Saturday, August 20, 2005

The New Technoliberation List

A new discussion list was created last night, and I would encourage any sympathetic readers of Cyborg Democracy to join and participate there. There are just a dozen messages in the archive and half a dozen members, so you have a chance to get in on the ground floor and shape the default culture of the list in insistently technoprogressive directions. Here is the text I have offered up for the Home Page, but which the members have not yet agreed to. Come what may, it reflects what I see as the promise of the list.

Using technology to deepen democracy, using democracy to ensure technology benefits us all.

The technoliberation list is a welcoming space for conversation, collaboration, organization, and debate among liberal, social, and radical democrats from around the world all of whom share the sense that emerging, converging, disruptive global technological developments threaten unprecedented harm while they promise unprecedented emancipation for humanity. We want to think about the ways in which technology provokes us to rethink and reimagine the left wing of the possible.


It is not true that the map of freedom will be complete
with the erasure of the last invidious border
when it remains for us to chart the attractors of thunder
and delineate the arrhythmias of drought
to reveal the molecular dialects of forest and savanna
as rich as a thousand human tongues
and to comprehend the deepest history of our passions
ancient beyond mythology's reach

So I declare that no corporation holds a monopoly on numbers
no patent can encompass zero and one
no nation has sovereignty over adenine and guanine
no empire rules the quantum waves

And there must be room for all at the celebration of understanding
for there is a truth which cannot be bought or sold
imposed by force, resisted
or escaped.

-- Greg Egan

C'mon CybDemites, let's create an actual cyborg feminist, post-natural Green, post-humanist humanitarian, prostheticized queer, morphological freedom fighting, global fair trade and sustainable development advocating, democratic world federalist technoprogressive salon and incitement to activism and organizing!

Join at:

Friday, August 19, 2005

Is Social Ecology compatible with Democratic Transhumanism?

From Wikipedia:

Social Ecology is, in the words of its leading exponents, "a coherent radical critique of current social, political, and anti-ecological trends" as well as "a reconstructive, ecological, communitarian, and ethical approach to society". Social Ecology is a radical view of scientific ecology and of social/political systems, e.g. those within which Green Parties operate.

Social Ecologists believe that the current ecological crisis is the product of capitalism. They believe it is not the number of people, but the way people relate to one another that has fueled the current economic crisis. Over-consumption, productivism and consumerism are thus symptoms, not causes, of a deeper issue with ethical relationships.

Undoubtedly Social Ecology is the most influential current in the eco-anarchist thread within anarchism. Social Ecology is associated with the ideas and works of Murray Bookchin, who has been writing on ecological matters since the 1950s and, from the 1960s, has combined these issues with revolutionary social anarchism. His works include Post-Scarcity Anarchism, Toward an Ecological Society, The Ecology of Freedom and a host of others.

Social Ecology locates the roots of the ecological crisis firmly in relations of domination between people. The domination of nature is seen as a product of domination within society, but this domination only reaches crisis proportions under capitalism. In the words of Murray Bookchin:

"The notion that man must dominate nature emerges directly from the domination of man by man… But it was not until organic community relations… dissolved into market relationships that the planet itself was reduced to a resource for exploitation. This centuries-long tendency finds its most exacerbating development in modern capitalism. Owing to its inherently competitive nature, bourgeois society not only pits humans against each other, it also pits the mass of humanity against the nature world. Just as men are converted into commodities, so every aspect of nature is converted into a commodity, a resource to be manufactured and merchandised wantonly." (Op. Cit., p. 63)

"The plundering of the human spirit by the market place is paralleled by the plundering of the earth by capital." (Ibid., p. 65)

Therefore social ecologists consider it essential to attack hierarchy and capitalism, not civilisation as such as the root cause of ecological problems. In the words of Murray Bookchin:

"Deep Ecology's problems stem from an authoritarian streak in a crude biologism that uses 'natural law' to conceal an ever-diminishing sense of humanity and papers over a profound ignorance of social reality by ignoring the fact it is capitalism we are talking about, not an abstraction called 'Humanity' and 'Society.'" (The Philosophy of Social Ecology, p. 160)

Institute for Social Ecology - Popular Education for a Free Society

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Scratch a Vegetarian, Find a Cyborg

[Edited, via Amor Mundi] I've been a cheerful vegetarian for fifteen years now, and at this point the very thought of eating most meat actually wrinkles up my nose involuntarily in distaste...

But I have to admit that to this day for some reason the smell of bacon frying in a skillet stands the hairs up on the back of my neck with lust and, then, heartbreak.

So, when I read an article about the near-term prospect of meat grown in vats from a single animal cell "When Meat Is Not Murder," by Ian Sample in yesterday's UK Guardian my very first thought was... Ethical bacon? Sign me up!

Of course, the idea of "vat-grown" meat will have been a staple of science fiction for long decades before it manages finally (and, it seems, possibly, soon) to become a staple in everyday diets. I've been stumbling onto thought-experiments about scaling up a single animal cell into a petri dish's worth of meat-mush and thence to a veritable mush-zeppelin of mystery meat with a fork in it ready to feed a hungry grateful world ever since I was a kid reading Omni Magazine...

What would please me even more would be ethical vat-grown bacon that was also gengineered to reduce the awful fat-content and then infused with all sorts of lovely unexpected nutritional benefits.

I've been eating various veggie-burgers and tofu-pups practically since the day I became a vegetarian, and I'll admit that for a while there neither the cost nor the taste of the products exactly thrilled me. But lately I've discovered newer "sausage alternative" breakfast patties and "ground beef substititue" Crumbles that are not only delicious and cheap, but rich with protein and have a fraction of the fat of the meats for which they substitute.

And so, even if ethical vat-grown versions of sausage or beef were to arrive on the scene I probably wouldn't make the switch to them, for the lack of any reason to do so and because I prefer the nutritional profile of the substitutes. If the vat-grown versions also managed to improve the nutritional profile, though, ethical concerns would inspire not a split-second's hesitation in this ethical vegetarian.

Of course, even without nutritional tweaking I would leap at the chance to eat ethical bacon, if only occasionally. Nobody seems to have quite figured out the veggie-bacon thing yet.

In the Guardian article Kerry Bennett, a spokesperson for the Vegetarian Society points out that "this [development] has the potential to decrease the number of meat-producing animals in factory farms." This is the aspect of vat-grown meat that should be foremost in the minds of every ethical vegetarian or animal rights activist sensitive to the breathtaking moral and environmental catastrophe of factory farming in the world today, as far as I'm concerned, together with the possibility that vat-grown meat might provide another avenue to ameliorate the senseless tragedy of hunger in a world where food is abundant.

It is curious indeed that despite her rather grudging admission of these promising implications, Bennett goes on to emphasize instead that vat-grown meat "won't appeal to someone who gave up meat because they think it's morally wrong to eat flesh or someone who doesn't want to eat anything unnatural."

If eating meat grown in a vat from a single cell of an animal (one who, in principle, would not even have to be killed to provide the cell) constitutes an immoral consumption of flesh it is very difficult to see how wearing a wool sweater, or taking a photograph (all film contains gelatin), using most hair or toothbrushes, flipping through the pages of a leather-bound book, or the use of indefinitely many other commonplace objects that rarely attract the attention of any but the most ferociously committed activist vegans should not likewise inspire Bennett's disdain... Do they? And if not, why not?

As for the curious suggestion that vat-grown meat would not be "natural," one wonders if Bennett suspects that cell-cultures somehow constitute a supernatural procedure? We're talking cells here, people, not ectoplasm!

Certainly I agree with Bennett that there would be "a number of question marks regarding the origins of the cells and the method of harvesting," and that one would want a lot of study and regulation by legitimate accountable authorities (and you better believe I don't mean the companies themselves that stand to profit most from these developments offering us "every assurance" as to the health and safety of their profits, er, I mean, products).

Once these products are approved by legitimate consensus science and regulated by legitimate accountable authorities it is very difficult to see why another layer of concern about the "naturalness" or not of these products should enter into our speculations. I'm always mordantly amused by the "back to nature" types among the vegetarians I know. Most of these seem either blandly oblivious or even quite willfully to refuse to think too hard about what it means to live an "all natural" lifestyle made possible by faux-meat substitute foods, faux-fur and synthetic-material jackets, faux-leather shoes, and nutritional supplements.

Scratch a vegetarian, find a cyborg.