Saturday, July 31, 2004

A glimpse of the Luddite far left

Peter Lamborn Wilson (perhaps better known as Hakim Bey) claims in this interview that he tried to remain open-minded for a while about the potential of the Internet and computers - although he's never owned one. Now, though, he despises them, and - by his own admission - he's stopped even bothering to listen to the tech-positive left on this issue.

Now, I should say, I'm not sure whether Wilson is at all representative of the Luddite far left. Though being on the far left myself (as a libertarian socialist), I've only encountered only a few openly luddite leftists, and of those many still appeared to have an open mind when confronted with the many upsides of technology. (Much like the general public - many of whom were alarmed at first at, say, in vitro fertilisation, and now are mostly OK with it - in secular Europe, anyway.)

As a side-note, I'd like to take issue with Wilson's view of the mass worldwide protests of Seattle and after, and the unprecedented worldwide protests against the illegal war on Iraq (Wow, he not only dismisses IT, the internet and cellphones, he also dismisses the importance of mass anti-war mobilisations, voting Bush out of office, and virtually every kind of activism you can think of, save the good-old-fashioned [and, in this interview, woolly and ill-defined] notion of "solidarity with the working class"! Seemingly not realising that many people went to the anti-G8 protests precisely to express solidarity with the working class of the global South, and call for changes to world trade and investment rules to benefit them! Calling him a "grumpy out-of-touch old man" would be totally unfair, wouldn't it? - otherwise I'd call him that!)

He is of course trivially and obviously right to point out the importance of taking concrete steps to build a better world, not just symbolic ones - but he's wrong to dismiss and ridicule the importance and power of a diversity of approaches (as radical transhumanists probably recognise better than most, there are new avenues towards greater justice and equality opening up, which can sometimes complement and sometimes obsolete previous approaches - and even new routes leading towards the end of wage-slavery and capitalism as we know it).

And he's wrong to patronise the mobilisations and accuse them of being populated by a bunch of naive "John Kerry will sort everything out" liberals - a notion so fatuous that not even most John Kerry supporters probably believe it.

Perhaps, if he were to use the Internet a little, he would be able to get a more rounded perspective on the mass mobilisations of anti-capitalists, "radical reformists" (well, it's hard to dispute that relative to say John Kerry, reformists like Susan George and George Monbiot are radical!) and anti-war protestors, that have occurred every year since the groundbreaking Seattle protest.

Perhaps the reason why he thinks that "let's get Bush out of office" is a fair characterisation of the extent of thought of these massive and massively diverse protests (in reality, it's so off-base it just highlights his ignorance) is because he has got his news on these protests from only a few, limited sources - something which the Internet, boring and taken for granted as it may be for most of us, could provide a correction to.

If he's not going to give up on his computer-phobia, he could still read Paul Kingsnorth's One No, Many Yeses. That might provide a despondent ageing leftist with not only a more accurate picture of significant actors in today's diverse left - but also a more optimistic picture, one in which awareness of and resistance to the depradations of unshackled "global corporatism" is spreading - despite the mainstream media's abysmal record in countries like the US.

Friday, July 30, 2004

John Kerry and our transhuman future

Chris Mooney pulled out this clip from the end of John Kerry's acceptance speech:
So much promise stretches before us. Americans have always reached for the impossible, looked to the next horizon and asked: What if?
Two young bicycle mechanics from Dayton asked, what if this airplane could take off at Kitty Hawk? It did that and changed the world forever. A young president asked, what if we could go to the moon in 10 years? And now we're exploring the stars and the solar system themselves. A young generation of entrepreneurs asked, what if we could take all the information in a library and put it on a chip the size of a fingernail? We did that and that too changed the world.
And now it's our time to ask: What if?
What if we find a breakthrough to Parkinson's, diabetes, Alzheimer's and AIDS? What if we have a president who believes in science so we can unleash the wonders of discovery like stem-cell research and treat illness for millions of lives?

URL: John Kerry, Ladies and Gentlemen

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Good news: Protestants on decline in US, secularism rising

The National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago announced this week that Protestants are now, for the first time in US history, a minority. About two thirds (63%) affiliated with Protestant denominations in 1993, but by 2002 that had dropped to 52 percent and NORC thinks its now below 50 percent. "In the same period, those who claimed no religion went from 9 to 14 percent. Catholics stayed at around 25 percent, Jews at 2 percent, and all others went from 3 to 7 percent."  [Religion and Ethics Weekly]

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Toronto Star: Evolution's Next Stage?

[via Sentient Developments] The Toronto Star's Olivia Ward has penned an article on transhumanism and the upcoming TransVision conference. Titled Evolution's Next Stage?, Ward quotes WTA executive director James Hughes, cyborg Steve Mann and biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey in the article.

The article is not great, but it could have been a lot worse. Frustratingly, Ward mistakenly put the start of the conference at August 8 (it starts August 5), and notes that both the WTA and Extropy Institute are sponsors, when in fact the WTA is organizing the event with ExI sponsoring.

And Ward closes with some unbelievably lame comments from Joshua Kunken and Margaret Somerville--a likely attempt to close the article with some "sensible" balanced reporting and perspectives.

Ah well, at least the article is out, and hopefully it'll generate some interest in the conference.

Here's some blurbage from the article:
But now, experts say, another scientific quantum leap has transported us from the human to the transhuman era — a time when humankind itself is being manipulated and enhanced, leading to an unknown future where man, machine and technology will merge with startling results.

"What's happening in the 21st century is a natural progression of the invention of fire," says James Hughes, secretary of the World Transhumanist Association. "Human tool use has always extended the capability of doing what we weren't biologically intended to do. But now the possibilities are infinite, and they're making some people feel scared."

Next month, Hughes, a bioethicist at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., will take part in an international conference at the University of Toronto, titled ``TransVision 2004: Art and Life in the Posthuman Era.'' Sponsored by the transhumanist association and the Texas-based Extropy Institute, the four-day event opens Aug. 8 [Aug. 5].

For many people the very concept of transhumanism is vague, unsettling or downright off-putting, suggestive of sci-fi films such as I, Robot, in which a new generation of homicidal androids swarms Chicago in an anti-human hatefest.

That, advocates say, is the very opposite of what transhumanism means: rather than a potentially destructive force, it is "a nascent approach to bioethics, futurism, art and culture whose adherents affirm the use of technology to overcome the limitations of the human body."