Update July 26, 2015Posted by Summerspeaker in Despair, Epistemology, Transhumanism.
Tags: epistemology, rationality, relativism, science, skepticism, transhumanism, William Gillis
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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, 2015Posted 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.
“The Case for Anarchist Transhumanism?” on Transpolitica February 1, 2015Posted by Summerspeaker in Anarchism, Transhumanism.
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Zoltan-vs.-Zerzan Shows What’s Wrong with Transhumanism November 27, 2014Posted by Summerspeaker in Anarchism, Primitivism, Technology, The Singularity, Transhumanism.
Tags: John Zerzan, Zoltan Istvan
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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.
My University Celebrates Colonialism September 30, 2014Posted by Summerspeaker in Anti-imperialism, Decolonization, Transhumanism.
Tags: academia, settler colonialism, University of New Mexico, UNM
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Courtesy of Nick Estes:
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.
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.
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?
Marina Strinkovsky on Shulamith Firestone May 13, 2014Posted by Summerspeaker in Environmental justice, Feminism, Technology, Transhumanism.
Tags: feminism, Shulamith Firestone
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I think we can, and must, learn from our radical predecessor the lessons of passion and vision without falling into the (sometimes real, often imagined) mistakes of modernist thinkers who were not embarrassed to commit to an absolute notion of a better world, and not ashamed to apply its optimism to the entire human race. Not just our flourishing and wellbeing, but our survival might depend on it.
Read it here.
Transhumanism and Anarchism Incompatible? May 4, 2014Posted by Summerspeaker in Anarchism, Transhumanism.
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IEET just published a piece by John Danaher that assesses Elizabeth Kolovou and Stavros Karageorgakis’s anarchist argument against transhumanism. Sadly I’ve not by for anything more than passing remarks. Kolovou and Karageorgakis’s paper gets off to a inauspicious start by writing that “[t]ranshumanism does not express the visions of some insane techno freaks influenced by science fiction, but ideas of well acknowledges philosophers and scientists of the West.” I’d say the movement contains both, and I’m more encouraged by the former than the latter. (There is of course some overlap.) The two authors provide a solid critique of transhumanism – in particular I echo their opinion of Nick Bostrom’s singleton – but I ultimately agree with Danaher conclusion if not necessarily with the logic that ey uses to reach it.
I think it’s more useful to identify various strands of anarchism as incompatible. As most folks in the anarchist scene know all too well, anarchists differ dramatically. So yeah, anarcho-primitivism and anarcho-transhumanism clash fundamentally at the theoretical level. Some anarchists promote nanotechnology, others send bombs to nanotechnology researchers. So it goes.