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

Gary Stock gstock at nexcerpt.com
Sat Jun 2 21:49:30 PDT 2012


I was relieved to see Brandon and Jay critique Carrico's outlandishly 
pretentious style -- so I didn't have to go over there and do it.

GS

On 6/2/12 3:00 PM, Stephen D. Williams wrote:
> 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:
> http://amormundi.blogspot.it/2012/05/unbearable-stasis-of-accelerating.html 
>
> 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.
>
>
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