You really don’t know the future, Dale August 24, 2011Posted by Summerspeaker in Anarchism, Queer politics, Technology, Transhumanism.
For amusement and show the pernicious elements of eir thought, I’m going to engage with Dale Carrico’s response to my recent defense of the revolutionary spirit embodied within transhumanist position against aging. I can’t respond on eir blog because Dale has vowed to delete further comment of mine, so I’ll do so here.
The fundamental point I wish to make is that none of us knows the future and that we should take this proposition seriously. Think about it for a moment. We hardly know the present or the past, but the future remains an enigma even within the grounding assumptions of the empirical and materialist worldview. Any claims of certainty about where we’re headed merit extreme skepticism, whether they come from Ray Kurzweil or Derrick Jensen. As I’ve argued previously, Singularitarianism and primitivism commit the same error by asserting people have to suffer because of what the future holds.
The same applies to conservative predictions that insist on the immutability of the existing status quo. These too often get accepted as the default and thus exempted from criticism. I obviously consider Dale’s exaltation of degeneration and death as in this category. Ey provides no evidence for eir dismissal of the prospect of indefinite lifespans beyond the historical hundred-percent mortality rate. It has never been done, therefore it will never be done. Like visions of transformation or cataclysm, this argument that present condition will continue on forever deserves heavy criticism.
The political implications of enshrining the status quo particularly interest me. Dale writes that I “have confused an essentially aesthetic attitude with a political one,” but to the contrary ey remains willfully ignorant of how eir crusade against transhumanism resonates with the long-established counterrevolutionary tradition of crushing dreams.
Denying the possibility of radical change and limiting future possibilities to the bleakness of the present are the classic tactics of bosses and patriarchs. As Shulamith Firestone writes, revolutionaries inevitability encounter the following response: “‘That? Why you can’t change that! You must be out of your mind!'” Family and educational authorities beat radicalism out of us at early age through the mockery of the desire to remake the world and the invocation to be realistic.
Stop dreaming, you goddamn kids. You’ll work and you’ll suffer just like I did. There’s no way out.
Liberals adopt the same condescending parental position in relation to anarchists. They appeal to the established structures of privilege and authority to stifle the revolutionary spirit. Trying for beneficial transform gets coded as juvenile, silly, irresponsible, and implicitly queer. Play it straight and work with what life has given you instead of that nosense in your head. As in John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, we’re forced to give up the quest for freedom and settle for the little that the existing system can offer us.
Like Dale, the bosses want dreams strictly confined to the impotent aesthetic ghetto. Firestone explores this in the distinction ey sees between the masculine scientific mode and feminine aesthetic mode. The former acts in the material world but without moral considerations while the later passively looks to the ideal. In this fashion we have scientists blithely inventing weapons of mass destruction and artists who remain adamantly apolitical. Firestone argues for the necessity of synthesizing the two modes so that we construct the ideal here on this planet. That’s the essence of the revolutionary spirit. We’re not willing to wait for heaven or find our liberation only in fantasy. We demand it yesterday if not sooner.
Dale uses the tired patriarchal narrative discussed above in an attempt to discredit me:
What other expressions of human finitude does baby want to deny before it’s time for his bottle?
Rebel Rebel, your pose is a joke,
Rebel Rebel, you’re stuck in a cult,
Rebel Rebel, how come you don’t know?
Hot mess, take your tired ass home.
I’m not sure what’s going on with the masculine pronoun up there, though I can make a few guesses. Note the invocation of the infant as a symbol of derision. Almost like a father and with an implied head pat, Dale suggests I straighten up and “come round to a more congenially radical-left outlook.” By this ey means abandon transformation, assimilate toward respectability, and adopt eir liberal-reformist politics centered on the electoral system. (I can grant that Dale occupies that radical end of the liberal spectrum.) It’s a well-worn dynamic.
Dale combines the paternalism and counterrevolutionary ridicule of dreams with a stock rant against the transhumanist movement as a military-corporate scam. Eir political criticism here largely mirrors my own, but ey needlessly conflates supporting rejuvenation therapy as a long-term goal with buying ineffective anti-aging creams and the like. On the technical level, we disagree about the plausibility of achieving indefinite lifespans.
Yes, you would indeed have to set those pesky details aside, wouldn’t you? Especially, given your description of this Robot Cult techno-immortalist project as “cultural…” with my emphasis on the cult. (By the way, I wouldn’t tell too many of your Robot Cult friends that you think they are artistes and not hard-core scientists, they might not take too kindly to the implications.)
In fact, discussion of the technical details intrigues me. At base level, I see no reason why human bodies couldn’t remain healthy indefinitely with sufficient maintenance. Aubrey de Grey makes a compelling case for the value of anti-aging research. If the project fails for this century, as it well may, I imagine we’ll still have learned a great deal from the experience. Extending the benefits of decent nutrition, sanitation, and so on to everyone takes priority, but investigating rejuvenation therapy strikes me as a damn sight better than a lot of current scientific projects.
As I mention earlier, however, the political and philosophical advantages of the anti-aging position interest me as much as the hypothetical technology. Denying the inevitability of death directly connects to the rejection of other supposed givens like the gender distinction and capitalism. The revolutionary project cannot succeed without ambitious and iconoclastic dreams of freedom.
Dale’s paternalistic dismissal of me neatly illustrates a common dynamic within the left between liberals and radicals, particularly in the context of power differentials. Dale cultivates an academic machismo that signals eir privileged status as a respectable and mature political thinker by denigrating opponents as juvenile and delusional. PZ Myers would be another example of this. Both cling possessively to their educated dudely authority. Dale, I encourage you to critically examine how your debating style and self-positioning reinforce systems of oppression. Finally, as scary as it can be, remember that you don’t know the future.