Friday, September 24, 2004

I Want More Life, Fucker! Enhancement and Upheaval

Here are the concluding paragraphs of a considerably more sprawling post over on Amor Mundi, for which I am soliciting comments and criticisms:

We are talking about entering the threshold era in which we develop for the first time medical techniques to enable greater-than-hitherto normative healthy lifespans and the enhancement of individual capacities. This will be an era with special problems and promises.

In the long term, to paraphrase Keynes, many who might otherwise live may be dead. Does anybody really expect people to complacently accept their lot on this issue as the mostly arbitrary prosperity sweepstakes has disposed of things? Even those who are satisfied (as certainly I am not) to pathologize as "envious" those who rankle at the unfairness of money buying, not just second cars or hot hookers, but literally years and years of healthy life, surely even they can see the sense of taking steps to ameliorate the social instability that will likely arise in such a developmental era?

I expect the Methuselah Mouse is going to be a mouse that roars.

I think the demand for access to more-than-normatively healthy-lifespan extending medicine is going to incubate a second occasion for genuinely revolutionary upheaval. I say this as one of those boring lefties who finds revolutions profoundly unappealing prospects: I strongly prefer versions of radical left politics involving nice matronly social workers with clipboards to the ones in which pumped up teenaged boys in revolutionary vanguards wave guns around.

All that aside, I honestly don't see any reason to accept the apparent premise of the market-firsters that an institutional concern with fairness would frustrate or slow development in the first place. Why wouldn't it incubate wider participation in experimental trials, enlist a wider investment in terms of time, lives, and resources, a wider quicker more flexible sharing of information, and hence accelerate development for everybody?

The costs of medical research are likely too high to inspire a direct or easy analogy to free-software models, but the current drumbeat of market-fundamentalist deregulation siphoning off money into Big Pharma marketing departments advertising libido enhancement to thousands in the developed world while millions in the developing world are dying from diarrhea scarcely seems like a plausibly prolongable model either.

It seems to me likely, for both good and ill, that the North Atlantic democracies, and much of the rest of the world, are now busy re-inventing themselves in the image of medical industrial complexes. Bio-networked states can be expected to derive their legitimacy differently than military-networked ones -- by selling their citizens more than daydreams of security, but by enlisting them in civilization-wide projects of longevity and enhancement medicine figured as freedom.

Diffuse fears of global terror pale in the face of the existential terror of mortality, and it is hard to imagine states not wanting to get in on that action. Once medicine intervenes in the normative bound of three-score and ten, the prevention of premature death with no stable denotation becomes part of what states do in establishing justice and ensuring domestic tranquility.

Citizens are becoming not only legal but also experimental subjects, exchanging much of what presently passes for privacy for their public participation in the most extensive medical research programs imaginable. Although there is little sign that the experimental subjects have noticed it yet, they embody valuable data-points in exchange for which they might demand entitlements otherwise under social seige at present.

As the benefits of increasingly ubiquitous automation have served to concentrate rather than democratize prosperity, more or more people are threatened with dispensibility around the world. In the brutal world of market rationality, the only thing worse than exploitation is irrelevance. As bodies on the net, individuals may rediscover their indispensibility. Otherwise, the legitimate discontent of the disappeared is more likely to express itself in murderous ways.

The strain on planetary resources introduced by universal participation in enhancement medicine is hard to fathom. Children must be incomparably rarer in a world where youth lingers incomparably longer. The shift into renewable and sustainable infrastructural architectures and utilities would be, if such a thing is imaginable, more urgent than ever. Perhaps people who expect to live longer might likewise become more rational, imagining themselves actual inhabitants of the futures into which their reckless and thoughtless conduct and consumption reverberates with consequence.

Every option on the game-board is transforming in its assumptions and consequences under pressure of ongoing and upcoming technological developments: the emergence of enhancement medicine, ubiquitous automation, insanely destructive devices...

In her "Manifesto for Cyborgs," Donna Haraway tossed off as an aside a comment that has haunted me for years: "Foucault's biopolitics is a flaccid premonition of cyborg politics, a very open field." For legal and experimental subjects in the prosthetic democracies that are aborning now, amidst terror and strife and unbearable strain, the potentials for both abuse and for empowerment boggle the mind. More, much more, to come.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Online Book on Extreme Democracy

What is Extreme Democracy?

Preface
Foreword

1. Emergent Democracy

2. The Second Superpower

3. Power Laws, Weblogs, and Inequality

4. Deep Confidence in the People

5.Building on Experience

6. Two ways to emerge, and how to tell the difference between them.

7. From the Screen to the Streets

8. The dead hand of modern democracy: Lessons for emergent post-modern democrats

9. It's the Conversations, stupid! The Link between Social Interaction and Political Choice

10. Social Network Dynamics and Participatory Politics

11. eVoting

Posthuman Issue of (cultural crit zine) Reconstruction

Some of the articles in Reconstruction, Summer 2004: Volume 4, Number 3

C. Jason Smith, Geoff Klock, and Ximena Gallardo-C. "Post·hum·an·ous"

Ivan Callus and Stefan Herbrechter "The Latecoming of the Posthuman, Or, Why 'We' Do the Apocalypse Differently, 'Now'"

Angela Woods "Schizophrenics, Cyborgs and the Pitfalls of Posthumanism"

Dongshin Yi "Toward a Posthuman Ethics"

Geoff Klock "X-Men, Emerson, Gnosticism"

Ximena Gallardo-C. "'Who Are You?': Alien/Woman as Posthuman Subject in Alien Resurrection"

Melanie Rosen Brown "Dead Astronauts, Cyborgs, and the Cape Canaveral Fiction of J.G. Ballard:A Posthuman Analysis"

Tama Leaver ""The Infinite Plasticity of the Digital": Posthuman Possibilities, Embodiment and Technology in William Gibson's Interstitial Trilogy"

Miranda Campbell "Probing the Posthuman: Richard Powers' Galatea 2.2 and the
Mind-Body Problem"

Jennifer Attaway "Cyborg Bodies and Digitized Desires: Posthumanity and phillip k. dick"


Fabulous issues, but my god, the pomo lit-crit speak is so damned impassable.


Arch-BioLuddite Richard Hayes defines CybDem Mission

In the transcript of the conference on Inequality, Democracy and the New Human Biotechnologies (July 15, 2004 - New York) Richard Hayes, the Co-Director of the Center for Genetics and Society with Marcy Darnovsky said:
"...the most well organized constituencies active on human genetic issues are in fact the biotech interests on the one hand and the religious conservatives on the other. In that sense, the polarized framing adopted by the press is accurate. The terrible consequence of this is that if these two polarized constituencies or points of view remain the only choices available then liberal and progressive voices, when compelled to enter the policy arena, if forced to choose between the two, are going to go with the biotechnology industry....

...so it is imperative that third voice enter the fate. This is a voice that isn't necessarily opposed to all human genetic technologies, nor necessarily opposed to human embryo research in any absolutist sense, but is very concerned about the social, economic and political implications of these technologies and would certainly not want to trust genetic future of the human species to research scientists and biotechnology companies.

So what is to be done? We need new initiatives within existing liberal and progressive organizations and we need new organizations to take these issues and put them on the public agenda in a new and compelling way. We need visionaries in the philanthropic community to support such efforts. Domestically and internationally we need new levels awareness, commitment, and engagement - in short, a new social movement - to ensure that the new human biotechnologies support rather then subvert deeply held commitments to equality, democracy and social justice. The hour is late. There's no greater challenge.
Golly - couldn't agree with you more. So if any of those visionaries in the philanthropic community, who aren't already underwriting CGS' $800,000 annual budget, wanna gimme a call. The WTA budget is precisely 1% the size of CGS'. Or maybe we should have lunch Richard?

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Alliance of cultures

BBC NEWS | Europe | Spain proposes cultural alliance: The Spanish prime minister has called for an international effort to resolve cultural and religious differences between the Western and Muslim world.
Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said 'an alliance of cultures' was necessary in a world facing conflict because of poverty and Islamic radicalisation. Mr Zapatero, at the UN General Assembly meeting, said the alliance could deepen political and cultural relations. He also defended his decision to withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq. Mr Zapatero said peace was a task that required more determination and heroism than war.

Life After Theory

In his article, "Life After Theory," Mark Greif wonders if the left academy will ever be able to speak in a common political language again:
So what happens now? There’s some attraction to a neo-Enlightenment turn for American progressives today similar to the turn the nouveaux philosophes made two decades ago. The aging German theorist Jürgen Habermas has been a figure for progressives to rally around for decades, but his cautious, temperate, exceedingly reasonable approach isn’t the sort of thing to stir new ideas. One of the things that certainly could come after theory would be a renewed universalism for liberals, a reclaiming of the language of citizenship rather than identity. This chimes with two preoccupations this election year: the quest to bring those supposed “NASCAR dads” into the Democratic Party and the need to keep Republicans from getting a lock on the language of freedom and democracy during our supposed war on terrorism. France’s new philosophers, with their civic humanism, really did participate in public life. Bernard Henri-Levy is still a preeminent voice in public discussions, echoing even across the Atlantic in his recent salvo, Who Killed Daniel Pearl? Luc Ferry, meanwhile, became education minister.

Theory has been the bad guy in rants from both right and left -- against academics’ pseudo-radicalism, their arcane languages, their identity politics and political correctness. But usually, professors are people you can rely on to have their hearts in the right place, even when you can’t tell what they’re saying. Unlike the myth of a liberal media, the conservative notion that most humanities professors are dyed-in-the-wool liberals (or something left of that) is probably true. It won’t help bring academics back into practical liberal politics as intellectuals if the death of theory is just taken as the occasion for a collective sigh of relief, or, worse, a chorus of “I told you so” from people who didn’t understand why theory was important in the first place. Ask famous professors to renounce theory and its ways and you get a lot of watery, trivial op-eds by Shakespeare scholars, who too often pass for being public intellectuals. The questions should be, what can be preserved from the work the professors were doing all those years, and what is it wise to ask them to do now?

The truth is, we don’t want academics doing the same things as everybody else. Creating a homogenous climate of opinion between policy-makers and abstract thinkers is bad for intellectual progress. It’s also bad political strategy. As the success of the neoconservatives has shown, under the influence of Leo Strauss and some University of Chicago economists, political mobilization still needs original, grand theory.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Information system to help scientists analyze mechanisms of social behavior

From Medical News Today: With a $5 million, five-year grant from the National Science Foundation, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign will create BeeSpace, a system to help scientists analyze all sources of information relevant to the mechanisms of social behavior.
The complex society of the Western honey bee, Apis mellifera, will drive the information system. The system will be a software environment that "will help to shed light on an unprecedented scale on the relationship between genes and how lives are carried out in an animal society," said principal investigator Bruce Schatz, professor of library and information science.
"We will take a fresh look at the fundamental problem of the mechanism of behavior, whether behavior is caused by nature or nurture," said Schatz, who also directs the Community Architectures for Network Information Systems (CANIS) Laboratory, a campus resource for new information systems.
"Worries abound over the ethical implications of genetic determinism," he said. "The goal of BeeSpace is to help forge a deeper understanding of the relationship between genes and behavior that transcends nature-nurture. This project will use genomic biology to demonstrate that what matters for social behavior is that DNA is both genetically inherited and environmentally responsive."
BeeSpace was one of six awards totaling $30 million announced today (Sept. 16) as part of the NSF's Frontiers of Integrative Biological Research (FIBR), a program now in its second year. BeeSpace will be housed in the Institute for Genomic Biology (IGB), now under construction on Gregory Drive in Urbana. The $75 million state-of-the-art facility, which will open in mid-2006, will be home to 400 campus researchers in three broad areas: systems biology, cellular and metabolic engineering, and genome technology.