Saturday, January 05, 2008

The Story of Stuff

Must Read (with footnotes) and Must See "The Story of Stuff". Billed by one viewer as kind of a shorter more immediate version of "An Inconvenient Truth", this ties together a lot of interesting and suppressed observations of the world and the United States. See it here:


Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Well, that's my next American trip in the can

De Thezier's New Year's Resolution: Quit Transhumanism

My New Year's Resolution: Quit Transhumanism
Justice De Thezier
January 1, 2008
(Last edited January 11, 2008)

In 2002, while doing research for the script of a postcyberpunk-themed hyperlink film by reading copious amounts of science-fiction novels and popular science books, I accidentally stumbled upon the word ''transhumanist'' in the Guide to the Technocracy, a sourcebook of the sophisticated role-playing game, Mage: The Ascension.

Despite thinking the word probably came from the author's creative and fertile imagination, I decided to google it out of curiosity. After I discovered and read the (previous) Transhumanist FAQ of the World Transhumanist Association (WTA), an international non-governmental organization which advocates the ethical use of technologies that expand human capacities, my life changed forever.

Having spent a decade in the world of the arts and culture as a creative professional, I decided to go back to university in Science and Technology Studies to develop a more enlightened and critical look at the development of technoscience as well as a sharper understanding of the social and political issues which shape the research, development and use of new technologies, and how in turn these technologies shape society and politics.

Since I was a reasonable hopeful technoscientifically-focused secular progressive, I rejected the two extremes of bioconservatism and ''libertarian transhumanism'', and naturally gravitated towards "democratic transhumanism", a third way articulated by James Hughes which asserts that the best possible "posthuman future" is achievable only by ensuring that human enablement technologies are safe, making them available to everyone, and respecting the right of individuals to have control of their own bodies.

Regardless of how our professional and personal relationship may fare, I will always be grateful to Hughes for making me aware, understand and *care* about a wide range of biopolitical issues that may scramble conventional social, political and economic thinking in the 21st century.

I was invited to contribute to Cyborg Democracy, a collaborative blog for democratic transhumanist thinkers and activists. I founded the Quebec Transhumanist Association (QTA), a fledgling network of activists and artists devoted to promoting projects that coalesce the arts, sciences, technologies and politics. Through the QTA, I worked to stimulate awareness of community perspectives on the right to human enablement in the local media, including appearances in print, radio and television. And, in 2006, I had the honor of being elected to the board of directors of the WTA.

Beyond being the de facto French-speaking spokesperson of the WTA, my goal was to develop an ethical fundraising and financial accountability code (which was adopted in February 2007); and, more importantly, nudge and support Hughes' efforts to expand the WTA's programs of activity to include more focused and action-oriented programs, with a global campaign for a publicly financed anti-aging research initiative at the top of our concerns.

My vision for the transhumanist movement was one where membership organizations like the WTA would focus on mobilizing people across their respective countries to initiate important biopolitical campaigns while think tanks would focus on offering policymakers the best assessments of the social benefits and risks of new developments in technology from a democratic transhumanist perspective.

However, the more months passed, the more my concern was validated that the label "transhumanist" was giving me an identity at the cost of achieving of my goals. As a local chapter organizer, it also seemed that I was spending far more time trying to "convert" people to transhumanism and defending this ideology against hysterical attacks but also fair and accurate criticisms, than actually contributing to the social struggle to democratize the costs, risks and benefits of new technologies.

But, more profoundly, having invested so much time and energy in promoting transhumanism --- and, let's be honest, having been seduced by the siren songs of a ''posthuman future'' --- I came to the awkward realization that I, a self-professed free and critical thinker, had willingly blinded myself to the flaws of transhumanism, which I became increasingly aware were *inherencies* that undermine the diversity of views or ''leftist awakening'' among transhumanists:

1. An undercritical support for technology in general and fringe science in particular;
2. A distortive ''us vs. them'' tribe-like mentality and identity; and
3. A vulnerability to unrealistic utopian and dystopian ''future hype''.

After spending a year as the self-appointed yet half-hearted ''devil's advocate'' of the WTA, not only have I come to the conclusion that it is quite quixotic to think I or any lone individual can do anything to change what both prominent transhumanists and "anti-transhumanists" agree are the minimum constituents without which this ideology would not be what it is, without being falsely accused of trying to ''reduce diversity'' or, worse, ''thoughtpolice''; but I've decided to quit transhumanism.

So, when my term on the WTA Board of Directors ends on January 23rd, not only am I leaving the board but I'm also cancelling my WTA membership and closing down the dormant Quebec Transhumanist Association (which others are free to reopen). If I am contacted by the media, I will politely refer them to the select few reasonable transhumanist advocates I know but if I am still asked to speak on transhumanism at some public venue it will be as a friendly critic who demands that transhumanism lives up to its claims to uphold a respect for reason and science, and a commitment to progress.

Who knows? Perhaps one day it will. If and when that happens, I'll be the first one to cheer. ;)

Justice De Thezier is a social entrepreneur and creative professional. He is currently recovering from a bad case of transhumanism.

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Thursday, November 08, 2007

Very Nice Youtube Science Fiction Story

Thursday, June 14, 2007

James Hughes on TransVision (William Shatner? Really?)

This is the first few graphs from Better Humans:

With keynote speakers William Shatner, Ray Kurzweil and Aubrey de Grey, this year's TransVision conference promises to be the best yet. Focusing on nothing less ambitious than "saving humanity," the World Transhumanist Association's annual conference will cover everything from sustainable energy to antiaging medicine. To get the details, Betterhumans Editor Simon Smith caught up with James Hughes, Secretary of the WTA and Executive Director of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. Engage.

BH: So, another TransVision approaches. With how many TransVisions have you personally been involved?

I organized the first TransVision I attended. After we elected our first Board of Directors in the winter of 2002-2003 we organized the 2003 TransVision at Yale University, since Nick Bostrom was teaching there at the time and we could get some benefits through sponsorship from the Yale folks. I was the main organizer, and it was pretty successful, turning a profit and bringing about 100 transhumanists together with about one hundred non-transhumanist folks doing or interested in bioethics.

BH: In what ways have the conferences changed in nearly a decade since they started?

The first couple of TransVisions in Europe in the 1990s were small gatherings for a couple dozen transhumanist guys to meet and bounce ideas off one another. Then TV03 at Yale kicked that up to the 100-200 attendance mark, based around an academic conference model that held through TV04 in Toronto, TV05 in Caracas and TV06 in Helsinki. I don't want to make a prediction about how many we'll have at the gala event we're going to have in Chicago, but it promises to kick us up to yet another level, with carefully selected speakers, professional conference planners working year-round, real (as opposed to transhumanist) VIPs like Shatner and Arianna Huffington. It's going to be cool.

BH: TransVision 2003 was particularly significant in being held at a major university campus, Yale, and in raising public attention of issues and developments in cutting-edge science and technology. Looking back, what would you say were that conference's big successes and failures?

The strategic focus of the 2003 TransVision was to draw in friendly bioethicists and philosophers to meet our community, and orient our community to bioethics as a contestable terrain for transhumanist ideas. Most transhumanists, I think, believed bioethicists were uniformly opposed to the H+ project, while few bioethicists had heard of transhumanism, and those that had thought we were a nutty fringe. We needed to demonstrate to the H+ that, in fact, most bioethicists were closer to us than to Leon Kass, the President's Council and bioconservativism, and to the bioethicists that transhumanists were radical but serious thinkers. I think that meeting succeeded, and we continue to see its fruits as the folks we met there have gone on to write about us, join our projects, and invite us to their meetings and projects. Transhumanism is now recognized as a popular and influential player in the bioethics/biopolitics terrain, and not just a Star Trek fan club.

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Positive Cory Doctorow Review of New Ken MacLeod Novel

Of course, Cory will probably sue me for copyright infringment because that's the way he is...

Ken MacLeod's "Execution Channel" -- chilling blogothriller

Ken MacLeod's invented an entirely new genre -- the Blogothriller, the infinitely weirder cousin of the technothriller. More improbable, hilarious, and engrossing than 70,000,000 conspiracy sites, a trillion trackbacks, a heptillion message-board posts. This book feels like the future, like our futuristic present. The book is called "The Execution Channel." It scared the shit out of me.

The Execution Channel is set in an ever-so-slightly alternate future, in which the War on Terror is being lost, where terror and terrornoia has destroyed every semblance of decency and humanity. Britain is rocked by race-riots, America is a vast, festering stew of conspiracy nuts and debt-shattered indenture slaves, China and Russia are retreating into old-line Communism, and France is spying on all of them (!).

The story follows a number of engaging, sharply drawn characters -- a soldier in the middle east, a peacenik camped outside a US base in Scotland, a paranoid Brit engineer turned French spy, an American warblogger in the midwest, a clade of disinformation sock-puppeteers who maintain great handsful of fake provocateur blogs.

The action is set in motion when a new weapons system -- a nuke? a propulsion system? a beam weapon? -- explodes at a US base in Scotland. As the plot unfolds in enough twists and turns for three spy novels, the players are haunted by The Execution Channel, a warporn Internet video stream of people being murdered, tortured, shot in war on killed in riots. No one knows where the Execution Channel emanates from -- maybe it's CIA black propaganda, maybe it's some snuff-artist's wank-fodder.

The spies and civilians and nutters and radicals circle and snarl, falling on each others' necks like wolves, as scene after scene of gripping action pound relentlessly past one another. This is one hell of a book. Link

posted by Cory Doctorow at 09:00:38 AM permalink | Other blogs' comments

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Thursday, May 03, 2007

My Futuristic Music Channel in Progress

My new music channel has things of interest for Future Heads. Note to Charlie Stross and Ken Macleod: You can find soundtracks to your beautiful words here. You can find the widescreen version here.

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Monday, April 02, 2007

Charlie Chaplin's Technoprogressive Speech in The Great Dictator

Final Speech of "The Great Dictator"
(also known as "Look Up, Hannah" )
by Charlie Chaplin

Schulz: Speak - it is our only hope.

The Jewish Barber (Charlie Chaplin's character): Hope... I'm sorry but I don't want to be an Emperor - that's not my business - I don't want to rule or conquer anyone. I should like to help everyone if possible, Jew, gentile, black man, white. We all want to help one another, human beings are like that.

We all want to live by each other's happiness, not by each other's misery. We don't want to hate and despise one another. In this world there is room for everyone and the earth is rich and can provide for everyone.

The way of life can be free and beautiful.

But we have lost the way.

Greed has poisoned men's souls - has barricaded the world with hate; has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed.

We have developed speed but we have shut ourselves in: machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical, our cleverness hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little: More than machinery we need humanity; More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost.

The aeroplane and the radio have brought us closer together. The very nature of these inventions cries out for the goodness in men, cries out for universal brotherhood for the unity of us all. Even now my voice is reaching millions throughout the world, millions of despairing men, women and little children, victims of a system that makes men torture and imprison innocent people. To those who can hear me I say "Do not despair".

The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed, the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress: the hate of men will pass and dictators die and the power they took from the people, will return to the people and so long as men die [now] liberty will never perish...

Soldiers - don't give yourselves to brutes, men who despise you and enslave you - who regiment your lives, tell you what to do, what to think and what to feel, who drill you, diet you, treat you as cattle, as cannon fodder.

Don't give yourselves to these unnatural men, machine men, with machine minds and machine hearts. You are not machines. You are not cattle. You are men. You have the love of humanity in your hearts. You don't hate - only the unloved hate. Only the unloved and the unnatural. Soldiers - don't fight for slavery, fight for liberty.

In the seventeenth chapter of Saint Luke it is written " the kingdom of God is within man " - not one man, nor a group of men - but in all men - in you, the people.

You the people have the power, the power to create machines, the power to create happiness. You the people have the power to make life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure. Then in the name of democracy let's use that power - let us all unite. Let us fight for a new world, a decent world that will give men a chance to work, that will give you the future and old age and security. By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power, but they lie. They do not fulfil their promise, they never will. Dictators free themselves but they enslave the people. Now let us fight to fulfil that promise. Let us fight to free the world, to do away with national barriers, do away with greed, with hate and intolerance. Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to all men's happiness.

Soldiers - in the name of democracy, let us all unite!

Look up! Look up! The clouds are lifting - the sun is breaking through. We are coming out of the darkness into the light. We are coming into a new world. A kind new world where men will rise above their hate and brutality.

The soul of man has been given wings - and at last he is beginning to fly. He is flying into the rainbow - into the light of hope - into the future, that glorious future that belongs to you, to me and to all of us. Look up. Look up."


Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Coming Second Great Depression?

Here's a troubling prediction by Chalmers Johnson, author of Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic, reported in an AlterNet interview:
If you had asked me what I think actually will happen -- and again, I cannot foresee the future -- the economic news encourages me in this thought. I believe we will stagger along under the fa├žade of constitutional government until we're overtaken by bankruptcy. Bankruptcy will not mean the literal end of the United States, any more than it did for Germany in 1923, or China in 1948, or Argentina just a few years ago, for 2001 and 2002.

But it would mean a catastrophic shake up of the society, which could conceivably usher in revolution, given the interests that would be damaged in this. It would mean virtually the disappearance of all American influence in international affairs. The rest of the world would be greatly affected, but it would begin to overcome it. We probably would not.

That's what I think is the most likely development, given the profligacy of our government in spending money that it doesn't have, in borrowing it from the Chinese and the Japanese, and the defense budgets that are simply serving the interest of the military-industrial complex.
Since the American and Canadian economies are intertwined, I doubt Canada will be much of a safe haven if this economic apocalypse fulfills itself. It would be interesting to see if and how the domestic politics of the European Union would change in reaction to the immigration of North American market-dominant minorities to the EU...

The First Openly Godless Member of Congress

Representative Pete Stark is the highest-ranking politician in American history say publicly that he doesn't believe a "supreme being" -- but believes that real political courage is saying, "Let's tax the rich and give money to poor kids."

Read more on the AlterNet.