Saturday, February 19, 2005

Changesurfer Radio: Human Capabilities and Social Security

Changesurfer Radio 2005.2.18 Justice for Retirees
Dr. J. chats with Ed Coyle, Executive Director of Alliance for Retired Americans. They discuss Social Security, Medicare and the crisis in private work-place retirement benefits.
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Changesurfer Radio 2005.2.25 Human Capabilities
Dr. J. chats with Sabina Alkire, secretary of the Human Development and Capability Association, founded by Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum. Dr. Alkire is an economist and author of Valuing Freedoms: Sen’s Capability Approach and Poverty Reduction.
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Thursday, February 17, 2005

Iain Banks in Salon

Excellent interview
What I find interesting is the change in what America symbolizes. If you look back at science fiction from 20, 30, 40 years ago, the future often seemed to look a lot like America. Maybe it was just a product of the Cold War, but the future was often depicted like the original "Star Trek" -- the Federation seemed an awful lot like fresh-faced Americans spreading freedom and democracy through the galaxy. Now the United States seems to symbolize something quite different -- the complete triumph of the free market, the danger of having only one imperial superpower.

Banks: I think it comes down to this: I think it's kind of laughable that the free market is dictating moral goods. That's not what markets are about! It just seems so farcical to me. We've still got so much to learn about the way the universe works -- physics, biology, chemistry, any given science. And yet, somehow the assumption in a lot of science fiction, the underlying assumption, is that somehow in terms of economic science, we are there! We've done everything -- there is no more to discover, we've got the best system, and here it is, isn't that great? We'll just take it to the stars. I just think it's daft!

It just seems to make more sense to me to look more long term than next year's profits or loss. I think the idea that this can all be solved by market forces seems almost fetchingly naive. And I guess that is coming out now in a lot of science fiction. As for the future, I think the future stopped looking American pretty much when you think back to "Blade Runner," and "Neuromancer," when it started to look more Japanese.

: "In 'A Few Notes on the Culture' you imply that the race of beings that make up the Culture aren't actually human -- as in we don't get there from here...

Banks: Yes. That's one thing. I have sometimes in my darker moments, suspected that we -- humans, human society, our species -- are incapable of anything like the Culture. Because we are just too damn nasty. But on the other hand, I'm not, in principle, against genetic modification. I think we could make beneficial genetic improvements to ourselves, I mean, just supposing there was a bigotry gene, that was responsible for racism, and sexism and anti-Semitism -- all the bad 'isms' -- suppose you could get all that out. You could end up with something like the Culture....

My worry about the genetic modification of behavior is that if we had that now we might all end up fundamentalist Christians.

Banks: Well, you lot might! [Cackles gleefully.]

It's all about who gets the technology first and how you spread it. Is it government run, or by very large corporations, or can it be done in the old-fashioned science fiction way, by one lone genius and an attractive assistant, working in a laboratory somewhere? Obviously, not to be too glib about it, the very idea of evolving ourselves scares large parts of society. It takes a lot of thinking about.

More signs that US employment is disappearing to robots and the developing world
The labor force participation rate — the percentage of Americans either working or looking for work — fell in January to a seasonally adjusted 65.8%, the lowest rate since 1988.

Thinking more about conservative transhumanism

Here and on wta-politics we've been debating the feasibility of a conservative transhumanism, and whether it would be welcome. More reflections:

I am looking forward to a clearly articulated "conservative transhumanist" presence in the noosphere. I think most American libertarian transhumanists are just juvenile conservatives without kids - once they have to think about their kids taking drugs and f-----g I expect them to hold their nose at being in the same party with the Christian Right and join the Republicans. So better that we are clearly welcoming of that orientation than lose them altogether.

I am also sincere that I think there is room for some kind of conservative transhumanism as a wedge against the biocons, and a right wing to the transhumanist bird. As I said before the principal conceptual difficulties that I would like to see the few extant conservative transhumanists address are:

- Who are the transhumanist conservatives? (Michael Fumento is one to look at BTW.) What do they believe? Are they organizing? What kind of connections can we make? Can we invite them to something? A five way debate with the left and right biocons, libertarian transhumanists and us, the dem-trannies?

- What are the issues on which transhumanist conservatives agree and disagree with transhumanist libertarians and democratic transhumanists? There is a corner in the political model in my book for conservative transhumanists, albeit an empty one. (You can see the summary table for that at the bottom of this page:

One start would be to create a column in that table for conservative transhumanism, and fill in each box.

- Another challenge is for the transhumanist who considers themself both an atheist and a conservative. There is a very strong correlation between religious belief/orthodoxy and conservative social values. Secularists are overwhelmingly social liberal. If they are also economic conservatives, they end up libertarians, or in the libertarian wing of conservatism.

For instance, the General Social Survey asks a random sample of Americans annually how liberal or conservative they are, and whether they believe in God. Compressing the slightly conservative, conservative and extremely convservative into "conservative" the 1100 folks they polled broke out like this:

Belief in God
Atheist Agn/Doubts Believer

Liberal 1.6% 10.5% 13.3%

Moderate 0.9% 11.7% 28.0%

Conserv 0.4% 9.6% 24.1%

Which means that atheists constitute 6.4% of liberals, but only 1.1% of conservatives. Even if you include those who said they were agnostic or had some doubts, non-believers are 47.7% of liberals and 10% of conservatives. Conversely if you have to be an atheist to be a transhumanist, atheists in the US were 56% liberal, 31% moderate, and 12.5% conservative. That was also in 2000. Polling suggests further political polarization of the religious-secular in the last four years in the US.

On the other hand, the neo-cons represent a crypto-secular/big-US-military/smaller-welfare-state wing of conservatism, so they are prima facie evidence that secular transhumanists who nonetheless support "family values" could be part of the conservative landscape. Wesley J. Smith is another example of a non-theistic biocon who has found a quasi-theistic language with which to talk to theists. Non-theist conservative transhumanists could work on finding a similar language.

- The most important political challenge for a "conservative transhumanism" is articulating how a transhumanist can support the restrictions on bodily autonomy, cognitive liberty and civil rights that are integral to conservative policies. For me, both a rejection of fetal personhood and a commitment to adult women's right to control their own body, requiring in turn unrestricted access to abortion, is pretty central to transhumanist values. Articulating the conservative transhumanist case for more restrictions on abortion, or conversely why conservatives should defend abortion rights, would be pretty important. Same for gay rights, stem cells, the Drug War, prayer in schools, creationism, and a lot of the other defining issues of modern US conservatism.

- Finally, conservatives could find an enthusiasm for transhumanism if the case could be made that enhancement technologies provide an avenue for the strengthening of families, communities, and traditional values. (Obviously the case can also be made that they are good for capitalism and military strength.)

We could imagine the consensual use of neurotechnologies by individuals in traditional communities to suppress desire for premarital sex, homosexuality and adultery, to accentuate religious belief (especially if there is God Gene) and other "virtues" such as charity, patriotism, honesty and so on. I actually make that argument, on behalf of empathy and morality, at the end of Citizen Cyborg.

So, again, I look forward to a clearly articulated conservative transhumanism to join the mix. I think it would strengthen transhumanism and clarify the biopolitical debates.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

An Evening with the Anarchist Panther

Last night I had the pleasure of listening to and meeting Ashanti Alston at the la Petite Gaule café in Montreal.

Presently the Northeast regional coordinator for Critical Resistance, Ashanti is a former member of both the Black Panther Party and Black Liberation Army, and was a political prisoner for over 12 years. Currently, he is a member of Estacion Libre, a people of color Zapatista support group, as well as a board member for the Institute for Anarchist Studies. Ashanti also authors the zine Anarchist Panther.

As he soulfully recounted his personal history and that of the American black liberation movement, I couldn't help but think of the day, in the future, when transhumanism may become a civil rights struggle if human enhancement technologies are forbidden or access to them severely restricted by bioconservative governments.

Despite a very warm conversation where Ashanti spoke of his embrace of anarchist, feminist and queer theory, I didn't have the time to talk to him about anarcho-transhumanism (a political philosophy synthesizing anarchism and transhumanism), afro-futurism (African-American strategies to overcome racial and social classification by means of technology and futuristic mythology) and how a fusion of these two currents could be one funky solution to reconnecting with the imagination of black youth in search of radical empowerment.

Perhaps an email is in order...

Monday, February 14, 2005

Gaylaxicon 2005 - Boston - July 1-4, 2005

Gaylaxicon is an annual science fiction, fantasy and horror convention that highlights works with positive content of interest to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and the transgendered community.

Special Guests across all aspects of the genre, from comics, costuming, authors, editors, artists and more A Dealers room An Art show Video room Programming & Events Consuite Gaming Costuming and so much more !

Gaylaxicons have also developed a tradition of unique programming and a warm and welcoming environment that all fans will appreciate.

Gaylaxicon is sponsored by the Gaylactic Network and the Gaylaxians Science Fiction Society (GSFS), the Boston area affiliate of the Gaylactic Network.

Guest of Honor: Lois McMaster Bujold

Changesurfer This Week: Co-Creator Theology and Fighting Corporate Control

Changesurfer Radio 2005.2.11 Ted Peters: Co-Creator Theology
Dr. J. chats with Ted Peters, a theologian at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary and Graduate Theological Union, and author of Playing God? Genetic Determinism and Human Freedom and For the Love of Children: Genetic Technology and the Future of the Family.

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Changesurfer Radio 2005.2.11 Tech for People, not for Corporate Control
Dr. J. chats with Kalle Lasn, founder of Adbusters Magazine, The Media Foundation, and The Powershift Ad Agency, TV Turnoff Week and Buy Nothing Day, author of Culture Jam: How to Reverse America's Suicidal Consumer Binge--And Why We Must and co-author of the spoof Cyborg Manifesto.

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