Thursday, February 10, 2005

Neo-cons and tech-progressives

Recently I downloaded and listened to the excellent BBC documentary The Power of Nightmares (MP3s: Pt1, Pt2, Pt3 / MPEGS and transcripts: Pt1, Pt2, Pt3. It documents the parallel emergence of neoconservatism and radical Islamism, and shows their similarities in vanguardism, militarism, and rejection of cultural liberalism, how the neocons and Islamists joined forces in Afghanistan, and then how the neocon exaggeration of the Islamic terror threat has given them complete hegemony in the Bush administration.

This documentary (which the completely cowed PBS refuses to air), plus the recent emergence of some conservative transhumanists (such as allegedly William Safire)got me to thinking about the morphological similarities between some aspects of my democratic transhumanist worldview and the neocon/Straussian/right-Trot worldview, to wit

- the belief in a role for intellectual vanguards in democratic politics. Ours a net-mediated techprogressive movement, theirs a neo-Leninist cult of power (ten thousand times more powerful than ours).

- the belief that there should be a global alliance to spread liberal democracy, by force if necessary, with a constructive role for US force projection. I think it needs to be built through democratic transnationalism around the UN, while the neo-cons want to pursue it through a US-led coalition of the willing that marginalizes the UN.

- the belief that the decline of traditional religious belief leaves a moral vacuum that causes anomie and social pathology. My answer is a reconstructed secular humanist/transhumanist moral order, a transcendent cyborg democracy (inspired by Harrington's Funeral at the Death of God), while the neo-con/Straussian approach is a cynical re-assertion of religious conservatism melded with the theology of America-uber-alles.
The neo-cons are mostly secular, but believe the masses need the unifying myths of religion.

- the belief that many liberal policies have negative unanticipated consequences. My answer is to radicalize the policies (basic income guarantee, single payer, replacing affirmative action with class-based social policy) while the neo-cons appear now to have bought into the scrapping not only the War on Poverty but also the New Deal. Granted, the neo-cons are less interested in dismantling the welfare state than the traditional Right, paleocons, the Christian Right and the libertarians, but many of them, like Fukuyama, have bought into the anti-statist/pro-market neo-liberalism.

- the neo-cons and I part most forcefully, I think, on the question of utopianism. While I think utopianism has gotten a bad rap and is an essential motor of progressive social change, anti-utopianism is what led Fukuyama to congratulate the alleged triumph of pragmatic liberal capitalism and more recently to oppose bio-utopianism. The irony is that the neo-con vision is in fact as utopian as Marxist-Leninism - send in the Marines and everyone will dance in the streets isn't that different from sendin the Red Army and we'll all be in worker's paradise, or my send in the blue helmets with US weapons and hope for the best.

So, in some ways, I think that if there was a neocon transhumanism it could slide over into being more coherent than a paleocon transhumanism or a Christian Right transhumanism.

Final thought, from Art Caplan's review of Our Posthuman Future and the neo-con collection The Future Is Now: America Confronts the New Genetics:
"To argue as Fukuyama, Kass, Krauthammer, Cohen, George, Kristol, and many others do that we have a nature that is fixed and has stood us in good stead throughout all of our history is most assuredly a conservative contribution to such a debate. It is also most assuredly wrong. None of the above claims upon which the argument rests are or can be supported. It is not clear that we all have a single nature, that it is fixed, that it has worked throughout all of history to our benefit, or that it would be wrong to try and improve upon it whatever it is."
If the Kass/Fukuyama/Smith/Krauthammer doctrine of human-racism and human immutability is now a core doctrine of neo-conservatism, it may mean that neo-con transhumanism is simply an oxymoron.


Dale Carrico said...

There is a lot to agree with here, and even more that is interesting -- but I don't understand why suddenly so many otherwise progressive technophile types are even taking these conservatives seriously in the least these days.

I say, let the dogs eat themselves, and bark away in the face of our indifference.

Given the crimes committed in the name of American "conservatism" (all of which I quite understand you agree with me about already) why spend a split-second pretending these opportunists and cranks are worth attending to?

Sure, some conservatives are plenty smart secularists and crypto-decent sorts, but it isn't for us to rehabilitate them.

Technoprogressives shouldn't waste time building bridges to retro-futurists until they've disarticulated themselves more forcefully and conspicuously from the libertopian taint that still bedevils the likes of us.

9:57 AM  

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