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On Assessing Progress June 1, 2015

Posted by Summerspeaker in Epistemology, Primitivism, Transhumanism.
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Reluctance or refusal to rank different times, places, and experiences in no way goes against or implies at rejection of rationality, empiricism, or science. To the contrary, it’s commonly a rational move informed by an understanding of the power of knowledge production and the danger of spurious claims. It’s entirely legitimate to admit ignorance and to question the desire for assessment. Why assert progress? What does this assertion do? Whom does it serve?

While certain types of progress are almost undeniable empirically – the overall worldwide increase in life expectancy at birth over the last couple centuries comes immediately to mind – any attempt a grand evaluation runs into a whole host of problems. As the word itself suggests, evaluation is a matter of values. The lack of data compounds this arbitrariness. How do you figure out, for example, what medieval English laborers thought of their lives? The documentary record is spotty at best and tends to get worse the farther back you go. Both studies and my personal experience suggest that happiness is a tricky thing. One theory is that it’s significantly genetic or otherwise set early on. Wherever you go, there you are. While I might think myself privileged over the medieval serf with laptop and internet connection, it’s not certain that I’m enjoying life more.

I still find Philippe Verdoux’s sweeping analysis of the historical record compelling. However, regardless of whether there’s progress in the human condition since prehistory or medieval times or 1965, we can and should do so much better than all that’s come before.

 

Context: This post comes as immediate to a Facebook argument with William Gillis but relates to key themes in futurism and transhumanism.

Happy May Day Everybody! May 1, 2015

Posted by Summerspeaker in Anarchism.
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It was a low-key celebration here in Albuquerque. Much love to the folks struggling in the streets of Baltimore.

I hope to get back to blogging more frequently soon. I’ve been thinking lots about anarchism and transhumanism. Stay tuned!

Happy Presidents Day February 16, 2015

Posted by Summerspeaker in Anarchism, Anti-imperialism, Decolonization.
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leon_czolgosz_assassin

“The Case for Anarchist Transhumanism?” on Transpolitica February 1, 2015

Posted by Summerspeaker in Anarchism, Transhumanism.
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I just participated in this video conference hosted by David Wood. You can view it here and here.

State of the Union January 21, 2015

Posted by Summerspeaker in Anarchism, Queer politics.
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obamahyp

Rest in Power, Leelah January 10, 2015

Posted by Summerspeaker in Queer politics.
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Leelah-Alcorn-2

I just got back from a Leelah Alcorn vigil. A Catholic priest there said surprisingly appropriate and supportive things. In theory I suspect we’d all be better off with Abrahamic religion, but since such religions existence and have profound meaning, I’m all for wielding them for social justice and revolution.

Zoltan-vs.-Zerzan Shows What’s Wrong with Transhumanism November 27, 2014

Posted by Summerspeaker in Anarchism, Primitivism, Technology, The Singularity, Transhumanism.
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Aspiring transhumanist politician Zoltan Istvan recently debated John Zerzan at Standford. Istvan concluded with the following:

Transhumanists want to survive and thrive. We want to conquer nature. For a lot of humans that want to become more than they are–being an astronaut, being a scientist, being an explorer…conquering disease, conquering death, conquering the things that plague humanity–these are some of the coolest, most beautiful, most meaningful experiences that humans have ever had.

While I of course share some of this sentiment, the language of conquest and exploration stands out as especially chilling given that the debate took place a couple weeks before the official celebration of U.S. settler colonialism. Zerzan’s biting criticisms of industrial civilization – such as “You have to basically enslave millions of people to have your toys” – go answered in the excerpts of the debate Istvan chose to share.

Also consider Istvan’s description of the debate:

Additionally, the footage misses the most exciting parts of the event, such as loud anti-civilization hecklers or the anarchist-dominated 140-person audience. The vibe in the auditorium was quite tense, and some transhumanists were worried about safety issues because no university security was present. In the very back stood people who some suggested were black bloc participants: individuals who dress in black, wear face-concealing masks and gear, and cause civil unrest. Many of them came to meet John Zerzan, who is well known as a past confidant of the Unabomber and has also had associations with many anarchist-type groups.

This transhumanist desire for university security speaks volumes.

Drone Ethics October 2, 2014

Posted by Summerspeaker in Anarchism, Anti-imperialism, Technology.
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DronesEthics

Why hardly a convincing technical assessment, this image makes a solid political point. And I remain hopeful for rebellions at every level.

My University Celebrates Colonialism September 30, 2014

Posted by Summerspeaker in Anti-imperialism, Decolonization, Transhumanism.
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Courtesy of Nick Estes:

UNM Seal

The University of New Mexico – where I study – isn’t just a colonial institution, it’s blatantly and unapologetically so. The official seal celebrates two iconic Indian killers: the Anglo frontiersman and Spanish conquistador.

See the seal without Nick’s caption here. It’s the “most formal symbol of the University” and “is reserved for use on documents or forms of the highest official rank from the University President, the University Secretary, and the University Board of Regents such as diplomas, certificates, certain invitations, legal documents, and other printed materials.” Furthermore, according UNM policy, the “seal may never be distorted.”

This is what living inside a settler-colonial society looks like. Everything that comes out of the United States – specifically the technoscience we transhumanist so adore – relies on stolen land and the structural genocide of Native peoples. Colonialism isn’t incidental or unrelated to the transhumanist project, but foundational to it. Transhumanism needs to work toward decolonization to have any hope of being a positive force in the world.

Once More against Pinker: Science and Colonialism August 29, 2014

Posted 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.

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