Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Unbearable Stasis of "Accelerating Change"

Also posted at the World Future Society.

Eric and I got haircuts yesterday afternoon, and while I was waiting I flipped through magazines. Peter Diamandis (who is clearly shaping up as this decade's go-to Kurzweil) had an article in Popular Science about garage inventors "going viral." It seemed to me pretty indistinguishable from stuff Cory Doctorow and Alex Steffen were writing a decade ago -- remember the "Tech Bloom"?

This is something that has struck me time and time again: The transhumanoids and singularitarians and online futurists love to congratulate themselves over their unflappability at the prospects of shatteringly onrushing changed futures. They literally have a whole "shock level" calculator, which is kinda sorta like a Cosmo sex quiz for pasty futurological males who think diddling themselves over cartoons of space elevators or descriptions of traversable wormholes demonstrates the awesomeness of their humanity-plus brains as compared to mehum (mere human) sheeple types.

But what always strikes me most forcefully about these ecstatic pronouncements is their abject staleness. There is simply not much to distinguish Ed Regis' depiction of the superlative futurologists in Great Mambo Chicken from Brian Alexander's in Rapture from breathless blog profiles of today, decade after decade after decade. Stiegler's "Gentle Seduction" from the 1980s is precisely standard transhumanoid boilerplate, techno-transcendence via shopping, loose-talking SENS-style longevity meds and "enhancement" pills and prostheses, Drexlerian nano-cornucopias, singularity (the literal term, already attributed to Vinge, not just the notion), Moravecian uploading, hive mind, market fundamentalism -- every single detail is already there.

Frankly, many of the ideas are already there decades earlier, in Turing, Shannon, Weiner, Bush. Heck, Anne Lindbergh was already surfing the "Wave of the Future" (and it was already fascist) even before a victorious post-war America managed through the inflation of the petrochemical bubble and the imposition of the mass-mediated Culture Industry to "invent" The Future Gernsback and Madison Avenue and all our Presidents would peddle the planet long before Toffler and company would stumble on the obvious and re-invent the wheel as a profitable pseudo-discipline for the seventies, then Brand and company would do it again for the eighties, then WIRED and company would do it again for the nineties, then the various p2p and Web 2.0 enthusiasts would do it again for the lost Bush decade, over and over and over again, the same hopes, the same tropes, the same dopes on and on and on from WW2 to Star Wars to whatever (probably bombed out cities or a pointless polluted moonscape).

I have proposed that the "accelerating change" crowed about for the last two decades by futurologists in pop religious cadences and by more mainstream and academic New Media commentators in pop psychology and pop sociology cadences has never had any substantial reference apart from the increasing precarity produced by neoliberal looting and destabilization of domestic welfare and global economies -- often facilitated, it is true, by the exploitation of digital trading, marketing, and surveillance networks -- a precarity usually seen and experienced from the vantage of privileged people who either benefit from neoliberal destabilization or who (rightly or wrongly) identify with the beneficiaries of that destabilization.

The pseudo-transcendentalizing narratives futurologists attach to this sleight of hand, this heartbreak and anxiety transubstantiated into a rocketship to omniscience and omnipotence, whether proposed in the familiar and profitable imperial triumphalist way (like the Long Boom nonsense and libertopian digirati handwaving and various tech bubbles every few years or so, digital, biological, faux-green, often ultimately military, like greenwashing "geo-engineering" schemes) or in the more enjoyably bonkers quasi-religious way (involving plastic or nuclear or nano magic superabundance fantasies or virtual heavens with virtual sex fantasies or various loosely conceived techno-immortality fantasies), all really just provide the furniture for aspirational/distracted futurological conceits to hang out in while these rebels without a cause or a clue indulge their wish-fulfillment ids and forget to vote and purchase their handhelds and pass the collection plate.

Maybe it was the confrontation of this futurological re-run proposed as fresh insight in the form of glossy pages in a magazine instead of the usual twittering wave of pieties one clicks through online that struck me so forcefully yesterday afternoon at Supercuts. I always chuckle at the covers of men's fitness magazine, at the thought that people actually subscribe to these things, even though it is clear from the covers that every single issue is obsessed with exactly the same things (flabby middle, flagging sex drive), and proposes exactly the same advice (stick to it, more muscle mass will eat more calories, be careful to stretch so you don't injure yourself, there are pills for that), and provides exactly the same -- or at any rate indistinguishable -- trilobite torsoed toothy grinned bland midwestern model on the cover. Eric laughed when I told him about Diamandis's tired re-tread of futurological chestnuts and offered up my analogy to men's fitness magazines. He reminded me that, unlike the fraudulent futurists, those men's fitness magazines at least actually provide the indispensable service of plausibly deniable masturbation material for kids who haven't yet come out of the closet. But of course, it isn't only closeted kids who are treating these magazines as masturbation material. There is a real sense in which that is their sole substantial function, for their whole target audience, gay and straight young and old alike. Like futurologists soaking in the same old soup of progressive transcendent "predictions" that never fail even when they fail, guys scooping up these fitness magazines aren't really looking for information, they aren't really looking for anything new, they are getting another imaginary refueling from the pump, another dose of the daydream they indulge as they defer the real workout, another hit of phony identification with an unrealistic ego-ideal straining in shorts purchased at the cost of dis-identification with the man in the mirror -- all in the name of health, health, health, darling!

When I lampoon "movement" futurology as a Robot Cult it isn't only the defensive groupthink and guru worship and annual conventions of True Believers that lend plausibility to the attribution of "cult" to what amounts to a lame pop-tech journalism fandom with delusions of grandeur (and, I should add, actually existing "membership" organizations peddling "-isms" to the rubes). And when I declare that the more assertively "techno-transcendental" varieties of futurological discourse (like the transhumanists, the singularitarians, the techno-immortalists, the nano-cornucopians, the digital-utopians) are simply extreme and hyperbolic variations of mainstream neoliberal global developmental policy discourse and mainstream marketing, advertising, and PR forms, this latter claim shouldn't be seen as undermining the first. Because there is an unmistakably faith-mobilizing pseudo-transcendentalizing strain to be discerned in this very PR marketing imaginary, deranging us from our present distress into a yearning toward consumer techno-futures bathed in pastels and robots and cars and DNA helices and chocolate and glossy hair and youthful skin and golden sex.

Advertizing and online profiling practices are the opiate of the masses in the age of digitally-networked corporate-militarism (the present stage of capitalism), as Debord insisted in the sixties and Barthes in the fifties and Adorno in the forties and Benjamin in the thirties, a mass mediated Opium War (and often literal war) distracts the masses from awareness that we have already long since arrived at the techno-scientific level to provide security and equity and hence universal emancipation for all, distracting us endlessly instead into internecine struggles over pseudo-needs and pseudo-strivings that leave the obsolete bloodsoaked hierarchies enjoyed by elite incumbents in place, and so seduces us into ongoing collaboration with the terms of our own exploitation. The deceptive and hyperbolic advertising and marketing forms that utterly suffuse our public life amount to a reservoir of fervent reactionary religiosity, a religiosity that achieves one of its more incandescent expressions in the static ec-static intensities of superlative techno-transcendentalizing futurology, and of the Robot Cultists who sing its praises unto death.

59 comments:

jimf said...

> There is simply not much to distinguish Ed Regis' depiction
> of the superlative futurologists in Great Mambo Chicken from
> Brian Alexander's in Rapture from breathless blog profiles
> of today. Stiegler's "Gentle Seduction" from the 1980s is
> precisely standard transhumanoid boilerplate, techno-transcendence
> via shopping, loose-talking SENS-style longevity meds and
> "enhancement" pills and prostheses, Drexlerian nano-cornucopias,
> singularity (the literal term, already attributed to Vinge,
> not just the notion), Moravekian uploading, hive mind, market
> fundamentalism -- every single detail is already there.
>
> Frankly, many of the ideas are already there decades earlier. . .

Well, my introduction to the genre was the 1964 Bantam paperback of
Arthur C. Clarke's _Profiles of the Future_.
http://www.isfdb.org/wiki/images/6/67/PRFLSFT1964.jpg

I have to say, that revolving paperback rack in the Food Fair
at the Brookside Shopping Center in Newark, Delaware changed
my life. The same rack provided my introduction to J. G. Ballard --
the Berkley paperback of _Passport to Eternity_
http://www.flickr.com/photos/jlevar/376930406/
my introduction to Tolkien via the 1965 "pirated" Ace
paperback edition of _The Fellowship of the Ring_.
http://paperbackgallery.files.wordpress.com/2010/12/tolkien_fellowship_ace1.jpg

(Notice the prices on those volumes. 50, 60, and 75 cents went a
long way in those days!)

Dale Carrico said...

Man, our friends in the Robot Cult would really benefit from reading a little Ballard along with their Kurzweil...

Chad Lott said...

Did you know James Kunstler is aiming his doom cannon at the Transhumanists these days? His new book is supposed to have a bit about Kurzweil and his flock.

You sir, remain my first source for all this lunacy.

jollyspaniard said...

Most of them wouldn't be caught dead reading Ballard.

Chad: I read Kunstler as well. He makes some excellent observations but there's also plenty of magical thinking crystal ballism in his End is Nighism. I find it hard to trust anyone who is peddling ironclad guaranteed predictions of the future whatever the stripe.

aepxc said...

So there is future as process of mindfully changing the present, and future as destination with either one's most or one's least preferred set of conditions (depending on whether one most gets off on fantasy or horror).

Destination without process is both easy to be seduced by, and somewhere between pointless and dangerous in its effects...

1. Collect underpants
2. Rapture/singularity/collapse of modernity/etc.
3. Profit

...it's been going on for at least as long as there have been religions.

Process without destination, however, is either impossible or undesirable – remove destination and any mindful change becomes reduced to the gratification of immediate desires.

The question then becomes how to differentiate destination for process and destination for its own sake? How to use destination for process without becoming seduced by it? What is the scope for using speculative destinations as part of a process of evaluating directions in which it would be interesting to go next?

The way I see it, destinations-for-process would have to be relatively vague (to allow process to fill in the details – principles rather than prescriptions), and they would have to display a pattern of infrequent but radical changes (infrequent because needs to be sound at the time of its introduction, radical because the knowledge acquired through its pursuit is likely to eventually undermine one of its foundational assumptions wholesale).

All of which, I guess, is to argue that stasis (on some scales and some durations) is not the line separating good from bad. There is good stasis and bad stasis, and neither necessarily preclude large amounts of change happening on a different (fractal) scale.

Though all of this might just be the defensiveness of a card-carrying robot cultist in the face of an insightful critique... :-)

Dale Carrico said...

Thank you for describing the critique as insightful -- I do think there might be an insightful critique in the background of this particular rant (one I elaborate elsewhere and link to in the piece itself), but the truth is that the rant itself was tossed off in a rapid fire way between chuckles, rather as a lark. But let me respond to you with something like the kind of seriousness of your kindly response:

Every legitimate discipline has a foresight register -- but abstracting "foresight" out of the disciplines/situations that enable this foresight and making a pseudo-discipline from the result is just, as you say and I agree, a recipe for the invention of yet another faith.

Interdisciplinarity, now, can be a helpful corrective to the blinkeredness that is sometimes the price of the ticket for the situatedness that enables understanding and foresight to arise from systematic thought, analysis, experiment, and can also sometimes provoke and cross-pollinate.

But in futurology we actually have a draining of disciplinary substance, abetted by loose pop-tech talk, contextualized by generalized reductionism/ techno-triumphalism/ consumerism of the techno-society, and so on... but a draining that creates a handy black box (often jargonized into sooper-science to distract the rubes from the religiosity of the priestly performance) into which to plug enormously powerful irrational passions of greed for what CS Lewis called the "gold, guns, girls" lure of magick as well as various disasterbatory fears of war and environmental and socioeconomic apocalypse (all too real, after their fashion).

Just as I think it is improper to justify futurology with recourse to the indispensable notion of foresight (which I think futurology superficially mimes and actively subverts), I also think it is improper to justify futurology with recourse to the no less indispensable notion of utopia, as the aspirational or imaginative-identificatory register of the political. Utopia enables reconciliation of the hitherto unreconcilable, it enables us to overcome the dead weight of elite incumbency and re-write the terms of the possible and important, sometimes making the impossible come about. Politically I argue that futurology subverts the open futurity inhering in the plurality of stakeholders to the present by substituting for that open futurity a brute and actually circumscribing amplification of the parochial terms of the present as enjoyed by precisely elite-incumbent interests. This takes us into my complaints about the substantial stasis of what passes for "accelerating change" and what I call the retro-futurism that inheres in every futurism, stuff only faintly elaborated in my rant.

By the way, I'm a life long geek, a techno-scientifically literate and techno-developmentally focused sustainable secular social democrat devoted to progress on those terms. I celebrate sf fandoms, I celebrate knowledge-based policy making, I celebrate p2p social formations, I celebrate techno-science (esp. medicine, space, and renewables) r&d budgets and public investment. I simply do not appreciate sf fandoms which subvert science through the pretense that speculative enthusiasm is science, I simply do not appreciate the present suffusion of our public life with the deceptive and hyperbolic norms and forms of PR and marketing of which futurological discourses seems to me an extreme form. The crucial thing to grasp is that mine is an insider critique, from a place of sympathetic identification, and the harshness and dismissiveness is fueled, as such intensivities tend to be, by certain constitutive ambivalences.

Brandon said...

Any meaningful point in this text is lost on me in a haze of wordiness, jargon, and the author's painfully obvious need to demonstrate his superior intellect. Might have been an interesting read if it weren't for the impenetrable ego-wall blocking off the ideas. Maybe tone it down a bit eh?

Dale Carrico said...

Indeed, what could be more obvious than that your apparent lack of the wit or patience to understand something really simply means that its author lacks your own superior intelligence? Thanks for the advice, but I like my tone fine.

Daen said...

I love it. I stumbled across a link from Charlie Stross's website, and found myself nodding by the end of paragraph one. Like you, I'm an unredacted nerd -- my most recent gig was writing control software for a thyroid cancer diagnostics system, which is about as nerdy as it gets. That, and similar jobs in the life sciences, tell me that the "transhumanoids" and associated trades are hugely, hopelessly, derangedly off target. You've highlighted the inanity of their arguments from a top-down perspective. Well, I can tell you it's turtles all the way down; the technology itself is fatally flawed. The more I learn about biology (and the more I learn about the challenges to building exascale computing platforms), the more I can see that Emperor Kurzweil is buck naked. As in the fable, no-one gets much kudos for pointing out the Emperor's wrinkled nutsack, but I feel relieved, in a way, that I'm not the only one to have spotted it dangling in the breeze ...

Jay said...

I agree with your point, but you write as if being paid by the syllable and taxed by the word. A more conversational tone might get your point across better.

Henry Farrell said...

M. John Harrison, talks about the connection between this kind of fantasy and neoliberalism in the addenda to his worldbuilding essay:

As we emerge from the trailing edge of postmodernism we begin to see how many of its by-now-naturalised assumptions need challenging if it isn’t to become as much of a dead hand as the modernism it revised into existence to be its opposite. The originally vertiginous and politically exciting notion of relativism that underlies the idea of “worlds” is now only one of the day-to-day huckstering mechanisms of neoliberalism. My argument isn’t really with writers, readers or
gamers, (or even with franchisers in either the new or old media); it is a political argument, made even more urgent as a heavily-mediatised world moves from the prosthetic to the virtual, allowing the massively managed and flattered contemporary self to ignore the steady destruction of the actual world on which it depends. This situation needs to change, and it will. At the moment, the fossilised remains of
the postmodern paradigm (which encourages us to believe three stupid things before breakfast: firstly that we can change the real world into a fully prosthetic environment without loss or effort; secondly that there are no facts, only competing stories about the world; & thirdly that it’s possible to meaningfully write the words “a world” outside the domains of imagination or metaphor, a solecism which allows us to feel safely distant from the consequences of our actions) are in the way of that.

jimf said...

> Jay said...
>
> I agree with your point, but you write as if being
> paid by the syllable and taxed by the word. A more
> conversational tone might get your point across better.

You know, you're not the first person to have made this kind of remark on Dale's blog. Either Dale is being "wordy" when he's making academic and extended arguments, or he's being "mean" when he's being pithy, snarky, and entertaining. **No** alteration of prose style is going to "get the point across better" to the folks who don't want to hear the point in the first place. And **most** of the folks who have made the "tl;dr" observation about Dale's prose have been true believers who would much prefer that he simply **shut the hell up**.

Unknown said...

A few years ago I wrote a little mini-essay called "The Grim Meathook Future" (http://zenarchery.com/full-text-of-the-grim-meathook-future-thing/) in which I basically said that the future no one ever talks about is the one where nothing really changes, and how nobody ever wants to talk about that future because you can't sell it.

As I get older, the biggest problem I have with transhumanist and technoutopian ideas is that it all seems tied into corporate capitalism -- that you'll build the Glorious Future on the back of your credit card. That's the kind of thinking, minus the Singularity bullshit, that's put America in the financial mess we're in today...because for most people, the Glorious Future isn't genetic implants or a cyberbrain, but a house and a big screen TV they can't actually afford.

Hmm...it'd be interesting to corrolate collective futurist fantasies of technological Nirvana with personal ideas of bettering oneself by buying all the stuff you possibly can....

Sean the Mystic said...

I enjoyed this piece of word wizardry and don’t really disagree with your analysis. However, I hope you realize that deconstruction is always easier than construction, and that humans as a general rule abhor a spiritual vacuum, so it’s quite understandable that in the void of postmodernity they will seek transcendent beliefs wherever they can find them – techno-transcendentalism/robot cultism being a natural fit for our time.

I have no idea what you believe, your spirituality/ideology/philosophy, but it sounds like you are some variety of socialist who wants to see wealth redistributed globally. Here we run into basic philosophical disagreements and easy targets for deconstruction, because your ideology has no basis in nature or the metaphysics of our universe, being something you have invented or perhaps inherited as a secularized form of Christianity (i.e. “Marxism”).

I suspect the neoliberal billionaire types you are decrying just see our universe differently; to them it operates according to the Lucifer Principle, and is driven fundamentally by competition and will to power. If you disagree that’s fine, but I would argue that you are then as deluded as any Christian looking forward to the day that the lions lie down with the lambs. This is also why I would suggest to moderns who are looking for a form of religiosity that is consistent with what we know about the universe to consider some variety of Satanism or Sithism – a kind of Zen-Cosmicist acceptance of the Gnostic cosmos we are imprisoned in rather than a longing for a neo-Christian paradise that will never come.

Good luck, and may the Dark Energy be with you…

Dale Carrico said...

Just so you know, I don't actually consider myself a postmodernist, and frankly don't even consider that term particularly illuminating of most of the figures who get corralled under that moniker. I am a champion of consensus science as a way of finding one's way to warranted descriptions that are the best on offer in the matter of prediction and control -- though I also think that there are other kinds of beliefs offering other edifications (moral belonging, aesthetic judgment, ethical aspiration, political reconciliation, and so on) that are warranted differently. For me to be reasonable is not only to believe things that are actually warranted in ways you can explain but also to recognize which warrants are the relevant ones to the domain of belief in question. For this pluralism I am sometimes castigated as a relativist or a post-modernist, but that is in my view wrong and often, frankly, just stupid. My orientation (apart from the queerness stuff), is basically that of a technoscientifically literate and technodevelopmentally concerned sustainable secular social democrat who educates, agitates, and organized for progress on those terms. I think that is plenty positive as programs go, and although I have no quarrel with deconstruction I can't say as theoryheads go that I am really much of a Derridian fanboy.

Brandon said...

> Dale Carrico said...
> Indeed, what could be more obvious than that your
> apparent lack of the wit or patience to understand
> something really simply means that its author lacks
> your own superior intelligence? Thanks for the
> advice, but I like my tone fine.

My comment did come off as a bit hostile and I apologize. I am genuinely interested in the point you are trying to make as I haven't encountered many who are in such stark opposition to this type of futurism as you are. My issue is that in the communications I am most used to dealing with, scientific publications, the premium is placed on clarity, with density a distant second. There, if the idea is not communicated, then the communication has failed. I also admit a bias against the larger philosophical vocabulary as I frequently perceive it as pompous, though it may be the only way to communicate certain ideas. So with that in mind, the question becomes one of the desired audience. If the only people you wish to communicate with are those who are versed in this very high level vocabulary then you will succeed impressively. However, you are much more likely to attract only those readers who already agree with you and then all that's accomplished is back-patting and "here here"ing. If you are interested in a more critical discussion or in educating those who are unfamiliar with the concepts this post seems to take for granted, then it will miss. I truly did not intend to attack your style and, again, am genuinely interested in the point you are trying to make. I will give the essay a more thorough and patient read but I stand by my assertion that this style of prose, particularly the four dollar words, will largely deter people, such as myself, who are interested in the concepts but not in piercing a veil of highly-academic language.

Cheers

jimf said...

> [T]he neoliberal billionaire types... see our universe...
> driven fundamentally by competition and will to power.
> If you disagree... you are... as deluded as any Christian
> looking forward to the day that the lions lie down with the
> lambs... [A] form of religiosity that is consistent with
> what we know about the universe... [is] some variety of
> Satanism or Sithism...

Nope. Both extremes miss the truth -- the naked-will-to-power interpretation is ultimately as faulty as thinking that lions can just lie down with lambs. Yes, the Darwinian view of the universe contains lots of competition, but it also contains lots of cooperation -- sometimes extreme forms of it (the hives of social insects; the eukaryotic symbiosis of formerly-independent prokaryotes; multicellularity itself). Extreme forms of collectivism would be abhorrent to most modern humans -- I've seen it claimed that romantic love as we know it between individuals would be as useless in a world where divergence of individual interests was totally eliminated as it would be among the cells of a human body, or its organs.

Human society could not exist without **massive** amounts of interpersonal trust and cooperation, and the conditions of life, even among those nearer the bottom than the top of the power pyramid, do seem to be getting better, if slowly and irregularly, and with occasional reversals. We live in a mixed world. Yes, what we call "sociopaths" or "psychopaths" ("the neoliberal billionaire types... [who live] fundamentally by competition and will to power") have (what I would consider, and what Dale presumably considers) undue influence in large hierarchical organizations -- corporations and governments. A smart, fast-talking, remorseless psychopath can sometimes go far (and historically produced lots of offspring along the way) before, sometimes, flaming out spectacularly (and taking millions of dollars, or even millions of lives, with him -- it's usually a "him", of course).

Nevertheless, there are **some** checks and balances, and some limits on that power, at least in the Western democracies. **Most** people in this country do not have to live in fear of criticizing the President or the Koch brothers -- though there may be exceptions if you believe, for example, that Scott Bidstrup
http://www.bidstrup.com/bio.htm
is not simply suffering from psychiatric paranoia. And some powerful people (not just Scientologists) are known to use legal intimidation as a strategy to silence public criticism (witness Frank VanderSloot -- CEO of multi-level-marketing nutritional supplement peddler Melaleuca, Mormon, and national co-chair of Mitt Romney's finance committee -- allegedly threatening Rachel Maddow for mentioning him on her show
http://exmormon.org/phorum/read.php?2,494067,494299 ).

Legal harassment can certainly turn your life upside down (if you don't happen to live in a state with anti-SLAPP legislation, and probably even if you do), but it's not **quite** the same thing as the shenanigans Will Smith suffers in _Enemy of the State_
( http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0120660/ ).
And unless I'm completely out of touch with reality (though I am currently watching the 10-year-old sci-fi series _Dark Skies_ on YouTube; "history as we know it is a lie", as the introductory voice-over goes ;-> ), that kind of stuff doesn't happen as often in real life as it does in thrillers.

Sean the Mystic said...

That's all well and good jimf, but what decides which corporations, governments, cultures, religions and other collectives prevail? The answer is group "natural selection", though we might as well call it "Satanic selection," since it recognizes no higher moral law except power. It is only a matter of time before a new and greater Reich emerges than Western liberal democracy *and prevails globally, if not galactically*, because this universe has no built-in defense against the Borg.

This is Howard Bloom's main point in The Lucifer Principle, which is in my opinion the one of the most spine-chilling and Satanic works ever penned. Read it and weep, all ye who long for some kind of moral order in this universe!

Michael Anissimov said...

Congratulations on hitting it big with this hilarious piece!

jimf said...

> "Satanic selection[]"... recognizes no higher moral law except power...
> This is Howard Bloom's main point in The Lucifer Principle, which
> is in my opinion the one of the most spine-chilling and Satanic works
> ever penned.

I'll take real science (and the real Darwin) over the nastier (and more simple-minded) variants of social Darwinism. Things usually turn out to be more complicated than the ideological Darwinists give the world credit for.

Yes, there is plenty of nastiness in the world (or the Universe, or the Multiverse). But **morality itself** is a Darwinian adaptation to social life.

You know, there's a guy named David Styles who became something of an embarrassment to the cryonics movement (and by extension to transhumanism) when his connection to Satanism and some kind of vampire cult of power-worship became known. He's mentioned in the comment thread of http://amormundi.blogspot.com/2012/02/jim-hes-dead.html . (You wouldn't happen to **be** him, would you? ;-> ).

But no, Bloom's _The Lucifer Principle_ is, I suspect, fairly popular among right-wing >Hist types (the book attempted to raise a hue and cry about the threat of Islam -- a **vital**, power-hungry, ruthless super-memeplex -- to the decadent, lazy, complacent Western "liberal" tradition, did it not? It's been a while since I read -- or at least browsed in -- that book.) He wrote _The Global Brain_, too, which amplified the idea that "no man is an island" (as if we needed to be reminded of **that**).

But the "Lucifer" connection has been lurking in the background of >Hism for a long time. The Extropians' mailing list archive used to be hosted at lucifer.com ( http://www.lucifermedia.com/sites.php ) which also hosts the "Church of Virus" and, it seems, Howard Bloom. That URL sometimes made it difficult for me to access ExI through various net-nanny software employed by the organization whose computer I was using at the time. ;->

jollyspaniard said...

I don't despair for moral order as imperfect as this world is there has been progress. My parents grew up in a facist country so our family has seen a lot of progress in just one generation. History is littered with atrocities but also sucesses so I don't see that rationality in defeatism.

jimf said...

> Michael Anissimov said...
>
> Congratulations on hitting it big with this hilarious piece!

That "trilobite torsoed toothy grinned bland midwestern model on the cover" tickled your funnybone, did it? ;->

star0 said...

"But what always strikes me most forcefully about these ecstatic pronouncements is their abject staleness. "

What?... if our visions of the future don't change, then it proves that they are somehow wrong or undesirable?

Staleness != Implausible or undesirable (maybe in humanities departments or among writers or hipster subcultures that is the case).

"...long since arrived at the techno-scientific level to provide security and equity and hence universal emancipation for all.."

That's what people like Charles Eisenstein are always going on about; but I simply don't believe it. The issue is not really what is feasible, in principle, the real issue is: is it feasible at a low cost, and within the constraint that it will not lead to millions of deaths in the attempt (through warfare, for example); more advanced technologies lower those costs.

In closing, here is something I have wondered about: why is it that certain people are SOOO opposed to the beliefs of such a very small community? -- there probably aren't more than a few thousand Singularitarians in the whole U.S.; there are SURELY more Zoroastrians living in the U.S. than there are die-hard Singularitarians. I suspect the answer is that, deep down, they are afraid that the Singularitarians are right... though Singularitarianism isn't a particularly stylish or skeptical position to take. And we all want to be thought of as stylish and skeptical, don't we?

jimf said...

> ...deep down, they are afraid that the Singularitarians are right...

Deep down, I'm afraid that P. T. Barnum was right.

star0 said...

"Deep down, I'm afraid that P. T. Barnum was right."

And I suppose that applies to you, since he never said it.

Dale Carrico said...

PT Barnum was mute?

star0 said...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/There's_a_sucker_born_every_minute

Dale Carrico said...

How bout this one? "You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time." -- Abraham Lincoln, (attributed)

star0 said...

"How bout this one?..."

Actually, I think the quote @jimf seemed to imply by his statement was appropriate for the point he was trying to make; I just wanted to have a little fun. ;)

But the Lincoln quote is good, too.

....

I should say that, before anyone gets the wrong idea, I am not a Singularitarian in the sense that the term is often used. In particular, I do not believe that Artificial General Intelligence is near to being developed -- my beliefs are more about rapid, disruptive change brought on by existing technology, but developed a few generations further... things like: robotics (and I don't mean sexbots or any other such fetish item); fast processors; ulta-high capacity memory; broadband; VR; AR (e.g. Google glass); artificial organs; narrow AI (e.g. IBM's Watson); fusion energy; virtual classrooms (e.g. what Stanford, MIT, Harvard are doing; Udacity); automated cars; water desalination tech; in-vitro meat; 3D printers; synthetic telepathy; chip implants; Internet of Things; telepresence; etc. etc.

I do have a thing for Setai's vision of the near future, though...

Dale Carrico said...

Hey, all are welcome, we're just shootin' the shit here. I must say though that I think calling IBM's Watson "artificial intelligence" even narrowly makes humans artificially imbecillent, that I think automated cars will change the way we think of cities exactly like the Segwe did (not), that 3D printing hype will make you feel truly embarrassed one day, that you are very wrong to say in-vitro meat is an "existing technology" unless you think bazillion dollar a pop pinkened gel is a better option than vegi-burgers let alone real ones (vegetarian here, by the way) and... did you say fusion energy? I'm glad you see past singularitarianism 'n all, but dude.

star0 said...

1. "narrow AI" is not that uncommon a term for what Watson is; and it isn't a term used exclusively by transhumanists. The most common term for it is perhaps "question answering system".


2. Yes, in-vitro meat is currently ridiculously expensive. But give it a few generations of development, and the price will come down dramatically. The real problem to overcome will be consumer adoption rates; I am hopeful on that front -- much more hopeful than I am for veggie burgers.


3. We have "fusion energy" in several forms... it's just that we haven't yet crossed the break-even point (more energy out than in) to make it a viable energy source for the power grid. There are no physical barriers to it becoming much, much better in the coming decades that I am aware of; and, several groups, such as Lawrenceville Plasma Physics, have some encouraging results (and publications in reputable journals, like Physics of Plasmas -- 5-year impact factor of 2.249).


4. I never thought that the Segway would change how we thought about transportation or cities at all. When I first heard about them, and the hype surrounding them, I thought, "Is that it? Really? That's what you all are excited about?".

Automated cars are different. They are CARS, after all... and we already have those -- we just don't have the machine learning (if you prefer that term over narrow AI) innards that Google has in theirs. Unlike with the Segway, the thing that will slow down the adoption of automated cars is NOT consumer demand; the slow-down will come mostly from: the need for new laws to be written and approved (who is responsible for an accident?); the need for insurance companies to offer driverless insurance; and price (initially, they will be rather expensive; better tech and more efficient production methods should lower the cost).

star0 said...

Two more things:

1. Here is a great article featuring Jaron Lanier that discusses 3D printing and driverless cars and their potential impact, among many other things:

http://edge.org/conversation/the-local-global-flip


2. And here is a TED talk with Mark Pesce on what he terms the "mid-Singular" era:

http://www.creativeknowhow.com.au/ck/blog/humanity-connectedness-mark-pesce-live-tedxcanberra/

The reason I bring this up is that Pesce discusses how mobile phones have "brought real wealth to some of the poorest people in the world", and that "In an INSTANT things can become unrecognizable".

Lanier and Pesce were two of the early innovators in Virtual Reality, among many other things, in case you didn't know.

Tim Gross said...

as the Singularity gets closer
it becomes more apparent and part of mainstream
discourse- so critics increase- but the supporters have
increased MORE-
but the Singularity cannot legitimately be argued against
now because it has already begun - as people like Mark
Pesce have been saying for some time-
the Singularity is [or is immediately preceeded by] the
transition of consciousness and intelligence from
separate biological organisms to a planetary cybernetic
Cloud/Network -
the Singularity requires only and is only the
CONNECTION OF INTELLIGENCE into a singular system-
'only connect'
the Singularity began in 1996 with the mass market
adoption of the Internet-
the Singularity reached the point-of-no-return and full
planetary saturation in 2006 with the mass shift to
mobile devices- at this point all Singularity skepticism is
no longer viable- the planetary foetus now has a
working nervous system and growing brain
we are about one-third to one-half the way through the
transition- which should be largely complete sometime
during the 2030s-
the ideas and abilities of the Planetary Network after the
transition are as unknowable and vast as the ideas and
abilities of the human brain is to a single nerve cell- the
GNR technologies predicted by today's transhumanists
are only the naive toy-models of the most obvious
possibilities


/:set\AI

Dale Carrico said...

Tim Gross: as the Singularity gets closer it becomes more apparent...

You're asleep, Tim, and asleep you're no real good to anyone. Wake up.

Dale Carrico said...

"star0" -- you may have the good sense to resist the siren call of the Robot Cult's extreme techno-transcendentalizing superlative futurology (for more on which click on the Condensed Critique of Transhumanism up on the sidebar) but you do seem to be fully ensorceled by mainstream futurological conceits, which I describe in the post above, rightly I think, as a pop-tech journalism fandom with delusions of grandeur. I really disapprove of the description of non-intelligent things as intelligent at all -- even "narrowly" or whatever -- since it inevitably denigrates and often disintegrates the intelligence of actually intelligent beings in a profoundly pernicious way. About in-vitro meat -- you'll find years of comments on that topic under the "Animal Rites, Vegetarian Criticism, Brutal Theory" heading up on the sidebar. You go on to ask if I know Lanier and Pesce. I've been reading them and writing about them for nearly twenty years. Believe me when I tell you that it's not ignorance but knowledge that drives my critique of futurologists.

Dale Carrico said...

Mark Pesce ‏@mpesce RT @wwjimd: The Unbearable Stasis of "Accelerating Change" http://vsb.li/b45vPt #future #RAW RECOMMENDED

Tim Gross said...

asleep? (^___-)

an ironic choice of words- as we enter what I call the Cybernetic Dreamtime- where most of humanity drifts deeper into a solipsistic sleep- fleeing from a world in global gleitende- into a diaspora of private virtual Idahos

Dale Carrico said...

Another data-point for the "futurology as wet dream slash reductio-ad-absurdum of neoliberal possessive individualist scam-artist ideology" thesis, there Tim.

Tim Gross said...

but your agit-prop is flaccid- it has no teeth because you are criticizing old ideas already being culled in the Post-Transhumanist reformation-

your railing against old Transhumanist paradigm stuff- physical enhancement of the brain and body by primitive invasive nanotechnologies is a cartoon - we have moved beyond this sort of clunky cybernetic future- the true cybernetic future was set when the iPhone/smartphones exploded in 2006-8 - YOUR COGNITIVE ENHANCEMENT IS IN YOUR HAND - your phone gives you all the knowledge of Google/Wikipedia/Wolfram Alpha - you HAVE it- all you need is a BETTER INTERFACE- a way to make this knowledge stream into your awareness in as many and as rich and direct ways as possible -

many of us had different ideas and scenarios about how the Singularity would or would not unfold before smartphones- but once we saw Amazonian Indians with them - as well as simply noticing how radically human social behavior has changed - we can SEE the Cybernetic Dreamtime-

the human being is NOW a cybernetic organism consisting of Ape connected to Cloud through the mobile- the bandwidth between flesh and mobile is the bottleneck that all the research is trying to widen- driven by the pressure of 7 billion customers

not AI> IA we are not building machines that are smarter than us- we are using our machines to make us smarter

not nanobots> nanomaterials and nanodrugs-

not immortal bodies- but substrate independent minds that make bodies ultimately disposable like clothing- just as with the transition of music from fixed media to software

not techno-utopia- but a time of wonder and catastrophe

Dale Carrico said...

What mehum agitprop could hope to match the steel hard erection of your cyborg chrome dildo?

Anonymous said...

Hello, I just arrived here so have no right to comment. But... Surely the point of blogging is that you can write what you like, however prolix. If you want an editor you can pay one or else write books instead of blogs. Clearly this here is a blog and not a book.

Dale Carrico said...

I just arrived here so have no right to comment. Hey, there's no hazing ritual or trial period. So long as you're not a bot or spammer, all are welcome here, even if I will righteously moderate the occasional sociopathic thread hijacker or those who indulge in common or garden variety hate-speech. Even Giulio is welcome again, if he really wants to bring back his clown act without misbehaving too egregiously. I don't suffer fools, but I rarely stay mad very long.

jimf said...

> Singularity is. . . the transition of consciousness and
> intelligence from separate biological organisms to a planetary
> cybernetic Cloud/Network - the Singularity requires only and
> is only the CONNECTION OF INTELLIGENCE into a singular system-
> 'only connect'

Jive with the Hive.

Touch the light! You will experience the joy of Singularity!

http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_mpBGa4P5jUo/TT2gygGNBMI/AAAAAAAAGN4/77ZZ9l8tV7Y/s1600/darkskies6.jpg

> Cybernetic Dreamtime- where most of humanity drifts deeper
> into a solipsistic sleep- fleeing from a world in global
> gleitende- into a diaspora of private virtual Idahos

Hey, I think this guy **has** been reading J. G. Ballard!
(ca. 1965).

> YOUR COGNITIVE ENHANCEMENT IS IN YOUR HAND - your phone
> gives you all the knowledge of Google/Wikipedia/Wolfram Alpha -
> you HAVE it- all you need is a BETTER INTERFACE- a way to
> make this knowledge stream into your awareness in as many
> and as rich and direct ways as possible

Sounds like a (new) _Outer Limits_ episode from 15 years ago.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stream_of_Consciousness_%28The_Outer_Limits%29
http://www.ovguide.com/tv_episode/the-outer-limits-season-3-episode-5-stream-of-consciousness-78006

jimf said...

> "Satanic selection[]"... recognizes no higher moral law except power...
> This is Howard Bloom's main point in The Lucifer Principle, which
> is in my opinion the one of the most spine-chilling and Satanic works
> ever penned.

Or, alternatively,
http://www.amazon.com/Nonzero-The-Logic-Human-Destiny/dp/0679758941

> > I'll take real science (and the real Darwin) over the
> > nastier (and more simple-minded) variants of social Darwinism.
> > Things usually turn out to be more complicated than
> > the ideological Darwinists give the world credit for.

BBC Horizon - Nice Guys Finish First (Richard Dawkins, 1987)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BA4dZ6NVNbk

Anonymous said...

If Tim Gross didn't exist, we'd have to invent him.

That said, hucksters like Kurtzweil go back to the dark ages, hope and dreams in fiction do, too. So what? Fiction and hucksters are both parasites on reality. We all still eat, shit and die (well, perhaps not Tim), as we have since the oral tradition, um, went viral.

People still write space opera, and I'm pretty sure that we are too fucked as a species to get off this rock. People also write vampire-sex-drama. And?

jimf said...

> That said, hucksters like Kurtzweil go back to the dark ages,
> hope and dreams in fiction do, too. So what? Fiction and hucksters
> are both parasites on reality.

Surely there's a distinction to be made. Fiction is harmless
entertainment. Its consumers know what they're getting, and
are not tricked out of the money they spend, especially if they've
read a few reviews ahead of time.

Hucksters are somewhat less benign, don't you think?

Look, nobody imagines that writing blog posts, or commenting on
them, is going to purge the world of con artists and their marks.

Still, we have the means and the relative freedom from threat at
this stage to make some pertinent criticisms of a movement that at the moment
is as vulnerable to such criticism as "Dianetics" might have
been (if the technology of the Web had existed) in the 1950s
or Mormonism might have been in the 1820s.

It's both satisfying and entertaining to take advantage of such
an opportunity to tell the truth as one sees it.

A few people whose interest in the subject is piqued enough,
for whatever reason, to do a Google search will likely stumble
on this blog in addition to the overwhelming mass of PR and
cheerleading. Then they can read our "reviews", if they can
be bothered.

That's all there is to it. (And? And so why did **you**
bother to contribute your comment?)

Dale Carrico said...

Oscar Wilde's The Decay of Lying provides an exquisite meditation on the connections between fiction and deception. I often teach it in undergraduate criticism courses. For me, the difference between science fiction and pseudo-scientific scam artists couldn't be starker -- science fiction provides an alien lens through which to see the present more clearly than we can in the present (the classic Gertrude Stein definition of art: a lie that tells the truth) -- but the pseudo-scientific scam artists peddling immortality of free nano-abundance or greenwashing geo-engineering scams are actually trying to distract you from seeing the present for what it is. Like all great literature, science fiction makes you see the world better, techno-transcendental futurologists blind you with your own fears and greed to peddle their crap.

Dale Carrico said...

Jim wrote: Still, we have the means and the relative freedom from threat at this stage to make some pertinent criticisms of a movement that at the moment is as vulnerable to such criticism as "Dianetics" might have been (if the technology of the Web had existed) in the 1950s or Mormonism might have been in the 1820s.

This is such a good point, I couldn't agree with you more. A closely related one, I think we are just emerging from an era in which a minority of connected corporate-military types spouting the most arrant nonsense imaginable -- the Neoconservatives -- managed to do incomparably more damage to the world than any sensible person would have thought possible (look what Republicans like Eisenhower thought of their brand of crazy back when it began). Sure, the Robot Cultists are crazy -- now look at Stanford hosted the Singularity Summit or Oxford University's Future of Humanity Institute. They know how to provide splashy sexy or disasterbatory media-ready frames in support of their agenda. They've already got narcissistic tech billionaires at their beck and call. The technocratic left is just as susceptible to their moonshine as the plutocratic right (just read TPM's IdeaLab gizmo handwaving and you'll see what I mean). It would be foolish in the extreme to underestimate the damage these futurologists can do, not only to their True Believers, but to the level of public discourse on technoscience issues.

jimf said...

> Sure, the Robot Cultists are crazy -- now look at Stanford host[ing]
> the Singularity Summit or Oxford University's Future of Humanity Institute.
> They know how to provide splashy sexy or disasterbatory media-ready
> frames in support of their agenda. They've already got narcissistic
> tech billionaires at their beck and call.

To say nothing of the latest issue of _The Economist_.
http://www.economist.com/printedition/2012-06-02

I haven't bought or browsed in the issue, so I don't know how much
of it is explicitly what's known as "Robot Cult" around here.

It seems that robots have also invaded film and media courses
at The New School in New York City.
http://www.peterasaro.org/courses/2012Robots.html

jimf said...

> [W]e have the means and the relative freedom from threat at
> this stage to make some pertinent criticisms of a movement that
> at the moment is as vulnerable to such criticism as "Dianetics"
> might have been (if the technology of the Web had existed) in
> the 1950s. . .

A freedom which did **not** exist with respect to Scientology
(né Dianetics) by the time the 1970s rolled around, particularly
for the folks involved in its foundation, if the following Usenet
post from a decade and a half ago is to be believed:

http://groups.google.com/group/alt.religion.scientology/msg/4aec1277d08493c1
-----------------------
A E Van Vogt and Scientology
elbonian
Oct 1 1998

. . .

In about 1972, I had the occasion to meet privately with Van in a bar
in Washington DC. One of the things I wanted to talk about was his relationship
with Hubbard and Scientology. (Van is the only celebrity I've actually personally
spoken with on this subject, but I'll guarantee what I say here is a true
and correct recollection of this discussion.)

Anyway, by the time I met with Van, he no longer believed in any of the
stuff put out by Hubbard. Also, he felt he had to remain silent because
of threats against him and his family. Accordingly, he asked me not to
broadcast his story since he still lived a bit in fear of Hubbard and
his minions.

Van had nothing flattering to say about either Hubbard, Dianetics, or
Scientology during that meeting. I'd say he was totally disillusioned
by his experiences.

He had involved himself with Hubbard as part of an exhuberance of youth;
a group of people out to "set the world right" and "make a difference."
What that group evolved into, we now know. But in the beginning, all
of the people involved were filled with idealistic visions of what the
world would be like if people were free of the bad motivations inside
themselves. . .
-----------------------

jimf said...

> > [N]ow look at Stanford host[ing] the Singularity Summit
> > or Oxford University's Future of Humanity Institute. . .
>
> To say nothing of the latest issue of _The Economist_. . .

Not to mention, of course:

http://amormundi.blogspot.com/2009/02/robot-cultists-getting-too-nice-by-half.html
----------------------
What could be more perfect than an article in the _Financial Times_ informing us that

"Google and Nasa are throwing their weight behind a new school for futurists in
Silicon Valley to prepare scientists for an era when machines become cleverer
than people.

The new institution, known as 'Singularity University', is to be headed by
Ray Kurzweil, whose predictions about the exponential pace of technological
change have made him a controversial figure in technology circles.

Google and Nasa's backing demonstrates the growing mainstream acceptance of
Mr Kurzweil's views. . .
----------------------

Anonymous said...

Brandon is right, you are wrong. The tone and ego flay the intent. It was a hard read. Hopefully you were not trying to convince anybody.

Dale Carrico said...

I do not hope to convince or even productively provoke everybody -- the dull and the deluded are clearly beyond my reach -- but the actually existing and readily available response to the article more than demonstrates the palpable falsity of your assertion. Reading shouldn't always be easy, you know, and that would be true even if many had not found great pleasure in what you found too hard, even if they were not entirely persuaded to my way of thinking on the subject. It is well that you choose to declare your stubborn and defensive stupidity behind the cloak of "Anonymity."

Paul said...

I agree with this quote almost entirely"

>>I have proposed that the "accelerating change" crowed about for the last two decades by futurologists in pop religious cadences and by more mainstream and academic New Media commentators in pop psychology and pop sociology cadences has never had any substantial reference apart from the increasing precarity produced by neoliberal looting and destabilization of domestic welfare and global economies -- often facilitated, it is true, by the exploitation of digital trading, marketing, and surveillance networks -- a precarity usually seen and experienced from the vantage of privileged people who either benefit from neoliberal destabilization or who (rightly or wrongly) identify with the beneficiaries of that destabilization.<<

The current system is based on both exploitation, extraction and destabilization (at best) and destruction. The fact that the Transhumanist crowd in general has never been critical of the underlying enablers of this technology has always irked me to no end. However, I want to argue with you one point. Accelerating change is not wholly dependent on this particular toxic economic model. There is no reason why innovation cannot occur in ethical, sustainable, collaborative, decentralized, voluntary/participatory aways. A good example is Wikispeed, which built the most advanced, modular and efficient car ever, and all in less than 3 months. Wikispeed is the best example of techn-progressivism I've seen, and it's model for how we can improve our way going forward. It's so much better, I frankly don't see how the old guard and their exploitive system can survive.

Dale Carrico said...

There is no reason why innovation cannot occur in ethical, sustainable, collaborative, decentralized, voluntary/participatory aways.

But of course I DON'T disagree with that. I am just calling attention to the ways in which what is happening in the name of "progress" "innovation" and "accelerating change" right now is often (and possibly much more often than not) just elite appropriation, cost and risk externalization, PR re-packaging of already-existing crap, and global precarization. That is far from saying things have to be this way, or that if things were not this way real progress wouldn't be possible. Hell, if I didn't believe that I wouldn't be calling out the charlatans and skimmers and scammers so virulently in the first place!

mclaren said...

Great stuff. And long overdue.

You need to push it farther, though, I think, and point out that futurism and all too much science fiction has now turned into what Herbert Marcuse identified as "repressive sublimation."

Namely, pie-in-the-sky-bye-and-bye-when-you-die to keep the great unwashed majority of the population quiescent while the elites loot and pillage and oppress them. Back in the middle ages, repressive sublimation was wielded by the Church in the form of glowing tales about heaven and the delights therein. Just be a good peasant and toe the line and offer up 2/3 of your harvest to the local baron and let him bang your daughter and go to war to get killed when he asks you too, and you too will experience eternal bliss in heaven as a Good Subject of the King when you die.

It was a scam to bamboozle the bottom 99% into accepting the boot of the top 1% stamping into their faces.

Science fiction's dirty little secret is that all too many of the most feted SF authors today preach transhumanism and glorious interstellar nirvanas at the helms of gleaming starships in order to shut the rubes up and keep 'em tractable while the selfsame science fiction authors do "consulting" for criminal corporations like IBM that have offshored most of their workforce overseas. (In IBM's case, the former CEO is literally a criminal -- he was indicted.) All too many science fiction authors get paid by these corporate criminals to slap a happy face on their corporate predation...even as the selfsame sci fi authors boast and strut about how liberal they are and how they support the common man. But in reality, when you look at science fiction authors like Niven and Brin and Pournelle, these guys live in million-dollar mansions and write about futures in which rigid hierarchies (in Pournelle's case, literal royalty) arranged by gene manipulation lord it over the bottom 99% of the galaxy. In any reasonable future history, the "heroes" of all too much contemporary science fiction would qualify as villains when viewed dispassionately.

Science fiction today serves a brutally conservative agenda. "You can't win against the elites because you're a scumbag prole" -- disguised as the trope "if you haven't be genetically modified/cybernetically augmented, you can't compete." Again and again, contemporary science fiction tells the reader that the elites are smarter and wiser and better than s/he is. This crap goes back to Heinlein. And then when you look at the actual behavior of the real elites, you see a bunch of ignorant incompetent fools fumbling and bumbling and stumbling and bungling around...as in the latest round of austerity madness in the global economy. The so-called "best and brightest" among the world's leaders can't seem to find their asses in a hall of mirrors. An objective observer might even be tempted to conclude that the elites are...just like everyone else, no smarter, no more competent, no more knowledgeable, no more skilled.

jimf said...

> An objective observer might even be tempted to conclude that the
> elites are...just like everyone else, no smarter, no more competent,
> no more knowledgeable, no more skilled. . .

But definitely at least an order of magnitude more likely than ordinary
folks to be SOBs[*].

[*] That's a term of art in the field of clinical psychology.

> [T]oo many of the most feted SF authors today preach transhumanism
> and glorious interstellar nirvanas at the helms of gleaming starships
> in order to shut the rubes up and keep 'em tractable while the selfsame
> science fiction authors do "consulting" for criminal corporations
> like IBM. . .

IBM has been around long enough ("data processing" antedates digital
computers) to have some scary skeletons in its closet:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IBM_and_the_Holocaust

> [S]cience fiction authors like Niven and Brin and Pournelle. . .
> live in million-dollar mansions and write about futures in which
> rigid hierarchies (in Pournelle's case, literal royalty) arranged by
> gene manipulation lord it over the bottom 99% of the galaxy.

Speaking of Jerry Pournelle, I ran across an amusing clip on
YouTube the other day. Before there were Ray Kurzweil and
Terry Gross selling vitamin pills to keep you young forever,
there were Durk Pearson and Sandy Shaw (I had a copy of their
book back in 1982
http://www.amazon.com/Life-Extension-Durk-Pearson/dp/044651229X )

Anyway, the YouTube clip has Durk Pearson and Jerry Pournelle
talking to Tom Snyder in 1979 (on his Tomorrow show, presumably
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tomorrow_%28TV_series%29 )
about not just vitamin pills but the future of publishing
(and other media). Pournelle breathes out cigarette smoke
while describing what you can do with a word processor. ;->

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BJ7lHBnlKQM

Dale Carrico said...

Great comments -- strangely enough, probably right around the time "mclaren" was posting I was recommending Marcuse's One Dimensional Man, in which repressive desublimation is a key formulation, to a student in break. I haven't thought about that book deeply since I read it twenty years ago, and suddenly here it is both coming and going.

jimf said...

> Before there were Ray Kurzweil and Terry Gross
> selling vitamin pills. . .

I meant "Terry Grossman". Terry Gross is the guy on NPR.
;->