Once More against Pinker: Science and Colonialism August 29, 2014Posted by Summerspeaker in Uncategorized.
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A Facebook argument with James Hughes has prompted me to return to the task of refuting Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature. If not for Pinker’s popularity – particularly among futurists – I wouldn’t bother, as the absurdity. self-indulgence, and sloppiness of Pinker’s arguments strike me as overwhelmingly obvious. As Louis Proyect writes, Pinker’s views amount to Thomas Hobbes plus Pangloss. But since the Hughes’s “Problems of Transhumanism” series remains one of my favorite things to come out of the whole scene, I figure I might as well reflect on why such a seemingly clear thinker would positively cite Pinker. I suspect it’s based on either unfamiliarity or – more likely – the sheer appeal of statism sanctioned by scientific authority. The amount of support Pinker and eir ilk receive from futurist and rationalists indicates the potency of colonial discourse and its imbrication with scientific discourse.
As ably described by Stephen Corry, Pinker’s narrative of ever-declining violence retreads a old colonialist path and relies on dubious if not downright fallacious numbers. R. Brian Ferguson examines Pinker’s invocation of archaeology and finds it wildly inaccurate. The archaeological evidence in fact suggests no warfare and little interpersonal violence for thousands of years in some regions. Surveys of skeletons in certain regions and periods indicate a violent-death rate of 0-1%. “When considered against the total record,” Ferguson writes, “the idea that 15 percent of prehistoric populations died in war is not just false, it is absurd.” I’m skeptical of any firm claims about prehistoric violence rates, but by my reading of the data Douglas Fry’s “n-shaped curve” constitutes the best generalization. I think it’s more useful to look at violence specifically and historically.
At best, prehistoric skeletons that show trauma only indicate a likelihood of death by interpersonal violence. Even an arrowhead in a spine doesn’t unambiguously demonstrate an intentional killing; the same might well have been a hunting accident. Conversely, some or many of those who left skeletons with no signs of trauma may have perished via human attacks that did not damage bone. The evidence doesn’t allow for much beyond thoughtful guesses; it certainly doesn’t provide the statistics Pinker asserts.
On the whole, Pinker spins a dreadfully familiar tale based on European colonial tropes of savagery and Western progress. Ey’s characterization of nonstate tribal peoples as dramatically more violent than European-based state societies that continue to practice settler colonialism and genocide actively enables the latter processes. The supposed violence of the colonized serves as an alibi for colonial horrors, the idea that colonialism was and is necessary to tame the fierce savage. Pinker likewise notably downplays recent violence from the United States military in Asia and the Middle East. It’s all for the greater good, of course! A war to end all wars and all that.
Pinker’s celebratory progress narrative has to date proved irresistible to multitudes in the futurist scene. We all like to imagine mighty force of science on our side. Various anarchists and communists have staked the same claim. It’s a valuable rhetorical bludgeon, but I’m dubious that science can ever offer solid answers to political questions. As we see with Pinker, those who trumpet science often fail to fulfill its ideals at even a basic level. Nor can science necessarily ever escape its association with European colonialism.
The notion of transhumanism guided by luminaries like Pinker and their civilizing mission makes my blood run cold.
Quotation of the Day August 14, 2014Posted by Summerspeaker in Anarchism, Feminism.
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And then, in my dreams, I see the figure of a giantess, a lonely figure out in the desolate prairie with nothing over her but the gray sky, and no light upon her face but the chill pallor of the morning. And I see her looking upward and whispering: ‘How broad it is! It is cold and dark and frowning: but is broad – and high!’ Such will be your figure, O Woman, such your words in the day of your emancipation. In the way when you break from your, this warmed, round cell, whose horizon-wall is your children’s life, whose light is husband’s eyes, whose zenith is your husband’s smile. Better the pitiless gray of the clouds than the white ceiling of a prison; better the loneliness of the prairie than the caress of a slave-born child; better the cold biting of the wind than a Master’s kiss. ‘Better the war of freedom than the peace of slavery.’
Voltairine de Cleyre, “The Gates of Freedom,” 1891
Always Say No to U.S. Bombs August 10, 2014Posted by Summerspeaker in Anarchism, Anti-imperialism, Decolonization, Queer politics.
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Saffo Papantonopoulou – notably featured in the collection Queering Anarchism – just unfriended me and called me a “fucking stalinist” as the finale for a Facebook argument about the U.S. military intervention in Iraq. While I’m fond of Saffo’s piece in Queering Anarchism, we’ve had only unpleasant interactions in person and this sudden break feels right. Saffo considers it inappropriate for folks in the United States to oppose U.S. bombs bombs in Iraq without sufficient knowledge of the situation. I consider opposition to U.S. bombs as basic as opposition to queer bashing. I don’t think we need any additional information to reject yet another humanitarian U.S. military invention, though additional information might well help. Both U.S. bombs and queer bashing may at times and under certain circumstances have beneficial effects, but the whole they’re so pernicious that reflexive opposition serves us well.
Transhumanist Colonialism from the Horse’s Mouth August 9, 2014Posted by Summerspeaker in Anarchism, Anti-imperialism, Decolonization, Technology, Transhumanism.
Tags: anarchism, colonialism, transhumanism
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My recent piece on IEET has provoked Hank Pellissier to launch into a defense of colonialism:
“Colonialism”… I do not believe it is always 100% destructive
Neither do the colonized… the link below for example – its a popular chat site for Nigerians, read it and you discover that many/most of the posters think colonization provided some benefits…
Untouchability in Hindu India… a long, wretched tradition that was partially alleviated by the British colonialists…
Sati – or Suttee – the burning of widows in India, also abolished by British colonialists…
Albinos are occasionally killed for body parts in Tanzania – the Canadian NGO “Under the Sun” is trying to criminalize the profession of “witch doctor” there… Are they being “colonialist” in their attitude, imposing their values?
I wrote an article opposing Female Genital Mutilation – a commenter told me that I was displaying a “white, imperialist, colonialist” attitude because I was suggesting my cultural values were superior -
who is right or wrong?
is colonialism acceptable if it provides…. education, medicine, infrastructure, democracy, improvement in human rights… ?
Ey goes on describe U.S. military aid as a good investment:
Hi Kris – my essay, “Israel’s Value to Transhumanism” lists numerous ways Israeli innovation contributes to the creation of a better technoprogressive future. It was written four years ago, and Israel’s value has increased significantly since then. For example, Israelis have gotten 6 Nobel Peace prizes in Chemistry in the last decade… plus Daniel Kahneman’s Nobel Prize in Economics, for his work in Game Theory, highly valued by AI researchers.
Israel’s “Value” is deeply unappreciated by its hostile neighbors.
To guarantee Israel’s survival, the DOD provides about $3 billion in weaponry to Israel annually.
I don’t think this is a terrible investment. Here is a list for you of
“57 Contributions Israel Has Made to the World”
IMO, people who want the elimination of Israel are desiring a future scenario that delays and destroys techno-progress
Peter Wicks concurs:
Honestly, I don’t have the slightest quibble with Hank’s reflections regarding colonialism. It indeed brought benefits as well as destruction and misery. And it was entirely relevant to the discussion (including the African example) given that we are responding to an article that essentially condemns Israel for being a settler-colonialist state.
While I wouldn’t argue that literally nothing positive has come out of colonial projects, presenting colonialism as beneficial to the colonized under current political circumstances strikes me as overwhelmingly pernicious. In Pellissier’s case, it goes hand in hand with support for U.S. military aid to Israel, support for supplying Israel with the explosives that have just killed hundreds of noncombatants in Gaza. Pellissier advocates exactly what I oppose: building the fabulous future atop a heap of bones.
As I’ve argued previously, programs that demand suffering today on the basis of knowing the future assume far too much certainty. If folks like Pellissier have their way, forty years from now we may well end up with compounding misery and no magical tech to save us.
Remembering Hiroshima 69 Years Later August 6, 2014Posted by Summerspeaker in Anti-imperialism, Technology.
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August 6, 1945 gave the clearest example of just how apocalyptic modern technology can be. We still live with reverberations of that day. While I’m theoretically sympathetic to the position that it’s okay for everybody to have access to weapons of mass destruction, in practice here in the moment I’d much prefer nuclear weapons not exist at all.
Gaza Is a Transhumanist Issue! August 4, 2014Posted by Summerspeaker in Anarchism, Anti-imperialism, Decolonization, Technology, Transhumanism.
Tags: anarchism, Gaza, Palestine, transhumanism
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Transhumanists as a rule may prefer to contemplate implants and genetic engineering, but few if any violations of morphological freedom exceed being torn to pieces by shrapnel or dashed against concrete by an overpressure wave. In this piece I argue that the settler-colonial violence in occupied Palestine relates to core aspects of modernity and demands futurist attention both emotionally and intellectually.
Read it all over at IEET.
4th of July July 4, 2014Posted by Summerspeaker in Anarchism, Anti-imperialism, Decolonization, Technology, Transhumanism.
Tags: 4th of July, colonialism, Independence Day
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In relation to transhumanism, it’s important to remember the above constitutes the context for much of the technological change over the last couple centuries. As such, colonialism and white supremacy stand always already implicated in the transhumanist project. How does keeping this history and present in mind influence how we dream of better worlds?
ABQ Pride 2014 June 1, 2014Posted by Summerspeaker in Anarchism, Anti-imperialism, Decolonization, Queer politics.
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As usual it was mainly a corporate and military lovefest a with a few of us swimming against the current.
Masculinity Kills May 24, 2014Posted by Summerspeaker in Feminism, Queer politics.
Today’s shooting in Santa Barbara puts this dynamic in stark relief. The shooter, Elliot Rodger, justified the shooting based on sexual and social frustration. “‘I’ll take great pleasure in slaughtering all of you,” ey said in video made just before the deadly rampage. “You will finally see that I am, in truth, the superior one – the true alpha male.” This isn’t an isolated incident but a consistent and logical outcome of a culture that fixates on social status and glorifies violence. It’s enough to make Cathy Brennan’s focus on male violence seem wise. Rodger was influenced by and part of the Men’s Rights movement.
Cops Here Bombs There May 20, 2014Posted by Summerspeaker in Anarchism, Anti-imperialism, Decolonization.
Tags: Albuquerque, cops, modernity, police
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The struggle against government violence continues to rage in Albuquerque and across the world. Remember this when spinning progress narratives. Are things really getting better? For whom? Modern civilization rests atop a mountain of historical and continuing horrors.