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Regulation, Progress, Austerity June 18, 2012

Posted by Summerspeaker in Anarchism, Primitivism, Science Fiction, Technology, The Singularity, Transhumanism.
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IEET’s latest offerings highlight the politically pernicious elements of transhumanism and Singularity movement. P. Tittle promotes licensing for parents as a logical expansion of the state’s prerogative to control everything, Giulio Prisco contemplates Terran aggression against Cosmists, and piero scaruffi chides the Greeks for their “lavish lifestyle” and lack of nuclear power. While I focus on Prisco’s piece here for criticism, that’s not because I find it the most problematic; to the contrary, Prisco’s grand dreams inspire fascination as well as terror.

Ey begins with the prospect of what Hugo de Garis calls the “gigadath,” the mass slaughter in the anticipated war over building vastly superhuman artificial intelligences. Channeling the narrative of progress, Prisco feels confident that Cosmists – those who want to create AI gods – won’t initiate hostilities:

I think we can safely say that, despite some very sad episodes, the human race is gradually becoming gentler and more compassionate as a result of education and civilization. Our ancestors used to treat animals cruelly, but today we are beginning to be kind and benevolent toward most animals, and we love our pets. I expect that the next generations will extend love and compassion to all the animals that share our planet.

It’s ironically appropriate that an inhabitant of era of the largest meat industry the Earth has ever seen would displace cruelty back in time to unspecified ancestors. As with violence between humans, any diminution amongst the general population has gone hand in hand with intensification at designated sites. Your average citizens of a so-called developed country might not butcher pigs and chickens today, but that’s just because somebody else – customarily in abyssal working conditions at a slaughterhouse – does it for them. At best we can describe this as a dubious advance in gentleness. While prehistoric hunter-gatherers may have eaten more meat per capita, the game they subsisted off of lived free rather than in factory-cages. So much transhumanist/Singularitarian thought rests on invocations of progress that become uncertain if not utterly untenable upon reflection.

Next Prisco sketches the cheerful image of accommodation between Terrans and Cosmists. The former migrate to the stars while leaving an embassy to assist Terrans who wish transition. I’ve considered the same arrangement myself as a means of coexistence between revolutionary factions and basis for a science fiction tale or two.  After this comes even wilder speculation about “Future Gods,” spacetime manipulation, and resurrecting the dead. With folks like Prisco who explicitly embrace Cosmism as a religion – and this includes more IEET notables than I’d realized – Dale’s term “Robot Cultist” starts to approach the mark though it remains perhaps unduly insulting. In contrast with Dale, I find these transhumanist spiritualities intriguing rather than devoid of aesthetic or intellectual merit. But I sure as hell ain’t a believer. The idea of a bunch of rich people so invested in the progress myth that they literally worship it invites concern.

Prisco concludes by mentioning violence against scientists as the first shots of a Terran resistance ey hopes will wilt in the bud. A linked article has the provocative title “Anarchists attack science” that resonates with traditional media portrayals of anarchism as a savage threat to civilization. Combined with Prisco’s rhetoric about Cosmists as inevitably nice and omission of the horrors of technological modernity, I discern the possibility that Cosmism will bolster the resurgent anti-anarchist crusade. Without acknowledgement of how state and corporate technoscience harms people daily, the extremists who target scientists and technicians with violence appear simply as irrational reactionaries. Although I share Prisco’s pluralistic ideal, unfortunately the last few centuries suggest that we’ve got plenty to fear from proponents of progress.

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Comments»

1. Stefan Pernar - June 18, 2012

I have not had the chance yet to read a bit more of your posts but I am assuming that what you are criticizing in Giulio’s post is a Hegelian assumption of inevitable progress as a force of history. Without speaking for him, I do not think that Giulio adopts such a naive perspective and is well aware that progress is contingent but possible. The inventor of the ‘singularity’ term himself gave a talk a while back now at the Long Now foundation titled ‘What if the Singualrity does not happen?‘. So there would be an example of contingent progress among Singulariatarians which I very much subscribe to myself add to this the whole existential risk discussion and we end up with a much more balanced perspective.

Not sure if you had a chance to study Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of our Nature yet. He is making a very good case there for a notion of progress not too dissimilar from Wright’s non-zerosumness of ‘ethical’ behavior. Well worth your time I’d recon.

Summerspeaker - June 19, 2012

I find Pinker’s new book unconvincing and dangerous. See here for a few strong refutations of The Better Angels of Our Nature. It’s an example progress triumphalism that obscures the daily horrors of modern society. Also see my earlier critique of Pinker. I imagine I’ll post more about this in the future because I consider the subject so important. The more folks who trumpet progress, the more likely I am to die in a hellish prison (hat tip to William Gillis for the phrase).

2. Giulio Prisco - June 18, 2012

Re “I discern the possibility that Cosmism will bolster the resurgent anti-anarchist crusade.”

I am an anarchist at heart myself. Note that I changed the title of the Nature article from “anarchists” to “luddites” in the text.

Re “It’s ironically appropriate that an inhabitant of era of the largest meat industry the Earth has ever seen would displace cruelty back in time to unspecified ancestors. As with violence between humans, any diminution amongst the general population has gone hand in hand with intensification at designated sites.”

This is a good point. I am referring to the general population: today, many people would never kill a rabbit, but our ancestors did so without thinking twice, to eat it or even just for fun. The intensification of cruelty and violence at designated sites is certainly a problem in need of a solution, but I don’t think it is strongly related to this discussion.

Re “Dale’s term “Robot Cultist” starts to approach the mark”

Dale is, and has always been, right in considering transhumanism as religious aesthetics. Transhumanism is a strong emotional impulse to transcend, inspired by but not derived from modern science and technology. I saw this immediately when I started reading the Extropy list in the 90s. The difference, of course, is that I find transhumanist aesthetics beautiful and Dale finds it ugly.

Dale Carrico - June 22, 2012

Dale is, and has always been, right in considering transhumanism as religious aesthetics. Transhumanism is a strong emotional impulse to transcend, inspired by but not derived from modern science and technology. I saw this immediately when I started reading the Extropy list in the 90s. The difference, of course, is that I find transhumanist aesthetics beautiful and Dale finds it ugly.

Few of your fellow-transhumanists agree with your admission of this (as you well know), fewer still with consistency (I am not sure you are exactly always consistent yourself when it comes to your published beliefs about what “will” happen and what technoscientific priorities “should be” for technoscientifically literate and technodevelopmentally concerned citizens), and until they do I will continue to tell the truth that the enthusiasms of what amounts to a science-fiction, pop-tech, and marginal/ pseudo-science fandom aren’t doing consensus science or substantial science policy when they give in to these wish-fulfillment fantasies of theirs.

It upsets Summer when I say this sort of thing, but I do think it is important to try to understand differences that make a difference between our modes of reasonable belief (instrumental, moral, ethical, legal, aesthetic, political, and so on) and insist on their recognition where they do, even if we can all agree that decisions about such differences can be fraught with ambiguities and all of us must be open to rethinking them because all of us are error-prone and parochial (by the way, the very things that make these assignments difficult and open-ended are the things that make making the assignments necessary in the interest of taking responsibility for the lines we draw and being as clear as we can in deliberating about them).

Also, all this is quite apart from my disapproval of the apologiae for eugenics, consumerism, corporatism, and neoliberal developmentalism to which so much futurological discourse is devoted, sometimes even on the lips of folks who think themselves opposed to such outcomes even as they contribute to them.

Now, I am a life-long geek and a science fiction fan myself, and I don’t find anything ugly in peoples’ enjoyment of what ever literary enthusiasms or consensual lifeways or creative expressivities that move them. I’ve said this and acted on this in every area of my life — on my blog, in my feminist, queer, multicultural political activism, and in my teaching practice among Berkeley undergraduates interested in theory and activism and among the artists in the San Francisco Art Institute for years and years and years now. When it comes to flying their freak flag as freaks, I am more than freak enough myself to say, to them and to you and to myself, as I always have done, let a bazillions flowers bloom.

It’s true that transhumanoids say a lot I find rather facile and incoherent and regressive and delusive and silly in my view. My saying so is part of the free expression you presumably champion. My saying so about things you actually publish and so offer up to public scrutiny is something you should expect as a matter of course.

I think scientism is wrong, I think reductionism is wrong, I think technological determinism is wrong, I think the ideology of natural progress is wrong, I think the idea of technical without social progress is wrong, I think the idea of technocracy is wrong, I think the idea of eugenicism is wrong, I think the ideas of neoliberalism is wrong, and I believe that many, even most, transhumanists advocate some or all of these ideas as indispensable dimensions of their transhumanism (and others who might disapprove of these ideas but fail to grasped their role within transhumanism are also supporting inadvertently in ignorance or error).


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