Saturday, June 10, 2006

People Powered Politics and the Emerging Technoprogressive Mainstream

[via Amor Mundi] Over the last thirty years an alliance of established religious and socially conservative powers as well as moneyed elites in the United States confronted the likely eclipse of their power in the face of a few inter-related developments: the postwar rise of largely middle-class popular democracy, technoscientific destabilization on many fronts (waves of media reinvention from print to broadcast to p2p, the pill and assistive reproductive technolgies (ARTs), global transportation networks, generations of both proscribed and mandated neuroceuticals, WMDS, and so on), and secularization with its compensatory fundamentalisms. The elite leaders of the movement conservatives built an institutional universe of alternative "ideas"/PR, "thinktanks," media and communications, fundraising tools, and a selective targeted manipulation of certain institutional weaknesses in the constituted form of American democracy (like the electoral college, a two-party system, vulnerability to executive wartime powers, money-as-speech, the fall of the Fairness Doctrine, etc.) to maintain and consolidate their powers, privileges, and prejudices in the face of vast contrary social, cultural, and technoscientific tides.

We are living, of course, in the moment of the great contradiction and culmination of this movement, the moment when this machinery achieves its greatest hegemony as well as its abject failure (since the machine reflected only the desire to hold power, not to legitimately govern or otherwise respond to the world, this failure at the moment of its greatest success is scarcely suprising).

The lesson of the "successes" of this conservative movement for the likes of technoprogressive folks like us are the same as the lessons of the progressive era, the early years of the labor movement, and of many comparable movements as well: Organization, education, and direct action can shape institutions and popular opinion in relatively democratic societies in time to address perceived needs with a scope and in timescales that may seem impossible to the players themselves in the midst of history's storm-churn itself.

One reason I think Americans can change quickly and radically enough to redirect worrisome technoscientific developments (insanely destructive devices, panoptic surveillance, industry-induced climate change and species extinctions, intrusive homogenizing "therapeutic" medical regimes, and so on) to democratic and emancipatory ends instead is because I believe many of the problems that demand the strongest redress to accomplish this emancipatory rearticulation of technoscientific development are problems of basic accountability and transparency for public authorities (government, corporate, academic), problems of corruption, problems of media consolidation, problems of the corporate-military co-optation of civic life, problems of threatened democratic and deliberative processes, problems of defending and funding universal entitlements, problems of education about the democratic demands of a literate, numerate, critical, and civic-minded citizenry, problems of deeply conservative intellectual property regimes, and so on.

What technophiles sometimes seem to mistake as the problem of a certain basic cultural hostility or skepticism to "technology" in general is, I think, actually more accurately described as a sensible and progressive resistence to technodevelopment as it is currently defined by selective deregulation in the interests of corporate-military elites and selective regulation to reflect the prejudices of religious and socially conservative minorities.

The politics are prior to the technological toypile on offer. I am personally almost endlessly frustrated by what sometimes appears to me an abiding indifference and naivete about political matters evidence by many "technophiles." This is an indifference that at its most extreme effloresces as the actively anti-political hostility at the core of both the technocratic attitudes and the libertarian viewpoints espoused by too many among those few technophiles who do take politics seriously enough to think about them in any kind of sustained way. But apart from the fact that this is an insight that inspires frustrations in me (and of course I write in ways that reflect this frustration all the time), it is also true that the priority of the politics over the toypile to the actual shape of techscientific development in history is cause for real hope (and I think it is fair to complain that I don't write often enough in ways that reflect this hope).

The rise of people-powered politics associated with the internet, the blogosphere, emerging peer-to-peer models of organization, criticism, content provision, security in depth, small donor aggregation, all of this is creating a vast, passionate, incomparably transformative democratic movement in response to the catastrophic conservative movement I have been talking about here.

Much of what technoprogressives demand from technodevelopment will be accomplished through the achievement of democratic reform: election reforms, energy reforms, healthcare reforms, welfare reforms, green reforms, anti-corporatist reforms, anti-corruption reform, civil liberties reforms, progressive tax reforms, intellectual property reforms, media reforms, education reforms and the like. And what matters about this is that energetic movements to demand and direct these reforms are already underway. They constitute what is unquestionably the most exciting political movement abroad in the land today.

As I have often pointed out, I am not surprised in the least to discover that this people-powered reality-based movement of anti-corporatism and democratization understands its debt to technological developments like digital networked media and also embraces technoprogressive positions on peer-to-peer, renewable energy technology r & d, copyfight and creative commons, consensus science oversight and education, assistive reproductive technologies, stem-cell research, and medical research more generally. The new democratic majority is an emerging technoprogressive mainstream.

Not to put too fine a point on it, this is one of the reasons why I consider it absurd in the extreme to accept neologistic labels with weird histories and confusing entailments like "dynamist," "upwinger," "transhumanist," and the like to describe my work and my hopes. I have strong reasons to believe that the people who want to use technology to deepen democracy and democracy to ensure technology benefits us all are shaping up to be the people we call, in America, well, Democrats.

Finally, it bears mentioning that the chief historical consequence of movement conservatism is likely in the end to be that in their efforts to preserve elite privileges and prejudices at any cost, the movement conservatives will have managed to devastate much of the American material, civic, and financial infrastructure domestically and military resources abroad. American exceptionalism and popular complacency has been rendered workable largely by the bubble of ignorance and apparent invulnerability to consequence long secured by its hideous military might and the corporatist culture of dumb distraction.

But costs are real, consequences are real, the world is real, and the bubbles are bursting. Americans will embrace the changes they must in part because greedy, short-sighted, panic-stricken conservatives have debauched the means Americans too long had on hand to evade their real responsibilities to the world.

The problems of technoscientific development are conspicuously global problems: WMD and arms trading, emerging pandemics, climate change, biodiversity issues, human rights abuses, neglected diseases, viciously unfair trade and labor practices, human trafficking, carrying capacity and longevity dividends and such. It is, in my view, frankly, all to the good that the monopolar superpower that is a chief obstacle to the emergence of the protocols and intitutions of global democratic governance necessary to cope with these global problems step aside before it is too late, however gracefully or disgracefully it manages to do so.

Friday, June 09, 2006

The Transhumanist Meme: Richard Dawkins' "The Root of All Evil"

His answer: competing and irrational fundamentalist strains of Christianity and Islam and Judaism. You just don't ever see this kind of thing in the United States. Check out the teapot analogy at the end of Part 3. Part Two of the show. Part Three of the show.

The Transhumanist Beat "Feelin' Good" by Nina Simone

The Transhumanist Beat "Jericho" by Joni Mitchell

Thursday, June 08, 2006

'Let's get out of the streets and into the lab!' cries the biopunk feminist

From Annalee Newitz's Artifical Womb and Pregnant Men: "The primary goal of a feminist genetic engineering project is to cut the reproductive process loose from patriarchy and male domination. One simple way to do that is to make sure feminist politics are front and center in any discussion about how we will use genetic engineering to eliminate harmful birth defects. I think we can all agree that it would be great to make sure babies aren't born with holes in their hearts, but what about girl babies born with small breasts? Can't you just see some clueless researcher claiming that women with small breasts are "harmed" psychologically, and that therefore we should engineer all women to have big ones? Feminists need to shut that shit down right away.

But what do we want? First of all, we want genetic engineering to transform the way families work, perhaps by making it possible for two women to create a baby without male intervention -- or for more than two parents to create a baby. (Researchers in Japan have already bred a healthy baby mouse out of genetic material from two females, and researchers in England are working on a human baby that will have genetic material from two women and one man.) Either way, you've got new parental formations, and hopefully this biological change will lead to child care being meted out more equally -- or at least challenge our preconceptions about what it means to be a "mommy" or a "daddy."

We also want artificial wombs, so that women don't have to stay home from work while gestating their fetuses. We need technologies that will at last close the "baby gap" in workplaces where women fall behind their male colleagues during pregnancies and their children's early development. Plus, we want men to be able to participate as fully in the reproductive process as possible. That's why male pregnancy and lactation should be a goal of feminist genetic engineers. We don't want merely to liberate ourselves from the reproductive process; we want to bring men into it as our equal partners.

New family structures, artificial wombs and pregnant men are just the very beginnings of what feminists should be demanding when it comes to the genetic transformation of our species. Let's get out of the streets and into the lab!"