that these terms account, as they do not in fact, for quite material realities like the existence of mixed-race, transsexual and intersex people that scramble their reassuring typologies fatally) it seems to me that much that gets excoriated as anti-scientific denialism among reactionary evopsycho douchenozzles claiming to be champions of science is really a highly pro-science insistence on more careful language and specificity of observation. When bigots speak of "race" in the delineation of observable traits the populations subsumed by the category tend to be different from one another -- "raced" observations of susceptibility to certain diseases, "raced" observations about drug sentencing, "raced" observations on performance on objective tests (usually indifferent to differences in preparation for the tests), "raced" observations about wealth distribution and so on tend to refer to loosely overlapping populations woven together in public discourse by what remains a conspicuously contingent sociocultural category of race as a space of identification/dis-identification. These things matter, and should also matter to folks who claim to respect scientific rigor.

Again, rationales for irrational patriarchal or racist prejudices that peddle themselves as matters of respect for science often indulge in sleights of hand over the domain of applicability to which questions are properly put. Even if one were to demonstrate a difference in general IQ differentiating teenaged Canadian women from teenaged Canadian men or Pacific Islanders from Subharan Africans or whatever, if one is in charge of a public university or presides over defense attorneys, say, then one has made a commitment to provide equal access to public resources to the served community or equal access before the law whatever the differences among citizens may be. In such debates it will be political questions of responsibility that matter even if the objective status of the overgeneralizations is the distraction the reactionaries want to focus on. If sooper-genius Larry Summers decides he has sound evopsycho evidence that women in general are less good at math than men are he cannot justify giving less Harvard scholarship money and departmental support to women on the basis of the belief that such money will be "wasted" otherwise since his institution serves the whole community. This is quite apart from the fact that even if such a generalization were true judgments on its basis would irrationally benefit men of less than the average male math intelligence over women of more than the average female math intelligence (don't you feel your intelligence dropping just talking this way in the first place?) even on his own premises. And all this is quite apart in turn from the fact that the premises themselves are the most flabbergasting false sexist idiocy imaginable in any case.

And, again, I do not agree that the left is more hesitant to address sensitive questions than the right is -- I think too much of the right just want their insensitivity to be treated as a virtue when it isn't, which is not at all the same thing.

Jonathan Haidt Declares Liberals Are As Anti-Science As Austerian Creationist Climate-Change Denialist Reactionaries... Because Liberals Aren't Racist Enough

Upgraded and adapted from an exchange in the Moot to the post Scientific Authority in Democratic Societies Must Be Democratically Politicized Science, my friend JimF directed my attention to this little number on YouTube:
Who is More Phobic About Science--Conservatives or Liberals? David Sloan Wilson poses this question to Jonathan Haidt, author of The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics and Religion. Jonathan's answer might surprise you.
Haidt proposes here that the American left denies evolution as much as the right because on the left we are not racist enough?

In making this case, he pretends the category of "race" is exhaustively characterized in evolutionary terms, even though racial categories are social and cultural in ways that have richly documented historical vicissitudes and diverse forms and effects. While racist behaviors are clearly compatible with evolutionary forces they are also radically underdetermined by evolutionary forces.

Haidt's vaunted evopsycho douchebaggery is actually profoundly pseudo-scientific and yet he declares the exposure of the historical complexities of race-thinking by social scientists and historians of the left as a form of crazyness comparable to young earth biological, geological, cosmological christianist denialisms. How does he account for the repeated and amplifying insistence by political scientists and sociologists working on race that racism is a structural phenomenon not reducible merely to animus, or for the increasing reliance on results in cognitive science (studies revealing that people "remember" people of color as lighter-skinned the more they are associated with elite professions?) and scrupulous statistical analysis (regional investigation of denials of home loans or job applications in ways that reflect visually or acoustically articulated perceptions of race?) in so much recent work on the subject? Does this sound like anti-scientificity to anybody but Haidt?

In his effort to produce his own BS "both sides do it" narrative he proposes (a typical right-wing chestnut, whatever Haidt's avowed politics may be) that the democratic value of equality is a straightforward commitment to homogeneity rather than to equity (equal recourse to law, equal opportunity, active address of abiding inequities) and proceeds as if liberals are hostile to diversity when nothing could be clearer than that, once again, it is members of the reactionary right who exhibit fearful hostility and intolerance of diverse lifeways time and time again. The comments section for that video stinks like a slaughterhouse with racist comments and palpable ignorance, precisely as you would expect, for example.

Haidt's larger point that moral beliefs operate differently than scientific beliefs is one with which I agree as a pluralist, but part of the problem is that the different forms of reasonable belief are far more various than the blunt instrument of fact/value or is/ought: There are scientific facts but also legal facts and the criteria for warranted belief in and application of their facticities differ; so too I have argued at length that moral, aesthetic, ethical, cultural, political normativities have different warrants and satisfy different needs as well. And these examples only multiply the closer you look into the question of reasonableness, both existentially (the Arendtian labor, work, action, narrative, thought, reckoning, judgment typologies provide an inkling of what I mean by that) and disciplinarily (sociology, macroeconomics, literary criticism, molecular biology, aeronautical engineering, and so on).

Reasonableness of belief is both a matter of satisfying the criteria of warrantability associated with the kind of belief on offer, but also identifying which mode of belief is relevant to the situation of belief at hand. Haidt seems to me to be misidentifying the discipline most relevant to the phenomena he uses in his race example to peddle his false equivalency narrative (a cheap way for third rate intellectuals, journalistic or academic, to appear "neutral" and hence "objective" and hence "scientific" and hence "serious" in a train of facile idiocies for the rubes), and it is unsurprising that the usual mischief ensues.

As I have said many times, the decline of respect for science across the Republican right (which is a selective thing, after all, since few who deny, or who cynically pretend to deny for the sake of parochial profit-taking, the consensus of relevant climate scientists on the question of catastrophic anthropogenic climate change and resource descent also deny the consensus of relevant medical experts when the time comes for open heart surgery) derives in my view from the increasing need of Republicans for deception more generally in order to keep a voting coalition together that gets majorities to vote against their best interests in service to the greed and authority of elite-incumbent minorities when the demographic diversification and secularization of America undermines the national viability of the usual racist and (hetero)sexist appeals to incumbent fears and resentments of abject, threatening "others." The normalization of deceptions (in the broader context still of a public culture utterly suffused with marketing and promotional norms and forms of deception, distraction, division, hyperbole, and fraud) and the irrational clinging to prejudices that fly in the face of abundant evidence is not exactly an environment conducive to a critical, let alone scientific, temper.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Updated Piece Against Anarchy

I have expanded an earlier piece, Nonviolent Revolution As the Democratization of the State, that has attracted a little attention today. Emphasis on the little, of course. I did so on the occasion of Jacobin's publication of this, which is parenthetically meant to respond to David Golumbia's very fine earlier piece there on cyberlibertarian bitcoinsanity. Both of those have gotten far more attention, and deservedly so.

Spring Term Commences

If you are wondering why blogging has sputtered to something of a trickle, it is largely because I am putting syllabi together and filling out forms and fussing with notes, as teaching in the City resumes this Thursday and Friday, my MA thesis cohort gathers on Thursday and on Fridays I'll have back to back seminars, six hours all told, three devoted to an undergraduate course on Planetary Politics and then another three for a graduate lecture surveying modern/contemporary Critical Theory.

GOP Civil War!

So, it seems the Republican civil war between the racist sexist neofeudal zealots and the racist sexist neofeudal zealots who occasionally pretend not to be racist sexist neofeudal zealots is still raging.

Monday, January 20, 2014

King Daze

Nothing stamps out a radical like putting them on a stamp.

More Fool Me Tee Vee here.

MLK on Critical Thinking and Progressive Technoscience

Alex Knapp draws our attention to King's exhortation to critical thought and celebration of the possibilities of equitably distributed technoscience:
In King’s sermon, ["A Tough Mind and a Tender Heart,"] he extols the need for a “tough mind,” which he says is defined by “incisive thinking, realistic appraisal, and decisive judgment.” The modern world, he said, has far too much “softmindedness” of ”unbelievable gullibility.” “Softmindedness often invades religion,” he said. “This is why religion has sometimes rejected new truth with a dogmatic passion.” ... In a number of speeches, sermons, and other works, he extolled the great progress of science and the potential of technology to make life richer for all people... “There may be a conflict between softminded religionists and toughminded scientists,” he said. “But not between science and religion. Their respective worlds are different and their methods are dissimilar... Science deals mainly with facts; religion deals mainly with values. The two are not rivals. They are complementary.” For King... science was essential for religion to be a good thing. And vice versa. “Science keeps religion from sinking into the valley of crippling irrationalism and paralyzing obscurantism,” he said. “Religion prevents science from falling into the marsh of obsolete materialism and moral nihilism.” In his sermon entitled “Keep Moving From This Mountain,” King [went] further. “Through our scientific genius we made of the world a neighborhood, but we failed through moral commitment to make of it a brotherhood, and so we’ve ended up with guided missiles and misguided men,” he said. “And the great challenge is to move out of the mountain of practical materialism and move on to another and higher mountain which recognizes somehow that we must live by and toward the basic ends of life."
King's contrast of "moral nihilism" against "moral commitment" clarifies that the "religion" he recommends here is the larger moral and aesthetic work that suffuses a world of warranted fact with values and meanings, and that said it is easy for even a crusty atheist like me to affirm King's insistence on the complementarity of critical thinking and social justice (equity-in-diversity).

More Signs of the Singularity!

When the internets slowed to a crawl after my cat brushed my desktop the wrong way, futzing with the stubby antennae back there I realized the truth: The wireless future is the rabbit ears past.

More Futurological Brickbats here.

A Time To Break Wind -- Sarah Palin

You decide what you want to focus on today.

A Time To Break Silence -- MLK

It's Because They Are That Much Better and More Indispensable, Of Course

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Prediction, Observation, Reaction

Reactionary discourse in general misconstrues observations as predictions, usually in the form of threats, while reactionary futurological discourse in particular peddles predictions as observations.

More Futurological Brickbats here.

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Big Sort: Scattered Comments on Jacob Javits, Thomas Reed and Harry Reid in the Mirror of History, and the Problem of Parliamentary Navel-Gazing

Adapted and upgraded from the Moot:
Ah, Jacob Javits! A liberal lion in the Republican Party -- working class, too offended by Tammany corruption to join the Democratic Party, but partnered with Democrats to implement civil rights and Great Society programs.

The Big Sort since 1965 -- that is a term Bill Bishop uses to describe the divisive clustering of like-minded Americans via many sociocultural avenues, but I prefer Steve Kornacki's more insistent emphasis in his use of the term on the shift to ideological consistency over more traditional historical and geopolitical affiliations as the organizing principle of the two parties -- definitely made Jesusland monolithically red while the urbanized coasts went monolithically blue. So, no more Jacob Javits in the GOP, just killer clowns as far as the eye can see.

It really is too bad that our faction-averse Founders pretended parties wouldn't emerge and wrote a Constitution for diverse contingent coalition-building among opinionated individuals seeking fame (Congresscritters immediately clumped into factions filled with secretive wheeler-dealers gaming the rules rather as one would expect) rather than a more parliamentary model of legislation assigning responsibilities and blame for the actual results of party platforms more legibly for voters to judge the record by.

You know, while I am one of many who rail about the outrageously irresponsible, historically unprecedented Senate Republican obstruction throughout the Obama Presidency, and this really is strictly true of the senate at least if you squint, it is also true that minority obstructionism has been a problem many times in our history, indeed a problem exacerbated to the point of crisis. Battles over the extension of slavery to new territories and over Reconstruction are well know on this score. But the situation in the last decade of the nineteenth century of that great mean wit and Republican Speaker of the House Thomas Brackett Reed (Czar Reed! as he was known by racist Southern Democrats back in the day) and his elimination of the procedural gimmick of the "disappearing quorum" as a de facto Democratic minority filibuster of progressive legislation is very instructive as well for those contemplating Reid's troubles with Republicans in our Senate today.

As many political scientists have pointed out, if the executive ticket included the Leader of the House and treated the vice-president as Senate majority leader this would probably be enough to disincentivize the worst obstruction strategies by the minority our Constitutional system is prone to.

But of course, like intellectual masturbation about deliverance via third parties, daydreams of parliamentary reform of Constitutional powers is a waste of time: This is because the political fight to change institutions to better solve problems would be as hard and probably harder as fights go than actually fighting to solve the problems themselves even with the present dysfunctional institutions. Hence, a focus on institutional fixes to the electoral college, the party duopoly, or to address anti-democratic distribution of power to congressional minorities or rural over urban states, for example, is almost always a functional distraction enabling the continuance of the problems in the form of expressing metaconcern about the context in which the problems flourish so that the problems flourish all the more. It seems to me intellectuals are especially prone to falling for tricks of this kind.

Anyway, I'm rambling. But these are interesting topics.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Last-Ditch Neo-Confederate Republican Nullification Strategies

Paul Rosenberg invites you to Meet the 12-Percent Solution in today's Salon:
What if there were a fourth branch of government that would allow the fans of “Duck Dynasty” to overturn Roe v. Wade, repeal Obamacare and pretty much nullify any federal law or Supreme Court decision they don’t like, based on the support of as little as 12 percent of the nation’s population? ... In tandem, the two blind spots have obscured the story of state-level conservative radicalization throughout the post-Vietnam era... The first [are] extensive state-level networks of Heritage-style free market think tanks (the State Policy Network) and Family Research Council-style social conservative think tanks (the Family Policy Councils). These have been instrumental in nourishing a culture of state-level right-wing activism that goes largely unnoticed by the national media... The second [are] ideas... presented as libertarian... “Since 2010, state legislators have introduced nearly 200 bills... challenging federal laws that they deem unconstitutional,” including anti-gun control bills in at least 38 states, and anti-Obamacare laws in at least 20 states. Such activism even “extends beyond the 50 state legislatures, spreading to county and local governments, including about 500 county sheriffs who have affirmed their commitment to ‘saying “no” to Obama gun control.’” Of course, nullification is unconstitutional. The text of Article VI is crystal clear... The stark disconnect between textual reality and the “constitutional” rhetoric of today’s Tea Party-era conservatism could hardly be clearer.
Yes, the Republican Party is now dependent on the desperate "energy" of a dying, shrinking Base of elderly rural straight white males who can be enjoined by fear-mongering and resentment-peddling into voting against their own best interests to support incumbent elites and is casting about for magical ways to prevail over swelling majorities in a diversiyfing, secularizing, planetizing American reality. They are failing and they will utterly fail. And they are drawing on neo-confederate intellectual resources that, at their most respectable, were invalidated by the chaotic dysfunction of the pre-constitutional Articles of Confederation period or, at their least respectable, were invalidated by the catastrophic slaughter of the American Civil War. These bad ideas have failed and they appeal to few and fewer anyway. We just need to make sure that in failing the failures don't get in the way of our successes, especially since climate change and resource descent are not operating on the timetable dictated by our usual incremental reformism and we need to be successful, like yesterday, to have a hope of being equal to our planetary problems.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Car Culture Is A Futurological Catastrophe

An exchange with "Nick Randhawa" updated, adapted, and expanded from the Moot:
While I agree that we need to do away with our dependence on car culture in the US, don't you feel that it played some necessary part in us actually being able to transition to a car free culture? I say this while thinking of Marx and his view that capitalism was a necessary stage for the era of communism. I mean if we just walked everywhere we probably would never have had that video "Google Google Maps Maps" lol. Cheers, Nick
The demolition of extensive existing, useful, and used urban and transcontinental passenger rail infrastructure preceded the emergence of Car Culture. Commutes in many American cities via public transportation were quicker and more convenient over a century ago than they are today. The destruction of this working system was sponsored by big oil and burgeoning car manufacturers that had gained extraordinary ascendency and vast industrial plant in the effort to supply tanks and planes and munitions first to Britain and then to Russia via FDR's Lean-Lease and then our own improved technologies after we entered World War II.

Like the redemptive post-Hiroshima promise (another disastrous deception) of nuclear energy too cheap to meter, the proposals were futurological in my sense of the term -- a marketing initiative to amplify the profits and authority of incumbent elites through the mobilization of techno-transcendental wish-fulfillment fantasies in which the deceptive, hyperbolic norms and forms of advertizing and promotional that already suffuse our public life take on the coloration and intensity of outright organized religiosity -- full of promises of sleek hyper-individualizing air conditioned muscle/missile cars coursing through empty lanes slashing through Emerald Cityscapes and Green Monoculture like caped sooperhero avatars through cyberspace.

The postwar creation of Eisenhower's vast interstate highway system (modeled on the Nazis' autobahns), slashed through thriving neighborhoods of color in many cities, enabling the white surburban flight that destroyed the urban tax base through the mid-century postwar boom and incubated the famous late 20C crisis of the inner cities (a crisis that became the pretext for the first neoliberal looting proposals mislabeled "development"), while establishing the environmental catastrophe and racial divide and sociopathologizing anomie of surburban sprawl.

Car ownership was on the rise in any case between the wars, and rural transportation was importantly inadequate prior to the 1920s, and it is likely that cars would have become an everyday part of life in any case and, hence, it would be the responsibility of accountable government to generate infrastructural affordances for that reality as a public good. But the prioritization of freeway construction over passenger rail, the zoning of cities for parking rather than walkability, the support of costly suburban sprawl over affordable mixed use urban housing development were the deliberate and disastrous choices that created not car use but Car Culture in the United States. These choices were driven by parochial profit taking on the part of incumbent elites and both expressed and facilitated white racism every step of the way. Futurological discourse was their enabling rhetoric.

By way of conclusion, I will say that of all the things to take from Marx, his technological determinism and historical determinism more generally are probably the worst possible theses to take seriously. The corporate-militarists of international capitalism weren't the only ones with a weakness for futurological nonsense, you know. I will agree, however, that the world would be a poorer place without "Google Google Apps Apps," so here it is again:

Monday, January 13, 2014

Scientific Authority in Democratic Societies Must Be Democratically Politicized Science

Upgraded and expanded from my response to a comment in the Moot:

Warranted consensus scientific truth is essentially what is taken to be true enough to be published in everyday textbooks right now. Yes, that will change. Yes, some things taken to be true will be replaced by different things rendering false what is warranted now as true. Yes, actual practicing scientists are warranted in their legitimate research to take as warranted things that are not yet taken up by a sufficient consensus to make it into the textbooks.

By the way, I am aware that Republicans are being attacked for "politicizing" the contents of textbooks as well these days -- teaching "the controversy" as a way to pretend that christianist folk mythology is as scientific as Darwinian biology in biology classrooms, rendering the climate consensus around anthropogenic climate catastrophe "controversial" as it is not, teaching long-falsified laissez-faire economic pieties as if the introduction and repeated confirmation of the Keynes-Hicks model never happened, and so on. My response to this problem mirrors the response I made in yesterday's post. It also reflects the same concerns I have about the inadequacy of most of too many of my allies in the effort to defend the teaching of the warranted consensus in these fields and insist on the accountability of policymakers to the authority of such expertise: The problem is not that Republicans are "politicizing" textbooks the contents of which are above or prior to politics, the problem is ensuring that the always political process of determining the contents of textbooks be compatible with the support of consensus science (itself a matter of political processes embedded in a sustaining ideology as I said yesterday) and compatible with democratic norms, solving shared problems in ways that equitably distribute costs, risks, and benefits to the diversity of their stakeholders.

That trained scientists within scientific fields are still working through evolutionary, atmospheric, ecosystemic, macroeconomic, therapeutic puzzles is not to justify denial by interested but non-expert everyday citizens of the questions on which these experts share a strong consensus of conviction. That human activity is causing and can still be made to ameliorate catastrophic climate change actually isn't debated among the relevant scientists in a way that justifies hesitation (let alone ridicule) on the part of citizens or their accountable representatives. You don't have to be a scientific expert capable of contributing to a field in order to stand in a more or less reasonable relation to the knowledge claims arising from that field -- especially to the extent that those knowledge claims figure in the cause or amelioration of public problems of shared concern.

In my post yesterday, I analogized "the convenient denial of climate science by petrochemical CEOs who otherwise trust the consensus of, say, relevant medical researchers." What I hoped this would make clear is that the anti-scientific counter-revolutionaries of the right are screwing around with the norms on which political procedures depend to translate the state of consensus scientific knowledge into policymaking to which representatives must be accountable. This is a matter of consistency in the recognition of the warranted consensus of experts in a field of the kind that finds its way to substantive textbooks (the petrochemical CEO accepts the verdict of medical science and most other expert fields in the conventionally reasonable way the literate interested non-expert citizen does, but refuses to accept this verdict, or at any rate cynically pretends not to do so, when the issue of his parochial profit-taking trumps that reasonableness) as well as a matter of consistency in the practice and application of technoscience to the democratic values of sustainable equity-in-diversity. The problem here is in the democratic constitution of expert authorities to which elected representatives are made accountable by a mostly non-expert but interested electorate.

I was trying to zero in yesterday more clearly than I think defenders of warranted science with whom I am otherwise allies often manage to do to account for just what is being violated by the reactionary anti-science Republicans today. And as I said in the post, I think the eagerness of my allies to declare anti-science politics a kind of relativism or nihilism about facts risks mistaking for an epistemological phenomenon what is indeed a political phenomenon. Worse, this mistake tends to make defenders of science actively denigrate the political problems at issue in ways that threatens the work of their urgent correction, and progressive champions of science end up lodging their defenses instead in what amounts all too often to a quasi-theological viewpoint in which a personified Universe is imagined to have preferences in the matter of how human beings describe it factually, preferences that that the Universe is imagined to endorse by conferring gifts on the humans speaking its language with powers of prediction and control (and in the most pathological variations of this view, a certainty and finality of scientific belief rendering it merely a kind of secularized faith, and rendering scientific expertise a kind of priestly authority).

I really do think issues of the authoritative force of Keynes-Hicks macroeconomics, Darwinian biology, anthropogenic climate change are all pretty cut and dried as you say at a general level to which an interested literate electorate should require their representatives to be accountable in their policymaking, as a straightforward matter of consistency with the norms that otherwise induce that electorate to trust heart surgeons and bridge engineers while also expecting them to be licensed and regulated. But the legibility and force of these secular democratic commonplaces depend on the prior recognition that scientific practices of research, credentialization, publication, funding, regulation, implementation are political processes as the accountability of elected representatives to the authority of consensus science is likewise sustained by political processes. This means that anti-science politics we should decry are not a matter of apostasy about revealed truth as matters of political dysfunction brought about by the violation of pragmatic and ethical norms, practices of opportunistic or confused inconsistency amount, as often as not, to active fraud, and hence politicized through and through as their remedies also must be.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Krugman on Reactionary Anti-Scientific Counter-Revolutionaries

The Anti-Scientific Revolution in Macroeconomics:
[S]omething I’ve been thinking about a lot lately [is] the remarkable extent to which powerful groups, including a fair number of economists, have rejected intellectual progress because it disturbs their ideological preconceptions. What brings this to mind is the debate over extended unemployment benefits, which I think provides a teachable moment... [I]f you follow right-wing talk... the Wall Street Journal and famous economists like Robert Barro... the notion that aid to the unemployed can create jobs dismissed as self-evidently absurd. You think that you can reduce unemployment by paying people not to work? Hahahaha! Quite aside from the fact that this ridicule is dead wrong, and has had a malign effect on policy, think about what it represents: it amounts to casually trashing one of the most important discoveries economists have ever made, one of my profession’s main claims to be useful to humanity... that economies can ever suffer from an inadequate level of “aggregate demand” ... [W]e had a scientific revolution in economics, one that dramatically increased our comprehension of the world and also gave us crucial practical guidance about what to do in the face of depressions. The broad outlines of the theory devised during that revolution have held up extremely well in the face of experience, while those rejecting the theory because it doesn’t correspond to their notion of common sense have been wrong every step of the way. Yet a large part of both the political establishment and the economics establishment rejects the whole thing out of hand, because they don’t like the conclusions.
Of course, the obvious and immediate anti-science parallel is the right's denial of the consensus of relevant climate scientists about the reality of catastrophic anthropogenic climate change and resource descent and the practical measures available for their collective redress. And reactionary efforts to refuse the teaching of evolutionary biology or apparently even the basics of female human reproductive biology offer up yet another conspicuous anti-scientific pillar of contemporary conservatism. And there is a ramifying host of comparable refusals of an accountability to reproducible results central to harm-reduction models shaping policy on gun safety, capital punishment, racial profiling, nonviolent recreational drug use, the yields as against the input-intensivity of industrial petro-chemical monoculture, public health impacts of urban food deserts, high-speed rail versus interstate highways and air traffic, investment in pre-K and after-school programs, nutritional assistance, preventative care, socializing healthcare provision to lower costs, and on and on and on and on.

As Krugman indicates, it is usually the parochial interests of particular elite-incumbent stakeholders to which conservative political formation are beholden for patronage (the petroleum industry, the gun lobby, multinational agribusiness, patriarchal evangelical christianists, scared resentful white racists whose irrational passions can be mobilized to provide voting majorities for policies harmful to majorities, and so on) that invest in programs of systematic deception about consequences and suppression of consensus science in order to achieve demonstrable benefits for themselves at whatever costs to majorities and in the longer term.

What I would add to this myself is just a cautionary note. There is a dangerous allure in overgeneralizing Krugman's point that Republicans are indulging in an "ideological" rejection of "progress." Yesterday on the Melissa Harris-Perry Show I heard a scholar make the observation, in connection to climate science denialism across the Republican Party, that it is the right wing in this country which is really "postmodern." This is a claim I have heard over and over again for fifteen years or so -- and part of what is striking about it is that however often it is trotted out, the maker of the claim usually whips it out like a rabbit in a bikini from a hat, and everybody gasps around the table as though it were unheard of. I daresay it is the evergreen thrill of the "gotcha!" that accounts for the shimmer of novelty that inevitably attends the repetition of this cliched observation: left-wing scholars making pragmatic, post-structuralist, and social constructionist claims were castigated by reactionaries as nihilists and relativists for so long, there is a certain sweet payback in the accusation that it is the Mayberry Machiavellis who declare themselves ideological makers of reality rather than beholden to the "fact-based reality" of liberal policy wonks who are the real postmodernists!

Such denigrations of "postmodernism," whether from otherwise dependable liberals or from belligerent conservatives, tend to take the form of an affirmation of science as a politically neutral or even anti-political space. It seems to me quite crucial to recognize that the "fact-based reality" on which liberal policy wonks depend who are devoted to harm-reduction models and equitable cost-benefit analysis and sustainable outcomes is made up of warranted scientific facts that arise out of specific and contingent and actually vulnerable historical and political processes. The problem we confront in the willful macroeconomic illiteracy of austerians -- or in the convenient denial of climate science by petrochemical CEOs who otherwise trust the consensus of, say, relevant medical researchers -- is not the problem of a politicization of science, but in an incompetent, incoherent, bad politicization of a science that depends for its legibility and force on a more competent, coherent, better politicization. To advocate public regulation and investment in the service of science literacy education, accountable results, standards of publication, proper attribution of credit, safety regulation, fair use, sustainable implementation is absolutely to "politicize" science. Ideology does not trump science, so much as that reproducible research, the costs risks and benefits of which are equitably distributed to the diversity of its stakeholders (without which proviso one can never properly speak of scientific or technological progress, for progress, too, is an inedicably political concept), depends on the support of its own ideology.

I agree with Krugman about the anti-scientific ideology of reactionaries. But this ideology is embedded within a reactionary anti-intellectualism on which the deceptions and frauds of incumbent elites invariably ultimately depend. (And, yes, Virginia even a menacingly relativistic pragmatist or poststructuralist can make ready coherent recourse to the notions of deception and fraud and progress even without a faith in just-so correspondence accounts of truth and other theological fancies.) It seems to me vitally important to insist that any comforting denial of the interminable construction of what we take to be facts of a matter or of the indispensably political character of progressive scientific and policy-making processes is of a piece with anti-intellectualism more generally, and as a habit of mind eventually conduces to reactionary ends, even when it is offered up in opportunistic, ostensible support of fact-based scientifically-accountable policy outcomes. And, like it or not, it is to scholars derided, rightly or not, as "postmodernists" that we owe the most forceful and influential formulations of these indispensable insights. If you would decry anti-intellectualism it would be best not to indulge in it while making your case.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Finding Persons Walking In LA

Henry Grabar in Salon:
"There’s this recycled myth that L.A. was built around the car... Empirically, it’s just not true. The vast majority was built around streetcar lines, the most extensive rail system in the world." ... "This vision of L.A. as the freeway capital of the world is only a small piece of what L.A. really represents... It has great bones. It has fantastic neighborhoods, many of them built at a time when designing was really for walkability." In their view, building the freeways was the great experiment, the imported philosophy, the reshaping. And it never really worked. Traffic and air pollution pushed the city to reorganize its transportation future around a heavy rail system, which opened in 1990 and continues to expand... “We’re trying to unearth that original blueprint” ... "Younger people have decided not to own cars, take public transit, and be generally part of the solution rather than the problem."
Many of these themes resonate for me quite strongly. I agree that a generation of young people treated as trash have noticed that they don't need the hassle of the cars their parents purchased to pretend they were rugged romantic individualists with, just as they have also noticed that their parents and their cars treated the planet like trash too, the only planet they and we all have to live on. An underwater railroad to a sustainable tomorrow is coming into view, with a tide-turning re-orientation of public policy priorities with this rising generation to zoning for walkable cities and the connection of rural lifeways to sustainable mass transit with private cars as the exception and not the rule.

When it comes to it, Car Culture was just one more catastrophically failed futurological experiment in elite-incumbent fraud, like the phony redemptive fantasy after Hiroshima of nuclear energy too cheap to meter. Car Culture crammed Molloch's maw with once thriving liveable walkable city neighborhoods, all to feed the military industrial complex with which America ended the Depression and won its war (and for nearly half a century the spoils of a world we spoiled).

Just as atomic age helices and sparkles and on the kitchen curtains and chrome starbursts on the floorlamps could not turn the frown of Hiroshima upside down... nor could the green counterrevolutionary con of industrial monoculture with its petrochemical soopertractors, fertilizers, and pesticides hide its unsustainable soil and aquifer depletion, lack of resilience and diminishing yields... nor could rainbow-brite petro-plastic tupperware super-abundance hide the crap of the container or the crap it contained or the landfills that swelled to conceal them... nor could the irrational exuberance in Robert Moses' paeans to frictionless traffic flow conceal the white racist flight, the demolished communities, the congestion, the smog, the road rage...

All these phony futurologies set the stage for the neoliberal dematerialization materialized in digital-divides, deregulatory frauds, and white flight from shared governance to frowny-faced Nixonian and smiley-faced Reaganomic retro-futurism. Let us hope that with the refusal of the collective hallucination of Car Culture, perhaps just in the nick of time, we can turn from the delusive reactionary fantasies of The Future to the necessary sustainable problem-solving through shared good democratic governance in planetary polyculture, in the futurity of the present opened up by the ineradicable diversity of the stakeholders who share in the living in it and making of it.

"To Get Lost In Your Thoughts Is A Very Very Complex Thought And The Things That You Thought Are Surprising"

Mack Rice's (you're probably actually thinking Wilson Pickett's) "Mustang Sally" and Lou Reed's "Ride Sally Ride" seem to me to share a sexist censoriousness of their Sally protagonists, an effort at control complicated to say the least by the incitement to resistance in their grooves, and part of what is so exciting to me about "Sally Ride", the seventeenth track of the great Electric Lady, is the way Janelle Monáe takes the occasion of the accidental lyrical homage to the first American woman (and lesbian, as it happens) in space in these ambivalent tunes and basks in the radiation given off by the collision of their melodic and thematic conceits to gain the energy to break orbit, flip the script, and create an anthem all her own to the feminist queer prosthetic polycultural politics of Choice. The plaintive coda may seem to change the subject, but it embeds the track in the larger themes infusing all of Monáe's android-pop(ulism) thus far: taking up the robot-figure of precarious infrahumanized communities of color and queerness and youth as a torch to light the way to and through the underground railroad Elsewhere and Otherwise (a gesture serially anticipated by funkadelic aesthetic radicalisms: synthesizing, sampling, popping, locking), but especially contemplating the place for what can be the poisoned apple of love and movement in the post-apocalyptic corporate-militarized alien(ated)-earth landscape very possibly traumatized beyond healing. I can't be the only one hoping that an epochal video is in our future, to me the piece just begs to visualized and narrativized as Monáe's Space Oddity.

More Janelle Monáe blogging here and here and here and, well, I'm a fan and you can find scattered genuflections all over the place if you look.

Intergalactic? Planetary.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Incredulity Toward Future Narratives

Upgraded and adapted from the Moot, longtime friend of blog "jollyspaniard" writes about his sense of a change lately in the responses the sort of future-hype I spend so much time lampooning here are getting from the public:
I've relayed in this comment section before that I've observed a much reduced appetite for these kinds of fantasies. That trend has been accelerating since I last mentioned it. I've seen a number of op eds in the guardian lately advancing the kinds of arguments you've been making here in Amor Mundi for years. I've also seen people in meatspace saying these kinds of things too.
I definitely agree with him. For example, I have noticed that the comments sections of mainstream press outlets offering up advertorial tech-reportage these days are often flooded with skepticism and snark where once saucer-eyed enthusiasts seemed to pile on over one another to cheer on the marvelous celebrity tech CEOs and entrepreneurs who were bringing us a techno-paradise app by app out of the goodness of their Randroidal sooper-genius brains. I wonder if other readers are also noticing this sort of pushback -- or, to the contrary, noticing new forms of credulity toward techno-hype emerging ominously in other precincts. 

Of course, I strongly doubt that my own relentlessness over the years in making these sorts of critiques had much if anything of an impact on the greater incredulity toward techno-utopianism "jollyspanaird" mentions, but I must say I find this development enormously gratifying personally. Criticism of and skepticism toward extreme futurological and also more mainstream tech hype undermines unaccountable plutocratic scams and wealth-skimming and also opens the way for more real problem-solving with real harm-reduction policy-making using, among other things, real qualified consensus science. The defense of science requires the exposure of pseudo-science, the work of progress requires the exposure of fraudulent promises of easy progress and distractions of energy and effort from real progress.

(By the way, anyone who wonders at the reference the title of the post is teasing, I never tire of pointing out the portentious but rather neglected conclusive sentence of the very first paragraph of the very first section of the very first chapter of Lyotard's otherwise enormously influential The Postmodern Condition: "At any rate, we know it is unwise to put too much faith in futurology.")

Chapstick for Robot Cultists

Blistex is being sold as an "anti-aging" wand now. Like "nano" "upload" and the rest of the go-to coinages techno-transcendentalists use to conjure up "The Future" for their transhumanoid, singularitarian, techno-immortalist faithful, the actual deliverables tend be marketing gimmicks to sell packaged lunch meat and chewing gum and landfill-destined hand-held devices when they are not being deployed as marketing gimmicks to sell guru-wannabes as Very Serious "tech" experts.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Cassandra Tweets Christie

MSNBC pundits are crowing in a row about Christie's "bridge to nowhere..." I just heard Kathleen Parker declare there that Christie is in trouble because "nobody likes a bully." But, of course, Parker knows as well as anybody that her party, the whole Republican party, is now little more than one long drawn out howl of bullying, white-racist hatred and punching down and austerian cruelty and patriarchal punishment. Unless this can stick in a way that exposes a half year drip drip of corruption stories or leads to actual charges, I'm afraid the liberal lip smacking is premature.

Janelle Monáe "Peachtree Blues"

From 2006, years before her stardom this truly lovely, technically prescient tune. Yes, Amor Mundi has become a fansite.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Running on the Difference

I am a green anti-racist anti-militarist democratic socialist-feminist, and I know that for many people who are as left of center in their convictions as I am it seems easy to assume a vantage on the contemporary political terrain from which the two parties seem comparatively indistinguishable. But I do believe that the differences between the parties make a difference, and that to assume a position in which these differences are rendered a matter of indifference is really to assume a stance that is either the furthest thing from radicalism, an essentially aesthetic apoliticism roughly indistinguishable in actual practice from the usual consumerism, or is a radicalism indeed -- a reactionary radicalism clothed in deceptive and probably self-deceptive pseudo-revolutionism.

For me, the Republican party in the United States in this epoch of Movement Conservatism is the single most dangerous organized force in the world as opposed to the Democratic party which can be pushed from the left as well as used by the left as the best available instrument for real-world democratization in America. I do not think the GOP so dangerous because Republican people happen to be more radically evil than other people are -- it seems to me that all humans are pretty susceptible of evil when they are insulated from consequence or stewing in bad conscience or looking to rationalize commonplace selfish bad behavior -- and also I don't deny the great doctrinal evil of fascist, racist, fundamentalist, corporatist forces existing otherwise -- no, it is the unique continental scale, diversity, wealth, knowledge base, infrastructural affordances, and cultural reach of the United State that make it an actor that can still contribute to planetary solutions or problems in ways that render it exceptional even if it is true, as I both think and hope it is, the epoch of American global hegemony is palpably on the wane.

In the last post I was talking about the Affordable Care Act. To continue, Democrats in charge of Congress and the White House will fix ACA in its ongoing period of initial implementation in ways that mostly expand coverage, Republicans will continue mostly to deny coverage in ways that kill citizens, raise healthcare costs, cause bankruptcies, and otherwise disrupt the economies of their states. To be a person of the left and yet deny the difference made by this difference is to be indifferent to most of the values and consequences that make one a person of the left.

I'm glad that Republicans are running on this difference -- given the ACA showcase represented by Kentucky this Fox-bubble incubated misstep of the Republicans is the best chance Democrats have to keep the Senate and kick out their minority leader. Given that the GOP is going to lose governorships in the mid-terms, which means still more states participating in the Medicare expansion in the last year of Obama's Presidency further baking ACA into the cake of his legacy, it is hard to see how Republicans are going to tell themselves a very reassuring story of their prospects even if they keep the gerrymandered House. The wave of Republican retirements in the House symptomizes a burgeoning crisis in the GOP as it confronts the conundrum of the indispensability of the energy of a profoundly misinformed base the irrational, defensive demands of which render it illegible as a nationally governing party.

People of the left need to push hard for Democratic gains in this year's mid-terms. Raising the minimum wage, the Jobs Bill to increase public employment in schools and on infrastructure projects, comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship, social security expansion, expansion of medicare through ACA implementation, ensuring women's access to abortion and contraception and healthcare services through the ACA, ending job discrimination against queer folks, common sense gun safety measures, unwinding the catastrophic racist war on drugs, increasing regulation of carbon pollution, raising taxes on the wealthy and introducing a financial transaction tax, establishing the terms on which to end the so-called War on Terror, all of these are proposals many elected Democrats support and with which the White House has expressed sympathy, continuing to fill the courts with sensible judges who believe in equity-in-diversity and in the indispensability of good government to achieve this common good, all of these accomplishments remain doable with Democrats in office.

There is plenty to fight over and push on and rail against. I am far from happy about the amplification of Unitary Executive, but I do think this has been in part an unhealthy executive compensation against dysfuntional obstruction in the legislative branch. I am far from happy about digital framing of citizens as targets for eventual prosecution, marketing harassment, and drones. I am far from happy about the failure of governance to address the reality of climate change and resource descent. But I know that most of the people in office who care about these things are also Democrats and I know that even the Democrats who don't are more likely to be educated or pressured into better action on these issues in Democratic majorities less beholden to their least progressive members than otherwise. Even the good outcomes detailed in the last paragraph remain too far from the ultimate ideals I strive in the direction of -- planetary democracy, a world civilization of sustainable common goods, public goods, and private goods, equitable recourse to law for all, celebration of consensual lifeway diversity, the provision of universal healthcare, lifelong education, and satisfying public service available to all who want it at a flourishing wage. But the all too real alternatives to the more modest progressive outcomes above are simply awful to contemplate, and indeed they are disgusting to contemplate when one recalls that all we need to do to assure the better outcomes is vote in our actual numbers for Democrats.

What is wanted are More, and Better, Democrats! "The best liberalism leads toward socialism. I’m a radical, but I want to be on the left wing of the possible." -- Michael Harrington

ACA Fixes Can Take Us Closer to Single Payer

The problem of a loss of healthcare coverage through the employment-underemployment-unemployment churn of low-income citizens who are only periodically eligible for the medicare expansion is probably best and most smoothly solved by allowing ongoing buy-in for medicare whenever one becomes eligible so that they remain covered through periods of ineligibility, say, for three years or so. Such a voluntary buy-in for medicare would function in turn as a pilot program for medicare buy-in for those who retire early or to provide coverage for those who work for companies the patriarchal-religionist convictions of the owners of which seek to restrict access to legal, ACA mandated women's healthcare, and eventually as the cost-effective public option available to every citizen. Expansion and support of non-profit state healthcare co-ops provided for by ACA provide comparable opportunities for expansion into a better more rational system. Fixes don't always have to be concessions to plutocratic reactionaries seeking to destroy a system the ridiculous complexities and dysfunctions of which exist arose mostly through the concessions made to plutocratic reactionaries in the first place.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Blue State Can-Do State, Red State You're Dead State

Theda Skocpol via TPM

Janelle Monáe: Violet Stars Happy Hunting!

Word is there is an unreleased video for this track shelved because of "technical problems." The stunning originality and sweep of the video for Many Moons, the track which follows this one from the Metropolis EP, really makes me crave a glimpse of what she was up to. Musically, the song reminds me of cheerfully terrorized genre-benders like Make the Bus from ArchAndroid and Dance Apocalyptic from Electric Lady. (Love love love her.)

Tragic Techbrofashionistas of The Future Put. A. Phone. On. It!

It is easy to lampoon the phony conjurations of progress celebrated by the gizmo-fetishizing consumer fandom gossip-columnists who call themselves "tech journalists."

What, you thought that sentence was leading to a "but-"?

AP Business Reporter Ryan Nakashima, testifying from The Future (you know, Las Vegas) takes a look into the crystal mall of the Computer Electronics Show and prophetically ponders: "Will 2014 be remembered as the year wearable computing took off?"

No doubt. No doubt.

Although futurologists like to give you the impression that they just cannot get enough change! and disruption! and acceleration! and accelerating acceleration! it is hard to shake the impression, once you have spent any time actually following their ecstatic pronouncements, that they actually just say the same things over and over and over again, attracting attention to themselves by declaring each time that these same things will be the things That Change Everything any moment now but then moving on once they have grown distracted or once Everything Not Changing after all makes their audience a bit restless, to the next thing on the list of the same things, on and on and on, until they circle back to the beginning of the list and the joyless ritual continues on.

Brain scans will immortalize your info-soul in cyberspace. Vat-grown meat will end hunger while making investors super rich. Fruit fly experiments promise medical breakthroughs that promise centuries-long sexy lifespans on the way. Human computer programmers beat a human without a computer at checkers or in a game show and artificial superintelligence is on the horizon. Capitalism will deliver extraterrestrial diaspora on the cheap in paradisical L5 toruses, orbiting love motels, space elevators, asteroid mining colonies. Wealth beyond the dreams of avarice for all is on its way via plastic, via 3D printers, via desktop nanofactories. Energy too cheap to meter is on its way via nuclear plants, via cold fusion, via a trillion solar panels. A full day's nutrition in a pill, weight loss in a pill, muscle mass in a pill, photographic memory in a pill, longevity in a pill, learn Chinese in a pill, eternal bliss in a pill. Grateful nonhuman animals will be tweaked into human conversationalists. The roads will roll and driverless cars will end all traffic accidents. Round and round and round we go. I once described this as the unbearable stasis of accelerating change.

And, oh yes, "wearable computers."

Wearable computers are always good for a turn on the pop-tech carousel every couple years or so. "Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months," wrote Oscar Wilde. With that kind of trendspotting churn going nowhere faster you didn't think futurological fandoms could stay away for long, now, did you? Calculator watches, Sony Walkmen, ankle odometers, Nintendo Power Gloves, "I am Locutus of Borg," bluetooth headsets, fitbits, google Glassholes, bring me my Philips Mental Jacket!

"The wearables wave is still in its early phases," declares Nakashima (and of course no matter how many times that tide comes and goes "the wave" is always only early), but you can be sure that "the technologies on display will offer a glimpse of the future." Who could doubt it? But, be warned: these are "not necessarily products that are ready for the mainstream consumer." Hey, believe me, all the techbros know that already! Nobody has to tell them that their personal purchasing practices reveal them to be fearless visionaries on the cutting edge of future tech.

Strictly speaking, anything worn is technology, from zoot suit to hazmat suit to catsuit. The prediscursive, preprosthetized body that technology presumably extends or enhances or amplifies is itself, of course, the site of prosthetic and discursive articulation -- our quotidian clothing, our language, our body language, our worldly posture are all posited discursively as prediscursive, familiarized into the pretechnological through technique. And hence so much of the work of “wearable technology” discourse -- true no less of the work of technological discourses more generally -- is actually to deny the technology of most that we wear, to deny most wearable technology is technology at all. This is so, even as the discourse conspicuously affirms and attests to the seductions and satisfactions of the new, the now, the next.

A sampling of the Extreme Edge offerings for our bleeding edge techbrofashionistas include a moisture resistant headband with earphones in it for extreme joggers (of The Future!), wristwatches that take your pulse (but only some of which will also tell you the time), lots of cellphones and cameras and cameraphones that look pretty much like the cellphones and cameras and cameraphones people have been buying for the last fifteen years, also there are lots of phones and cameras stuck onto other things, like cameras on goggles and hats, and phones in collars and hats. If you are ready for the revolution of using your toothbrush or the door of your oven to surf the internet, it would appear that capitalism is ready for that revolution, too. The put a phone on it revolution is on, y'all! Other forms of revolution remain frowned upon.

For a while there the futurologists of shaving were caught up in the full froth of irrational exuberance, twin blades became three! four! five! blades, each one taking us a brave step closer to the shaving singularity in which perhaps every single surface of our Smart Homes would be a welcoming blade's bleeding edge and our skin would remain baby-butt smooth as a natural result of simply walking around. Genius! But I suppose some marketing study noticed that people were starting to find these handhelds bristling with sharp metal more frightening than emancipatory and their mehum sheeple luddite fears choked off the arrival of the sooper robot shaving transcendence capitalism in her endless bounty had been preparing for us ingrates.

No matter, capitalism may not be adding more blades to your shaving handheld but the luddites have not yet closed the door to turning your shaver into an internet portal or putting a phone on it. The Future is still On my friends! Libertechbrotarian spontaneous disorderlies are still creating, innovating and cerebrating us onward and upward to the singularities via their singularities. After all, nothing really matters but the computer chip companies which are still sticking chips on other chips to keep Moore's Law cranking along to spit out the Robot God who ends history by solving all our problems for us (or possibly eating us all as computronium feedstock, but hey every rose has its thorn) in the fullness of time, soon, soon, so very soon. At least that program is still in motion! Meanwhile, however, while we await techno-transcendence into our imperishable shiny robot bodies among the sexy sexbots in the nano treasure caves or as digital angel avatars in Holodeck Heaven there are purchases to be made.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

"I Stand With Melissa Harris-Perry"

Says Isaac Butler, and I agree.

Tweeting TED

I had an affable twitter exchange with my friend Alex Knapp on the subject of TED. By all mean comment in the Moot, I would imagine Amor Mundi readers would have differing opinions on the topic.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Somebody Needs To Come Up With A Wearable Computer In The Form Of A Noose

I keed! I keed! Of course, this now notorious slogan is no more an exhortation to murder than the famous "Die Yuppie Scum!" of which it is a variation inspired yuppie genocide (if only). What is registered in both slogans instead is a doubly ironic recognition that yuppies -- and the techbros they have now become -- in their miserable competitiveness and possessiveness are in a sense already dead, as well as that in their corporate-militarist gizmo-fetishizing assumptions and aspirations they are also absolutely murderous themselves.

Roboreligionist Twitterrant

Thought Is Bigger Than Philosophy UPDATED

It is important always to remember that Thought is much bigger than Philosophy, that odd literary genre for mostly white guys still preoccupied with the preoccupations of Plato.

More Faulty Ivory Towers here.

UPDATE: To expand a bit -- as I went on to say in an affable exchange with Frank Pasquale that included this post/statement as a tweet -- Karl Jaspers' made an early earnest effort at planetizing philosophy with his proposal of axiality, but for those who bemoan the parochialism of philosophical discourse I have come to think it a better idea to marginalize philosophy by Thinking planetarily.

I should add, by the way, that I personally cherish the philosophy to which I have devoted so much of my own life and teaching -- as just another white guy myself, perhaps this isn't so surprising, eh? But I simply can't see how relegating philosophy from its pretensions of being the super-science or the highest adjudicator of history to being instead a quirky kind of poetry freighted with fascinating insights and awfulnesses all its own really takes anything away from philosophy that was worth having. I think neither philosophy nor the righteous efforts for a more capacious and relevant Thought have much to lose from such a move.

It's pretty funny updating a loose trifling philosophical rumination as if it's breaking! news. Twitter is wreaking havoc with my mind.

It Really Is All About White Racism

Friday, January 03, 2014

All Watched Over By Algorithms of Loving Grace

Andrew Leonard in Salon:
In a world where every step we take is increasingly mediated by digital networks and devices, we are going to increasingly find ourselves governed by automated software regimes. Call it “algorithmic regulation” or “embedded governance” or “automated law enforcement,” these built-in systems are sure to become ubiquitous. They will be watching for stock market fraud and issuing speeding tickets. They will doubtless be quicker to act, more all-seeing and less forgiving than the human-populated bureaucracies that preceded them. Advocates of greater bureaucratic efficiency may well be happier in an algorithmically regulated future. But Adam Manley’s example raises a serious question that has a pretty obvious answer. When the network automatically delivers its ruling, who will be better positioned to contest the inevitable miscarriages of justice sure to follow? The little guy, or the well-capitalized corporation?
Leonard's qualification seems odd: "Advocates of greater bureaucratic efficiency may well be happier in an algorithmically regulated future." Why would the inequitable, non-responsive outcomes of automated governance be properly described as "greater bureaucratic efficiency" in the first place? In their non-responsiveness and inequity algorithmic governance is bad governance, and it would seem something of a backhanded compliment to say: It's terrible government, but it is efficiently enforced. It evokes the old Woody Allen bit: They have such bad food here. Oh, I know, and such small portions!

It seems to me that it is the phony appearance of government efficiency enabled precisely by its non-responsiveness that peddlers of the "efficiency" of algorithmic government are really championing. This seems all the more obvious when Leonard quotes meme-hustler Tim O'Reilly promising elite technocrats will make "embedded" governance ever more "sophisticated." If what is attractive about algorithmic governance is an "embeddedness" that renders it invisible, ubiquitous, stubbornly unresponsive to majorities one really has to ask: "Sophisticated" at what? "Sophisticated" for whom?

Although Leonard makes the general point that all systems fail and the plutocrats will be the only ones with the resources to demand accountability in the face of such failures in non-responsive algorithmic governance, his examples suggest the darker reality that plutocrats are also well-positioned opportunistically to exploit this difference, systematically to abuse non-responsive algorithmic governance to their benefit at the expense of the poor, the powerless and the precarious.

Look for another digital boom for the plutocratic pigs at the trough, this time in digitally-facilitated, robotically-repeated harassment and frivolous automated lawsuits everyday folks lack the time or connections to fend off even if the law is objectively on their side. We are still picking up the pieces from previous and ongoing "booms" of this kind, in which digitally-facilitated fraudulent banksters bundle bad assets into phony prime commodities, or in which digitally-facilitated locust-financiers embezzle and skim real value via global high-speed networked split-second pseudo-investment transactions, and so on.

I have no doubt in the world that techno-utopian plutocrats and their futurological shills are thrilled at such a proliferation of new opportunities for gaming systems for parochial profit-taking. They tend to rationalize this kind of cheating and looting as the demonstration, after all, of their superior intelligence and ability and risk-taking, proving their fitness for aristocratic rule. What greater joy for plutocratic looters, especially when the cries of pain and injustice provoked by their bad behavior are rendered as good as silent by layers of algorithmic red-robot-tape. Hey, you know who made the trains run on time? Such efficiency!

Among the techno-blatherers there are of course more than enough peddlers of anti-democratizing consumer complacency and enablers of anti-democratizing plutocratic parasitism to appreciate the facilitation of each of these outcomes by algorithmic governance, but I think we are discerning as well the ideology of artificial intelligence in play here. Jaron Lanier has warned that a faith in the possibility of artificial intelligence -- and, indeed, a faith that software writers and vendors today are pilgrims of a sort, coding along the road to artificial superintelligence -- has led to a prevalence of crappy software. We are given user-unfriendly objectively wrong autocorrect spell-checkers and profoundly misleading interpretations of texts in the form of word clouds and superficial assessments of credit-worthiness via searches of impoverished records of personal buying histories and on and on and on. Invested in the dream of the imminent arrival of superintelligent AI, ambitious coders overlook the crappiness and user-unfriendliness of their would-be intelligent software and treat it instead as avatars or embryos of the Robot God to come. Guarding, guiding, glorifying their would-be god, they invest code with a standing, authority, and reliability equal to or even greater than that of the actually intelligent users who rummage through the ruins.

In the background of the technocratic, in fact techno-utopian, championing of the "efficiency of algorithmic governance" is the fantasy that regulatory software agents will not in fact be unresponsive to citizens and users -- mind you, this always really means "the citizens and users who count, among whom I certainly will always be one" anyway -- that Big Data will overthrow the Big Brother of democratically responsive governance to install, step by step by step, the loving grace of the Big Daddy surely on the way along the road coding the superintelligent robot god of their heart's desire. In practice today and as an ideal for tomorrow, one should never mistake for democratic allies the partisans of artificial intelligence who eagerly exploit software for parochial profit-taking today while pining for the dictatorship of "friendly superintelligent AI" in The Future.