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

Thursday, April 30, 2015

A Plague On Both Your Houses!

Those who cannot recognize differences that make a difference are little likely to make a difference either.

Bernie Sanders -- Hillary Clinton

If Bernie Sanders is still running for the Democratic Presidential nomination by the time the California Primary arrives, I will vote for him. I will vote for him because I want his voice and his positions to get the widest possible national audience, and because I want him to provide a push from the left (closer to where I reside myself politically) keeping the Clinton campaign honest and forcing her campaign to formulate intelligent positions from the left wing of the actually possible, and also because here in Oakland, CA, I have no doubt my vote will not cause any mischief to the eventual prospects of the Clinton Presidential campaign once she obtains the nomination, as she will.

As a green vegetarian anti-racist anti-militarist socialist feminist atheist queer I don't expect to agree with Presidential candidates, I simply vote for the person whose occupation of the actually-existing Constitutionally-mandated executive branch of our government will be the best of the candidates actually on offer, ideally in the context of Congressional majorities inclined to comparatively more progressive priorities by my lights, and in the larger context still of education, agitation, organization, criticism, creativity conducive to a broader social, cultural, rhetorical atmosphere in which such Congressional majorities will see things more my way than not if I can. I do not vote for a parent-surrogate or a celebrity dream-date as so many Americans seem to do or to want to do (including quite a few otherwise enormously intelligent, otherwise politically informed people, I fear).

I do not think Bernie Sanders can be elected President of the actually-existing United States of America, nor do I actually think he would be better positioned within the actually-existing stakeholder terrain to obtain more progressive outcomes with the Congress than Hillary Clinton would. Thus, the fact that Bernie Sanders agrees with me on more political questions than any other candidate (and possibly more than any other imaginable candidate) is actually not the reason I will vote for him in the California Primary.

I made a contribution to the Hillary Clinton campaign on the day she announced her candidacy -- a way of registering the fact of my support (a support that remains flabbergastingly high across the party, including among many who locate themselves in the most progressive most activist precincts of the party -- although this is not the impression one may get from the grousing one hears online) as early as possible. As I have said before, I do not expect to appreciate a second Clinton Presidency as much as I have the Obama Presidency -- and I say this as someone who thinks Obama's domestic surveillance and extrajudicial assassinations would be impeachable in a saner world. Nonetheless, it will be an absolutely urgent matter for Clinton to win the White House against any of the candidates the Republicans could nominate in the present debased white-racist forced-pregnancy anti-gay science-denialist austerity-plutocratic war-mongering phase of their party's life.

Bernie Sanders' Presidential run does not change those stakes in the least for me -- but I will be enormously pleased to hear his voice (on many issues so much more like my own) on a truly national stage: I think and hope his arguments will help make America more available to even more progressive candidates in the future, and I think and hope he will make Clinton a better candidate in the immediate contest to come.

What the Republicans Mean When They Speak of Comprehensive Immigration Reform

It would appear that the version of "comprehensive immigration reform" the GOP is settling on at this point is simply:
one -- hyper-militarization of the Mexican border (which is an utterly quixotic effort given the existence of desperate people willing to work for terrible wages in terrible conditions and employers eager to break any law -- especially unenforceable ones -- in order to to profit from such willingness, though no doubt this endlessly increasing militarization is enormously profitable to many of the GOP's pet corporations);

two -- 14th Amendment Nullification (which is now regularly framed as "a Constitutional loophole" rather than the bedrock constitutional principle affirmed in countless court decisions since the Civil War, no doubt a party now addicted to the voter fraud of mass disenfranchisement as a "solution" to the non-existing problem of in-person voter fraud will have no trouble with the historical blinders and mental gymnastics demanded of this latest position either -- for Republicans, consistent racism always trumps inconsistency otherwise); and

three -- an endorsement of serfdom (which is what you have to call a permanent indispensable labor force of guest workers without the rights of citizens in the society they live in, without prospects for citizenship whatever their contributions to that society, taxed without representation like the colonists who made a Revolution to resist that very injustice).
Like pretty much all the positions of the current day Republican Party, this position is simply idiotic and evil and not a little bit insane. But it also means that while there may once have been a time when there were people on "both sides of the aisle" who advocated "comprehensive immigration reform" in ways that suggested a pathway to a shared solution to the problem of our utterly unjust, dysfunctional immigration system, recognized as such by most serious people in government, this is less true now than it ever was before, and the shared invocation of the phrase "comprehensive immigration reform" no longer indicates the reality or even the possibility of a working consensus on the issue.

"Breaking the Fever"

The Republicans are now setting up 2016 as yet another white-racist backlash election. Hillary, like it or not, like her or not, will be the vote to register the end, for good, of the "Silent Majority/Moral Majority" (they were always minorities, just saying) Southern/rural strategies of racist-resentment in the face of the diverse "Coalition of the Ascendent," as the prevalent narrative of America. A vote for Hillary will be a vote for secular multiculture.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Futurological Grammar: An Observation

In futurological discourses, notice that opportunistic slippages between "tech" as a generic trope as against "tech" as wish are often signaled by changes back and forth in verb tense in a futurological account: eg, "nanotechnology is..." (trope), "nanotechnology will..." (wish). In futurology the present tense will almost never indicate a phenomenon that actually exists in the present. Although futurologists regularly talk about what AI is and what its characteristics and implications are -- and say the same of the non-existing and very possibly never-to-exist "technologies" of immersive virtuality, unprecedented longevity medicine, superhuman enhancements, mind-uploading, nanotechnological superabundance, geo-engineering, human diaspora into outer space -- their assertions and disputes are always exploring entailments arising from terminological stipulations from an archive of canonical subcultural futurological texts or widely shared science-fiction fandoms, and rarely make contact with the results of consensus science or technodevelopmental policy, except, occasionally, to extrapolate from highly qualified or speculative technoscientific vicissitudes to activate hyperbolic and superlative aspirations. As always, such discussions have primarily literary and ethnographic rather than technoscientific interest.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Calls For Nonviolence Can Be Calls for Violence

Simply put, and de-twitterized:
Not every reaction and testimony to the suffering of violence is a form of organized non-violence, but neither is every call to "non-violence" a form of organized non-violence. As an advocate and, to this day, a teacher of nonviolent civil resistance and nonviolent revolutionary organizing, and as an activist trained in nonviolence in the 1990s as part of Queer Nation Atlanta with the King Center, I am disgusted by the superficial appropriation of nonviolent terminology to police false and facile respectability politics and enable privileged beneficiaries of systematic violence to indulge in self-congratulatory castigations of sufferers of that violence. Nonviolent critique and resistance exposes normalized violence and creates and transforms crises to elicit collaboration from the sufferers and beneficiaries of violence alike to overcome that violence. Collusion in the violence of the status quo is the furthest thing from non-violence, it is violence. White supremacy itself is a riot that has come to be mistaken in the long centuries of its relentless and catastrophic life for law and order.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Smart Or Spy?

Whenever a gadget is peddled to you as "smart," substitute the word "spy" and ask yourself if you still want the dumb thing.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

I Worry That Orphan Black Is Becoming A Sausage Fest in Season Three

Not sure I'm down with OB3. Too many boyfriends arranging things in secret, too many boys playing soldier, too many male characters acting like protagonists instead of sounding boards and eye candy! Did today's episode even pass the damn Bechdel Test? I'm still watching, but I'm paying attention. Don't betray the Clone Club, don't lose this:

Orphan Black S02 Finale Dance Party scene from justwarmingup on Vimeo.


Friday, April 24, 2015

Long Teaching Day

This morning begins a two week engagement with hashtag activism in my undergraduate Digital Democracy, Digital Anti-Democracy course, while the afternoon graduate Critical Theory survey takes up Judith Butler, Valerie Solanas, Donna Haraway, and Carol Adams. I love this material, but as end of term draws nearer my art students often get distracted with projects and read less and engage less, so I am not sure what to expect. And, of course, I am still tired. Blogging low to no.

Monday, April 20, 2015


These Republican pundits telling us Scott Walker has gravitas must find a used car lot a veritable Olympus.

Random Stevie Smith

The last two stanzas of "Deeply Morbid":
She stood up straight
The sun fell down
There was no more of London Town   
She went upon the painted shore   
And there she walks for ever more   
Happy quite
Beaming bright
In a happy happy light
All alone.

They say she was a morbid girl, no doubt of it   
And what befell her clearly grew out of it   
But I say she’s a lucky one
To walk for ever in that sun
And as I bless sweet Turner’s name
I wish that I could do the same.

Still Not Living For Blogging

Friday, April 17, 2015

Teaching Day

My graduate lecture is cancelled for MFA reviews this week, so my teaching day is a bit truncated. This morning in my undergraduate Digital Democracy, Digital Anti-Democracy course we are tackling l'Affaire Snowden and flowing into homeland insecurity more generally. Faculty meeting and then the commute and then who can say?

Thursday, April 16, 2015


The pretense that right-wing advocacy of a basic income guarantee in order to dismantle the welfare state is the same as democratic-left advocacy of a basic income guarantee in order to secure equity-in-diversity.

For more on this topic:

Basic Income Politics Are Not "Beyond Left and Right"
A Neoliberalization of Basic Income Discourse
Basic Income Is Not Beyond Left and Right Twitterscrum

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Ten Propositions on Taxes and Democracy

Hostility to taxes is commonplace among anarchists as well as right-wing "conservatives" whose advocacy of "smaller" or "more limited" government amounts to anarchism -- since advocacy of ever smaller, ever more limited government without indicating what good government actually is and alone can accomplish is substantially equivalent to anti-governmentality. Exploitation of discontent over taxes is also commonplace among neoliberal/neoconservative right-wing politicians and thinkers who want to ensure taxes subsidize primarily the fortunes of incumbent elites through extractive-industrial-financial corporate-militarism backed by complacent consumerism and organized violence. I for one do not want to smash states, but to democratize them. And an understanding and championing of taxes should be no less indispensable to the work of democratization as its obfuscation and demonization is indispensable to the work of anti-democratization.
Taxes are not really the price we pay for a civilized society -- in Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.'s, influential phrase -- for civilization is priceless. This is just to recall that commonwealth is not a private commodity but a public good. Taxes are not, for example, fees for discrete services that might be provided otherwise, nor are taxes a price for which there might be discount alternatives. Perhaps the true spirit of Holmes' phrase is captured best in a negative formulation: anti-tax zealots would appear to believe that civilization is the only free lunch.
Certainly taxes are not theft, as anarchists of the right and the left so like to declare, since taxation is a precondition for the constitution and intelligibility of the claim to ownership on which notions of theft depend in the first place.
Neither should taxes be mischaracterized as forced contributions to what might instead be charitable causes, since the basic rights secured through taxation cannot be regarded as matters of charity else they are not truly rights but mere favors.
Taxes are not, however annoying they may seem, burdens on our freedom so much as essential enablers of freedom. Taxes, bonds, and fees are public investments maintaining the legal, infrastructural, and administrative material conditions alone within which political freedom can abide.
Taxes ameliorate undemocratic concentrations of wealth and authority to secure sufficient equity among citizens of diverse fortune. The equity valued by democracy ensures that the diversity also valued by democracy does not disable the demanding and costly democratic processes facilitating collective responsibility, expressivity, criticism, problem-solving and the interminable reconciliation of the aspirations of all the people with whom we share and contest the present world.
Taxes pay for the maintenance of institutions providing nonviolent alternatives for the adjudication of disputes. Taxes pay to secure basic needs to ensure that the scene of consent to everyday association is reliably informed and is non-duressed by the threat of deprivation, inequity, or insecurity. And taxes pay for the accountable administration of commons and public goods without which they are inevitably violated and exploited for short-term profit-taking by minorities to the cost and risk of majorities. Far from representing quintessential state violence, taxes are the enabling condition of a democratic state facilitating nonviolence.
Taxes coupled to representation itself ("No Taxation Without Representation") tie the maintenance of government as such -- an organization invested with legitimate recourse to force with all the clear dangers inhering in that state of affairs -- inextricably to public accountability and democratic legitimacy.
Taxing more those who profit more by their personal recourse to the shared inheritance of human knowledge and culture, to the shared substance of precarious environmental resources on which we all depend for our survival and flourishing, and to the ongoing benefits of collaboratively maintained infrastructure, institutions, norms, trust, legitimacy, and security is not unfair in the least. Progressive taxation follows quite simply from a recognition of the indisputable fact of our radical inter-dependence as both productive and vulnerable beings in the world. This same recognition, of course, is also the foundation for fairness.
Whenever a right wing politician declares all government wasteful, criminal, or corrupt you should pay close attention, because he is revealing his intentions. Wherever government is meant to be of by and for the people, to be anti-government always means to be against the great majority of the people.

I have posted earlier versions of this piece in the past on tax day. Some of the aphorisms anthologized in Dispatches from Libertopia were culled from those earlier pieces. The larger vision of the politics of democratic equity-in-diversity implied in these propositions is elaborated in longer pieces to be found in Against Anarchy and in Arendtian Exercises and scattered in other places.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Dream Date Voting

I don't follow politics for inspiration, entertainment, or a dream date. That is what porn is for.

More Fool Me Tee Vee here.

Voting and Reasonableness

I find it very strange when people assume support, even strong support, for a candidate is a sign of agreement with them rather than a matter of making a best choice among options. I mean, it should go without saying that as a green democratic socialist feminist anti-racist anti-militarist vegetarian atheist queer I've never agreed with a President in my life. Hell, I consider Obama by far the best President of my lifetime so far and yet I think his domestic surveillance and extrajudicial assassinations are unethical and probably impeachable in a saner, better world. I've never found it difficult in the least to square these recognitions with another one: that it is indispensable progressive democratizing work to support and vote for the best candidate on offer, and in that support and voting seek to enlist as many other best candidates on offer (congressional majorities, state legislatures, mayors and city councils) that they may become an instrument for change for the better.

None of this is to reduce politics to voting: education, agitation, organization, legislation in the classroom, in publication, on the streets, in the voting booth all have their vital contributions to make to the work of democracy and equity-in-diversity: None are sufficient, all are necessary.

I don't expect to appreciate Hillary Clinton so much as I have President Obama -- although I admire much of her lifetime advocacy for women, and considered some of her policy positions more progressive than Obama's in 2008, even while preferring Obama more at the time, overall -- but I do hold out hope that she will surprise me on this score. Even if she does not, the choice to support her strongly and then vote for her is quite easy. In a time of science-denialism, white-racism, plutocratic deregulatory looting, gun-fanaticism, forced-abortion zealotry, loud and unanimous across the Republican Party, necessities make for quite easy choices.

But even in a world in which Republicans were not the party of evil idiotic madness, it would remain true that politics are neither ethics nor aesthetics, that when the lesser of two evils represents a difference that makes a difference (and it always does), that it is politically necessary to fight for that difference -- when from an ethical vantage that choice would likely mean an embrace of evil or from an aesthetic vantage that choice would likely mean undermining integrity or spoiling beauty.

The problem at hand is recognizing that voting is a political matter to be judged politically. In politics what is possible and what is important in a shared present in a finite world are shaped by making compromises and deploying compromised instruments. Politics is the interminable reconciliation of the infinite demands and aspirations of the stakeholders with whom we share the present world in its and our own finitude. Politics can be an instrument of the moral or the ethical, the spectacle and experience of the political can be judged aesthetically -- but it is crucial that one distinguish these experiences, these judgments, these ends, and the beliefs that invest them if those beliefs, and the conduct based on them, are to be reasonable.

I am a pluralist about truth, which means that for me reasonableness is a matter not only of acting on the basis of truths, belief in which are warranted as reasonable, but also a matter of identifying the criteria of warrant relevant to the domain of belief besetting us. Scientific, prudential, moral, ethical, legal, professional, aesthetic, political beliefs are different from one another, the sense they confer, the demand they make, the criteria for their warrant differ. It is profoundly unreasonable to expect all truths to be reducible to one mode, although demands for foolish consistencies of this kind are commonplace in the self-righteous, the self-congratulatory, the self-satisfied, and above all, the selfish. Although such people often imagine themselves and are often depicted as paragons of reasonableness, integrity, and consistence, they are dangerous fools and their reason a deadly thing.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Ten Proposals for A Democratic Presidential Campaign Running An Economic Populist Platform

1. Expand Social Security and raise or eliminate the payroll cap on high income earners to finance it.
2. Raise the federal minimum wage to $15 and peg it to inflation.
3. Glass-Steagall renewal, break up too big to fail banks, micro-tax on digital financial transactions.
4. Mandating paid sick leave and family leave for workers.
5. Medicare Buy-In as the Public Option.
6. New, higher tax-rate brackets for millionaires and billionaires.
7. Student loan refinancing at radically lowered interest rates and loan forgiveness for adjuncts and low-paid workers.
8. Check cashing, savings and checking accounts and other low-cost banking services made available at all post offices.
9. Nationwide automatic voter registration, universal mail-in ballots, Election Day Holiday, pledge to reverse Citizens United.
10. Huge Green economic and employment stimulus investing in renewable energy infrastructure, burying/ruggedizing electric and communication lines, linking major cities in a continental rapid rail or maglev network, subsidizing energy efficient residential remodeling and appropriate landscaping, invest in massive tree planting, wetland restoration, and soil conservation works.

All of these proposals are already out there in Democratic policy papers and legislative language. They are all quite popular. Many have already been advocated by President Obama in some form and taking them up is only natural as Clinton has chosen to figure her candidacy less as a break from Obama than as a passing of the Obama baton moving the Democratic project forward in her vision of their shared values. I honestly do expect versions of at least some of these proposals to be coming from the Clinton campaign, but I wish all of them were. These are the sort of policies that would actually substantiate the populist rhetoric Clinton has rightly chosen to reframe herself as a presidential candidate. Again, Clinton would need the support of congressional majorities (with congressional leaders like Elizabeth Warren and Nancy Pelosi as partners) to enact such an agenda, but I think the agenda itself would inspire the kind of turnout that could provide those majorities.

Meryl Streep Introduces Hillary Clinton

Here We Go

President Obama:

Obama said Saturday... that Clinton was a "formidable candidate" before, and that should she run again, she would have some "strong messages to deliver." He mentioned her work on foreign policy, as well her having domestic policy views of "one [who] cares about working families." "She was a supporter of mine in the general election, she was an outstanding secretary of State, she is my friend, I think she would be an excellent president[.]" Clinton is reportedly aiming to portray herself as a "tenacious fighter" for average Americans.
The struggles and hopes of "Average Americans" were obviously the focus of her announcement video, and while it is easy to roll one's eyes at such pablum it pays to consider how different this diverse patriotic vision of people of color, working moms, retired women, queer couples, working folks differs from the white-racist nostalgia, resentment, and rage of the contrary "take back our country" Republican "Real America" vision of patriotism. I have no trouble at all choosing between these animating visions, and these are indeed the visions we will have to choose from when the time comes to elect the President. There is, of course, much more to politics than electing a president, but electing a president remains a political act it is utter folly to disdain.

I am heartened that Clinton is emphasizing her political continuities with the Obama administration (I daresay had more Democrats done so last year, the mid-term elections would not have been such a catastrophe). I actually appreciate very much her choice to emphasize that she is running as a grandmother, assuming the legitimately feminist role of experienced and empathetic older woman as a  worthy leader for a society in which leadership has long been confined to the demoralizing contours of masculine competitiveness, athleticism, and gut decisions. As she has also done in her tweets the last few weeks on carefully selected issues, it is clear that Clinton is framing her run as something like an Obama third-term in mildly Elizabeth Warren-esque cadences.

Clinton says little in the video, leaving everyday people to do most of the talking, and this aligns nicely with the "listening tour" that inaugurates the campaign. I hope this will make for a few months more of vapid feel-good stories rather than a series of whomped up faux scandals from pundits coughing up the usual hairball of "the horse race narrative," and hence eager to distract s much attention as possible away from Republicans serially belligerently disqualifyingly declaring war on all facts and on the whole world, including the majority of the diverse, precarious Americans they hope to preside over.

The few words Clinton does say in the launch video are pretty much what I need them to be: "Americans have fought their way back from tough economic times, but the deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top. Everyday Americans need a champion, and I want to be that champion, because when families are strong [these words over a succession of images representing the real demographic diversity of American families], America is strong."

I agree with Robert Reich (quoted below) that Clinton's capacities and values are more or less as good as America is capable of offering up for a candidate for the Presidency -- in her primary contest with candidate Obama, Clinton was campaigning from his left at least as often as she was from his right, and in the substance they occupied much the same policy space. Hillary Clinton seems politically more like Obama than she ever did like Bill Clinton, and given the times it is unlikely that even Bill Clinton would sound much like Bill Clinton were he running today. When Reich declares that Clinton must exhibit some fight, I think she has set the stage for such rhetoric, though I don't expect, nor do I think Clinton would be particularly suited for the role of a happy class warrior.

What will matter more than the choreographed performance of "fight" are the specific policies and positions Clinton proposes -- which is why Reich proceeds to list policies at that moment in his piece. I cannot say whether Clinton will campaign for precisely the policies Reich proposes (most of which I heartily approve), but of course their realization would depend on flipping the Senate back to the Democrats and getting enough Democrats in the House to enable working coalitions (I fear the gerrymandered House cannot be regained this time around, even by a Presidential electorate, but one wonders if another conspicuous loss will chasten some of the GOP into better sense, otherwise prospects will be bleak come what may given crazytown obstructionism).

Robert Reich:
Some wonder about the strength of her values and ideals. I don’t. I’ve known her since she was 19 years old, and have no doubt where her heart is. For her entire career she’s been deeply committed to equal opportunity and upward mobility... The more relevant concern is Hillary Clinton’s willingness to fight. Politicians usually seek to appeal to as many voters as possible, eschewing controversy. After a devastating first midterm election, her husband famously “triangulated” between Democrats and Republicans, seeking to find a middle position above the fray. But these times are different. Not in ninety years has America harbored a greater concentration of wealth at the very top. Not since the Gilded Age of the 1890s has American politics been as corrupted by big money as it is today. If Hillary Clinton is to get the mandate she needs for America to get back on track, she will have to be clear with the American people about what is happening and why -- and what must be done.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Long Teaching Day

This morning the theme is "everything counts in small amounts" in my undergraduate Digital Democracy, Digital Anti-Democracy course in the City: micropayments, microloans, microtraces, microserfs, and long tails from nine to noon. Later, from one to four in my graduate Introduction to Critical Theory lecture it's time for Foucault, Arendt, and Fanon on violence. A late faculty meeting extends my long teaching day longer still, I'm afraid, so as usual for Fridays, expect blogging to be low to no.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Twitterscrum With Ramez Naam on the Transhuman Term

I was having a discussion on twitter yesterday about the status of "bioethicist" and "futurist" as labels pseudo-experts sometimes attribute to themselves, and I proposed that incoherence in the constitution of these disciplines at their best enables the abuses people were diagnosing at their worst. Here, I re-reproduce only the very tail end of that conversation to provide context for an exchange that arose from it with Ramez Naam, a futurist and science fiction writer whose ideas and themes are characteristically transhumanist and who maintains strong and ongoing ties with transhumanist-identified organizations, but who, it would seem, eschews the transhumanist label.

This is an issue that comes up quite often: is it inappropriate to describe Robin Hanson as an extropian or singularitarian transhumanist, for example, given his conspicuously transhumaist  ideas, citations, and associations, even if he disapproves that moniker for whatever reasons? Sometimes there would seem to be fairly cynical public relations considerations driving the resistance to such labeling: Nick Bostrom has created successive institutions for the elaboration and organization of transhumanist ideas and campaigns with more or less the same concerns and many of the same players, but from the World Transhumanist Association to the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies to the Oxford Future of Humanity Institute each has retreated from the explicit transhumanist label and the more obvious and extreme paraphernalia of sub(cult)ural enthusiasms attaching to his abiding preoccupations in bids for more mainstream funders and more respectable attentions. But, then again, sometimes a scholar will dip a hand into the transhumanoid stream of techno-fetishistic True Belief without necessarily partaking of it. Would it be appropriate to describe scholar Andy Miah, who writes about prosthetics and both medical and athletic subjecthood, as a transhumanist -- not only because of his topic, but because he addresses his topic to interested transhumanists?

And what about me? The technoscience topics that concern me have often overlapped with those of transhumanists. And for good reason: I've been a pretty vociferous critic of futurism and transhumanism for over twenty years. But I have engaged with actual transhumanists quite directly, and often in their discursive spaces and publications. To this day I publish my unfuturism at the World Future Society, after all. Early on, I was quite friendly with a few comparatively more scholarly transhumanist-identified socialists and often meliorated the ferocity of my criticisms in the give-and-take of debate in the hope of dissuading them of the worst of their techno-fetishism, eugenicism, consumerism, and death-denialism.

But how should these topical continuities and affiliations impact people's proper sense of my discursive and cultural vantage? I am not one who thinks the story ends with whatever an author declares their positioning to be: there are logical entailments, cultural signals, citational relations, historical associations, unconscious symptoms that shape objective assignments of ideological and authorial positioning of which an author is often imperfectly or incompletely or incorrectly aware.

I raise this point here and elsewhere because it is pretty commonplace for transhumanists to retreat from exposures of particularly ridiculous entailments and associations of their views by declaring "transhumanism" altogether too dynamic and heterogeneous to be tied to any of its themes or theses or public figures, however characteristic they may be, and yet then proceed to celebrate and identify with transhumanism and make claims in its name nonetheless as if it were a perfectly legible and continent phenomenon. I actually don't think that is what is happening with Naam, whose retreat from the transhumanist term seems to me more a public relations matter from our conversation.

You might note that I was associating Naam here with the very transhumanist term he eschews, and also that I repudiate as transhumanist the phrase "more than human," which is the title of his book. All this in this passage in which he thinks he has discovered me agreeing with him.

For an idea of what I am talking about here, my post Unperson discusses the period during which IEET re-published some posts from Amor Mundi (as the World Future Society does now), and my post Technogressive: What's In A Name discusses the transhumanoid appropriation of a term which I once used myself but then dropped because I did not want to seem to endorse their misuses of it. 

Very Serious.
I noticed that some few folks who identified as futurists and transhumanists were favoriting and retweeting Naam's side of our exchange, and followed up the conversation with some reflections:

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Added to the Posthuman Forum

I have added Richard Jones' response "Does Transhumanism Matter?" to my essay "Futurological Discourses and Posthuman Terrains" to the permanent Amor Mundi Forum on the Existenz issue in which my essay originally appeared. Let me take this opportunity once again to encourage readers to alert me to any considered readings and critiques of any of the essays that appeared in that volume that may have been published elsewhere. It doesn't matter to me if I personally agree or disagree with a response, or even sympathize with it, I would like to link to all the sustained responses that are available online to the pieces from that Existenz volume. Of course there were many links to the issue as a whole and to individual essays from it. I am interested in sustained engagements with the arguments themselves. I am also willing to consider publishing such responses here on Amor Mundi as guest posts, should anyone want to take me up on that. Bear in mind, this is an invitation for serious sustained close readings of particular essays from that volume, not an invitation to publish online manifestos guru-wannabe resumes for your robot cult.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Richard Jones on My Critique of Transhumanist/Singularitarian Futurisms

Richard Jones is a Professor of Physics and the Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation at the University of Sheffield in the UK. He writes quite a lot about public science policy, and these days he has been elaborating a forceful perspective on public investment in innovation, but he is surely best known by readers of my blog as the author of Soft Machines: Nanotechnology and Life, a book about both the reality and some of the speculative projections that attach to nanoscale technoscience.

Jones has written several contrarian pieces over the years about the hyperbolic expectations that freight the popular imagination of nanotechnology resulting from what I would call superlative futurological handwaving by the likes of Ray Kurzweil and Eric Drexler, and lately he has taken on another superlative futurological proposal (one to which I have devoted no small of attention myself), so-called, mind uploading.

Because Jones criticizes these imaginary techniques from a technical perspective attuned to the actual scientific consensus in the relevant fields his writing are different from my own, but like the writings of Athena Andreadis -- who is also a working scientist ferociously critical of techno-immortalist hyperbole and evo-psycho reductionism -- Jones is also aware of the cultural and rhetorical dimensions that play out in transhumanist and singularitarian and nano-cornucopiast discourses and takes seriously that much of the seeming force and plausibility of futurological belief does not ultimately derive from its technoscientific claims and hence neither is it effectively engaged simply by exposing the deficiencies in these claims.

I am happy to say that just as I have learned quite a bit by reading Jones' technical criticisms of futurological fancies, he has often seemed to appreciate my own rhetorical criticism (which is not to imply that he agrees with me on particulars), and in his most recent piece Does Transhumanism Matter? Jones has done me the extraordinary compliment of summarizing in a scrupulous and sympathetic way some of the key themes of a piece of mine Futurological Discourses and Posthuman Terrains in a way that reveals the complementarity of our critical vantages. I strongly recommend Jones' piece to those who find my critique congenial but who may find my way of writing -- emerging out of a lifetime love of paradoxical literature exacerbated by my training in dense critical theory -- a chore: Richard Jones, again like Athena Andreadis, may be the graceful and also more concise and clear writer you are pining for.

I cannot say that I found much if anything to disagree with in Jones' reading. And so I will simply mention a few things I was especially pleased to see in Jones piece. The first of these was that Jones takes seriously the political thrust of my critique of futurology, which I would not necessarily have expected and was enormously gratified to see revealed:
To Carrico, there is a continuity between the mainstream futurologists – “the quintessential intellectuals propping up the neoliberal order” – and the “superlative” futurology of the transhumanists, with its promises of material abundance through nanotechnology, perfect wisdom through artificial intelligence, and eternal life through radical life extension. The respect with which these transhumanist claims are treated by the super-rich elite of Silicon Valley provides the link. One can make a good living telling rich and powerful people what they want to hear, which is generally that it’s right that they’re rich and powerful, and that in the future they will become more so (and perhaps will live for ever into the bargain)... One could argue that tranhumanism/singularitarianism constitutes the state religion of Californian techno-neoliberalism, and like all state religions its purpose is to justify the power of the incumbents.
I was also pleased that Jones emphasized my proposal that transhumanist futurisms are not so much opposed to their most conspicuous critics, the various "bioconservative naturalists," as complementary to and co-dependent on them:
Another prominent critique of transhumanism comes from the conservative, often religious, strand of thought sometimes labelled “bioconservatives”. Carrico strongly dissociates himself from this point of view, and indeed regards these two apparently contending points of view, not as polar opposites, but as “a longstanding clash of reactionary eugenic parochialisms”. Bioconservatives regard the “natural” as a moral category, and look back to an ideal past which never existed, just as the ideal future that the transhumanists look forward to will never exist either. Carrico sees a eugenic streak in both mindsets, as well as an intolerance of diversity and an unwillingness to allow people to choose what they actually want. It’s this diversity that Carrico wants to keep hold of, as we talk, not of The Future, but of the many possible futures that could emerge from the proper way democracy should balance the different desires and wishes of many different people.
If I have the least quibble with Jones' understanding of my critique it comes when he distinguishes his own optimism from my skepticism:
One can certainly construct... lists of regrets for previous technologies didn’t live up to their promises, and one should certainly try and learn from them. I would want to sound more optimistic, and point out that what this list illustrates is not that we shouldn’t have set out to develop those technologies, but that we should have steered them down more congenial roads, and perhaps that we could have done so had we created better political and economic circumstances. Ultimately, I think I do believe that there has been progress.
Of course, I quite agree that wonderful scientific discoveries and clever useful inventions have been made that are worthy of celebration, even in the midst of a generation of tech bubbles and irrationally exuberant libertechbrotarian con-artisty. I am, after all, as big a NASA and renewable energy/agriculture/tramsportation and universal healthcare geek as anybody I have ever met.

What I specifically insist on is that progress is always [1] progress toward a specified end, and that [2] politically speaking democratic progress is progress in the direction of equity-in-diversity, and that [3] technoscientific vicisstitudes, to be progressive in my sense, must equitably distribute the costs, risks, and benefits of change to the diversity of their stakeholders by their lights. Historically speaking, the chief beneficiaries of technoscientific developments have only rarely been the same as the ones who have borne the brunt of their costs and risks, and I refuse to describe such outcomes as progressive -- even if generations later I must count myself among the beneficiaries of the compulsory and unnecessary sacrifice of multitudes myself. What should be clear about such a perspective is that it is scarcely a comment on "technology" at all, but on the reactionary plutocratic politics that governs these injustices.

That I address my concerns and pin my hopes for progressive change to the hearing of an audience that shows every sign of reluctance in the main to be distracted in their pleasures by awareness of their real costs in the long term and to majorities of fellow earthlings seems to me to be the surest evidence of my optimism, if anything. I actually don't think Jones fails to recognize this in my work or disagrees with the conviction particularly -- I just think he likes to strike a balance of cheer with his denunciations and has more patience than I do with coddling readily alienated potential allies prone to defensiveness about their complicity in any too sweeping a critique of the status quo the amplification of which is so much of what passes for "The Future" of the futurologists. As I said, I lack the patient temperament to sustain such an approach for long, but I happily concede its force and consider myself lucky to have such a reader and ally as Jones who does.


It's high time for the census to provide a box for those of us who want to check "ooloi." 

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Tick Tock People

An Apple watch handcuff encircling our wrists to hector us every second of the day is truly the techbro idea of a virtuous circle.

More Futurological Brickbats here.

Grown Ups

An old joke declares young liberals mature into conservatives, but the true joke is that conservatism is a permanent infantilism.

More Dispatches from Libertopia here.

Saturday, April 04, 2015


Janelle Monae MUST Be Dorothy in the upcoming live NBC broadcast of the greatest musical that had nothing to do with Sondheim, The Wiz. And even tho it's not her song to sing, I'd love to hear her do a version of "You Can't Win" anyway.

Friday, April 03, 2015

Long Teaching Day

My god, so tired. Why, oh why, can I never seem to get a full night's sleep before my marathon six-hours of lecturing day? In the City this morning, in my undergraduate Digital Democracy, Digital Anti-Democracy course we are engaging the privatization of publicity, Doctorow on IP,  Boyle on the Second Enclosure Movement, Bollier on commons, Astra Taylor on the People's Platform -- then in the afternoon it's Fanon's Black Skin White Masks, and Fanonian elaborations by Paul Gilroy on racialized infra-humanity and Kobena Mercer on fetishism in Mapplethorpe, also Laura Mulvey on fetishistic looking. Big day, expect blogging to be the usual Friday low to no.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Final Project: Keyword Mapping Our Course "Digital Democracy, Digital Anti-Democracy"

The following is the Final Porject assignment for my Digital Democracy, Digital Anti-Democracy course at SFAI this Spring. Readers of Amor Mundi have sometimes found it fun to play along at home, so here is this year's version. If anybody here does the exercise, do please let me know what you found out from it in the Moot:

First, Your Keywords:

1. a2k (access to knowledge)
2. acceleration
3. accelerationalism
4. accountability
5. agency
6. algorithm
7. algorithmic mediation
8. amateur
9. analog
10. artificial intelligence
11. artificial imbecillence
12. auteur
13. author
14. authoritarianism
15. authority
16. automation
17. autonomous weapons
18. Babel problem
19. basic income guarantee
20. binary
21. Big Data
22. biopiracy
23. #BlackLivesMatter
24. blog
25. blogipelago
26. blogosphere
27. broadcast
28. "California Ideology"
29. canon
30. citizen
31. citizen journalism
32. cloud
33. Coasean Floor
34. code
35. collaboration
36. color line
37. common goods
38. commons
39. commonsense
40. consensus
41. consensus science
42. consent
43. control
44. copyleft
45. copyright
46. creative commons
47. credentialization
48. critique
49. crowdsourcing
50. crypto-anarchy
51. culture
52. culture industry
53. cyberlibertarianism
54. cybernetics
55. cybernetic totalism
56. cyberspace
57. cyborg
58. cypherpunk
59. democracy
60. democratization
61. design
62. digirati
63. digital
64. digital divide
65. digital humanities
66. digital sharecropping
67. digital utopianism
68. dissensus
69. disruption
70. diversity
71. drone
72. elite
73. enclosure
74. end-to-end principle (e2e)
75. enframing
76. enhancement
77. eugenics
78. excludability
79. existential risk
80. externality
81. fair use
82. filtering
83. financialization
84. finitude
85. follow
86. free software
87. friend
88. "The Future"
89. futurity
90. futurology
91. GamerGate
92. genomic enclosure
93. gift economy
94. hashtag activism
95. harrassment
96. immaterialism
97. information
98. information society
99. industrial model
100. instrumental rationality
101. internet
102. internet-centrism
103. liberal subjectivity
104. like
105. linking
106. Long Tail
107. mapping
108. mass culture
109. mass mediation
110. media
111. media consolidation
112. meme
113. micro-blogging
114. micro-loans
115. micro-payments
116. Moore's Law
117. negative liberty
118. neoliberalism
119. Net Neutrality
120. Netroots
121. network
122. node
123. #NotYourAsianSidekick
124. objectivity
125. open source
126. outsourcing
127. participation
128. panopticon
129. peer
130. peer to peer (p2p)
131. planetarity
132. polysemy
133. popular
134. post-humanist
135. precarity
136. precarization
137. privacy
138. private property
139. privatization
140. professional
141. profiling
142. progress
143. propaganda
144. prostheses as culture/culture as prostheses
145. public
146. publication
147. public domain
148. publicity
149. public good
150. public relations
151. quantified self
152. reductionism/reductive
153. relational
154. representative
155. retro-futurism
156. revolution
157. rivalrousness
158. robocalypse
159. robotics
160. scroll
161. secrecy
162. security
163. sharing
164. Singularity
165. smart
166. social
167. social aesthetics
168. social networks
169. socialization
170. social web
171. solutionism
172. sousveillance
173. spam
174. spectacle
175. spontaneous order
176. stakeholder
177. stealing
178. streaming
179. surf
180. surveillance
181. techbro
182. technocracy
183. techno-fetishism
184. technology
185. technoscience
186. techno-transcendence
187. techno-utopianism
188. "Thought Leader"
189. trace
190. "Tragedy of the Commons"
191. transparency
192. viral
193. virtuality
194. whistleblower
195. WikiLeaks
196. wikipedia
197. word cloud
198. #YesAllWomen
199. zero comments
200. zeros and ones

For your Final Project you will generate a kind of personal conceptual mapping of the subject matter of the whole course. In order to produce this map, you will need to draw on readings and notes over the course of the whole term. Many connections and problems will likely become clear to you for the first time in making this map. Before you make your choices you should spend some time dwelling over the whole list above, since what may at first seem obvious choices often give way to different questions and concerns once you give them more thought.

The assignment is quite straightforward:

[one] Choose fifty-five Keywords from the list above.

[two] Organize your chosen Keywords into three separate, conceptually connected, sets. You can use any criteria that seems useful to you to organize these sets. The only rule is that no resulting set can contain fewer than twelve Keywords.

[three] Each of the three sets should be given a unique title or heading and an introductory paragraph (no longer than a single page) that elaborates the criteria governing your choices as to what would be included in that set. Some examples of set categories from Keyword Maps students have handed me in the past: "Good/Bad/Ugly" "Heaven/Hell/Purgatory" "Animal/Vegetable/Mineral" "Red/Green/Blue" "Going/Going.../Gone."

[four] Once you have organized your three sets in this way, briefly define each one of the Keywords you have included in each set in your own words. Ideally, your definitions should be as clear and as concise as possible. These definitions should be a matter of a sentence (or at most two), NOT a paragraph or more. They really are just definitions, not essays or lengthy explanations. It should be clear from your definitions why each of the Keywords in each of the three sets are conceptually connected to each other, but it is also crucial that no terms within any set are treated by you as synonymous, and that your definitions distinguish Keywords from one another clearly (even if the resulting distinctions are sometimes matters of nuance).

[five] Once you have defined all these Keywords, provide a short quotation from one of the texts we have read this term to accompany each one of your definitions. The quotation you choose can be a definition you found helpful in crafting your own definition, it can be an example or illustration you found especially clarifying, it can a matter of contextualization, framing, or history that you found illuminating, it can even be something you disagreed with so strongly it helped you understand better what you really think yourself. Feel free to edit and prune to keep your chosen citations fixed on its Keyword, just so long as your edit does not violate the original sense of the quotation as you understand it.

Obviously, there are endless ways of organizing these sets, defining their Keywords, distinguishing them from one another, and connecting them up to the texts we have read. What matters here is that you follow the rules of the exercise, not that you arrive at some single "right answer" you may fancy I have in mind.

Everyone's map will likely be quite dramatically different from everyone else's. That's a feature, not a bug.

Many students might also find it useful to introduce additional elements to their final projects -- illustration, cartography, collage, AV supplements, narrative, sculpture, games, and so on. None of these are required but students are welcome to make this final project their own, to introduce additional formal and experimental dimensions that help you come to terms with the course material as a whole in your own way once the basic requirements are satisfied.