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Facts Don’t Care about Your Feelings! December 10, 2018

Posted by Summerspeaker in Anarchism, Epistemology, Transhumanism.
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Success in current society comes from DNA, structural advantage, & sheer chance. The same for failure by dominant norms.

Fascists, open eugenicists, many centrists, many liberals, etc. embrace this because they support the existing cistem of genetic sorting (even if some want to tweak it to be even more nightmarish).

Other centrists & liberals as well as most radicals prefer to mystify this reality, whether because they’re part of the genetic elite & defending their position or because they wish the world operated differently.

I recommend accepting the truth & striving to maximize freedom & pleasure as well as to minimize suffering for all sentient beings. We can create ever more accessible & enabling physical & social environments.

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On Decolonizing the March for Science April 22, 2017

Posted by Summerspeaker in Anarchism, Anti-imperialism, Decolonization, Epistemology, Technology, Transhumanism.
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Today’s March for Science unsurprisingly prompted critiques of science from an antiracist and decolonial perspective. This one, from the Seattle group Women of Color Speak out, came across my social media. The post describes unsuccessful attempts to reach out to the local March for Science and make the event less “less racist/elitist/colonialist/sexist.”  Women of Color Speak Out’s first three points to the “Western White Cis Male Scientific Community” come much recommended:

1. We need a great deal of healing before the scientific community can be credible to the general public in terms of equity and “inclusivity” (inclusivity is a white supremacist term, implies that they are doing minorities a favor instead of simply doing the right thing).

2. In order for the scientific community to begin regaining trust of POC and marginalized people, they need to openly acknowledge how they have failed us for decades with their inaction on climate change. They must openly acknowledge that they have failed the Global South, POC, poor people, Indigenous peoples, and Womxn.

3. The scientific community must acknowledge that by staying silent for decades they have served the White Colonial Empire before the needs of humanity and nature.

Overall, the scientific establishment indeed served, and often continues to serve, colonialism, imperialism, capitalism, ableism, heteropatriarchy, and other forms of oppression. Disentangling science a method, as a principle, from these pernicious systems of thought and action will take some doing. Women of Color Speak Out’s first points trace part of this long-term process.

Point four, by contrast, strikes me as misguided:

4. In their values they say ‘Science is the BEST method for understanding the world’. This will greatly offend Indigenous communities, POC, and faith communities. This divisive messaging should be muted to ‘Science is an EXCELLENT method to understand the world’.

While I can see the logic behind lumping Indigenous communities with faith communities here, the addition of POC as well make it curiouser and curiouser. Though not necessarily always accurate or helpful, the narrative of indigeneity as entailing a worldview or worldviews distinct from and presumably at odds with the “Western” scientific one stands firmly established. But why exactly are people of color as a whole prone to taking offense to privileging scientific epistemology? Unlike Indigenous communities and faith communities, there’s nothing definitional to the category “people of color” that implies some epistemology or epistemologies in tension with science.

The fact that science offends faith communities (and other communities) strikes me as one of its beneficial social effects rather than something to avoid or minimize. As argued by Meera Nanda and William Gillis, anything-goes epistemological pluralism and situated knowledges rarely lead toward freedom.

Nanda’s argument from “The Epistemic Charity of the Social Constructivist Critics of Science and Why the Third World Should Refuse the Offer” merits quoting at length:

It is my contention that the epistemic charity of the postmodern and the postcolonial science critics lies in the constitutive role they assign to social relations and cultural narratives in providing the norms of truth. Because they see nothing—not truth, not beauty, not goodness—that is not fully social, they see the free play and autonomy of local webs of meanings as the supreme priority, not to be constrained by any ‘transcendent’ goal. But such a view of knowledge is problematic on at least three counts: (1) It allows social relations and cultural meanings, as they exist today with all their inequities and oppressions, to set limits on what we can know about the world. (2) Simultaneously, it disables any critique of the existing relations and meanings based on knowledge not derived from these same social relations. (3) Last but not the least, it delegitimizes and denigrates intellectuals and movements that bring modern science and scientific temper to bear on local knowledges. As we see in the following scenarios, under the prevailing contexts in most of the Third World, such a logic ends up strengthening those upholding the status quo, be they traditional cultural elites or the modern state. The losers in all these cases are the internal critics—people’s science movements, human rights, and democracy movements—that attempt to challenge the existing cultural mores by using the ‘alien’ worldview of science.

Now, Nanda’s generalization of the Third World (with the valuable qualifier “most of”) obscures important complexities and may not apply to Indigenous peoples in North America and elsewhere. The core logic remains sound nonetheless. Knowledge about our shared material and social world matters. Insulating situated local knowledges from outside engagement, including challenges, facilities abuse.

I hope the growing movement to decolonize science can avoid falling into this trap. I hope transhumanists, especially without a background in antiracism and similar, take seriously critiques of science from Women of Color Speak Out and others.

On the Utility of Shooting Informants (Rogue One Spoilers) January 22, 2017

Posted by Summerspeaker in Anarchism, Epistemology, Science Fiction, Technology, Transhumanism.
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Che was a devout Marxist-Leninist who believed that capitalism was doomed and that inevitably socialism, then communism, would take its place. He also possessed an unshakable faith that the entire process could be hurried along at the point of a gun. According to Alberto Granado, who as a young medical student had accompanied Che on his motorcycle journey through South America, when Che looked through a sniper scope at a soldier and pulled the trigger, he fully believed that he was helping reduce repression by ‘saving 30,000 future children from lives of hunger.’ When Granado looked through a sniper scope, by contrast, he saw only a man with a wife and children. The difference between them, Granado said, was that Che felt certain he was ushering in a new world order.

In Rogue One, rebel stalwart Cassian shoots a disabled informant in eir first appearance on screen. Cassian does this presumably to facilitate eir own escape and to prevent the informant from talking under interrogation. The film presents this action as unpleasant but morally justified as long as the fight against the Empire succeeds. A prominent anarchist has present Cassian’s act as obviously correct because utilitarianism.

I’m skeptical.

Guerrilla warfare historically involves lots of shooting and/or torturing a variety of types of informants. Guevara, for example, shot supposed enemy informants, most or all of whom were in the class position Guevara nominally fought for. While Cassian shot a friendly informant, the logic of elimination to deny the enemy information is similar. This sordid record ain’t anything to celebrate.

While there may conceivably be situations in which murder to control knowledge flows constitutes the optimal option, I doubt this happens often in our world. (It may not happen at all.) I suspect the trope/model of inflicting physical damage to feeling beings for the greater good causes more harm than it prevents.

Based on my experience and understanding of the world, humans don’t need any prodding from utilitarians to commit horrors in the name of God/nation/liberation/revolution/etc. I want to challenge this pattern of thought, not encourage it.

Sure, social regeneration though violence makes sense within its own terms. If defeating the allegedly evil enemy via pain and terror is the sole path to freedom and prosperity, it’s hard to argue against the approach. The trick is predicting the effect of hurting people with any confidence and of ruling out alternative options.

Humans in the cultures I’m familiar with default to violence as means for making the world a better place. We’re programmed by World War II, the atomic bombings of Japan, popular media, the police, the military, and so on to accept that narrative. Anarchist utilitarians who feed this discourse cheerlead for the status quo.

When you contemplate the revolutionary utility of murdering folks, I recommend reviewing the messy real-world history of insurgency rather than simplified fictional stories. Perhaps this will be your best option at some point in the coming years or decades. If so, weigh the odds and uncertainties carefully beforehand. Afterward, file a mental note to improve yourself and the resistance as a whole so you can do better in the future.

As transhumanists, we have to hold fast to the goal of engineering our way out of these ethical dilemmas. There’s always or almost always a superior course of action. What we can imagine, we’ll make. As Salvor Hardin said, “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.”

On Human Nature September 19, 2015

Posted by Summerspeaker in Epistemology, Evo psych.
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Humans are biologically hardwired to breathe, drink, eat, piss, and shit. With absolutely no exception as far as I know, members of the species Homo sapiens have to take in nutrients and excrete waste. Beyond those universals human nature gets tricky. Surely human nature exists to some extent or another – humans have profound and fundamental differences from cats, etc. – but its contours and limits remain unclear. I’m always wary when I encounter anybody who invokes human nature, especially without citing unambiguous studies. Assuming exponentially increasing intelligence and all that, I imagine beings of some sort will eventually solve the question of human nature and really know what it means.

Until then, I advise caution.

William Gillis Finally Finished “Science as Radicalism” August 19, 2015

Posted by Summerspeaker in Anarchism, Epistemology, Technology, Transhumanism.
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Science graphic.

You can read it here. The piece provides a useful intervention. I’ll provide further commentary when I get the chance. Check out the anarchistnews.org version if you’re brave.

Update July 26, 2015

Posted by Summerspeaker in Despair, Epistemology, Transhumanism.
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I’ve been reclusive lately, focused on academics, an interpersonal relationship or two, and distracting myself. My career in the Imperial Academy goes well enough, I guess, while the human connections have been a disaster. I’ve enjoyed drowning my sorrows in cardstock (MTG, specifically EDH) and will continue to do so, but over the last couple weeks my health has taken a downturn that makes indulging in distraction more difficult. At the moment I can hardly breath because of allergies, so I’m not good for much – even when taking the allergy meds they use to cook meth.

My main engagement with transhumanism this year has been via William Gillis’s thought. Between Gillis and Meera Nanda, I’m reassessing the value of criticizing versus supporting science and rationality. I plan to continue doing both, of course, and in many cases criticizing examples of actually existing science as a social practice supports science as a set of principles and methods. With that said, in retrospect I feel I’ve at times given excessive weight to critiques of science and rationality coming from humanities scholarship, both because I found them more convincing than I should have and because I considered these critiques important for an audience I assumed had an unshakably positive view of science. I still regard critiques of science useful, but Gillis and Nanda make a powerful case for the dangers of any move away from science and rationality.

At base I remain fond of old-school skepticism and of relativism; the former amounts to an intellectual game while the later has more meaningful implications. Regarding skepticism, I see no absolutely stable grounds for knowledge, as our senses could be deceiving us and/or our reasoning may be misguided. The edifice of science rests on foundations that haven’t been and probably can’t be definitely proven. However, these foundations are overwhelmingly plausible. The scientific worldview based on empirical evidence, logic, and modeling strikes me as far more likely and practical than any alternative. Regarding relativism, we have zero evidence by the scientific worldview that the universe gives a shit about anything. Values comes from humans and other sentient beings. As such, no universal guide for what should be exists. Our senses and reasoning presumably give us access, albeit mediated access, to objective reality. but what we make of this access only matters to the minds involved. Apart from us, nobody cares. The scientific worldview by all indications provides a closer model of objective reality and this becomes valuable insofar as sentient beings decide it is. I consider this exceedingly valuable as do many other people, but I shouldn’t beguile myself into believing there’s some higher purpose beyond my interests and those of other humans. By universe’s lights, a mind wrapped up in its own subjective reality is every bit as good as one striving toward objective reality: both simply are.

As such, I support science and rationality because I believe they align with my interests and, at least in the long term, with the interests of the vast majority of other currently existing minds (especially human minds). Objective material reality has quite a hold on most of us. Humans tend to suffer when we can’t manage basics like food, water, shelter, and healthcare. Improving the quantity and quality of these basics benefits lots of folks regardless of their position on science and rationality, regardless of whatever subjective realities they’re pursuing. Excessive criticism of science can prove dangerous if it obscures the profound importance of improving shared material conditions and/or if it presents alternatives to science as credible. Playing with subjective realities comes much recommended, but objective material reality stands out as the primary basis for political struggle.

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.

Where Have All the Pyrrhos Gone? March 25, 2014

Posted by Summerspeaker in Epistemology.
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I’d like to see skepticism move back toward its I-don’t-know-if-it’s-better-to-help-you-out-of-a-ditch-or-not origins. The contemporary mainstream-science-is-awesome! version is getting tedious. I recognize and respect the benefits of crusading against woo and lauding peer review, but it strikes me as a thoroughly partisan form of skepticism. As James Hughes writes about reason and rationality, acknowledging the uncertainty and shaky foundations of knowledge is “damned scary” but required for intellectual honesty.

“The Specter of Eugenics” Up at IEET June 5, 2013

Posted by Summerspeaker in Anarchism, Anti-imperialism, Decolonization, Epistemology, Evo psych, Transhumanism.
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The recent controversy surrounding Jason Richwine’s Havard dissertation “IQ and Immigration Policy” serves as an opportune point of departure for reflecting on biological determinism in transhumanist thought. Are transhumanists, as Michael Anissimov says, eugenicists without the coercion? What does channeling eugenics in a white-supremacist society mean and do? Why the obsession with IQ among various transhumanists, particularly AI enthusiasts? I argue that the scientific racism of Richwine and company, with all its elaborate statistical wizardry, functions first and foremost as rationalization of inequality and privilege. I call on transhumanists to reject to biological determinism and struggle for social justice in social terms.

Read it here.

Scholars Counter Anti-Hispanic Scientific Racism May 17, 2013

Posted by Summerspeaker in Anarchism, Anti-imperialism, Decolonization, Epistemology, Evo psych.
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This is a hard one for me. Invoking academic authority against racism seems convenient but dangerous. I’m more interested in opposing white supremacy on political than epistemological grounds, though I grant both hold merit. The final paragraph strikes me as particularly glaring, especially that assertion that academic debates are “based on valid constructs and scientific evidence.” This attempted purification of the Imperial Academy reinforces its privilege and prestige. Within a materialist-empiricist epistemological framework, I absolutely agree with the statement’s argument against scientific racism. That’s the framework I operate under most of the time and the one I find most useful, but I’m too much of a skeptic to consider it incontestable truth. The whole idea of scientific or academic authority enables appeals like Jason Richwine’s. I’d prefer to undermine the entire edifice than to expel the bad apples and fortify the gates. But I did reluctantly sign on.