[FoRK] Static ec-static intensities of superlative techno-transcendentalizing futurology

Stephen D. Williams sdw at lig.net
Sat Jun 2 12:00:02 PDT 2012

Heh. Disasterbatory. " Post-Transhumanist reformation" "mehum (mere human) sheeple types"

'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.'

Exactly. Talk dirty to me baby... Mind the gap (between sheeple and elieple).

Kudos for the repost by Bruce Sterling and Wired:
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 [corrected] 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 [again, corrected] 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.

Posted by Dale Carrico at 1:35 PM

11:45 AM
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... :-)

9:35 AM
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?

1:22 PM
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.

1:50 PM

1:50 PM
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 ...

4:52 AM
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.

More information about the FoRK mailing list